Thursday, March 29, 2012

LGPS - Silence is not golden

Some five weeks ago the trade union and employers side negotiators discussing the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) struck a possible deal - but we still don't know what it was.

Because the LGPS is a statutory scheme - and in spite of the fact that it is funded by contributions from employers and employees which are invested quite independently of Central Government - this possible deal needs approval from Ministers (in Communities and Local Government and the Treasury).

Whilst that is unavoidable, the complete silence from our negotiators is not. A brief period of silence at certain stages of negotiation can sometimes be justified, but our negotiators appear to have sworn an open-ended vow of silence for as long as it takes the Government to consider their secret deal with the employers.

Therefore neither the scheme members, whose security in retirement is at issue, nor for that matter the local authorities, for whose squeezed budgets this has significant implications, can know what it is that our negotiators think we should accept until Government Ministers (who neither contribute to nor manage or administer our pension funds) have had their say.

Whilst UNISON negotiators refuse to brief even the cross Service Group Scrutiny Group about any details, it may be that not everyone has been so scrupulous. Certainly Lord Hutton appears to know enough to express some views (http://m.professionalpensions.com/professional-pensions/news/2163984/public-sector-schemes-change).

Speaking at an Eversheds legal Conference last week he reportedly said there was a "high degree of certainty" there would need to be further changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme – due to be launched in 2014 – in the years to come.

He said the fundamental design of the scheme such as the "cap and collar" to limit employer contributions would remain in place but other tweaks to benefit design would occur.

"It's very, very unlikely that there won't be some movement around scheme benefits over the next 25 years", he said. "There is going to be a high degree of certainty of scheme changes over the next 25 years – I don't envisage that every dot and comma of the LGPS deal is going to remain unchanged."

I'd like to express an opinion about this, but having seen neither a dot nor a comma of the proposals on which Lord Hutton is able to comment, I can't.

Of course, since the very officials whose task, should they secure the lay mandate for which they will certainly be looking should the Government rubber stamp their deal, will be to produce publicity materials intended to "sell" the deal to members, are also the only people in the Union who know the details, they could be at something of an advantage in trying to win the argument.

The challenge which confronts our lay Service Group Executives (SGEs) is whether they will assert their authority by insisting upon sufficient time for they themselves, and for activists at Regional and Branch level to consider any proposed deal before any consideration is given to the recommendation to be put to members in a ballot.

We should certainly have at least as long to discuss and debate recommendations to our members in a ballot as the Government have spent considering the proposed deal! This would mean that each Branch would have the opportunity of (at least) one monthly Branch Committee to consider opinions which they could report to Regional Service Groups ahead of national SGE meetings.

This reasonable approach is the very minimum we should expect if we want any ballot truly to reflect the informed and considered opinions of our members.

Since at present I hear more from a renegade Blairite peer than I do from within my own trade union concerning the future of my pension, I hope I can be excused a modicum of pessimism of the intellect about the arrangements for such a ballot.
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