Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Don’t blame my dad

In 1993, at the tender age of 22 and having just graduated from University, I attended the retirement party for my dad. A grand affair at a local venue with a couple of hundred colleagues and friends whom my dad had built relationships with over his 35ish years in public sector employment. He was 52.

To me, at that time, 52 seemed a long way off and his years were beginning to show. To me now, it seems very young to be hanging up the gloves on the social housing market to take up the challenges and opportunities of retirement.

Today I was late for work due to the passing of two consecutive full buses past my stop – each packed with people holding strike placards and sporting ‘save my pension’ badges.

So what’s my point?

In 1993 early retirement was commonplace in the public sector. It was seen as a way to reduce the salary bill by transferring that cost for a later day and future generations (you and I). This trend continued into the later Labour government and despite feeble tinkering to try to improve the situation this was still never fully addressed; the pension crisis just kept growing. Before 1993 I’m sure the situation had been developing for sometime, but I was young and had a life then - one that didn’t involve having to consider this stuff.

I am no economist, but this sort of time bomb is not easily overlooked. I have much sympathy with public sector workers, many of whom I have seen treated badly during recent cutbacks.  BUT can you honestly say you didn’t see it coming?

And what does this mean for the VCS? Open public services, personalisation and localism bring the opportunity to really get the right providers and services in place at the right levels of delivery – many of which may be VCOs. But issues like TUPE rights and transfer of pension liability place an unwieldy risk to making this work. I also see VCOs admitted to public pension schemes left in crisis as the size of their pension liability becomes apparent. All this in a sector where overall pension take-up is probably the lowest and where overall terms of employment are risky and insecure for the individual.

This pension crisis is the consequence of successive government failings to address the long term impact of poor decision making; the impact of being comfortable in the now at the expense of the future. This is the polar opposite of altruism.

We have to stop this damaging culture of ‘save it for our children to pay’ and take it on the chin. If the only reason you honestly came into public service was because of the pension rights and conditions then quite honestly I’m not sure I want you teaching my children / nursing my relatives / maintaining our public places. I want you to be doing it because it is a privilege to work on behalf of society.

So do I blame dad for his early retirement package – not really, he’s a nice guy. But now I thoroughly expect him, as a local elected member, not to make the same mistakes as his predecessors.

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