James Walsh, Head of Membership Engagement at the PLSA, throws the spotlight on a year of hard work.
‘If only our members knew’ must surely be the standard lament of membership engagement staff down the ages.
It’s the flipside version of Monty Python’s famous ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ – if only our members actually knew about the full range of work that the PLSA does on their behalf (all that lobbying and consultation-responding and conference-organising and trustee-training, to pick a few examples), they would surely be falling over themselves to renew their membership before we’d even asked.
Well, if only. Life is rarely quite so simple. But the point is still a good one – my PLSA colleagues work hard on behalf of our members, but our members won’t know we are providing value for their money unless we tell them.
So, with the holiday season more or less over and business back in full swing, now feels like as good a time as any for a look back at what the PLSA has done for you in 2021 to date, though it’s more ESG and LGPS than aqueducts, roads and sanitation.
- Illiquids cap – dropped. PLSA lobbying persuaded The Pensions Regulator to drop plans, set out in an initial draft of the new TPR single code of practice, to cap investment in unquoted assets at 20% of a scheme’s portfolio. This would have made it more difficult to invest in private equity and infrastructure – a point we hammered home in meetings with DWP and TPR. In the end, TPR agreed. They are completely redrafting this section so it does not bar well-run schemes with prudent investment strategies from investing in unregulated assets.
- ESG – new conference. Almost every member I meet tells me that environmental, social and governance matters are right at the top of their agenda, so we put on a completely new three-day conference at the end of June dedicated to these issues. The strong attendance and positive feedback suggest it was a success, but please let us know what you thought.
- Open DB – flexibility. Our persistent lobbying during the passage of the Pensions Schemes Act resulted in ministers making clear commitments to maintain a more flexible approach to funding and investment for open DB schemes.
- DC – traction on retirement choices. Key policymakers are now picking up the ideas we have been advancing for a new framework to help DC savers make good decisions on using their pension pots. Our appearance before the Work and Pensions Select Committee, detailed policy paper and one-to-one meetings with the Pensions Minister, civil servants and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee have given us a series of opportunities to make the case.
- Tax relief – better-briefed policymakers. With speculation about tax changes again in the news, we met Treasury officials and MPs to brief them on two PLSA reports covering ‘Five Principles for Pension Taxation’ and ‘Pension Tax Reforms: implications for savers’. The PLSA’s analysis shows that supposedly ‘easy wins’, like removing higher-rate tax relief, would come at considerable cost to several million workers, while providing relatively little benefit for others.
- LGPS – future challenges. We have launched a landmark research project to understand the key issues facing local authority funds. PLSA members participated in four roundtables on regulatory frameworks, employer issues, tools and sustainability. We will do quantitative research on the same topics this autumn before publishing a report setting out our key findings in December.
- Small pots – PLSA co-ordinating. We set up and are running the Small Pots Co-ordination Group, working with our master trust members, the ABI, Which? and PASA. There is some way to go before industry and government can all agree on the best solution to this knottiest of pension problems, but we will publish an interim report this autumn setting out the options and next steps.
- Conferences – getting the mix right. We have learnt a huge amount from putting all our events online over the last 18 months. Digital has worked well for many members, attracting a new audience who never would have attended in person, but other members are keen to get face-to-face going again. The next year will see us provide a blend of online and in-person conferences to suit all tastes.
- Responsible investment – helping you identify good practice and tell your story. ESG-related investment is complicated, so we have consulted on a simple way for schemes to identify good practice and show their members that their money is invested responsibly. The Responsible Investment Quality Mark (RIQM) will be an accreditation that schemes can show on their website or literature.
- Representing you at the top table. Our Chair, Richard Butcher, sits on the Productive Finance Working Group alongside the Governor of the Bank of England, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Pensions. Our Director of Policy & Advocacy, Nigel Peaple, is a member of the Pensions Dashboards Programme Steering Group. Our senior leaders and Policy staff ensure your voice is heard wherever key pensions decisions are taken.
- Consultations – 25 and counting. My hard-working Policy colleagues have responded to 25 government consultations so far this year on issues from the requirement for a simple annual benefit statement to pension scams to UK listing rules and McCloud requirements for the LGPS. This is the bread-and-butter, behind-the-scenes work that ensures the pension scheme perspective is well understood in Whitehall. Unglamorous but essential!
Of course, these are just a few highlights from the year to date. There are more I could have picked, so if you’re thinking ‘Yes that’s all very well, but what have they done on X?’, just ask me. And if you have feedback on these or any other issues, just tell me.
So, now you know at least some of what the PLSA has been doing for our members. Feedback welcome!