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Information provision & the CAC

May 7, 2020

… the greatest problem of the guerrilla band is the lack of ammunition, which the opponent must provide.

UCU branches that are recognised will have an agreement with clauses pertaining to the disclosure of information for bargaining and consultation.

We are currently in a situation where it is not possible to rely on published sources of financial information. Universities publish accounts once per year. The latest such accounts should have appeared in December and cover the year to 31 July 2019. That is, they are over nine months out of date and were in any case retrospective. Moreover, they are “pre-covid”.

As universities consider the potential hits to income for the next academic year and try to draw up budgets, they will have prepared financial scenarios. UCU branches should be requesting these. It’s not possible to assess any proposals put forward by management without the ability to interrogate the assumptions and models. It’s also important to check that you are seeing the same range of scenarios as governors and regulators.

Where an employer refuses to disclose essential information, the recognised trade union has the right to complain to the Central Arbitration Committee, who have the power to adjudicate and require compliance with their judgments.

I won a case at the CAC about 20 years ago. My chief memory of it was the delay in having the case heard, so it is better to get a complaint in early. But it was possible to get the employer to produce data and information , even where it wasn’t necessarily to hand (as in my case: a breakdown of starting salaries by sex and ethnicity in different departments). It was also relatively easy process and hearing for an amateur like me to navigate.

CAC’s Code of Practice on information disclosure is extremely useful and gives examples of the kind of information it considers pertinent to bargaining (section 11).

iv) Performance: productivity and efficiency data; savings from increased productivity and output, return on capital invested; sales and state of order book.
(v) Financial: cost structures; gross and net profits; sources of earnings; assets; liabilities; allocation of profits; details of government financial assistance; transfer prices; loans to parent or subsidiary companies and interest charged.

I would take “state of the order book” to be analogous to what universities are currently fretting over.

Note that the restrictions on the “general duty” to disclose (sections 13ff.)  set a much higher bar for the employer than the equivalent exemptions for Freedom of Information, which has a different emphasis on publication and public interest. The assumption would be that the information disclosed for bargaining purposes may have conditions set on how and how far it can be disseminated. I would say you should be looking to invoke these disclosure of information rights over FoI.

Given that you need to put your request for information in writing to management (and give them suitable period by which to respond), I would recommend considering the option early.

It’s very apparent across the sector that different institutions take very different approaches to the disclosure of information, but it is essential to know what recourse you might have.

If anyone has more recent experience of complaining to the CAC, please let me know, either privately or in the comments below.

And obviously there are plenty of other documents you might need sight of. A look through papers going to Board/Council and the audit, risk and finance committees will help here.

update 9 July 2020

In the section quoted above from the CAC Code of Practice, I would take “liabilities” to cover debt and debt covenants.

 

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