Thursday, 6 December 2007

Pensions Bill & de-regulatory review

It was a bit rubbish of me to not mention the Pensions Bill yesterday. You can download it here, and the GMB reaction is here.

Also published was the Government's response to the deregulatory review which is here. TUC response is here.

I've heard contradictory views on the deregulatory review. One, from the union side, is that it was a relatively successful damage limitation exercise. The other, from the employer side, is that it didn't go far enough to make life easier for those employers running good schemes. I do try to listen with an open mind to what the employer lobby says. Rather controversially I don't think company directors spend entire their working day plotting ways to do over their employees (I mean they must have to spend at least some time counting all their money and smoking cigars).

However on this occaison I am not convinced for a number of reasons. Any changes that would have been a significant cost saving (significant enough to make employers think twice about shutting a scheme) would have had to come at the expense of members' benefits. There is a trade-off to be made for sure, but I think any big savings would have been controversial. Secondly I kind of think the damage is already done. Most DB schemes are shut and, more importantly, the finance directors are now in control. I think they are going to be more bothered by risk than cost. And unfortunately I think that many will simply conclude that the risk of DB far outweighs any deregulatory changes that lower the cost - especially if competitors have shut their schemes. DB is largely over in the private sector, and the deregualtory review was never going to stem the flood, let alone reverse it.

Finally, and rather traditionally, I simply don't agree that there should be a significant further shift in the balance of power between scheme members and companies in favour of the latter. Companies promised to pay certain levels of pensions and they should honour that as far as possible. These promises were cheap when markets were good, now they are expensive - that is risk for you. Why should employees pay because companies ended up losing the bet? We have taken a major hit on pensions in the private sector, to give employers even more room to cut back just doesn't seem right.

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