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02 July 2018 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

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The University of London’s central administration says it will work closely with trade unions and current contractors to transition facilities management staff into the university after a review of contracted services in November 2017, reports Herpreet Kaur Grewal.

In a cautiously worded statement from the University of London, it said that the board of trustees for the institution met on 23 

May and considered the report and recommendation from the review group.

According to the statement, the university says it will develop “an efficient provision model in which in-house services are supported by contracts designed to provide both the specialist expertise and the flexibility to respond to the varying needs of the university”.

The board raised “significant concerns over the additional costs of bringing services in-house” and on its academic agenda.

Strategic initiatives

The board was content to support the review group’s recommendations “contingent on seeing more detailed plans and costs, which would deliver benefits to both staff and the university, together with plans for mitigating the impact on academic activities and student facing services”.

The board said it would like the university’s management to expedite the process to reduce the risk of further industrial action as far as possible and ensure that the university is not distracted or hindered from furthering its core academic mission.

The university said: “The decision will mean a significant financial investment which will be linked to key strategic initiatives: ensuring security and compliance at Senate House and across our estate following heightened security risks; ensuring Senate House offers a high-quality experience for staff, academic activity and events; and the development of an effective Residential Student Life programme, recognising that we need to enhance and broaden our pastoral care for residents in halls.”

It added: “In practical terms, these initiatives will be progressed over the next 12-18 months with some services being brought in-house in 2018/19 where there is an opportunity and clear rationale for doing so, although the process may be phased in over subsequent years.”

A university spokeswoman confirmed to FM World that the institution would definitely be putting “in place contracts designed to provide both the specialist expertise and the flexibility to respond to the varying needs of the university and we are currently developing our service models to define our requirements and will be taking detailed proposals to the board of trustees”.

The spokeswoman added: “The review we conducted of our services showed that adopting the same service levels with a completely in-house model would result in very high additional costs to the university. These are partially due to some differences in terms and conditions but are significantly also due to the need to invest in systems, equipment, training and development that usually come with the package of outsourced contracts. Therefore, yes, we have to review our service models to establish clear priorities and make sure that our investments in bringing some services in-house have a return in terms of improvements in services to students, staff and visitors.”

She also said: “The model will emerge as we develop the details mentioned above, but it is certain that a mixed economy will be adopted as this will give us the best balance of quality, cost and sustainability.”

Major concession

The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said the decision was “a major concession” to its “Back in-house” campaign that it launched in September 2017.

But it added that it was also was vague and lacked clarity. IWGB general-secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee told FM World that the university’s decision to bring contracts in-house was “a positive step” but “lack of detail and time frame is unacceptable to workers who are keeping the university functioning on inferior terms and conditions”. 

The IWGB also plans to continue its landmark ‘joint-employer’ case against the University of London for the time being.

The university’s decision follows the biggest strike of outsourced workers in UK higher education history, when more than 100 workers walked out on 25 and 26 April, according to IWGB.

Others in FM think this could be the way forward for how a lot of the industry does business. 

Simone Fenton-Jarvis, chief workplace officer at Twinkl Educational Publishing, said: “In-house versus outsourcing should always come down to the question “What makes the most business sense?”. Businesses must look at the time, quality, cost triangle in relation to sustainability, the service provision they wish to offer and the effects on the business when those standards aren’t met.”

She added: “A hybrid approach is likely to be the best solution for most. If you tried to oversee all operations in-house it’s likely it would take focus away from the key business, resulting in a lack of strategic direction. Outsourcing areas can free up time and the resources to care for more important responsibilities. For me, standardised tasks like routine cleaning and equipment repair are good choices for outsourcing as it’s outside of my team’s core competencies. I think outsourcing will move even further towards focusing on a very specific skill or particular task whereby the service is acquired for the duration of the project and the specialist will focus on the issue at hand.”