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COMMENT - THE YEAR AHEAD

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2002: squeezing out value in more ways than one ...
2002: squeezing out value in more ways than one

If nothing else, 2001 was an interesting year for local government investment - plunging stock markets, hope followed by frustration about reform of the approved investment regulations governing treasury management, and Phillips & Drew's fight back in the council pension fund market.

But 2002 promises to throw up its own challenges.

The results of the triennial valuation will soon be upon us, and a number of authorities administering pension funds will be praying their actuaries deliver the sort of numbers which do not require substantial hikes in council tax levels.

The year also holds the prospect of an increasing number of councils undertaking best value reviews of their pension fund arrangements as the five-year best value review cycle draws closer to its conclusion. There will, of course, be more best value inspections of council pension funds.

Whether best value reviews amount to little more than form-filling exercises or actually prompt radical change remains to be seen. If it is the latter, pension administration arrangements may come under pressure. And perhaps a few councils might even ask whether they really do squeeze best value out of their consultants.

As for the inspections, the extent to which inspectors (with varying degrees of experience and expertise) busy themselves with investment matters will be of great interest. How will the best value star system work for an authority with excellent administrative arrangements but an appalling funding level?

As if the above was not enough, there is also FRS 17 to tackle. OK, it might provoke the odd quip about anoraks and train-spotting, but pensions accounting will be a major challenge for local government. Thankfully, CIPFA's work on the subject should ensure most councils cope comfortably.

Here's to a successful and (relatively) stress-free 2002.

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