Andy Haldane provides an update on the RSA's new strategy, and outlines the key facts regarding our negotiations with IWGB trade union in light of recent allegations made about the RSA.
As many of us return after time away during August, may I welcome you back refreshed and reinvigorated. And I hope with a sense of excitement, for this seems set to be one of the most successful periods in the RSA’s history. Here’s why.
All of our strategic investments, centred around our new mission, are now beginning to pay off. Our Design for Life interventions are gaining fantastic momentum, with new strategic partnerships blossoming across a rich array of organisations and companies. The promise of any one of these interventions would be enough to sustain an organisation twice our size. We currently have a dozen of them! Each is a start-up on the cusp of achieving rapid scale-up, with the prospect of large and lasting social impact. We look forward to working with you all to help realise this ambition.
The same is true if we switch to Fellowship. Our growing reputation means we are attracting ever larger numbers of Fellows – now well in excess of 31,000. This has been bolstered by the progress of our Life Fellows recruitment and our new Young Fellow recruitment campaign which is adding rapidly to the number of Fellows under the age of 25. To meet the demand from Fellows for deeper engagement, we have strengthened our Fellowship team. And planning has already started for our next Fellows Festival in March next year, bigger and better than ever.
Turning to the House, you will have seen from recent Newsletters we have transformed our Reception areas and Coffee House. As well as the redecoration and re-fitting, we now have a regenerative menu and regenerative themes running throughout these areas. Adding to the look and feel are the blue plaques now stationed around the House bringing our history to life. And extra materials from the Archives, and new art exhibitions from Fellows, now adorn our rooms, bringing together old and new and adding vibrancy to our fantastic building. We have big further plans for the House over the next 12 months.
Our fixture list of Events is blossoming, in person and online. Highlights include the second season of our “Evening with...” programme with superstar speakers and chefs, acclaimed children’s authors Katherine Rundell and Michael Morpurgo in conversation, and the forthcoming celebrations of this year’s Bicentenary medal and the centenary of the RSA’s Student Design Awards. Our “What Could go Right?” programme of talks continues through the year with some fantastic speakers, including on the future of the House of Lords, Commons and the civil service. Looking ahead, planning has already begun on celebrations of our 270th birthday in March next year.
We are thrilled at the new talent we have attracted into the RSA recently. To complete the Executive Committee team, Vicky Kington joined us recently as Director of Content and Communication from the Royal Opera House. After a year of staff change to accompany our change of strategy, I am delighted with the RSA team we have now assembled, rich in talent, expertise and experience. They will provide just the foundation we need for the next phase of the RSA’s exciting journey, working alongside Fellows and external partners.
With so much going right at the RSA - strategy, House, Fellowship and staff all going great guns - it was disappointing to see a couple of articles in the press recently painting a misleading and inaccurate picture of our charity. Our robust responses, correcting these unfounded allegations, can be found here and here. The key facts are set out below, as we feel it is important to be as transparent as possible. Attempts to paint a false picture of the RSA, and to distract us from our mission, will fail in an optimistic, values-led organisation like ours.
Our theme for the year is what could go right. At the RSA, so much is going right across every aspect of our new strategy. I am very proud of the transformations underway. I hope, as Fellows, you are too. And this is just the start of what is set to be a rapidly ascending arc. As people never tire of telling me (and I never tire of hearing!) something special is happening here. No-one has an agenda that comes close to matching ours for ambition and impact. The next 12 months are about fulfilling that ambition and having that impact. May I end by thanking you once again, as Fellows, for your on-going commitment to making that a reality.
Key facts on negotiations with IWGB trade union
After being recognised for collective bargaining on pay, hours and benefits in March 2023, we entered pay bargaining conversations with the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) trade union. We have approached pay offers by putting the well-being of our staff front and centre. But we have also made it clear throughout negotiations that any pay settlement needs to be consistent with the financial sustainability of the charity, otherwise we are storing up problems for the future.
After running operating deficits for 5 years, and investing over £2million of reserves to preserve jobs through the pandemic, this means balancing the RSA’s books on a sustainable basis. This position is unambiguously endorsed by the RSA’s auditors, Audit and Risk Committee, Trustee Board and Executive Committee, all of whom have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the RSA’s financial sustainability.
Acting in line with these budgetary principles, and following five rounds of collective bargaining conversations with IWGB, we awarded an across-the-board pay increase of £1000 to all staff, except the Executive Team, last month. This was to avoid ongoing delays to increasing salaries against a backdrop of on-going cost of living pressures. This was in addition to mid-year pay increases made to a large number of RSA staff, averaging around £2100, during this financial year. We also committed to return to collective bargaining this month, once updated information on the RSA’s mid-year financial position was available.
Having reviewed the budget position this month, and in line with aiming to run a balanced budget on a sustainable basis, we have offered a further one-off across-the-board payment to all staff of £500, except the Executive Team. If implemented, this would mean there has been an average salary increase of around 7% for RSA staff in the bargaining unit this financial year. These pay rises are skewed towards the RSA’s lower paid workers and the average pay rise is above the rate of inflation and pay rises in the public sector.
The IWGB have, disappointingly, rejected all of our pay offers and, despite our requests, have not engaged with conciliation through ACAS. They are threatening strike action this week. This appears to be motivated largely by gaining publicity for themselves rather than acting in the interests of our people or our charity. Regrettably, this has been a familiar pattern for well over a year.
Over that period, the IWGB have engaged in a public campaign to spread inaccurate information about the RSA and its staff, as evidenced by (but not confined to) two recent national newspaper articles. This has been accompanied by a campaign of malicious personal attacks on the RSA and its staff, in print and social media.
This approach is not conducive to constructive industrial relations. The RSA has issued a number of statements correcting factual inaccuracies in these communications. The Board and Executive have both written, separately and repeatedly, asking IWGB to cease and desist from these actions and from issuing defamatory and malicious communications, in the interests of good industrial relations and for the well-being of our charity and its staff. The IWGB, however, has continued its campaign. Given its severity and sustained nature, we are taking all necessary steps, and reserve our rights regarding this matter, to protect the RSA and its staff.
Prior to arriving at the RSA, I had over twenty years of experience working alongside trade unions. This was a tremendously enjoyable and fruitful partnership. Arriving at the RSA, I have been surprised and appalled at the behaviour I have experienced from the IWGB, a trades union not part of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). This behaviour has not only been at odds with the values of the RSA, but with the good work and good name of the trade union movement.
We will continue to approach collective bargaining with the IWGB with the same calmness, consistency and seriousness we have so far, acting in good faith, in line with our fiduciary responsibilities and with the well-being of our staff front and centre. We remain, as ever, open to discussions. By acting in this way, we hope the pay issue can be resolved quickly and amicably in the best interests of our charity, its exceptional staff team and our fantastic Fellows.