This must be an odd time for our new pension minister – Ros Altmann.
As I’m finding out coming back from America, the first few days can carry you through on adrenalin. But then comes that wave of tiredness as the adrenaline wears off and the ineluctable modality of ministerial chores kicks in.
In the thick of it , you stare into the dispatch box, full of issues you never knew existed. Your own department has stopped meeting and greeting and now mutters “you know she’s not quite Steve” as you pass the baffle boards of Caxton House.
The ermine robes have been fitted, you know your way around the House of Lords, the Baronetcy is sitting easy on your shoulders. But there’s something missing. It’s like losing 42 years and being back at school
You’re head girl now and all the people who loved and loathed you are still at school and some are beginning to call you names. You know you must rise above it, you must move on, but you want to be back in the playground.
The first three weeks
Ros Altmann’s first three weeks in Government have been quiet. A letter to the Times rebutting an uprising from Netsmum over the auto-enrolment of nannies.
She’s published a valedictory blog and an interview in the Evening Standard. I hope her now disclosed passion for the Spurs earns her a spare season ticket, she can invite Ed Balls to the home game against “Premiership Norwich”.
If she can send Yeovil Town another Ryan Mason, we might even get back into Division one.
Nothing binned – nothing added
So far there have been no new initiatives and no policies binned. This is good
While both the former pension minister and shadow pension minister have been vocal on change, she has not.
I suspect she’s had enough time working closely with the Blair Government, to know that staying “on message” is the first lesson a new minister must learn.
To continue the head girl analogy, she has access to the master’s common room now, she speaks as more than Ros Altmann.
So far so good
I’m happy for our pension minister to go at her own pace, knowing that that pace is frenetic. I don’t want anything from the hip, if Steve Webb had a fault, it was an impetuosity that arose from a hubristic view of his own infallibility
Altmann is not that confidant, nor I suspect prone to the same issue. If anything her problem is the other way, craving validation.
She will not get it for long from the pension’s industry. The knives are already being sharpened by the “Pension Experts” for whom Altmann is an anathema. Altmann has few friends among the pension elite, she holds no candles for the powerful vested interests that have a charge on the nation’s pension wealth.
When she gets going – it will hurt the pension industry in the one place it really cares about, its pocket.
The tough stuff is yet to come
Here are the five issues that Altmann can deal with in the next six months. I’ve given her a tip for each.
Each of these first six tasks requires out-reach into the community. This is not about focus groups but about meeting with the right people in the pension industry to make things happen.
- Altmann will have to up the promotion of Pension Wise, though the feedback from those who are going is clearly good, all the signs suggest that most people are not going. Pension Wise needs to get on the front foot again and get to the people it is aimed at. Plowman’s tip; Revive Webb’s plan for “one to many” and gets Pension Wise out on UK wide roadshows.
- There needs immediate action to unblock the drains to allow transfers from occupational schemes to personal pensions for people to exercise their freedoms. Plowman’s tip; Meet with IFA representatives Three Sixty and others to create a code of conduct similar to Margaret Snowden’s initiative on ETVs
- Auto-enrolment needs to be more about pensions and less about compliance. Plowman’s tip; sit in on the FofAE “choices task force to understand how employers can wise up to pension choice and release themselves from archaic administration
- The cracks in the new single state pension should not be papered over; the issues with Contracting Out Deductions need to be explained; Plowman’s tip; set up an educational task force to explain what is happening in 2016 without spin. Where there are issues, agree a process and timetable to rectify them
- Pension Scams need to be exposed; Plowman’s tip; incentivise whistleblowing. Plowman’s tip; Right now it is hard to blow the whistle on scams and unrewarding. The scammers are thugs who get ugly if you try to rumble them.
- Pot follows member needs to be properly addressed; Plowman’s tip; Adrian Boulding has been put in charge of TISA, get him working for this so we have action not words.
There’s a lot more backroom stuff that needs to be done.
7. We need to continue with the long and difficult secondary legislation needed to get a long term fix to the decumulation issue (CDC in drawdown).
8. We need to get a lasting solution to the issues of those who have bought annuities at the wrong time and should be given the chance to exercise their freedoms.
9. We need to finish the job of improving workplace pensions by giving IGCs and trustees a proper means of assessing value for money and by finally ridding ourselves of commission that has done such harm to DC outcomes.
10. We need NEST to do more for less– it has grown fat and lazy on its DWP loan- we need it scaled down to fit its diminished role. We have pension choice in the workplace, we do not have to subsidise NEST as we currently do.
These latter issues are back-office, they do not need out-reach but they are no less important that the first six.
I make no apology for banging on , every day, about what needs to be done. There is no better forum for Altmann to study than the Pension Play Pen Linked In group, no better blog to read than this one.
This is because our efforts are focussed solely on restoring confidence in pensions, something that is the principal interest of our Pension Minister.
We don’t want to be in the DWP’s camp, we want a healthy distance from the head girl. We want to stay in the playground. But when called upon, people like me and those I mention in these blogs, will step up and explain.
It’s fun in the playground- but I’d rather be Ros Altmann.