Blog: Pensions reshuffle likely as Rudd and Opperman split support

As the Conservative leadership race picks up speed, Tory hopefuls continue to drip feed their policy ideas to the select few that are responsible for selecting the UK’s next leader.

So far, the contenders have managed to avoid anything remotely pensions related, however, the likelihood of a shake up in the Department for Work and Pensions is now looking increasingly probable.

While the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd has thrown her support behind Jeremy Hunt, Pensions Minister Guy Opperman has nailed his colours to the mast of Michael Gove - neither it should be noted, are supporting front-runner Boris Johnson.

Of course, a lot can happen in the theatre of politics in a week, and as BoJo gradually reintroduces himself in front of the cameras, who knows what sort of self-sabotage he is capable of. But, even if strong-favourite Johnson does not go all the way: the chances are that one of Rudd and Opperman will not be in their post by the summer recess.

Prime Ministers will generally appoint their own supporters in plum spots, such as the DWP, it is how Opperman and Rudd got their posts in the first place. So, working on the assumption that Johnson seals the leadership race, thus signalling the end of Opperman and Rudds’ tenure, the developments made in pensions over the past couple of years are all at risk.

Collective defined contribution (CDC), dashboard, infrastructure investments, ESG and faster transfer times could all be at risk of being culled or delayed under a new Pensions Minister or Secretary of State looking to make their mark.

While it is unlikely the larger of these projects will be stopped, significant uncertainty in areas which are considered “hobby horses”, perhaps towards the latter of that list, could well be find themselves without backing.

For example, when previous Pensions Minister Ros Altmann took office in 2015, she succeeded in killing pot follows member project, but failed to land a nail in the coffin of CDC.

Opperman has achieved almost two-years in office, and I think the pensions industry would agree that, while progress in some areas may have been slow, the ever growing pensions bill means that any change in this could deal a significant blow to the industry which is taking significant strides towards the future.

Of those supporting Boris, have any got a track record with pensions? If we do have to get used to dealing with a new Minister or Secretary of State, who is likely to take up the mantle?

One man who is likely to send a chilling shudder down the industry’s spine is current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, who last week fashioned a collective WTF from the industry by suggesting first-time homebuyers use their pensions savings to buy their first home. I think we'd all appreciate him staying over there.

Could Ian Duncan Smith, who today (11 June) threw his weight behind Johnson, make a fateful return as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions?

Or perhaps the apple won’t fall too far from the tree, could Opperman’s DWP colleague, current Minister of State for Employment, Alok Sharman, take on the mantle of Secretary of State?

Whatever happens, and whoever we find as our next Prime Minister, the likelihood of a pensions reshuffle is growing, which, one way or the other, will generate some uncertainty in areas of potential progress.

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