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Pension pool meetings delayed as Whitehall LGPS team ‘shrinks to one’

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Figures within the Local Government Pension Scheme have claimed that civil servants are delaying crucial meetings about pension pooling due to a shrinking staff at the Department for Communities & Local Government.

LGPS funds submitted final plans to form investment pools in July. They had expected feedback from DCLG approving their plans in early September, but meetings with local government minister Marcus Jones to approve the plans did not start until November, LGC understands.

One source close to the LGPS said some pools’ meetings with ministers had been subject to further delays, pushing them from early November to almost a month later. The pools must be up and running by April 2018 and are awaiting approval before starting to hire staff and set up the legal structures necessary for them to begin to operate. 

Dawn Turner, head of pension fund management at the Environment Agency, said that her pooling group, Brunel, had “asked for and got” the 30 November meeting with DCLG that it wanted. However, she added that some pools’ meetings had already happened but that some had been moved from this month to the next.

“The way I am reading it is simply minister and pool availability,” said Ms Turner.

Jeff Houston, head of pensions at the Local Government Association and secretary of the LPGS Advisory Board, said the DCLG has only one official working on the LGPS, whereas this time last year there had been around eight.

Mr Houston told LGC: “This is due to a perfect storm of retirements and moves within and outside of DCLG rather than any plot to move things to the Treasury, [which is] one of the rumours doing the rounds at the moment.

“I understand there are plans to bring in extra staff as soon as possible to bring numbers back up.”

However, Mr Houston raised concerns about the recent loss of institutional memory at DCLG.

“The DCLG team will not be one we have been used to and been very lucky to have up to recent times. During [previous reforms in 2014] and beforehand the team benefited from at least half a dozen staff with significant knowledge and experience of the LGPS, together with administrative support,” Mr Houston said.

He added that the LGPS Advisory Board had written to Marcus Jones offering “support in the form of knowledge and history of the scheme and regulations”.

Notably, the LGA recently recruited DCLG’s former head of pay and pensions Bob Holloway as a specialist advisor. He will also work for the board.

DCLG said it could not comment on the specific number of civil servants working on the pension scheme.

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