We’re at that point in the PLSA’s calendar when preparation for this year’s Annual Conference & Exhibition at the ACC in Liverpool dominates our work.
We’re briefing our speakers about what’s most important to all of you; putting together our policy publications; working with sponsors of the Made Simple Guides; preparing for the launch of Pension Reinvention (this year’s programme with ITN); developing some exciting new conference visuals; talking to our gala dinner band The Overtones about their set list; working with our AV crews on sound and lighting; scheduling when colleagues will be meeting members on the new PLSA exhibition stand, manning the microphones in the auditorium, or meeting the media; and doing many many more jobs to prepare for the event.
It’s a huge operation, and all managed by a relatively small team here on Cheapside and up in Liverpool.
This year’s theme is Reinventing Saving, and there’s a great deal of reinvention going on around us. Looking back over the summer, which at the PLSA suddenly seems to be a long time ago at this time of year, there have been some major issues for pensions. Before the Referendum on Europe, which now feels like a different epoch altogether, BHS and Tata put DB pension deficits back on the front pages again.
In some way it’s helpful for these two very different cases to make reports about on-paper DB scheme deficits that are too big to comprehend (£459.4 billion at the end of August) into issues we can all feel: the demise of British industry and the loss of a high-street staple. These and the more recent case of Bernard Matthews show how pressing the need to resolve DB issues is. That's why we set up the DB Taskforce, which is trying to deal with the root causes of the problem and make DB schemes, whether open or closed, more sustainable
The task of saving DB has been made more difficult by the big issue of the summer: Brexit. The pound has fallen sharply and gilt yields are at record lows. The Bank of England has cut interest rates further and introduced another round of quantitative easing. These short-term impacts show up that massive deficit. Other key issues for pensions will be the impact on sponsor covenants, the status of the IORP Directive and the future of GMP equalisation.
In July and August we toured England, Scotland and Wales to get members’ views on these issues, which are feeding into the work of another taskforce, the Brexit Taskforce, which is being supported by colleagues at Eversheds and JP Morgan. We’re going to be telling th Government about the key concerns for pension funds in our future relationship with Europe. We’re also working on a more detailed analysis of how EU pensions law has been implemented via UK law.
What we must avoid is a situation where pensions are an afterthought in negotiations and we face a series of unintended consequences in June 2018. BHS, Tata and Bernard Matthews show just how sensitive schemes are to corporate and economic changes outside the immediate realm of pensions and just how much it means to us when things go wrong.
These big issues and many more will be in the agenda for this year’s Annual Conference. Once again we have a fantastic line-up of speakers (and believe me, the more great speakers we have, the more difficult each year’s programme gets) and we’re shaping up for another memorable event. We hope to see you up in Liverpool on 19 October.