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Pensions Minister Steve Webb declares himself “A man with a plan” for bigger-picture pensions reform at B&CE-sponsored fringe event

23 Sep 10 At the SMF fringe event held at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference last night - sponsored by B&CE Benefit Schemes, the largest stakeholder pension provider to the construction industry - the Coalition Government’s Pensions Minister Steve Webb delivered an upbeat vision for the future of pension reform in the UK.

While much of the debate focused on the important changes necessary to ensure automatic enrolment is successful, the Minister declared himself “a man with a plan” and that bigger picture reform was very much on his agenda.

The event included presentations from an impressive panel including B&CE Insurance Limited Director John Jory, PPI Research Director Chris Curry, Pensions Week Editor David Rowley, chairman and SMF Research Fellow James Lloyd and the Coalition Government’s Pension Minister, Steve Webb. 

Webb’s remarks confirmed the widely-held view that he has indeed come to the position of Pension Minister armed with a plan for bigger reform, well beyond that currently going through with the passing of the previous Government’s Pensions Act.  He expressed his frustration at not being able to share any of these plans publicly yet, but left the capacity crowd at the event hopeful that many of the as yet unaddressed pension issues will soon be tackled.  These included the means testing challenge, the stifling complexity of pensions rules and the necessity to get younger and unpensioned people re-engaged with long term saving; some of the crucial issues Webb agreed needed to be addressed.  

Discussion at the event did get into detail on many of the changes to current reform proposed by B&CE, including those under formal investigation by the automatic enrolment review team lead by Paul Johnson, David Yeandle OBE and Adrian Boulding. These included:

The automatic enrolment rules needed to be made much simpler and more practical.

Should this include setting a minimum earning level for employees before they are auto-enrolled and the exclusion of micro-employers with less than five staff?

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If micro-employers are to be excluded, their staff must retain right to enrol into NEST or equivalent with full employer contributions.

How do we tackle the implications and challenges associated with increasing the state retirement age, especially for manual workers in industries like Construction and those groups not enjoying the same increases in longevity as the bulk of the population?

The need for retirement reforms to be tackled holistically, with full joined up thinking across DWP, HMT and the rest of Government.

Acknowledgment that all these issues involve difficult trade-offs between at least two important objectives, for example, excluding micro-employers could make automatic enrolment more likely to succeed as a concept , but these businesses employ a large number of the people the reform trying to get saving.

Summarising the event, B&CE Insurance Limited Director John Jory said:

“This was an important event involving a frank and pithy debate with the Pensions Minister.  We were very pleased to have the opportunity to air our concerns about the crucial need for simplification of the automatic enrolment rules.  B&CE firmly believes that setting a sensible minimum salary level, moving to a basic earnings basis and excluding micro-employers but giving their staff the right to participate are essential steps if auto enrolment is to succeed, which it must. Public opinion being what it is, unlike the launch of a new iPhone or Microsoft software, auto enrolment must be right first time, there will be no scope for auto enrolment version 2”.

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