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Queen’s Speech – first responses

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Outlining plans for a Pensions Bill, Fiona Matthews, MD of LifeSight, Willis Towers Watson’s master trust, said: “The Government has said there will be ‘strict new criteria’ for Master Trusts.”

“It has not yet set out what these will be but it is better to get the details right than to publish them early. One key aim may be to remove fears that members’ funds could be used to meet the costs of winding up an insolvent Master Trust and transferring members’ savings to a new provider. This is a particular concern where the Master Trust is not supported by a profitable enterprise with diverse lines of business and a reputation to protect. Making Master Trusts hold money in reserve to cover any wind-up costs would be one solution – though capital costs may affect what providers need to charge members in the normal course of events.

“The Government could also consider making all Master Trusts comply with the governance andadministration standards set out in the Master Trust Assurance Framework.  The enhanced role for the regulator to ‘authorise’ schemes looks like a licencing regime for multi-employer pension schemes. We’ll wait to see the details, but support the intention: raising the minimum requirements for entry into the master trust market is of paramount importance if we are to develop a reputable and trustworthy industry that employees and savers can be confident in.”

The Pensions Bill may not have merited a mention in the Queen’s speech – but watch it evolve 
“The pension measures announced today did not merit a mention in the Queen’s Speech itself.  But Bills can be amended after being introduced, so the final legislation could be much more wide-ranging. By the time the Bill reaches the statute book, it might contain measures to bring forward when the State Pension Age will rise to 68 following John Cridland’s Review. The Bill could also be a vehicle for anything else that the Government decides it wants to do in the pensions space – from changes to how defined benefit pensions are regulated to outside chances such as automatic enrolment into Lifetime ISAs.”

Lifetime Savings Bill
“No new details of the Lifetime ISA were announced today – we should get these in the autumn. Some employers will want to facilitate access to LISAs: employees may find it easier to save money directly out of their paycheque, before they have chance to spend it, and employers may be able to negotiate better deals than individuals could do themselves. For other employers, the challenge will be to communicate how the benefits of workplace pensions stack up against Lifetime ISAs.

“Generally speaking, Government policy still provides stronger incentives to save for retirement through a pension, at least where the money is paid in by an employer directly rather than given to the employee as salary that they can save themselves – though the Chancellor may not be finished with changes to how pensions are taxed. Of course, you can only use a pension towards the cost of a first home if you’re not planning to buy until your late 50s…” 

Higher education
Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development responds to the Queen’s Speech:

On Higher Education
“The move to increase choice and competition across the Higher Education sector is positive, however, there needs to be ongoing scrutiny over the quality of graduate outcomes to ensure the reforms reduce the high proportion of graduates ending up in non-graduate jobs.

“In addition, the Government needs to increase its focus on improving the quality of apprenticeships and not just concentrate on reaching its three million target by 2020. The Government has stated that it wants parity of esteem between apprenticeships and Higher Education, with the stated aspiration that almost all young people will take either one option or the other at 18. “However, currently six in ten apprenticeships generated each year are at Level 2, equivalent to just 5 passes at GCSE. We need far more Level 3 and above apprenticeships if they are really are to provide a meaningful alternative to university.”

On the problem of ignored productivity:
“Given that the UK’s productivity is continuing to stagnate, it’s hard to understand why improving workplace productivity doesn’t seem to figure in the Government’s priorities. Improving this is the key to increasing wages, enhancing services and building stability and success into the economy for the long term. Businesses – particularly small firms – need more support from Government to help them improve workplace practices that can unlock productivity improvements.

“Furthermore, we need an economy that creates more high-skilled jobs and a strategy to achieve this. The UK has the second highest level of over-qualification in the OECD, suggesting that making use of existing skills in the workplace through better leadership and people management, as well as job design, is just as important as increasing the supply of graduates.”

On the need to look at the whole of the workforce’s learning potential
“There is still far too much focus on training ‘young people’ for entry to the workplace, but this is just the thin end of the wedge. To keep people in work, their skills fresh and to enable them to make a meaningful, productive contribution to work, businesses must take steps to develop them and encourage a culture of lifelong learning. This also means a much stronger Government focus is needed on developing further education and adult skills to support life-long learning.” 

Queen’s Speech sorely missed opportunity to steer UK out of `state of stagnation’
Today’s Queen’s Speech was a sorely missed opportunity to steer the UK economy out of its ‘state of stagnation’ and to reverse the rising insecurity that is gripping communities, said the leader of the country’s biggest union, Unite, today (Wednesday 18 May). 

Furthermore, Len McCluskey said, this government’s ideological destruction of public services and its failing economic policy will prevent the prime minister from leaving the `one nation’ Britain he seeks as his legacy.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “This messy Queen’s Speech confirms that the Conservative cupboard is bare. 

“Today the prime minister wanted us to believe he was committed to a `one nation’ Britain yet it is his government’s policies that have supercharged inequality across these isles. David Cameron desperately wants to establish his legacy but it is already there in the ideological, failing privatisations, the destruction of our public services and at least a decade of lost wages for working people.  It is there in the mountain of personal debt people are amassing, the continuing climb in job insecurity and the growing queues at the foodbank.”
“It is the misery wrought by his government’s policies that will be his lasting contribution to our communities, but the penny does not appear to be dropping in Downing Street, that when it comes to measures to grow our economy and make our nations fairer, a party sworn to endless austerity will always be incapable of delivering. Sadly for the ordinary people of this country, who desperately needed to hear something better, this Queen’s Speech was a sorely missed opportunity.  It is not so much a vision for Britain but a bandage for a Conservative party riven with EU in-fighting and the limitations of its failing economic policy.”
“We heard yet another reheated promise to build houses, but coming from a government that has just taken an axe to affordable social housing, the millions in desperate housing need are unlikely to feel that a decent home is any closer. And with record levels of cuts set to hit local authorities, when will this government accept that it is simply not possible to deliver the high quality services that must be central to tackling exclusion and poverty when it keeps hacking away at funding and staffing?”
 “Furthermore with measures expected to limit the powers of the House of Lords to scrutinise government policy, this is a Conservatives party that cannot shake off its sinister desire to silence dissent.” The union’s comments follow the latest ONS data on employment which revealed that, while there are positive moves towards increased full-time work, part time, temporary and self- employment are all on the rise.” 

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