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The pensions minister role is currently vacant, as Laura Trott has moved to the Treasury after about a year in office. Employment minister and former pensions minister Guy Opperman is also leaving the DWP. With an election expected potentially in summer 2024, any new pensions minister’s tenure could be relatively short.
The Department for Work and Pensions has not yet announced a replacement for Trott. However, the DWP website has added two new profiles without a specific brief as yet, Jo Churchill as minister and Paul Maynard as parliamentary under secretary.
The 39-year-old has been made chief secretary to the Treasury, replacing John Glen, who has been made paymaster general and minister for the Cabinet Office, at a time when the Treasury is taking great interest in pension investments as part of the Mansion House agenda to get more private capital flowing into UK start-ups.
Despite her brief time at the Department for Work and Pensions, the MP for Sevenoaks made “a very substantial impact” according to Nigel Peaple, director of policy and advocacy at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association.
She helped bring forward legislation to reform auto-enrolment in line with recommendations from 2017.
"Her support for the recent private members bill paving the way for automatic enrolment to apply from the first pound of earnings and to lower the starting age from 22 to 18, once implemented, will improve the retirements of millions of savers,” said Peaple.
Her proposals to require more support from pension schemes for defined contribution members at retirement “will also have a lasting impact, provided it is followed through”, he argued, “and, of course, she has also done a great deal of thinking with her DWP team on the future direction of the pensions landscape which, depending on the views of whoever succeeds her, may also have a lasting legacy.”
Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon UK, agreed that Trott had “packed a lot into a relatively short time in her ambition to deliver ‘fairer, more predictable and better run pensions’”, including a new value for money framework, small pots consolidation and expanding the scope of collective DC schemes.
“Many of these initiatives have been intertwined with the chancellor’s interest in encouraging pension schemes to invest in private equity to boost economic growth. Although an ambitious agenda, much of this is still ‘work in progress’ and with no Pensions Bill included in the King’s Speech, or in sight, it means delivering these initiatives could be some years off,” believes Smith.
One area where Trott has delivered has been to define and publish the first official statistics showing the gender pensions gap, noted Smith.
For her successor it will be crucial “to get up to speed quickly, and continue driving forward these key pension initiatives”, she added.
Trott’s move has something of poacher turned gamekeeper, said head of retirement policy at investment platform AJ Bell, Tom Selby.
Her main achievement was supporting the auto-enrolment bill, he added.
“That said, not all of Trott’s decisions have been universally popular. For example, pushing back implementation of pensions dashboards, reforms which would allow people to see all their retirement pots in one place online, beyond the general election means a key element to tackling the problem of people losing track of their pensions now feels less certain than before,” he said.
For Selby, it seems unlikely any new pensions minister will have much room to put their own stamp on the brief: “Indeed, given rumours [Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak could be lining up an early election this summer, there is every chance the shelf-life of the new incumbent will be measured in months.”