Emma Douglas' address to PLSA Local Authority Conference 2022 | PLSA

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Emma Douglas' address to PLSA Local Authority Conference 2022

14 June 2022
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The PLSA chair Emma Douglas welcomes delegates back to Gloucestershire for the first time since May of 2019 and sets out the agenda for the conference.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 2022 PLSA Local Authority Conference: Local government, global impact.

This is the second day of the event for many of you, after yesterday’s sessions on sustainability, net zero, private equity and fraud.
And I know a number of you started today with the birdwatching walk. That’s one of the more niche benefits of being able to run this event in person once again.

There are of course many more mainstream benefits.

The chance to see great speakers from the LGPS world and elsewhere in person. The opportunity to have conversations about the challenges you’re dealing with and different ways of approaching them. The intellectual energy in the room when people involved in running this unique and diverse scheme get together.

A few weeks ago we were in Edinburgh for the PLSA investment conference and we really felt the buzz. I know we’ll feel it here this week too, for the first one of these conferences since 2019.

So it’s great to be back. And it’s great to speak to this audience for the first time as Chair of the PLSA.

The LGPS is a great scheme. Great in size – at £330 billion, with almost 7 million members and over 17,000 employers.

It’s great in collaborative work across the many authorities and bodies that make it up and which govern it – work like the National LGPS Procurement Frameworks which are 10 years old this year.

And it’s great in the benefits it provides to local communities and for the people who have served them in many different ways.

It’s also of great importance to the PLSA – a key constituent in our membership. Without you, we wouldn’t be the voice of workplace pensions and savings.

And we want to do all we can to help project the voice of the LGPS.

The complexity of LGPS governance means you get caught in conflicting or ambiguous priorities. Your size and your public sector status can mean you get noticed for the wrong reasons or at the wrong times: when budget cuts need to be made, or when education or foreign and defence policy is in the spotlight.

So we work to support your voice, on issues like pensions dashboards where the PLSA and local authority members worked together to champion your needs.

The research we’ll launch today will help bring into the spotlight many more of the issues the LGPS deals with: The barriers faced when attracting and retaining staff, now made more difficult by the effects of the pandemic, increasingly complex regulation and increasing responsibilities.

The massive expansion of employers in the scheme has been managed incredibly well by you. The diversity of employers involved is a wonderful thing, and it showcases the vibrant tapestry of the scheme. But outstanding questions remain on whose responsibility it is, and whose it should be, to implement and oversee administration strategies with employers.

And that lack of clarity around who has control of or responsibility for some of the many changes this scheme is going through can make your jobs even more complicated as you manage competing interests. We need to make sure the needs of the LGPS are high up on the Government’s priority list.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the very many of you who contributed your time, experience and expertise to the project – 98 of you across 66 funds, representing the key issues and challenges for this sector.

And of course, we’ll be diving into many of these challenges this week.

I believe we’ve got a thoughtful and thought-provoking programme lined up for you here.

The topics we’ll discuss are driven not only by our research but by our regular engagement with you through meetings with our membership team, the Local Authority Committee and Reference Group, and our Policy Insight Webinars.

Responsible Investment and McCloud continue to crop up more than any other topics in meetings with PLSA local authority members. Discussions about McCloud always include concerns about getting historic employment data from participating employers and administrative capacity. I expect we’ll get into those this week including how the latest triennial valuations from England and Wales plays a part in how we look at implementing McCloud going forward.

We’ll be looking at TCFD requirements as well as many sustainable and climate-aware investment strategies.

We’ve got governance, pensions dashboards and, of course, asset pooling.

We’ve also got a big debate: is the LGPS sustainable? I’m looking forward to the range of perspectives you’ll have on that, and how factors such as finances, regulation and the pressure on your day-to-day roles will influence the future of the scheme.

This week we’ll also take a step outside of those daily challenges and look at the bigger picture. I’m looking forward to John Pienaar on current affairs after dinner this evening, and to Ben Page appearing next to me on this stage tomorrow.

He’ll give us his views on how major events and trends of today are shaping the world of tomorrow.

We’ve put together this line-up so that we will all leave this event with new insights and practical knowledge to help everyone in their difficult and important roles.

That’s a key part of what the PLSA is here for: bringing the pensions industry together.

At the end of last year we refreshed the PLSA’s strategy for the next three years.

Bringing together you, our members, and key commentators from inside and outside pensions has always been central to what we do and how we add value for you.

So is the PLSA’s policy work, through our own team and through the Policy Board and Committees.

We have now set the strategic policy goal of championing for everyone in the UK to have an adequate retirement income. And our policy work not only aims to achieve good outcomes for savers, but also an appropriate regulatory regime for our pension fund members.

We are also working on a wide range of policy issues that affect LGPS members, such as Responsible Investment, Pensions Dashboards, and initiatives to encourage greater engagement with pension savings such as the Retirement Living Standards and our work with the ABI on a Pension Engagement Season this autumn.

We were pleased to welcome new members to our LA Committee earlier this year to join our collective efforts to help everyone achieve a better income in retirement and to shape the policy environment to enable you to do that.

Whatever the forum, we want to recognise the successes of the LGPS, and come together to discuss and be reminded of its purpose and the value it brings to so many people who help to make our local communities thrive.

It’s another of our strategic goal: engaging PLSA members, so we understand your needs and we can give you the support you need to succeed in delivering for savers.

For Julian and his team at the PLSA, our ability to help you has to be built on the right investment in our people and systems so we can make the maximum impact on improving pensions policy, on bringing our industry together, and on maintaining the financial sustainability we need to keep delivering this.

The income from events like these make a big difference – so thank you again for your support, and thank you to our sponsors too. And thank you to the wonderful PLSA team who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring us all together.

And events like this one are, as ever, the place that all of this comes together.

So again, it’s really good to be back here at the Cotswold Water Park this week with our great community of PLSA members. I hope you enjoy the conference.