Anthony Hilton: Too many pension schemes spoil the pots

You can see where the Office of Fair Trading is coming from in launching an investigation this week into the charges levied on workplace pension schemes. There has been a raft of work by fund manager David Pitt-Watson and others which suggests that pension pots would be a third higher if charges in this country were at the same level as, for example, in Holland.

Whether the higher charges are down to a lack of competition is, however, another matter. One of the problems with UK pensions is it is so fragmented. Whereas many other countries have industrywide pension schemes here the basic unit of organisation is the workplace. This means an employee moving from Tesco to Sainsbury's has to leave one pension scheme and join another which is a costly administrative burden.

It also gives rise to a telling industry statistic that out of 40,000 defined contribution pension schemes in this country, over 30,000 have fewer than 10 members and are therefore too small either to be cheap to run or efficient in their investments.

We need a few very large pension schemes, not thousands of small ones, because it would save billions and deliver the scale required for better investment strategies. But just as turkeys don't vote for Christmas, those running small pension schemes resist.