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Smith resignation forces Blair to push ahead with reshuffle

The surprise resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Andrew Smith will force Prime Minister Tony Blair to plough ahead with a Cabinet reshuffle.

Smith, who is seen as a close ally of Chancellor Gordon Brown, was app-ointed two years ago.

The vacancy could be filled by any number of willing candidates. Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon are tipped for the position but a reshuffle could see a more junior minister such as Treasury Financial Secretary Ruth Kelly take the role.

Pension experts believe that a new man or woman at the helm will not make a significant difference to pension policy as legis-lation for the next two or three years, including A-Day, has already been set in train.

Smith tried to restore battered confidence in company pensions with the Pensions Bill, establishing a pensions regulator and a protection fund to help members of occupational schemes if their employer goes bust.

Cicero Consulting director Iain Anderson says: “This certainly comes at an interesting time with the Pensions Bill still running through the house and the impact of Adair Turner&#39s report in five or six weeks. Whoever fills Smith&#39s shoes will have a lot to deal with.”

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