Author Archives: Martin Atkinson

Industrial Action Update

As we head into the Spring term, many will be aware that the dispute between the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK continues with further strike days expected this term. Nationally UCU currently has a mandate for industrial action through until April and has recently announced 18 days of strikes to be taken over the next two months – these start on the 1 February, with the full list of dates available on our staff webpages. 

While we regret the planned strike action, and particularly the effect this unprecedented amount of strike activity will have on our students’ time at Kent, we are far from the only sector facing disruption at the moment and it is clear that this a difficult time for many. The rising cost of living is putting great pressure on budgets for both individuals and employers – this is certainly the case at Kent, as I’m sure it is for many of you personally. As well as our ongoing discussions with our local UCU branch on matters under our control at Kent, we continue to urge all parties to continue discussion nationally in the interests of an outcome that balances a fair deal for staff with maintaining the financial sustainability of universities themselves.  

Pay is, of course, not the only issue under dispute with the long-running disagreement over pensions also at the heart of the current action. Changes for those in the USS pension scheme were brought in last year which, while regrettable, were done with the future integrity of the scheme in mind. However, the process that led to this exposed the weaknesses in the current governance structure for the scheme – along with other universities we are jointly funding a review of this and agree with UCU’s position nationally that we shouldn’t continue with taking the same approach to decision-making around the future of the scheme. There is more background on this, and the other areas under dispute currently, on our Industrial Action Staff Webpages. 

The first strike day on 1 February is timed to coincide with a national day of action around changes to strike laws in the UK. A strong trade union voice is an important part of employee relations and, here at Kent, local representatives of all our recognised unions regularly make valuable contributions in the interest of improving all of our time at Kent. We fully respect the right to strike and I can appreciate colleagues’ concerns at the recent proposed shift by the Government. Above all, though, it is important we respect the differing views people have across areas and, where we do disagree, ensure that this remains both considerate and constructive. Strike days can be contentious but there are agreed boundaries around what they involve – while those on strike are entitled to withhold their labour, I’m grateful that this continues to be done in a respectful manner that recognises that many others will be working as usual.  

It’s my sincere hope that an agreement can be reached between UCU and UCEA that avoids further damaging industrial action – in the meantime I will continue to keep you updated as the current period continues.

Arrangements for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II

Over the weekend the Royal Family confirmed that Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will take place at 11.00 on Monday 19 September, which will also be a Bank Holiday across the UK.

We will be marking the Bank Holiday here at Kent while recognising that we will still need some essential staff on our campuses to support students. More detailed guidance on this will be shared with managers shortly so that they can support local arrangements in their area, including payment details for those who need to work and how those on campus can watch the funeral should they wish to.

Welcome Week and Staff Conference 

This is a busy period for teams across the University as we prepare to welcome students and start the new term. Both Arrivals Weekend and Welcome Week will still be going ahead but with some changes to the programme – a Silver Team including central and divisional staff is looking into this as a priority, with more details to follow.

Alongside this, our Staff Conference will still go ahead later this week, including the Staff BBQs on Wednesday and Friday. There will however be some other alterations to the programme, including a minute’s silence at the opening of the Conference and the cancellation of the drinks reception on Thursday. More information will come on this tomorrow.

Books of Condolence 

As the national period of mourning continues this week, some staff may wish to pay their respects in person at Westminster Hall while the Queen’s coffin lies in state and managers are asked to support short-term leave arrangements for those who wish to do this. Our Books of Condolence are also still open all this week at the Templeman and Drill Hall libraries, along with our digital version.

This remains a sombre time for the country and I know many will be feeling reflective or saddened by the recent events. I hope that everyone feels they have the space to mark this week how they wish to, and do continue to seek support from your line manager if you are finding things difficult.


Martin Atkinson | Director of HR & Organisational Development



Working together on the Cost of Living

The cost of living is an increasing concern for many of us following recent announcements on both the energy price cap and rising inflation. We want to make sure we are doing what we can now to prepare for this and support staff and students wherever we can. 

Staff from HR, Commercial Services and Finance are meeting regularly to identify what we can put in place ahead of the winter months. Trade Union and Staff Representatives are also gathering suggestions ahead of the 21 September JSNCC where we aim to come up with an initial list of measures to introduce. This includes looking into external schemes that could help staff with managing their finances, circulating discounts available to staff, and seeing what other financial measures might be possible on top of the recent one-off payment from the Staff Resilience Fund. 

The potential impact on students is also a huge concern for all of us and we want to do everything we can to minimise the impact on their studies. A cross-University working group led by Kent Union is meeting regularly to quickly identify ways we can support new and returning students. This includes campaigns to raise awareness of the range of financial support available to students at Kent, plus any new initiatives we can put in place to limit the impact of rising costs. Discussions are also taking place with other universities and the local council about city-wide activity. 

This is a worrying time for so many here and across the country, both in terms of personal budgets and the wider impact on businesses and institutions. We are also keeping a close eye on the impact on our own bills as a University, both in terms of utilities across our estate and our wider suppliers. All of us will have a part to play in this, from putting forward suggestions for how we can support each other to doing what we can to minimise non-essential spend – we will also provide regular updates on our work on this as the working group continues to meet. 

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Help with the cost of living

The end of the University year is always a chance to reflect on where we are, with the last 12 months once again shining a light on the ways we work together as a community at Kent. While it has been a real pleasure to see more of you face to face as we have re-integrated into campus life, I know that the amount of change we are all having to get used to has added pressure in certain areas and we still have work to do to ensure the wellbeing of all our staff is fully supported. This will be a priority in our new People and Culture Strategy which I look forward to sharing with you all next term. 

Staff Resilience Fund 

While some of the more immediate difficulties presented by Covid have now reduced, we are also now facing a cost of living crisis driven by high energy costs and inflation. This has an impact on our University finances but I am also very aware it will be very worrying for many of you and your families as day-to-day budgets are squeezed by rising prices.  

In the immediate term, Executive Group has agreed to make a one-off payment of £398.06 (pro rata) to all staff who were impacted by the 2020/21 Pay Freeze. This will come out of the Staff Resilience Fund which was established when staff pulled together to help us weather the financial impact of Covid – while budgets remain tight, the impact of rising costs mean we wanted to bring this initial payment forward to do what we can now. Around 75% of our current staff would have been impacted by the pay freeze, with the one-off payment applying to all salaried staff who have been with us since August 2020 and were covered by the agreement – payments will be made directly via the July pay run and, in accordance with the rules of the Fund, will be paid pro rata to hours worked. 

We have also agreed to suspend planned parking charge increases for next year and are looking into what more we can do to support both staff and students, including a possible hardship fund. Both of these immediate measures to help with the cost of living followed helpful input from JSNCC and we will continue to discuss what more we can do – please send any further suggestions either directly to me or via your Staff or Trade Union representative so that we can consider them in full.  

2022/23 Pay Increases 

On 1 August, along with other member universities, we will be implementing the final offer put forward by UCEA on behalf of universities across the sector in the 2022/23 national pay negotiations. The negotiations with trade unions have so far failed to reach agreement and there is understandable concern about how to renumerate staff fairly in an environment where costs are rising so steeply, but the same squeeze felt by households also has an impact on the cost of running the University. 

While I know this won’t feel like enough, increasing salaries by at least 3% for all staff and up to 9% for those in lower grades is felt to be the most that the sector can afford at this time. I am pleased that we can make sure this increase will reach staff pay over the summer and it’s also especially important that the increases are weighted towards those on lower salaries who may be most impacted by the wider pressures we face. It is also important to remember that, as usual, around 50% of colleagues will receive a further 3% increase through moving up an increment on the pay scale in October. 

Wellbeing and Support 

The last few years have felt like a period of constant change, from the top of Government down to our day-to-day working lives. I know this can be very difficult to manage – the way staff have adapted to new ways of working and the frustrations they can bring has, though, shown the best of our community. The way colleagues support each other, and our students, shone through in particular at both our Staff Recognition Awards and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Awards earlier this year.  

I know there is more to do to build a positive working environment at Kent for everybody, with wellbeing and workload pressures being key priorities for us to address next year. I would also encourage all of you to continue to seek support where you need it, from colleagues, your line manager or your local HR team – and remember our Employee Assistance Programme is available for confidential support and advice whenever you need it. 

Martin Atkinson | Director of HR and Organisational Development