No AE reform, but Queen’s Speech measures spark protests

No AE reform, but Queen’s Speech measures spark protests
Eddie Mulholland/Pool via REUTERS

There was no mention of automatic enrolment reform in the Queen’s Speech, but bills around local boycotts, online safety and a revamped audit and reporting framework will all impact the industry, experts have said.

Campaigners have promised to take to the streets to protest a bill aimed at tackling local boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns by public bodies including the Local Government Pension Scheme. 

Meanwhile, pensions minister Guy Opperman has promised that a consultation into a new value for money framework will be held this year, probably in November.

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No room for auto-enrolment

It had been hoped that auto-enrolment reforms implementing the 2017 review proposals might find a place in the government’s headline legislative agenda, but mounting short-term challenges ranging from immigration to cost of living meant there was little room for pensions policy when Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s Speech on May 10.

Opperman has repeatedly declined to give a timetable for implementation, angering those who see lowering the age limit, abolishing the earnings trigger, and reducing the qualifying earnings limit as key to boosting savings.

It is understood that the government hopes to find time to look again at the 2017 review towards the middle of this decade.

Nigel Peaple, director of policy and advocacy at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, said the range of challenges facing the government explained the absence of auto-enrolment reform, but added that employers “need time to prepare”, so it “would be good to put this on the statute book now with a gradual and clear timetable for the introduction of the measures”.

Anti-boycott bill triggers street protests

Other measures announced in the Queen’s Speech will have a bearing on UK pension schemes, however, beginning with the long-trailed introduction of a bill aimed at tackling “local boycotts”.

This legislative response was made necessary by the government’s defeat in the Supreme Court in a case brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that opened the door for local government pension schemes to pursue targeted boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against the state of Israel, and — theoretically — other entities activists argue breach human rights laws.

MPs backed an amendment to the public service pensions and judicial offices bill in February that would have seen the ban reimposed, but the government has now introduced a bill specifically designed to achieve this effect, arguing that such a move is necessary to maintain the integrity of UK foreign policy, and to prevent “divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion across the country by stopping public bodies from imposing their own boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns”. 

“There are concerns that such boycotts may legitimise and drive antisemitism, as these types of campaigns overwhelmingly target Israel. Such campaigns result in undue politicisation of public institutions,” it explained.

The bill will empower the government to ban public bodies that are subject to public procurement rules from conducting boycott campaigns against foreign nations and entities, and prevent them from targeting the sale of goods and services from same, as well as UK businesses that trade with them.