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BeeHive  >  BeeLines  >  A new inquiry?

A new inquiry?

Well, Iím not usually surprised by anything that happens in pensions anymore, but what happened last week was simply astounding.

The green paper that we have been waiting so long for is just about to come out. Itís been a long time coming and follows the extensive work undertaken by the Pickering and Sandler reviews, both close on , if not, year-long pieces of work. At the same time as the green paper is to come out, we are also looking forward to seeing the results of an equally extensive piece of work by the Inland Revenue. This has been done in conjunction with the other reviews and will complete the joined-up thinking required to put our pensions system on an even footing at last and to solve all of our pensions problems by ending the pensions crisis. Or at least, thatís what we all thought until last week.

The Financial Times of 15 November carried a piece headed ďGovernment may opt for fresh probe into pensionsĒ. The report goes on to say that ministers are considering setting up yet another inquiry into pensions after the green paper comes out! The reason given for this appears to be that another inquiry may be needed if the green paper does not tackle the big structural issues that are causing the pensions crisis in the UK. What? Are we being told here that, after all the time and effort that has gone into its production, the green paper, when it eventually comes out, wonít amount to a row of beans? It certainly seems so.

Not surprisingly, the prospect of another review has met with a certain amount of incredulity from pension commentators, with most people saying they are concerned that a great deal of precious time is being wasted while the pensions crisis deepens.

In practical terms, my guess is that what this will mean is that if this current green paper does nothing more than tinker around with some of the technical amendments already proposed, which now seems likely, then government may well deem another inquiry is necessary to look at what fundamental structural reforms are needed to avert the looming pensions crisis. Now, call me picky, but thatís exactly what I thought these current reviews were about.

To be positive, though, I would probably have to agree that if the fundamentals that are acting against pension distribution are not sorted out then I would probably be among the first to complain. So, on balance, I think Iím in the camp that says a new inquiry would probably be a good thing. You can expect to hear a great deal from me on this topic as it develops over the coming months. I may even feel impelled to put together another one of our famous pamphlets outlining what we think the fundamental issues affecting pensions distribution are. Watch this space!

Steve Bee
19 November 2002