Pensions Regulator  

Field clashes with government over regulator

Field clashes with government over regulator

The chairman of the Work and Pensions committee has seen his request for a preliminary hearing with the proposed candidate for the chief executive role of The Pensions Regulator (TPR) denied by the government.

It emerged yesterday that Charles Counsell, chief executive of the Money Advice Service, had been appointed at the helm of the regulator.

Frank Field, Independent Labour MP, had written to Esther McVey, secretary for Work and Pensions at the time, in September, requesting a hearing with the proposed candidate for the post, saying there was "a very clear case for Parliamentary scrutiny of this key appointment".

Article continues after advert

He wrote: "Our recent report on Carillion expressed serious concerns about the capacity of TPR’s leadership to effect the cultural change that is so desperately needed.

"The recent announcement that TPR plans to be ‘clearer, quicker and tougher’ is as welcome as it is long overdue.

"A pre-appointment hearing with the proposed candidate for the post would allow us to satisfy ourselves that they have what it takes to deliver this radical new approach."

Ms McVey replied in October saying this was a cross-government decision not to be made by a single department.

Oliver Dowden, minister for implementation at the Cabinet Office, has now told Mr Field TPR’s new chief executive was not a regulated public appointment, and that it was the responsibility of the chairman of the watchdog to recruit such a candidate.

"It has been established government policy that executive appointments such as this aren’t appropriate for pre-appointment scrutiny," he said in a letter.

TPR’s chairman, Mark Boyle, also denied Mr Field’s request for the hearing.

Commenting on Mr Counsell’s appointment, Mr Field said the committee wished him well in his new role.

He said: "But this appointment is unlikely to leave unscrupulous company directors quaking in their boots.

"As someone who was part of TPR’s board while it failed to prevent the directors of BHS and Carillion running their pension schemes into the ground, he will have a long way to go to demonstrate that he really is the new broom that’s so desperately needed."

Prior to joining Mas in 2017, Mr Counsell spent six years at the pensions watchdog as executive director of automatic enrolment, where he was responsible for the UK roll-out of this programme.

TPR has been heavily criticised for its role in the Carillion collapse, with MPs accusing it of making "hollow threats" and failing “in all its objectives".

At the time, the work and pensions, and the business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) committees called for cultural change at the watchdog, saying they were "far from convinced that TPR’s current leadership is equipped to effect that change."

Lesley Titcomb announced in May that she would step down at the end of her four-year term in February, but denied that her decision to leave was related to these pressures.