Blair's rotation policy spells disaster

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David Blunkett is the fifth person in just eight years to be asked by Tony Blair to come up with solutions to Britain's pension crisis. It is little wonder that things are such a mess.

David Blunkett is the fifth person in just eight years to be asked by Tony Blair to come up with solutions to Britain's pension crisis. It is little wonder that things are such a mess.

How can we hope to put things right when every secretary of state is moved on the moment they master this complicated brief? Each new minister arrives with their own agenda. Already, Blunkett has hinted that he may be prepared to consider compulsory pension contributions.

By contrast, Alan Johnson, his predecessor in the role, was told by the Treasury that this was unacceptable. Instead, he floated the idea of a flat-rate Citizen's Pension, payable to everyone above a certain age, irrespective of the National Insurance contributions they have made. This idea now seems to be on the back burner.

During the general election campaign, the Prime Minister said he wanted to forge a national consensus on pensions. But right now, even his own ministers aren't in agreement. Blunkett and Johnson have been moving towards compulsory pension saving, an idea which Gordon Brown fiercely opposes.

This summer, Adair Turner, the former director-general of the CBI, is due to present the final report of his Pensions Commission. He has already warned that the country faces stark choices. We must either save more, work on into retirement, pay more taxes to finance higher state pensions or accept that we will be poor in old age.

It is difficult to imagine Brown allowing Blunkett to tell the nation that the Government has decided to adopt one of these solutions. Instead, expect them to cherry pick Turner's proposals, accepting those that are politically expedient while quietly jettisoning anything with a whiff of controversy.

Meanwhile, many working people are heading for a tough time in retirement. Insurance company Axa published research this week showing that more than five million employees have not even signed up to their company pension scheme, despite their employers offering to contribute on their behalf.

This lack of faith in pensions speaks volumes. People are now so worried about the pension system, they will even miss out on free cash from their employers in order to avoid getting drawn in.

Blunkett has just a few months to get to grips with his new role, agree a way ahead with Adair Turner, and come up with specific proposals to turn theory into practice.

If he succeeds, the new secretary of state will deserve all our thanks - just don't bet on him being kept at the Department for Work and Pensions for long enough to receive them.

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d.prosser@independent.co.uk

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