MM leader: The pensions minister finally emerges from the shadows

Natalie Holt, journalist with Money Marketing Photo by Michael Walter/Troika

Often when you hear politicians speaking in public, whether to journalists or from the podium, they do not want to stand out from the crowd too much. The dialogue is predominantly made up of anodyne statements where said MP refuses to deviate from the party line and that are designed to placate the naysayers, and try not to upset anyone else in the process.

After a six-month hiatus, pensions minister Ros Altmann appears to have adopted a different tactic. In fact, she has come out all guns blazing.

In an in-depth and frank interview with Money Marketing this week, Altmann pulls no punches in attacking providers over their failure to appropriately signpost their customers to the Pension Wise guidance service. Altmann goes even further by airing a sneaky suspicion that providers are diverting savers to their in-house products and services. For advisers that have long been accustomed to unwieldy wake-up packs and provider attempts to poach clients, this school of thinking will not come as a surprise.

This fiery approach is more akin to Altmann’s consumer champion stance that the industry was used to before she took up office as pensions minister.

Until now, Altmann has kept a surprisingly low profile. She was noticeably absent at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this year, although this was attributed to the clash with Jewish holidays. Yet conference absence notwithstanding, for the first six months after the election Altmann has managed to avert the gaze of the media and the industry, a position all the more unexpected given her previous public persona.

Perhaps the pensions minister is keen to rebuff any suggestions that she has been muted by the machinery of Whitehall, or that she has somehow been relegated to a Treasury puppet.

But her outburst also comes at a time when the Pension Wise service designed to underpin pension freedoms has come under sustained attack, not least in these very pages. From the “rogue” Citizens Advice branch that redeployed staff to non-Pension Wise work, to the news last week that one guidance employee had been sacked after he challenged how staff were being used.

Perhaps Altmann has realised it would be better to come out from below the parapet and start calling out providers on their failure to signpost a £39.1m service. The success of Pension Wise, and the wider pension freedom reforms, are currently at stake.

There seems no better time to emerge from the shadows.

Natalie Holt is editor of Money Marketing. Follow her on Twitter: @Natalie_Holt_MM