Why now’s the time to get behind our Pensions Minister





van gaal

Van Gaal


Good pension ministers, like good football managers are hard to find and harder to keep.

They are hard to find as it is a job few that are up to it would want. They are hard to keep because if you can manage the pension ministry , you can probably handle a whole lot more.

The ghosts of ministers past!

We have two extremely good pension ministers (Steve Webb and Gregg McClymont) working in the City at the moment, almost certainly enjoying a cushier life with a bigger salary than Baroness Altmann.

There appear a number of people who consider making life for our current Minister as miserable as possible. These people take delight in finding inconsistencies between positions adopted by Altmann in her life as a consumer champion (and before that a banker) and her current role.

Some are paid to write stories, some find delight in poking fun on social media, the majority find “Minister moaning” a pleasing  way of passing the time at networking events, in short- we love to bitch.

It does no good. It does a lot of harm. What is more serious is that it undermines her credibility within her own ministry and her bargaining power – on behalf of the pensions lobby, with larger departments – in particular the Treasury.

Under Steve Webb, the Pension Minister had unprecedented power. This was largely down to Webb himself who was an extremely effective parliamentarian (he was voted parliamentarian of the year by his peers in his final year of office). It was helped- by his recent admission- by his being a Liberal in a coalition where articulate and capable Liberal ministers were in short supply. Webb punched so far above his weight that he handed over a job to his successor that she had no chance of following.

I made the mistake of supposing that Altmann would be able to continue to promote pensions with the same freedom that Steve Webb had done  (in the latter years of his tenure). It may be that Ros altmann, towards the end of the decade does indeed reach out as Webb did, but clearly she is neither able nor willing to do so now.


Scared of the person she used to be?

Webb had the advantage of knowing the ropes, being an elected MP and having had some time to prepare for greatness. It would appear that Ros Altmann has not.

It is almost as if she is fighting her former self. But it is important that we help her to help us, not make the transition worse!


Steve – please stick to the day job!

For all these reasons, I think comparisons between what happened in the past parliament and what is happening now are invidious.

But I would go further than that. Steve Webb had the great advantage of writing the legislation, Altmann has the great disadvantage of delivering it, Not only is Altmann having to deliver to someone else’s specification, but she is being nobbled as she does so by the architect of her grand design who is busy telling prospective tenants the building isn’t fit for habitation!

But the building – namely the new single state pension and all that goes with it, is the building. We cannot have its architect redesigning it now it is built. We have to live with what we have, and live with criticisms of its design, because that is how great enterprises get constructed.

So I think Steve Webb could be a lot more helpful by sticking to the day job and sticking up for Altmann , not making her life more difficult.


We only have one Minister, let’s make it easy for her to help us

Ros Altmann, for all that we might like to bitch about her, is the Pension Minister we have and one who quite obviously has the interests of the consumer at heart. Read her article this week in the Telegraph and tell me the contrary

Why she took the job I don’t know, but I am very glad that she did. I say that because I have more confidence in her than any parliamentarian I have met.

Returning to my opening remarks, we have seen one great football manager driven from a great footballing job this week. We may see another one go next week and see both clubs weakened in the process. Those who drove Mourinho to the madness of writing his own death warrant (what he did on Monday night), now show themselves for what they are and will be considered the worse for it by Chelsea’s fan base.

The same could be said for those who are undermine Altmann. By undermining her, they are undermining the Pension Minister’s job and handing yet more power to the Treasury. The critical counterbalance to Treasury interference is the skill and experience of the DWP.

Most of all the DWP should be behind its minister (I hope this is the case but am not always sure of that). If the DWP do not have confidence in their own minister then it bloody well should have.

Altmann is not an open book,  her strengths- her compassion and her deep understanding of how people are and what they want, are not easily understood. She grew up in a tough world and she has operated for most of her adult life in a confrontational environment – much of the confrontation of her making. She can look after herself and doesn’t need me blogging on her behalf.


Stand up for the Minister

But I am speaking up for her now, because I can and because I think there’s a fair chance she will read this and take courage. Ros Altmann is fifty times the man most men are, what’s more she is a woman, which brings an emotional intelligence to her work that few men can comprehend, let alone match. We are lucky to have her as a pension minister. We have no idea of what she is doing within her department or in wider government but we must trust her to be doing the right thing and doing it as well as she can.

So I’m backing Ros and hope that she will give herself the full five years of her tenure (maybe more) . She is our best hope as pension minister and if we drive her from her job by making it so difficult she doesn’t want it, then we have failed her and more important those she represents, the consumers.

I suspect that the majority of her knockers don’t care a damn about ordinary people, she does – and so should they.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to Why now’s the time to get behind our Pensions Minister

  1. xyzzy says:

    My suspicion — one that I REALLY don’t want to hold but find inexorably bubbling up in the back of my mind and one that I can’t shake — is that Ros has been ‘bought off’. By offering the post that she accepted, the government ensured her silence and/or acquiescence to actions that in the past she would have vociferously condemned. As a consumer champion she could say what she thought. As a government minister she now has to toe the party line.

    Since taking the role she has been notably quiet on all the government pension nonsense that she previously decried. Nothing from her on the continued lifetime allowance reduction, the ridiculous taper in annual allowance for high earners, and the massive uncertainty injected into planning by an overtly political (and, pensions-wise, economically inept) chancellor. Really rather sad, because I liked her a lot as a consumer champion.

  2. henry tapper says:

    You sound as though you know what you’re talking about xyzzy. Maybe the old phrase keep your friends close and your enemies closer- applies. House of cards!

  3. ancientllm says:

    I write this as someone who has never seen the halo around Steve Webb’s head that others could see. I suspect that Steve Webb did a lot of good for the pensions industry, but not a lot of good for pensions. I anticpate that Baroness Altman, were she to achieve anything at all, will achieve pretty much the same. The parts of pensions that desperately need help at the moment are the sponsoring companies, trustees and members of pensions schemes. If we do not do something to ease the financial and legislative burden on these three groups then all pensions will go down the pan like DB pensions have already. And yet with increasing numbers of pensioners, and pensioners who are living for longer, the whole economy of our country desperately needs pensioners with enough money to live on. Yet all we are doing is making those pensioners poorer. If we don’t reverse the destruction of pensions that has been going on for something like 10 years now, not only will it be curtains for pensioners and pensions, it will be curtains for the economy too.

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