12 April - Response to the open letter entitled Source of concern, published in Times Higher Education No. 2, 403, 11-17 April 2019

Sadly the letter gives a false impression. 

The University has repeatedly confirmed over the past months its support for the principle of insourcing services and, indeed, is already bringing front of house, portering, post room, and AV services back inhouse by the end of May. The University is applying the same review process to the other externally contracted services, which should be completed by 2020 at the latest.

As contracts come up we are consulting staff about coming inhouse. Many of the signatories to the letter work in other universities which have outsourced staff, and, consequently, should be aware that this is necessarily a complex business. The short timeframe demanded by some would involve substantial financial penalties from breaking contracts and is undeliverable.

The University currently operates in a financially challenging environment. The cost of moving too quickly would significantly reduce resources for key academic and other activities. We need to protect them. I am particularly disturbed by the level of intimidation our permanent staff have to endure due to verbal and on line abuse from some supporters of the academic boycott. It is unacceptable that some colleagues tell me that they do not feel safe at work.

I would like to assure readers that the university takes its duty of care to all staff extremely seriously. Not only do all contractors pay the London Living Wage but zero hours contracts are not used by its suppliers; they have confirmed that existing staff on such contracts have been offered new ones and that new staff will not be offered such contracts. 

The University is working hard to ensure that all staff including the people working for its contractors are kept fully informed of its plans. My colleagues and I also meet regularly with our recognised Trade Unions – UCU and Unison.

It is worth mentioning that some of the events mentioned in the letter have been relocated to institutions and organisations who also contract out their facilities services, as is common throughout the sector. 

The University of London shares the firm belief of the signatories that academic labour cannot be isolated from other forms of work underpinning it. This is why we are taking a staged approach to avoid substantial financial penalties from breaking contracts, and to assure affordability with the view of supporting our key academic activities which are at the heart of the University. 

Peter Kopelman
University of London