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INDEPENDENT VIEW

The truth is out at last. When Treasury economic secretary Melanie Johnson stated that stakeholder does not need advice, it confirmed a long-held belief that the Government does not see a place in its world view for IFAs.

The fact that it does not know the difference between independent and tied advice and lays most of the blame for misselling with IFAs demonstrates a level of ignorance about our industry that needs to be addressed urgently.

If taken to the extreme, Johnson&#39s statement about stakeholder holds true for many service industries. But does she not realise that most people do not have the time, inclination or confidence to adopt the DIY approach to financial planning?

Recent research by clearing house Bacs, showing that around 75 per cent of adults have not even heard of stakeholder, only strengthens the argument for advice.

But perhaps Johnson has spent too much time away from the real world, being flattered by the attentions of big business, to understand the needs of ordinary people.

The disproportionate ministerial ear-time given to the powerful and wealthy is not new, nor is it the affliction of just a handful of ministers. However, it does make it more difficult for the rest of us to get a fair hearing.

But Chancellor Gordon Brown&#39s full endorsement in his Budget speech of the recommendations made in the Myners report – meaning yet another review of the retail personal finance market – could be the opportunity we have been waiting for.

This could not only influence the future of our industry but could also educate ministers that we are not all the predatory, commission-hungry sharks they seem to think.

I say “could” because, as yet, nothing has been decided as to who will be carrying out the review, the terms of reference and how much, if any, public consultation there will be. Aifa has been in touch with the Treasury on all these issues and hopes to get a response in the near future.

It will also be making a great deal of fuss on our behalf to ensure there will be full transparency and high levels of consultation with all who will be affected by the review, including consumers.

We as individuals can also play our part. The original Myners report was a review of institutional investment. Aifa chairman Lord Hunt expressed surprise when the final report made reference to personal finance.

However, in the foreword of the consultation paper published in May 2000, Paul Myners states: “I wish to focus on whether there are factors distorting decision making by institutional investors…Such distortions could arise from many sources… from the incentive structures for each participant in the industry including professional advisers.”

We all lead busy lives and know our areas of specialisation. It is unlikely that many of us would pay much attention to a review of institutional investment – I know I did not until after the findings were announced. But if I had taken the time to read the Myners consultation paper when it was first published, I might have responded to it.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I do not intend to sit back and remain silent when this latest review finally gets under way. I hope everyone else in the industry also makes his or her views known.

I cannot see this review being different from any other. It is, therefore, more than likely that full opportunity will be given to respond.

But do not expect the Treasury to publicise the fact widely or to send you any information. We will have to rely on our usual channels to keep us informed of when the consultation paper is finally drawn up and published.

If at that stage you want to put forward your views, approach the Treasury directly. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, it is very easy. Full details of the review will, no doubt, be put on the Treasury website at www.hm-treasury. gov.uk in due course.

When the consultation paper is finally posted on the website, download, print, read and digest it. Details for responding to the review will also be given – normally a contact name, address, telephone number and email address as well as the deadline for putting forward your views.

Do not ignore this opportunity, after all, it is your livelihood that could be at stake. Otherwise a career change to pension scheme trustee might prove appealing.

Donna Bradshaw is communications director at Fiona Price & Partners

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