David Prosser: Pension schemes are back in the black

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The Independent Online

Outlook Here's a spot of good news to cheer anyone depressed by all the economic uncertainty. Britain's final salary pension schemes collectively have £6.6bn more than they need to fund their liabilities.

Yes, you did hear that right. While the only thing one is usually told about final salary schemes is that they are impossibly expensive and that employers can't be expected to go on funding them, the latest data from the Pension Protection Fund, the compensation scheme that has to monitor plans' financial strength, really does show they were £6.6bn in surplus at the end of July.

Don't, however, get too excited. The corresponding figure for the end of June was a £21.8bn liability, and there is every chance we could be back in that sort of territory when the PPF unveils its figures for August in a few weeks time

The trouble is that pension scheme funding, on the basis of the valuation models used by the PPF and others, swings around wildly.

Indeed, this is the real issue for employers with final salary schemes. It's not so much that this type of provision is expensive – though it is – but that the costs, which fall due over many years into the future, are so unpredictable. Now that companies face ever tougher requirements for the disclosure of pension liabilities, they cannot countenance such huge uncertainty. Not such good news after all then.

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