Field attacks BR pension switch

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FRANK FIELD, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, last night described government plans for transferring assets from British Rail's pension funds to the Treasury as its 'biggest U turn yet,' writes Clare Dobie.

He said: 'The Government had slowly caught up with where Mr (Robert) Maxwell was seven years ago. That was when he realised pension fund assets were worth more than companies.' Mr Field added that the proposal would reverse the Government's previous efforts to farm out as much as possible to the private sector.

The Government is considering transferring more than pounds 2.5bn of assets from BR's pounds 8.5bn pension funds to the Treasury in a move which would substantially improve public finances.

It has proposed moving investments - possibly including some of a pounds 60m art collection - from the BR pension scheme ahead of privatisation. Those investments, if sold for cash, would be used to reduce the ballooning public sector borrowing requirement.

In return the Government would promise to pay pensions to retired BR employees.