7 years on from our last review, auto-enrolment is back under the microscope and the Government has published some questions they’d like answering**.
They’d have more chance in getting them properly answered if they put the matter in the hands of people responsible for doing the work.
Instead of reaching out to the small business , their payroll reps and business advisers, Richard Harrington is doing what big Government tends to do, and going to the usual suspects.
- Ruston Smith, Trustee Director at Peoples’ Pension
- Jamie Jenkins, Head of Pensions Strategy at Standard Life
- Chris Curry, Director of the Pensions Policy Institute
Anyone who currently works helping employers stage, will be asking “who”? Here are my alternative bios.
Ruston Smith – serial committee sitter!
Well much as Ruston might like his work at People’s Pension to qualify him, it doesn’t. Ruston has spent most of the past few years knocking around at the PLSA, his day job is head of People and Pensions at Tesco and he also sits on the Standard Life Master Trust. Ruston is a totemic figure of the pension hierarchy but he is not the people’s champion!
Chris Curry – lifelong policy wonk!
Chris is ex DWP, ex ABI and now Director of Pension Policy Institute, which is a noble institutions that mines data and is an independent source of research for the pension industry. Chris is a great bloke but he is an observer.
Jamie Jenkins – lobbyist!
Jamie is one of the worlds greatest billiards players and Strategy Director at Standard Life. He is a diplomat, a lobbyist and a Standard Lifer! He is a champion for the insurance industry but not for you or I.
Individually they are great – but collectively they are no good.
Cover -engage- contribute (what the AE will look at)
What is happening today, and will continue to happen in the next few years, is that small employers are complying with a set of rules that cover them , but don’t engage them. The contribution levels that employers are currently making to auto-enrolment are low but they are about to rise.
The DWP has correctly identified the key issues for the review as
- contribution levels
the second term of auto-enrolment – following the 2010 and 2017 reviews will be measured by how many of the 12m not currently auto-enrolled are covered, to what extent employers and staff are engaged and to what extent we are able to keep people in at 8% rather than 2% of the AE band of earnings.
Great but no good
Three men following the three men of the 2010 review *. Nobody young, nobody female and nobody from outside the pension magic circle!
Nobody from the Federation of Small Businesses, the accountancy or personnel bodies, no one from the CIPP, no Kate Upcraft, Karen Thompson or Ian Holloway. None of the people who have invested their time preparing payroll bureaux, accountancy firms and the small employers to do their duties!
Today I am at the Cintra Payroll Conference in Newcastle, last night I was with payroll people (discussing auto-enrolment over a few ales), tomorrow I will be at the mighty Sage. It is these payroll software companies , their trainers, their clients, that have kept auto-enrolment afloat. The Pensions Minister and the Pensions Magic Circle are pleased to take the credit, but the work is being done by these people.
I am really affronted that they have no representation on this panel. I fear that those who are asked to contribute to this review will consider it for what it looks like – a pensions stitch up.
I know that the people I was talking to last night were mightily pissed off too. If Government is serious about listening to the nation (rather than sitting in a pensions echo chamber) it would have had at least one person representing the interests of payroll.
But it isn’t interested in the views of payroll or of the business advisers, or even of the small employers. It will continue to impose policy on these groups who will have no say in it , no engagement – they will simply be asked to contribute to other people’s CVs.
On behalf of all the people who I know, who will never be heard , but who work ever so hard, I would call on the Pensions Minister to ensure that advisory boards on auto-enrolment in future , comprise of and are focussed on , people who manage auto-enrolment.
A postscript for the consumer
You may remember that this review will also be dealing with the AE charge cap (which is tagged onto the questions as an afterthought). I see none of these three as representing the interests of the consumer. I hold out little hope for a fully inclusive charge cap as intended in 2013.
We will have to wait for the FCA to pronounce and the IGCs to deliver, the DWP are clearly not engaged.
* the 2010 review (excellent) is here.
** questions and TOR here