David Cameron will be announcing his new cabinet members and more junior ministers this week. Those of us who work in pensions already know that Ian Duncan Smith will remain Minister of State at the DWP, but who will be his pension minister?
Ros Altmann is rumoured to have turned the job don, preferring to champion from the Lords a wider consumerist brief. These free-roving briefs have come to grief in the past, most notably when Frank Field was asked to think the unthinkable, did – and was fired.
I’d have been quite happy to see Ros as pensions minister but suspect that she was probably right and (despite my Jeremiah-warning), I think she will be as effective inside Government as she was out.
I’ve been equally rude about all the Tory hopefuls to expect to be seen as firmly in the opposition camp- but that’s not the way I see it. Having gulped hard at 10pm on Thursday night, I get back to the day job of restoring confidence in pensions, building a consensus around good ideas like auto-enrolment and CDC, tempering the pension fascists putting a road-block in the way of pension freedoms but building codes of good conduct that will help ordinary people get proper advice on what to do both in and at retirement.
It seems to me that the advice to those before retirement is – to quote John Ralfe – to save harder and earlier. The new LTA and AA proposals will make many in the higher earnings brackets less enthusiastic and stop many aspiring to be, from considering a big fat pension pot – worthwhile. But we are where we are, Treasury trumps even Ros on this,
I would like to see the two pension stalwarts of the last five years have a place in the political debate. Gregg McClymont and his researcher Andy Tarrant have invested so much of themselves in understanding pensions and what can be done to make them better. It would be a waste if he was never to be given the chance to use it. Let’s hope he can find his way back to Westminster sooner rather than late.
As for Steve Webb, Lord Webb of Yate as I would have him, he- like Ros, is passionate and knowledgeable – maybe headstrong – “hubristic” as one close aide as has called him, but a wonderfully clear thinker and speaker. As with Gregg. He is still Parliamentarian of the year and all who want pensions to work, will want Steve to work in pensions.
The learning curve is going to be too steep for any Minister to do this job properly in the next 6 months. Thankfully, Steve Webb has left a strong and stable team in the DWP. In particular Charlotte Clark is an outstanding civil servant who has seen auto-enrolment from gestation , through it’s youth and will hopefully be on hand to guide it to adulthood.
She understands CDC, so do the policy team working on the legislation. This may have been Steve Webb’s baby, but – if no more than as a default decumulation mechanism for those for whom cash, drawdown and annuities don’t appeal, – it must survive.
If there is one area in need of immediate surgery, it is the mess surrounding the pension freedoms, Michelle Cracknell and those in Pension Wise need money not just to do their work, but to make sure that people know about the Pension Wise service and use it. We would like to see more done in the workplace on a “one to many” basis. There is a need to improve awareness of the big later life issues and to encourage people to plan for them.
So the tone of this blog will change over the next few days and weeks. I’m not going to sulk nor be disheartened, I’m going to be as bright about the next five years, as I was about the last five. Things are -for pensions and the country – immeasurably better than they looked in 2010 and I very much hope I will be saying the same this time in 2020.