15th October 2014

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Court Circular Karel Thomas

There have been a few moves in the sector over the past few months - some you may have heard and read about and others you may not - so a quick round up of moves and new faces. Welcome to all new colleagues, good luck in new challenges to those who are moving on, and happy retirement to a few. Almost everyone on this list has been part of BUFDG in some way over the years – some as office holders on the Executive committee, a couple have chaired working groups, three have been conference hosts, some have worked with Ministers on discreet (sic) projects and others have been conscientious attendees at regional meetings and conference – thank you for your participation in one of the best self-help groups in the sector! There are always opportunities for FDs to get involved in BUFDG and if you are interested in volunteering or knowing more, please contact me.

Martin Potter retires from Kingston on 6th November and will hand over the operational reins to his deputy Robert Ewing whilst a replacement is found;

Gill Ball is retiring from Birmingham at the end of the year and Chris Granger will be taking up the post of FD at the beginning of December so that Gill can show him where the key to the safe is kept – Chris is currently at GKN Land Systems;

Graham Gilbert is retiring from York (conference Q&A sessions will never be the same again) and is being replaced by Jeremy Lindley who, after a couple of years at INTO, has been lured back to a university;

Neil Scott is moving from CFO at Hull to CFO at Aston – Mark Hodgson has moved from Aston to Hong Kong, where life is a bit lively at the moment;

Bob Eades has retired from Writtle College and they are looking for a replacement;

Nick Cattermole has retired from the Royal College of Art and Louise Parr-Morley is holding the fort as interim FD;

Paul Whiting left Glyndwr University earlier in the summer to be Director of Finance at the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau) and David Roberts is acting FD there at the moment;

Michael Johnson left Winchester for the sunny climes of  FE and Simon Day has taken over, with his second day spent at the summer SWUFDG meeting – a baptism with fire!

Andy Riggs’ latest interim FD role is at Coventry University;

Denis Jones is helping out at the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama as Karen Di Lorenzo has moved on;

Neil Latham has joined Bath Spa University as Chief Operating Officer with executive responsibility for finance following John Brady’s retirement;

Long-listing is going on at Staffordshire as Mark Hattersley moves to Sovereign Housing at the end of the year;

Peter Curran has just announced that he is leaving Aberystwyth as he has been appointed as FD at Sport Wales to start in the New Year;

Denise McConnell, is leaving Teesside at the end of the year to pursue a career as an interim Finance Director.

Mark Bery has retired as COO of St George's, University of London and John Unsworth has taken on a broader interim role there as Finance & Corporate Services Director.

Karen Doncaster Miles Hedges

It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of Karen Doncaster, formerly Head of Accounting Services at The Open University, on 3 October 2014. Karen joined The Open University in July 1985.   She was appointed to the post of Head of Accounting Services, in 1989, from which she retired after a period of ill-health in December 2010.  She attended a number of BUFDG events on my behalf. She will be fondly remembered and greatly missed by her friends and colleagues in Finance and all those who knew her.  

Inaugural HEPA Conference Presentations Dominic Fryer

The inaugural HEPA conference was held on Thursday 9th October, at Imperial College, where we welcomed over 130 colleagues to a fascinating day. It was chaired by "provocateur with a purpose", Simon Fanshawe and was an opportunity for procurement managers to “think outside the box”, to network with their peers and meet some new colleagues. Finance Directors, IT Directors and Estates Directors were also present at this event, along with senior colleagues involved in procurement across the sector.

The Programme included Liquid Thinker Damian Hughes, a speaker at this year's BUFDG conference, who people are still talking about. 

You can find out what was on the programme for the conference and download the presentations here.

2013-14 Annual TRAC data collection Samantha Smith

From HEFCE: The templates for completion of the annual TRAC return for 2013-14 are now available to download from the HEFCE extranet. A letter was e-mailed out to Directors of Finance on 9th October with group keys and information about how to access the secure area and submit. HEFCE publication 2014/20 gives further guidance on the process. The deadline for submission of the TRAC return is Friday 30th January 2015.

New TRAC guidance, published in August 2014, is available on the HEFCE website. It applies for the 2014-15 Annual TRAC return, but can be adopted early for the 2013-14 TRAC return if you wish.  If you are continuing to use the old guidance for this year’s submission then you can find Version 5.1 of the ‘Statement of Requirements’ on the old TRAC guidance website. A sample of the 2013-14 Annual TRAC template is available on the TRAC guidance website here. Updated income allocation guidance for 2013-14 reporting will be available from the TRAC guidance webpages later this month.

For queries on annual TRAC or TRAC FEC please contact the TRAC helpdesk (tel: 0115 935 3400). For technical queries about accessing the secure area of the HEFCE website to download or submit your annual TRAC return please contact Henry Dorrian at HEFCE (tel: 0117 931 7259).

Planning for long-term energy costs Matt Sisson

How does your institution adequately plan for the long-term cost of energy, in an industry when prices can change almost by the minute, and when the sector is undergoing considerable reform? How do you know that you’ll get the best deal? Do you understand the risks of engaging with Third-Party Intermediaries (TPIs)? If you’re unsure about the answer to any of these questions, then it may well be worth getting in touch with The Energy Consortium (TEC), the sector-owned leading provider of collaborative energy procurement. 

TEC Director Richard Murphy wrote an article in the recent HEPA Conference brochure on the risks of engaging with TPIs in particular, but he also had thoughts on how universities should approach energy procurement in general. Energy is not something that can be purchased just on ‘price’ alone, as lower prices are often achieved with riskier strategies. Universities need to understand the limits of achieving ‘fair comparisons’ on energy, as arrangement fees, energy usage, profile, and timing often vary widely. And make sure to take a look at past-performance where possible. As Richard writes though, unfortunately “private sector TPIs have no obligation to report on performance against a sector benchmark, or any other which stands up to scrutiny”.

You can join in a discussion on the BUFDG boards about buying energy here. In related news, the HEPA Conference brochure contains contributions from 8 other sector commentators, covering issues from outsourcing to digital solutions to the definition of ‘strategic procurement’. 

New insurance discussion board Matt Sisson

The BUFDG discussion boards are an excellent way to connect with colleagues from across the sector, as well as to find answers to perplexing issues. We’re pleased to say that a new board has been added recently, to deal with discussions relating to Insurance. If you’d like to receive notifications via email when new insurance topics are posted, then you’ll need to update your preferences. Follow the link, click on the ‘interests’ tab, and then check the new ‘Insurance’ box.

This might also be a good time to update any of your other details if they’ve changed recently, on your ‘MyDetails’ page. 

Moocs in the balance Matt Sisson

The Chief Executive of UK Mooc platform FutureLearn, Simon Nelson, has sought to strike a balance for the prospect of Massively Open Online Courses, by indicating in an interview with Times Higher that he thought evangelists of the early Mooc platforms had “overstated the case for what Moocs could be”. He said:

“Moocs were claimed to be pretty much a panacea for many of the educational ills of society when they first came out. They were going to transform education, they were going to destroy the university system, they were going to put educators out of business, they were going to reach into the most distant parts of the world and educate people who’d never had access to this technology before.”  

However, while he believes this was “overhyped and unrealistic”, neither could Moocs be discarded as a flash-in-the-pan. “We believe in a more balanced view,” he continued. “We don’t believe it’s Moocs that are going to transform higher education, we believe the internet is going to transform higher education, and that Moocs are one part of that overall transformation.”

He added that he did not like the term ‘Mooc’ and preferred to see them as ‘Social Learning Platforms’. 

Government to review the Social Value Act Emma Keenan

The Social Value Act was passed in February 2012, and requires all public bodies in England and Wales to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.

Social Value is a way of thinking about how scarce resources are allocated and used.  It involves looking beyond the price of each individual contract and looking at what the collective benefit to a community is when a public body chooses to award a contract. Social value asks the question: “If £1 is spent on the delivery of services, can that same £1 be used, to also produce a wider benefit to the community?”

The UK government recently announced a review of the Social Value Act to consider if it might be expanded to generate added benefits from projects rather than the current restriction to services only.  The review will be headed by Lord Young, the prime minister’s adviser on enterprise.  He will also consider if the act might further support small business and voluntary, charity and social enterprises to bid for public contracts. The government will publish details shortly of how the public can feed into the consultation process. The review aims to report its findings in early 2015.

Fee forgiveness Matt Sisson

In last week’s digest, we covered the debate on university fees at the party conferences. Speaking at a fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference on the 6th October, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert added to the discussion, by criticising the possible Labour policy of reducing fees to £6,000 a year, the THE reports. He argued that a reduced fee would benefit higher-earners, by allowing them to pay their loans off more quickly, whilst doing little to help the lower-paid. “If there’s money available to, let’s say, reduce fees from £9,000 to £6,000…” he said, “I would much, much rather use that to provide bursaries for students while they are studying”. He added his preference would be “the option of getting rid of fees completely”.

Elsewhere in the THE, John Cater, V-C of Edge Hill University makes the case for an alternative idea – that of “forgivable fees”. He states that there are a number of significant issues with lowering the fee cap to £6,000. As well as the idea that it would only benefit higher-earners, he also thinks that "the idea of transferring the allocation of one-third of all tuition funding back to the Treasury, back to the competing priorities and whims of the government’s annual budgeting process" disconcerts universities. Instead he proposes that funding levels should stay where they are, but a system of fee-forgiveness is implemented. He writes:

“Under such a model, students would continue to borrow and universities would continue to receive the £9,000 tuition fee – but for some graduates below a certain earnings threshold or meeting certain conditions, the state would write off a portion of that loan early”. He explains that “Under current estimates, up to two-thirds of graduates will not repay their loans in full. The real-terms cost of recognising this fact three, five or seven years after graduation, rather than 30 years afterwards, is worthy of calculation”.

Other bits Matt Sisson

Our 'jobs of the week' for this week, are a CFO at the University of Hull, and a Finance Project Accountant at Northampton University. As usual, all other roles are listed on our jobs page

The THE reports that that teacher training places at universities could be reduced by 5%, in favour of further school-based training. The paper claims that advance briefings they have seen “reveal that the impact on outstanding-rated HEIs will be the most significant, following the removal of the guarantee of allocations to these providers”. Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+, said that “an increase in School Direct numbers makes little sense when [the National College for Teaching and Leadership] has acknowledged that schools do not fill their places or recruit trainee teachers as well as universities”.

Barnett Waddingham are hosting a free half-day conference in Manchester on the 4th November on The Future of Pensions and Employee Benefits. With the focus on pension provision as well as wider reward strategies, the conference is aimed predominantly at Finance Directors, HR and Pension Managers. It will help to provide answers through industry insights and views from Barnett Waddingham experts, alongside select guest speakers. Paul Lewis of BBC's Money Box will open the conference with his views on the economy and its direct impact on pension provision.

Universities UK has published a document this week further outlining the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. These include an end to the final salary arrangments by April 2016, and moving members to a career average scheme, the THE reports. “Under this model, about 150,000 active USS members would receive CRB benefits up to a salary threshold of £50,000, with employers increasing their contributions from 16 per cent to 18 per cent to provide these benefits. After staff salaries hit this threshold, employers will pay only 12 per cent of income into a defined contribution scheme”.

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