There were, in retrospect, good reasons for Lee Rowley not to appear at the PLSA Local Authority in person
- He had nothing to say of substance
- He might have had to face an awkward question about the Government’s recent performance record on Paris Alignment
- He might have had to answer questions about the imminent demise of Thames Water and what that means for public confidence in private market investments.
As it was, the Minister appeared by Video Link as his Treasury colleague Andrew Griffiths did earlier in the month. Considering the apparent importance of pension schemes to the Government’s UK Growth agenda, his (non)-appearance did not impress.
While he could not have known that yesterday would be a bad day for two key Government pension policies , he clearly knew what he did not know, he did not know about pensions.
Apart from thanking the audience throughout his speech, Lee Rowley spent much of his pre-recorded video lecturing the audience about the importance of “data”, though it was unclear what the import of “good data” would be. The three major data driven projects for the LGPS – TCFD , the Pension Dashboards and the benefit adjustments following the McCloud judgement are all in the Government’s court.
There was frustration in the audience that the Minister could no further commitment to the formal introduction of TCFD for the LGPS. Some of the schemes are now voluntarily producing their third report, there is still no framework provided by Government for LGPS reporting, which – unlike the private sector, is not part of a mandated reporting regime. One delegate noted that while ducking the Water Park the Minister was taking live questions on BBC 2’s Nicki Campbell Show.
From what one could gather , the primary import for the Minister’s desire for good data was so that pensions could be paid accurately and on time. One pension manager commented to me that the Government’s recent record keeping on the State Pension did not suggest Lee Rowley occupied the high ground on this one.
Rowley also commented on the need for better data on which to take investment decisions and with which to monitor investment performance, fees and investment costs. Having pioneered work in these areas, the audience was given no indication of help they could expect from Government in requiring data to be made available. One delegate showed me an empty spreadsheet awaiting completion from managers, she said the issue rests with the provision of data by investment managers – not with the funds.
As for supplying data to Pensions Dashboards, the Minister was silent. Richard Smith had reminded the audience that it was delays in implementing the Government infrastructure at the heart of the dashboard (not scheme data) that had caused the further delay in the dashboard program.
Similarly, the Government’s journey to sorting the McCloud judgement drags on. Details on the underpin remain unresolved . The latest consultation ends this week, Rowley urged schemes to respond to it, but with so little output from Government, weariness on “input” is understandable. With October implementation looming , McCloud fatigue was evident.
At the PLSA investment conference , Andrew Griffiths , a Treasury Minister, had called on the pension community to celebrate their successes.
In LGPS it has a success. The LGPS has embraced better governance, created investment pooling to improve procurement and management of services and met targets on levelling up though local investment in productive capital
If the Minister had made it from London to Swindon, he could have seen for himself delegates who are keen to help on the heavy lifting needed to meet climate goals. He would have seen packed attendance for a pension dashboard meeting and could have heard how , by diversifying from listed markets and avoiding LDI, LGPS funds were now in ruder health than any other part of the UK pensions market.
Government should be shouting from the rooftops “celebrating this success”, but no Minister could be found to visit this important event. Having missed such an open goal , you wonder what DLUHC’s priorities are.