Pensions Minister role shouldn’t be a ‘training ground for up and coming MPs’

Written by Talya Misiri

Stability is needed in the pensions sector, so the Pensions Minister role shouldn’t be viewed as a “training ground for up and coming MPs”, it has been said.

Responding to the appointment of Guy Opperman as Pensions Minister and the amendment of the role to Parliamentary Under Secretary for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, the industry has emphasised the need for stability.

PTL managing director Richard Butcher said: “We’re sorry to see Richard Harrington go and are hopeful that the government isn’t reverting to treating the pension brief as some sort of ministerial training ground for up and coming MPs who are bought in and moved on six months later.

“There has been a lot of change in recent years. We need a period of stability to properly absorb all of that change and time to establish whether it all works. What we do hope he does is take that particular message to the Treasury and fight the corner… They [the Treasury] need to understand, through the medium of Mr Opperman, that continuous revolution is not good for the success of long-term social or economic policy,” Butcher added.

Considering areas that Opperman will need to address, both Pensions Management Institute president Kevin LeGrand and Lincoln Pensions CEO Darren Redmayne shared the view regarding the protection of struggling schemes.

LeGrand said: “We look forward to an early opportunity to reiterate the case for the protection of the at-risk pensions species.”

Redmayne agreed: “There appears to be rare political consensus that members need better protection to address issues faced in cases like BHS, British Steel, and now Hoover.”

Furthermore, on the addition of the ‘Financial Inclusion’ part of the brief, both Butcher and PASA chair Margaret Snowdon welcomed the move.

Snowdon explained: “The combined remit of pensions and financial inclusion is on trend for the need for better financial education and guidance for those managing pension schemes. We believe he will be tough and fair and listen to reasonable arguments for the good of UK pensions overall.”

Similarly, Butcher said: As to the new title, we welcome it. Pensions are not a siloed financial product. They exist in the context of the whole of a persons later life health wealth and work. Poverty and financial exclusion are another part of the same system. His living up to that part of his title will result in a more robust and therefore better policy environment.”

LeGrand added: “It's certainly right to recognise that people need to become more involved in managing their own financial affairs. Pensions are only one part of the equation. If this is what Mr Opperman's title is implying then that is to be welcomed.”

Nonetheless, others in the pensions industry questioned the expanded remit of the pensions minister.

The Association of Member Nominated Trustees co-chair David Weeks stated that the new title “certainly sounds modish” and that it “needs to include real clout to encourage more employers and individuals to invest more to secure income in retirement.”

In agreement, Salvus Master Trust managing director Graham Peacock noted that Opperman’s “extensive” appointment “shows the continuation of a worrying trend, apparent since the days of Steve Webb: the fact that pensions carry on slipping down the government’s to-do list”.

Peacock also expressed the view that the role of the Pensions Minister is not valued. He emphasised that: “Pensions are a long-term solution for a long-term need. So why do successive governments treat the Office of Pensions Minister with such short termism? There have been 13 ministers in the past 20 years and this simply adds to the uncertainty. Pension reform just does not seem to be enough of a priority for the government despite it impacting millions of people living and working in the UK today."

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