WQ91497 (e) Tabled on 21/02/2024

What assessment has the Government made of the impact of cuts to the social partnership budget on industrial action in the higher education sector?

Answered by Minister for Education and the Welsh Language | Answered on 29/02/2024

Working together we have achieved much to ensure fair working and procurement practices across the sector. The Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act 2023 fulfils a Programme for Government commitment to place social partnership on a statutory footing in Wales.

Higher and further education institutions are not subject to the social partnership duties in the Act, but as significant employment sectors they are represented on the Social Partnership Council,

Neither the Welsh Government nor the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) have issued guidance to higher education institutions in relation to the social partnership aspects of the Act; however, HEFCW’s Financial Management Code, which applies to all regulated institutions requires adherence to all legislative rules, and failure to comply could trigger regulatory action.

In relation to the socially responsible procurement duties of the Act, these do not apply to higher education institutions as they are not public bodies; however, we understand that universities intend to follow the spirit of the legislation in terms of good practice, so they can engage with the market on the same basis as public bodies.

Further education institutions are not subject to the social partnership duties; however we have been working with the sector and joint trade unions to embed the principles of social partnership on a voluntary basis. Much of this work has centred on an ongoing review of lecturer workload and is overseen by a national steering group run on social partnership principles and has included the development of local workload action plans by each college, developed in social partnership.

We funded a social partnership pilot at Coleg Cambria in 2022-23, and a second pilot in Coleg Gwent in 2023-24, which is due to be completed in a few weeks’ time. Both involved training, tools and resources to establish a sustainable model of social partnership in the partner colleges. Outputs from the pilots are being disseminated sector-wide as models of good practice. Project funding has also been allocated to UCU to evaluate colleges’ social partnership activities as part of the workload review, and to identify case studies.