Aberystwyth University Statement

16 August 2013

The University is strongly committed to the Arts Centre, and we share with our different stakeholders and the local community the fervent wish to safeguard and enhance the provision of excellent and creative programming for all ages in both languages. We appreciated the opportunity to provide further information at a recent public meeting and we will continue to seek ways of communicating our strong commitment to the Arts Centre and involving our stakeholders as the Centre's Strategic Plan is delivered. We want to rebuild trust.

1.The Arts Centre within the University 

The Arts Centre has been a department of the University for 40 years and has had great benefit from its inclusion in the University. The University provides financial protection,  carrying the financial risk for any shortfall each year. It gives access to professional support in a whole range of areas; and involvement in a rich academic community which offers Arts Centre staff the opportunity for recognition and extension of their talents and skills. Naturally, as a valued part of Aberystwyth University, the Arts Centre also contributes to the delivery of the University’s Strategic Plan; and it is also vital that the Centre meets the interests and strategy of the Arts Council of Wales, which is a key supporter. 

We have recognised that external involvement in the Arts Centre is beneficial. As a University, the involvement of the external members of our Council brings us excellent contributions from a range of sectors, and essential independence in governance. It is because we see these benefits of the input from high calibre representatives from the arts that we set up the Advisory Board for the Arts Centre in summer 2012 to consider the Centre’s strategy and programme. It includes representatives of the Arts Centre’s different constituencies, and crucially of the Arts Council of Wales.  The role of the Advisory Board is developing well, and its external members have been fully involved in developing the Arts Centre’s excellent and ambitious Strategic Plan. 

Our next step is to appoint a new Director for the Arts Centre and we shall be working closely with the Arts Council of Wales and with other members of the Advisory Board on the appointment process which is in train. Securing the best possible appointment, alongside the important external presence on the existing Advisory Board, is essential for the future leadership and development of the Arts Centre. 

The University has provided £5.1 million in funding to the Arts Centre over the past five years, and envisages continuing funding, on the same scale as at present, as part of the new Institute of Literature, Languages and Creative Arts, which came into being on 1 August. The new Arts Centre Director will be empowered, within the framework of the Institute, to deliver its ambitious Strategic Plan. This Plan was drawn up after thorough consultation and was endorsed by both the Arts Council of Wales and our own Governing Body. The Institute model permits the Centre to operate within a devolved environment, to draw on the resources of other University Departments, and to enjoy practical subsidiarity which allows decisions to be taken at the level best suited to draw on the expertise of those running the Centre. The Arts Centre Director will be responsible for liaison with both the Advisory Board and the Arts Council of Wales; and an essential part of the role will be to ensure that the very diverse community and stakeholder voices, in both languages, are heard and that the future sustainability of the Arts Centre is secured. 

The University and the community are both agreed that the future sustainability of the Arts Centre is of paramount importance and to enable this we look forward to the appointment of the new Director. The Director will work with the Advisory Board to ensure that their external leadership and advisory roles are fully embedded. We see this external involvement alongside continued integration into the life and work of both the University and the community as the best way to assure a bright future for the Arts Centre.

2.Allegations of bullying 

One of the issues raised by our local UCU Union in the media, and again at the recent public meeting, involves unsubstantiated allegations of bullying and of the regular use of suspensions by the University. These claims have never been particularised and despite repeated requests from the University that specific details should be provided, no details have been forthcoming. The University has a policy of zero tolerance of bullying and robust processes to prevent it. We can confirm that the University has never seen suspension as anything other than a last resort. In every instance where action is necessary, we examine all options rigorously.  We believe that the relatively small number of cases of suspensions over the past 3 years bears this out. In terms of the disciplinary process, we are encouraging our local trades unions to continue to discuss with us a more streamlined process. 

The University takes its responsibility as an employer very seriously and is always available to engage with all our union representatives on issues of common interest. We have met and corresponded with the trades union, UCU, whose President raised the concerns in the media.  As yet, despite every opportunity and request, we have not had any detailed information from them or received the ‘dossier’ of cases referred to in the media. We cannot address, or indeed refute, allegations when they have not been presented to us or when opportunities have not been taken to raise concerns through the appropriate channels. That said, it is noteworthy that the objective and independent evidence that is available takes a very different perspective:- the national UCU occupational stress survey for 2012 clearly shows Aberystwyth in the top 20 universities for wellbeing, and in bottom position of all the universities reported on, for the percentage of employees saying they are bullied at work. However, we remain open to holding further meetings and to considering any evidence when we do receive it; and we propose to invite all trades unions recognised on our campus to a feedback and discussion session to take stock of the present arrangements. We are always open to ways of improving communication and ways of working together. 

An example of Aberystwyth University’s commitment to the input of staff and unions in shaping our ways of working is the review of the Dignity and Respect at Work policy and procedure. This is currently taking place through a series of workshops designed to listen to staff and hear their views about how we can best support the resolution of issues they may have in the workplace. The University’s Equality and Diversity advisor, Departmental equality champions and HR staff held the first pilot session in August and we encourage the unions to take part in this innovative way of designing a policy and procedure drawing upon the knowledge and experience of our staff. 

3.Health and Safety investigation 

Much of the discussion and much of the recent emotion around the Arts Centre has focused around individuals. Until now, the University has been restricted in its public comments by our obligation of confidentiality to protect those involved. However, now that the outcome of due process is known, we believe it is in the public interest to comment in more detail. 

We can confirm that, in accordance with University procedures, an independent panel has met and has conducted an extensive examination of a range of allegations in respect of an individual, relating to health and safety. All parties have now received a copy of the panel’s report and its recommendations. 

Within this report, critical statements are made about a wide range of health and safety arrangements in place at the Arts Centre during early 2013. The University takes the many concerns raised by the independent panel extremely seriously, and has already taken action to address these significant health and safety issues, as the safety and wellbeing of the community members, students and staff who use our premises is of paramount importance to us. In particular, the independent panel has drawn attention to the absence of rigour in the Arts Centre in health and safety matters, noting the very serious potential consequences of an insufficiently robust approach.  The panel has recommended that the University takes immediate steps to remove health and safety responsibility from the individual until it can be assured that certain conditions in respect of health and safety training have been met.  

The University was extremely concerned when the serious health and safety issues were raised in the first instance and has taken extreme care to ensure a thorough examination of the matter.   The individual involved remains our employee, and at no point during this process has the University made any proposal to her, her representatives or the panel that she should be dismissed. For its own part, the University is now considering its response to the panel’s decision and recommendations as the process requires. Our firm intention is to continue to work with the individual to identify her future role. This can be employment within the Arts Centre or elsewhere in the University. We will be offering opportunities to address training and development issues identified..  The University must   ensure that any employee with responsibility for health and safety meets the accepted standards required. 

We are pleased that the panel have now reached a decision, and while we regret the need for this investigation, we are reassured that this decision indicates our action was necessary and appropriate, and taken only to ensure full respect for the health and safety of all those using and working in the Arts Centre.

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