Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cap Public Sector Pensions?


Here is some food for thought. The Independent reports that a a senior Labour backbencher is calling for a £50,000 a year cap on public sector pensions:

Pensions for public sector workers should be capped at around £50,000 a year, a senior Labour backbencher suggested today.

With salaries for the best-paid executives in the civil service and local government soaring in recent years to as much as £250,000 a year, pension entitlements have risen in some cases to "excessive" levels, said Terry Rooney, the chairman of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee.

His proposal of a cap could prove controversial, with unions representing senior public servants likely to resist any restriction on pensions.

Mr Rooney told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Some people who are earning £200-£250,000 a year can see a pension in the range of £150,000.

"I think most people would think that that was excessive.

"Perhaps there should be a cap of, say, somewhere around £50,000."

The "gold-plated" pensions available in the public sector have become increasingly controversial as a growing number of private sector companies have closed down their generous final-salary schemes and moved staff onto more risky schemes linked to the stock market.

And a recent report suggested that the total taxpayer liability for future public sector pensions may be higher than £1 trillion.

Meanwhile, citing the FT, Reuters reports that UK specialist insurer Pension Corporation is eyeing a third capital raising:

UK specialist insurer Pension Corporation is eyeing a third capital raising round of up to 400 million pounds ($652.7 million) from new and existing investors, the Financial Times reported on Friday.

Citing people close to the privately-owned specialist pension buy-out and insurance company, the FT said the capital would be used to back new deals taking over liabilities of closed pension schemes, books of pensions in payment, or deferred pensions.

The company does both buy-out deals, where it takes over assets and liabilities, and buy-in deals, where it writes an insurance policy against liabilities.

JPMorgan is co-ordinating the capital raising and might add to the money it put in during Pension Corp's second capital raising last year, which gave it about 5 per cent of the group.

Pension buy-outs were once dominated by Prudential and Legal & General until a number of smaller, specialist firms, usually backed by private equity, entered the field earlier this decade.

Pension Corp recently tried to buy rival Paternoster, one of the first such companies to set up which is run by Mark Wood, the former Prudential executive. That deal failed and Paternoster is now restricted from pursuing new business due to a lack of spare capital.

Pension Corp hopes to raise fresh money potentially in the form of equity and long-term junior debt, while the rest of the capital would be lined up as commitments for when deals are done.

One person familiar with the company said that it had spare capital, but "was seeing more large deals coming its way and that prospective counterparties wanted increased certainty it would have the extra capital needed to support a deal."

Forbes reports that in New York, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced on Thursday that NY pension fund contribution rates will rise:

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Thursday that state and local governments, and their taxpayers, will need to pay far more into the state's public worker pension fund, which lost about 25 percent of its value in the global financial meltdown.

The government contributions will increase to 11.9 percent of payroll for most workers in 2011, and 18.2 percent for police and firefighters whose pensions are more expensive. While the fund has regained some value with recent stock rebounds, public costs are expected to keep climbing.

"We're going to see more pressure for additional increases past this one," DiNapoli said. "A lot of it's driven by performance. It really depends on how we do this fiscal year."

The 2011 increases followed five years of rate cuts as fund investments grew. The rates are set to drop next year to 7.4 percent of payroll that state, county and municipal governments pay for most employees, and 15.1 percent for firefighters and police.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund has about 350,000 retirees and 650,000 active members. It had $116.5 billion in assets at the close of its last quarter, down from the historic high of $154 billion in spring 2008.

"It's simply terrible news, a doubling of the pension rate at a terrible time," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. The counties paid $337 million in 2008, he said, with costs projected to rise to 24 percent of payroll by 2012. "That's staggering."

A doubling of the pension rate is terrible news? I got a better idea, why don't we also cap public sector pensions in North America? Any politician courageous enough to propose this idea here? Of course, that means a cut in their own gold plated pensions.

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