Activists have vowed to take to the streets to protest against a bill aimed at tackling local boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns by state bodies, including the Local Government Pension Scheme.
Meanwhile, Pensions Minister Guy Opperman has promised that a consultation on a new value for money framework will take place this year, probably in November.
Our first act will be to take to the streets of London this Saturday to protect our right to boycott
No room for automatic registration
It had been hoped that automatic enrollment reforms implementing the 2017 review proposals might find a place on the government’s main legislative agenda, but the rise of short-term challenges ranging from immigration to the cost of living meant there was little room for pension politics when Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s Speech on May 10.
Opperman has repeatedly refused to give a timeline for implementation, angering those who see lowering the age limit, removing the earnings trigger, and reducing the qualifying earnings limit as key to stimulating savings.
It is understood that the government hopes to find time to review the 2017 exam towards the middle of this decade.
Nigel Peaple, director of policy and advocacy at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, said the range of challenges facing the government explained the lack of auto-enrollment reform, but added that employers “have need time to prepare”, so that would be “good”. to put this into law now with a clear, phased timetable for the introduction of the measures”.
Anti-boycott bill sparks street protests
Other measures announced in the Queen’s Speech will, however, have an impact on British pensions, starting with the long-dragged introduction of a bill to tackle ‘local boycotts’.
This legislative response was necessitated by the government’s defeat in the Supreme Court in a case brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that opened the door for local government pension schemes to pursue targeted campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel, and – theoretically – other militant entities claim they violate human rights laws.
MPs backed an amendment to the Civil Service Pensions and Judicial Service Bill in February that would have seen the ban reimposed, but the government has now introduced a bill specifically designed to achieve that effect, arguing that ‘Such a move is necessary to maintain the UK’s foreign policy integrity, and to prevent “divisive behavior which undermines community cohesion across the country by preventing public bodies from imposing their own boycott campaigns , divestment or sanctions”.
“There are fears that such boycotts will legitimize and fuel anti-Semitism, as these types of campaigns overwhelmingly target Israel. Such campaigns lead to undue politicization of public institutions,” he explained.
The bill will empower the government to prohibit public bodies subject to public procurement rules from carrying out boycott campaigns against foreign nations and entities, and prevent them from targeting the sale of goods and services from them, as well as than the UK businesses that trade with them. .
The CPS has repeatedly denied that the boycott campaigns are motivated by anti-Semitism or increase its prevalence.
PSC director Ben Jamal said: “Although the government has been threatening this legislation for several years, it is nonetheless outrageous to see such an undemocratic bill presented in one of the oldest seats in the democracy.
“Boycotting is a legitimate and historically recognized tactic and the right to employ it is a fundamental democratic right.”
He vowed to fight the bill saying: ‘Our first act will be to take to the streets of London this Saturday […] to protect our right to boycott.
Welcomed online security provisions
Despite significant public concerns about its impacts on freedom of expression, the Government’s Online Safety Bill has been at least welcomed by industry players who have long called for more to be done to tackle the online fraud, false advertising and unauthorized financial promotions.
MPs and industry experts had warned for some time that the existing law placed too few obligations on social media companies and other online platforms to protect users from fake and fraudulent content, especially retirement scams.
Although the private sector made some concessions after engaging with the Financial Conduct Authority, there have been calls for the Online Safety Bill to go further, with consumer group Which? demanding that it include paid advertisements in an effort to combat the growing number of scams, which it has now done.
Significantly, the bill designates Ofcom as the independent regulator of online safety, giving it “robust enforcement powers”, according to the Queen’s Speech.
These include the ability to impose fines of up to £18m or 10% of qualifying annual turnover, as well as ‘business disruption measures’ and the criminal liability of tech company executives in case of non-compliance.
This bill is the perfect opportunity to require search engines and social media platforms to quickly remove investment fraud and impersonation from their sites and to perform due diligence on prevent it from appearing.
Yvonne Collins, Head of Financial Crime Prevention at Phoenix Group, said: “We have called for this throughout the consultation as we believe there is an urgent need to protect society, with unlicensed financial promotions and false advertisements targeting the most vulnerable, and we salute its passage. It was crucial that the crackdown on fraudulent online advertising not be watered down.
She added: “We urge people to remain alert to any offers of unrealistic financial returns or free pension reviews that are often too good to be true. Taking the time to verify that a website is secure before sharing personal information, inspecting the URL, or simply asking if a deal looks realistic could save you from being scammed.
Matt Burton, chief risk officer at Quilter, agrees, saying: “This bill is the perfect opportunity to require search engines and social media platforms to quickly remove fraudulent investments and scams. of impersonation from their sites and do their due diligence to prevent them from appearing. .”
Audit of the statutory auditors
Despite reports that an Audit Reform Bill was to be dropped from the Queen’s Speech, the Government found time to include a Bill aimed in part at improving risk protection for pensions.
The government has said its aim is to ‘restore confidence’ in the UK’s auditing, corporate reporting and corporate governance systems following a series of high-profile failures, such as in the case of retail group BHS, which collapsed with a £571million black hole. pension plans.
The new bill, which is only a draft at this stage, would see a new regulator – the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority – created as the next step in the evolution of the Financial Reporting Council.
The new regulator will have “effective powers to enforce directors’ financial reporting obligations, to oversee corporate reporting and to oversee and regulate the accounting and actuarial professions”, the government explained.
In the meantime, the bill would also reform the regulation of insolvency practitioners “to give greater confidence to creditors [and strengthen] corporate governance of companies in or about to be insolvent, in order to combat “asset stripping” more effectively.
Value for money advice
Finally, speaking at a Pension Playpen event ahead of the Queen’s Speech, Opperman provided an update on the proposed new value for money framework, praising the pension regulator and the FCA for creating a joint working paper, but adding that he was “decided to take it all the way”.
“Our intention is to consult this year on value for money,” he said, and – although not relying on a specific timetable – suggested that November would be a realistic date.
Opperman said there are three main areas to consider in any consultation on what constitutes value for money, the first being costs and fees, which he says should no longer be the “number one measure”. a”.
He argued that investment performance was at least as important, saying “consumer outcomes are what I’m most interested in.”
The third element, he said, was customer service, although he added that he “doubted that customer service was the main driver” because “what is customer service for the pension organization is often not customer service for the individual consumer”.
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Opperman faulted his predecessors for creating a system in which it is impossible to compare costs and charges, and expressed his hope that there will, in the long run, be “one cost and one charge”.
He encouraged the industry to share his views, emphasizing that he wanted to hear about solutions and not problems, repeating a much criticized criticism of the industry made in March, where he suggested the industry was talking too much problems quickly and spent too little time on long-term planning.