As chancellor, Gordon Brown mismanaged our pensions for 10 years. Now he must back them up with the same guarantees that he extended to bank savings
Politics is a funny old world. Chancellor Brown spent 10 years monotonously claiming responsibility for masterminding the UK’s economic boom, without any acknowledgement to Margaret Thatcher or John Major, the politicians who set it up. Now the boom has implode, prime minister Brown is desperately blaming anyone but himself for leading us practically penniless into recession.
Ironically, despite the Blair and Brown governments smothering us with more regulation than any previous administration, the financial services sector (FSS) was allowed by Brown’s Treasury to suck us into the credit crunch and so precipitate the worst financial crisis for a century.
To be fair to Brown, though, with perfect timing, he did step into the global leadership vacuum created by the US presidential election. The plan to address the UK banking crisis has for the moment stabilised that sector and become a model for other stricken economies. The downside is that having over-borrowed through the boom years, Brown has left us totally unprepared for the slump and badly placed to kickstart recovery.
The prime minister has failed to protect the day-to-day trading environment of UK industry and commerce. As well as lack of credit, contract bonds and credit insurance are nigh-on impossible to find, because the insurance industry itself is on the “risk list”. Consequently, more and more suppliers are demanding cash with order and clients are delaying payment.
All industry, not just banking, needs immediate direct action by government to free up credit. We don’t have time for divisive shadow boxing between the political parties. The UK economy must have a specific support package from the government that will guarantee or provide bonds and credit insurance to facilitate the renewal of normal trading at all levels of industry.
Private sector pension schemes have become just another commodity to be exploited by a discredited City.
If credit and cash flows are the principal concerns of industry and commerce, for individuals, the security of their retirement savings is of prime importance. Brown’s earlier misgovernance of private sector pensions has already reduced them from world class to junk bond status. I believe that disaster to be just as catastrophic as his leading us into the credit crunch recession.
Although Brown has quite rightly guaranteed the savings of millions in banks and building societies, there are no such guarantees for the 10 million or so savers – and their contributing employers – in private sector occupational and personal schemes also managed by the FSS.
If the FSS can gamble away our savings, what’s to stop it similarly devaluing our pension funds? It can no longer be trusted to safely manage our private sector retirement savings with the probity that once went with its job. Private sector pension schemes have become just another commodity to be exploited by a discredited City. Retirement saving must be taken away from the FSS and managed by an independent pension commission responsible for combining all private and public sector pensions.
There is a simple and effective way for Brown to achieve this. Extend the same guarantees the taxpayer gives to the 5 million public sector employees to private sector retirement savers by nationalising all private sector occupational and personal pension schemes. What’s good for public sector workers, including MPs, must also be good for the 10 million voters in the private sector.
This crisis presents Brown with a compelling reason to reform our entire fiscal structure, including the decaying state and occupational pension regimes. If he seizes this chance to replace them with a modern, integrated system, he’ll be remembered as the prime minister who created our 21st-century world-class system, instead of the chancellor who destroyed our pensions.
Colin Harding is chairman of the G&H Group