At the end of last year we published the first edition of a new newsletter called the Chair’s Quarterly. This is aimed at a wide range of BUFDG stakeholders, and contains a more in-depth look at some of the broader issues facing universities. As it says on the tin, we produce four a year, and the next one is due this Friday (6th March). If you’d like to subscribe to receive it, add yourself to the list by clicking here.
The next Monthly Digest will be on the 1st April – the day that most of the 250 delegates and sponsor delegates will arrive for the BUFDG Annual Conference. We’re really looking forward to what will be a fantastic event at the University of Salford. Take a look at the programme here, and we’ll be posting up a round-up on the website after the event.
Finally, we’ve had over 3,200 downloads so far of the Understanding University Finance guide, that we published toward the end of last year. The guide is there to be a useful companion for the broad church of university stakeholders and brave Annual Report explorers. We’ve updated the site with a more web-friendly version that scrolls better on phones and tablets. If you’d like to download it, or just find out more, go here.
HEPA / PROCUREMENT
HEPA has also started to publish a monthly newsletter. The first edition arrived last month, and covered the Procurement Value Survey, training events, e-learning modules, tuition fee fraud, and news of this year’s HEPA conference in September. To make sure you receive it, update your preferences on the HEPA website.
If you’re involved in procurement and you live in the North West, you might want to envisage yourself as a future member of a revamped procurement function at UCLAN. The institution is currently taking applications for six posts, including Director of Procurement, 3x Sourcing Managers, and 2x Assistant Sourcing Managers. Full details are via Allen Lane.
ECONOMY / REGULATION
Plans for a transformative Budget on March 11th appear to have been swamped by events both within (a change of Chancellor) and without (Coronavirus) the government’s control. The talk now is of a toned-down event on the 11th, without more major announcements in the Autumn. Still, we’ll monitor the event for tax, payroll, and funding news and put news up on the website.
BUFDG submitted its representations for what could be included in the Budget to HM Treasury. The submission includes suggestions around the Capital Goods Scheme, partial exemption, the zero-rating of Relevant Charitable Purpose buildings and for medical/veterinary equipment, insurance premium tax, national minimum wage, employment status and using tax to encourage sustainable construction practices. You can read the full BUFDG submission here.
The Scottish government went ahead with its budget at the beginning of February. The SFC has also since announced how it hopes to invest the additional funding set aside for precision medicine and digital skills.
Higher Education has new government ministers at Westminster – with a split in the brief between HE and Science that is still a bit hazy, and little idea still of how benevolent any changes to policy will be. We’re still awaiting news of any formal response to the Augar review, although with more pressing matters for the government to deal with, this may not ever materialise. There are fears that the government could be starting to think more seriously about using graduate salaries in measures of course quality. In the meantime, the OfS is pressing ahead with developing its regulation of the English sector – the latest consultation covers financial penalties for infringements of conditions of registration. You may wish to have a say.
FRAUD AND RISK
Coronavirus risks will be keeping many university staff up at night, especially those with operational responsibilities for keeping staff and students safe, as well as toilet paper in the loos, food in the canteen, and emergency budgets where they are needed. We’re grateful to colleagues at AUDE for initiating a PHES-wide resources page that you may want to look at. It includes lots of links to useful information elsewhere, as well as sample communications and draft guidance should you need it. If you have anything that you’d like to share with colleagues, please contact Matt.
Ashley, the HEPA procurement specialist, has an additional role of helping to facilitate the Counter-Fraud working group. Several high-profile fraud risks have emerged over the last 6 months, and he’s been keeping members abreast of the changes with articles. He’s written a Fraud update for members, which also includes a survey of counter-fraud in the HE sector, undertaken by a masters’ student at the University of Portsmouth. The university’s Centre for Counter-Fraud Studies is a real success story, and the survey will be shared with the BUFDG membership once the results are out. If your brief brushes on counter-fraud at all then please do consider taking part.
FINANCIAL REPORTING / AUDIT
The 2020 Audit Survey report has now been completed and can be downloaded from the website (login required). We had a healthy response rate of over 70% of member HE institutions, so it should provide a representative picture of audit provision across the sector (with a couple of caveats highlighted in the narrative). As with prior years, if you spot anything that appears to be erroneous, please let matt know.
The Welsh Government has launched a consultation on charitable rates relief in Wales. While the review is specifically focused on schools and hospitals, the Government is also seeking ‘views on other approaches which might help to ensure that charitable relief is targeted effectively’. The Charity Tax Group will be submitting a response, and you can read a full article about this on their website here, and feed into their response to the Welsh Government by email. The consultation closes on 24 April.
Further to our recent news articles (here and here) and the discussion board postings regarding the possibility of making protective claims for overpaid VAT on electronic publications, we have been in contact with some of the major suppliers of e-publications to the HE sector. Several suppliers have been extremely helpful and come back to us with details of how they would like to receive information for any claims, along with contact details to send claims to. We've set out details of all of this in our full news article here and the latest updates from suppliers can be found here (updated as and when we receive more supplier responses).
HMRC has contacted all universities and asked their main contacts to share with all staff who deal with HMRC, that HMRC has issued a new protocol for communicating with them, and summarised in this article. This protocol applies to advisers acting on your behalf as well as to university staff contacting HMRC directly.
Keep up to date with all the latest tax news with the TaxHE newsletter.
PAY AND PENSIONS
The second round of International Forums is open for booking. The sessions discuss the issues on all areas of Global Mobility in the HE Sector. Please click to book at a region near you, and for more information. Agendas will be published nearer the time, but if you are attending and would like a specific issue covered or question answered during the Forum, please contact Julia Ascott.
From 6 April 2020, the reference period for determining an average week's pay for workers with irregular hours in order to calculate statutory holiday pay will increase from 12 weeks to 52 weeks (or the number of complete weeks the employee has been employed if not yet reached 52 weeks). The aim is to provide a more appropriate reference period for those workers with irregular working patterns. There’s further guidance from HMRC, and a useful outline article from KPMG.
The Government has issued a new policy paper on the National Minimum Wage (NMW), setting out major changes to the NMW regulations which is due to come into force from April 2020. It is interesting that this is a policy change, not a consultation for review, so it will come into force in April 2020 without revision. We are pleased that some of the changes introduced in the policy are those which were raised by BUFDG in our response to the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy's Consultation on 'National Minimum Wage: Consultation on salaried workers and salary sacrifice schemes' in 2019.
There’s lots more Payroll news on the Payroll and Expenses resources section of the BUFDG website.
ETHICAL / SUSTAINABILITY
The Charity Commission has published a blog post on responsible investments, with the aim of encouraging charities to consider whether their investments are consistent with their purpose and values. It is looking for responses from trustees, investment managers, employees or anyone else with an interest in this issue. The deadline is Tuesday 31 March and responses should be emailed.
One high-profile environmental case this month saw the Court of Appeal’s rule against the government’s plans to build a third runway at Heathrow. It suggests that the government will have to begin to take its own law – that the UK should be carbon neutral by 2050 – more seriously when undertaking major projects. HS2 is next in the firing line for campaigners and, while both projects are still likely to go ahead once the legal hurdles have been cleared, it is clear that it is no longer business as usual. The HE sector’s own Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education, backed by major sector bodies, is likely to set universities the target of being carbon neutral by 2030, and the OfS looks likely to agree to these targets and has vocalised in meeting minutes that it could “support registered providers to meet [them]”.
Further to our coverage in last month’s Digest (where we reported on HEPI’s suggestion that 2020 could be the ‘year of Value’ in HE, among other things), the value debate continues. Wonkhe have a couple of interesting articles, with Editor Debbie McVitty asking where the debate goes next, and Jim Dickinson looking at news reports of overcrowding in universities. Meanwhile, UUK President Professor Julia Buckingham argued for a broader definition of value in a speech to the Advance HE Let’s talk value conference in February, in an attempt to head of concerns that government was zeroing in on graduate salaries as a key measure. UUK’s own conference on Value is on the 2nd April.
Last month’s digest just missed out on the UCAS announcement of 2020/21 student application numbers. Despite the demographic nadir, there was a 1.5% increase in 18-year-olds applying, and record numbers from China and India. The Guardian has a good round-up.
We have three jobs of the month for this month – all quite high-level. As well as all the procurmenet posts (see above), UCLAN is looking for a Director of Finance Operations, with a deadline of 28th March. Also on the list is a Director of Finance and Operations at the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama (9th March), and a Deputy CFO at Jisc (15th March). As usual, there are lots of other vacancies listed on the BUFDG jobs page.