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Retirement Planner

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Back in May 1997 when the then New Labour government took over responsibility for pension reform the then Department for Social Security was headed up by Harriet Harman. She was the Secretary of State for Social Security.

John Denham in those days was the under-secretary whose responsibilities included pensions, but it was Frank Field who held the extra Cabinet post as the first Minister of State for Welfare Reform. He was also the last person to hold that post.

By July 1998 Harriet Harman had been moved on and she was replaced by Alistair Darling. He was the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Frank Field had also given up thinking the unthinkable by then too and John Denham sort of took his place and was given the new title of Minister for Pensions. So the Harman/Field double act was replaced by the Darling/Denham one.

Six months on, though, John Denham was replaced by Stephen Timms who became Minister for Pensions working alongside Alistair Darling.

Six months started to look like a full term in the job when Jeff Rooker replaced Stephen Timms in July 1999. Jeff Rooker became Pensions Minister and remained half of the Darling/Rooker double act right up to the May 2001 general election.

After that election the Department for Social Security was dumped into historyís dustbin and was transformed into something called the Department for Work and Pensions. Jeff Rooker wasnít part of the new set up as he was replaced by Ian McCartney who became the new Pensions Minister working as part of the new double act with Alistair Darling who held the new title of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The Darling/McCartney double act kept rolling for a whole year before Alistair Darling was finally moved on to pastures new in May 2002. His replacement as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was Andrew Smith.

The Smith/McCartney double act came to an end in June 2003 when McCartney was replaced as Pensions Minister by Malcolm Wicks.

The Smith/Wicks combo hit the skids in September 2004 when Smith was shuffled out and replaced as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by Alan Johnson.

Johnson and Wicks had only been together for eight months, however, when David Blunkett was made Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in May 2005 following the general election. Blunkett and Wicks thus became the new dynamic duo as far as pensions were concerned.

As it turned out Wicks didnít have long to go in the job though and he was soon replaced as Pensions Minister by Stephen Timms in May 2005. So Blunkett/Timms looked to be the pension double act that would most likely be in the hot seat when the Pensions Commission finally reported back. The Commission, if you remember (or care) was started in a different era back in the good old Smith/McCartney days.

Well, as it turned out, they werenít after all. By the time the Pension Commissionís report had been published David Blunkett had been replaced by John Hutton who then started his turn as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Hutton and Timms have soldiered on ever since with the unenviable task of making sense of and trying to implement the Commissionís reform ideas, or at least doing something with the reform work attached. The White Paper that we are expecting any day now will be the result of that endeavour, but as it turns out it wonít be a Hutton and Timms production after all as Stephen Timms has been replaced by the 35 year-old James Purnell who is to be the new Minister for Pension Reform and likely to end up with the job of explaining to 65-year-olds why they are going to have to stay in harness for many more years to get us out of our self-imposed pension crisis.

This all leads me to the thought that the real pension reforms of the last decade have really all been about the constant ministerial changes rather than the incidental policies from stakeholder pensions to the proposed National Pensions Savings Scheme. Looked at that way everything makes so much more sense too.

Steve Bee

First published in Retirement Planner, May 2006