CONSULTATION on local action & KPMG/ Size & Shape Review

The two key issues in this memo:

  1. E-survey consultation of all members on forms of action to take in dispute
  2. The Size & Shape Review / KPMG on campus

Summary (tl;dr): Goldsmiths is outsourcing to KPMG a review of its academic portfolio, internal structures and professional services in order to cut staff costs, according to a tight timeline. Please vote in the e-survey now (sent out to members on Friday) to give us options to fight back against ongoing staff cuts and their impact on equalities and workload, and the imminent dramatic restructuring and further job cuts.


At a very well attended branch meeting (September 22, 2020), members voted overwhelmingly to commence our ballot for industrial action over staff cuts and equalities. We have already had significant job losses over the summer and more are threatened with the ‘Size and Shape’ agenda: see below for our first crucial report on this and the KPMG review which has already begun. Just as in the summer, Goldsmiths’ management is using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to cut jobs.  

The branch has agreed to focus our actionon an assessment boycott (Action Short of a Strike [ASOS] with Assessment Boycott). We have outlined a ballot and action timeline (see attached) that would see the boycott in place for the Dec/Jan marking period and, should the dispute remain unresolved, continue into the May/June marking period.  

We are now surveying the whole membership to take the temperature of the growing mood for action, in preparation for the formal ballot. Please read the below and then answer the simple three-question survey (link has been circulated to all members by email).

We are asking members to vote for all three forms of action (ASOS, ASOS with Assessment Boycott, Strike). Though our main focus will be on an assessment boycott, it is important that we have other options available, including strike action as a last resort. Voting for this will allow us to have the threat of strike as a backup in pressing our dispute, and especially in case the issues underpinning the dispute worsen. Any decision to implement this option would be decided democratically by the branch, but having it mandated in advance will make it easier and quicker to implement should it prove necessary. We are also asking you to vote for action short of a strike (ASOS) outside of the boycott. This will enable departments and professional service areas to engage in more local forms of resistance, and will also ensure that members who do not mark student work can participate in the action. These shape these actions take can be determined by departments and service areas with support of GUCU reps.

Please vote ‘Yes’ ‘Yes’ ‘Yes’ in the e-survey (sent to all members) and the subsequent formal ballot.  

  1. The “size and shape” of things to come – why this action is crucial

During a time of national crisis, our employers are introducing destructive changes to our working conditions at an alarming rate, with potentially damaging implications for student and staff health, safety, jobs, equality and wellbeing. Over the summer we saw job cuts for AL, GTT and FTC colleagues, increased workloads for remaining professional and academic staff, exacerbated by the non-replacement of staff taking voluntary severance, and an utter disregard for the College’s responsibilities with regard to equality.

Now the Warden and senior management are trying to impose the new ‘Size and Shape’ review (as part of what appears to be an accelerated repackaging of ‘Evolving Goldsmiths’).  In May 2020, Goldsmiths SMT drafted a ‘Recovery Plan’ which used an assumed 25% – 47% reduction in the numbers of new and continuing students to justify seeking a loan of around £25million. As of September 2020 however, recruitment has been a lot better than expected, and SMT has reported that the cash position by the end of the financial year (July 2020) is also nowhere near as bad as the initial forecasts had suggested. 

Yet management continue to repeat in their communications to all staff that the loan of £25 million (see the most recent Covid-19 briefing note 11) is absolutely necessary. While there is still some uncertainty around final intake figures, a deficit from last year, and uncertainty in the sector as a whole, it is unclear why this outdated £25 million figure continues to be circulated in Covid Briefings and elsewhere. 

More worrying perhaps, is that on the basis of this loan Goldsmiths was required to undergo an Independent Business Review (IBR), which is currently being carried out by KPMG. KPMG have been busy already at Goldsmiths in August and September working on market assessments and a financial review. Troublingly, however, they are also currently involved in a Portfolio Review based on the ‘Shape and Size’ principles, including a review of departments, programmes and modules, and have been tasked with producing a Service Model which will review and recommend the restructuring of professional services. As far as GUCU is aware, KPMG involvement in this deeper level of academic and services review is not a requirement of the IBR. Yet responsibility for this granular work down to module level, programme level and professional services has been outsourced to KPMG, and onceimplementing the review recommendations become part of a contractually binding loan agreement (a condition of the loan), our own governance structures will have little say in whether they are implemented. 

KPMG is one of the ‘big four’ accounting firms accused of tax shelter fraud, multiple counts of malpractice, and was famously sued for negligence and breaches in the catastrophic collapse of UK construction firm CarillionThis is who our senior managers have deemed best placed to tell us what we should teach, what departments we should have, and how our professional services should be run.

To be clear: the ultimate aim of the ‘Size and Shape’ review is to cut staff costs by reducing the number of programmes, modules and departments, and by further centralising and restructuring professional service. The KPMG review is a financial product, and will have a tight timeline tied to the loan application(s). If the College commits to implementing the review recommendations as a condition of any loan, SMT will be fully outsourcing their responsibility. As the academic portfolio and services review wraps up, we can expect announcements of further staffing reductions before the end of this term. Standard redundancy timetables would suggest that we will see consultation early in the new year with layoffs from Easter through Summer 2021. We need every possible means at our disposal to fight these measures (which is also why we’re working to a timeline that would allow an assessment boycott to begin in December and continue into the spring/summer assessment period).

It is difficult to understand why this massive restructuring is being prioritised by SMT and headlined in Covid-19 Briefings in the midst of a global pandemic when the safety of staff and students returning to campus is far from secure – not to mention those, especially technical and professional staff, who have been required to work on campus during the summer months without adequate health and safety measures in place. It is deeply distressing that SMT are ready to hand the keys to Goldsmiths to a disreputable company like KPMG, giving it authority over academic and administrative matters, the power to determine the shape of our professional services and levels of staffing, and eroding what is left of academic integrity and autonomy. No wonder, according to a recent internal survey of Goldsmiths employees, 64% of staff have little (24%) or no (40%) confidence in senior management to make the right decisions during the Covid-19 crisis, with only 11% saying they are very/extremely confident (and this was conducted before the ‘Size and Shape’ review and the decision to bring in KPMG were widely known).

If we want to stop this, we must all – professional, academic, technical and administrative staff, including every Goldsmiths employee – remember that the university depends entirely on our collective labour, and thus on our consent. We know from the brilliant initiatives around Collective Change, comprehensive alternative proposals for addressing the financial crisis drawn up by staff collectives, the Gold Paper and more, that we do not need financial consultants to run our affairs. And we have learned from our own resistance, the brave actions of precarious staff, of our colleagues in security and cleaning services, and from our brilliant students that we have collective power. We can’t wait for a Tory government bailout, or for someone in power to take responsibility for our health & safety, or for SMT to see sense: It’s up to us.

Please complete the simple pre-ballot E survey (emailed to members) now to indicate your support for taking collective action to defend ourselves.