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Iain Anderson: The secret to successful pensions policymaking

iain-anderson.Pensions minister Guy Opperman has been meticulously planning for the introduction of a Pensions Bill in this year’s Queen’s Speech. He has consulted extensively, laying out plans for collective defined contribution schemes, defined benefit reform and consolidation, as well as the pensions dashboard. At a time of little domestic policymaking, the pensions industry appears to have a major package of reform on the horizon. The only problem is, when are we going to have a Queen’s Speech?

It has already been almost two years since the Queen last attended the state opening of parliament. It seems the delay in the Brexit timetable means we will need to wait until at least the autumn for that gold carriage to roll in to Westminster again. Then there is the matter of what form the legislation will take when it arrives.

The government now has a working majority of just three. Defeats on key votes have become commonplace and the whips have rarely appeared to have less sway over a restless party.

In this climate, the temptation will be to bring forward legislative proposals as uncontentious as possible. So will the Pensions Bill still be the bold and comprehensive package we’d been led to expect? Pensions policymaking has always been at its best when developed on the basis of cross-party consensus.

One only needs to look at the success of auto-enrolment for evidence. It was the result of long preparation and legislation passed by successive governments, with a view to building a policy that would last for the long term.

The pension freedoms took a rather different tack. Announced without warning, these reforms marked a departure from the consensus-building approach we had come to expect from pensions policymaking. 

Meanwhile, the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign serves as a high-profile example of the disagreements that characterise the main parties’ approaches to rises in the state pension age.

The good news is that much of the bill planned by Opperman appears to bring us back to a more collegiate approach. He regularly mentions in his speeches the constructive relationship he enjoys with his Labour opposite, Jack Dromey.

The two have been united in their public support for the introduction of CDC pensions.

Similarly, the pensions dashboard enjoys the support of Labour and others in opposition.

When rumours surfaced last summer that the then work and pensions secretary Esther McVey may have been rethinking it, Dromey was quick to remind the government it remains a project that enjoys widespread cross-party – and cross-industry – support.

And on reforms to strengthen the powers of The Pensions Regulator in respect of DB schemes, as well as wider measures to protect DB savers, Labour is broadly supportive of the government’s reform agenda.

The government should feel confident in pressing ahead with its planned Pensions Bill, knowing that, even at a time when consensus across (and within) parties is in short supply, the pensions reform agenda can be a model of collegiate policymaking that can overcome this most fractured parliament.

Iain Anderson is executive chairman at Cicero

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