Monday, October 17, 2011

Ticking time bombs

Pensions minister Steve Webb flanked by Neath's Mathew McCarthy and Jenny Willott MP

Frank Little writes: One of the benefits of belonging to a party which is in power, albeit only in coalition, is that one gets to question ministers of the crown. On Saturday in Wrexham, Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP and pensions minister in the DWP, joined two officers of care organisations on a panel to be quizzed by Liberal Democrat conference representatives. Being a LibDem gathering, there were rather fewer soft questions than one would expect at a Labour or Conservative rally, but Steve dealt efficiently with everything that was thrown at him, as one would expect from an expert in the field of pensions.

He described one of the difficulties he inherited from Labour as a "ticking time-bomb". Labour before the election increased additions to Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments. However, these were only temporary measures and were scheduled to end within a year under Labour's deficit-cutting plans. He was at least able to set a higher CWP. (There is more in a speech Steve made to London LibDems)

On public sector pensions, he said that there was no alternative to renegotiating the funding of local authority schemes because of promises which had been made causing the schemes to be unsustainable on the present funding formula. The only alternative to a new settlement was massive taxation. He described the previous settlement under Gordon Brown's administration as "a cop-out". He emphasised that, even under the coalition government's proposals, local authority workers would still have pension provision better than most of the private sector.

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