Opperman named DWP minister as Harrington leaves after less than a year

Former barrister and amateur jockey Guy Opperman MP has been named under secretary of state in the Department for Work and Pensions, as Richard Harrington exits the department after less than a year.

Harrington leaves his role as pension minister to become a minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Opperman, the MP for Hexham, was appointed Government Whip (Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury) in July 2016. The DWP website says Opperman’s ministerial responsibilities will be “confirmed in due course”.

Experts have signalled tax relief, state pension reforms and an overhaul of DB regulation as priorities for the incoming minister.

The loss of Harrington after less than a year in the job has also prompted renewed calls for a cross-party pensions commission to examine long-term issues relating to pensions and retirement saving.

Hymans Robertson partner Chris Noon says: “The current pension tax relief ‘mess’ is simply not sustainable and we’d like to see a fundamental review of long-term saving incentives that genuinely encourages all individuals to save for retirement and long-term care. The implementation of a sliding scale of annual allowance that tapers from £40,000 at £150,000 of earnings to £10,000 for those who earn more than £210,000 has boosted government finances. However, the taper is a huge disincentive for pension saving for high earners, and their employers, who are being paralysed by the complexity of the system.  This needs simplification.

“Hopefully the new incumbents at the DWP will also address the hopes of pensioners by not implementing the manifesto pledge and instead leaving the Triple Lock in place for the foreseeable future.  The Government’s own figures show that the State Pension changes introduced in April 2016 have reduced the long-term costs of the State Pension by £8bn a year including the cost of the Triple Lock. Moving to a “Double Lock” will be the equivalent of a £250 a year reduction in State Pension and will have the most significant impact on low and middle-earners who rely on it most.

“We also hope they take a sensible approach to the regulation of DB pensions. The impact of BHS is still being widely felt across the DB world and the message of protecting pensions from unscrupulous bosses is certainly one that is welcomed. However, in reality behaviour like this isn’t an everyday occurrence. Introducing legislation as forceful as that promised in the Conservative manifesto with the current minority government situation will be incredibly difficult.”

Old Mutual Wealth head of retirement policy Jon Greer says: “The role of pensions minister has been used in a game of musical chairs for some time now. Where there has been stability, such as with Sir Steve Webb, the pensions minister until 2015, there was continuity around the delivery of auto-enrolment, which has probably been the single most important measure in decades in terms of promoting a savings culture.

“With Richard Harrington moving into a new role and Guy Opperman taking up the position of parliamentary under-secretary we are set for yet another minister overseeing pensions policy. It means 12 ministers have taken the reins on pensions since the turn of the century.

“There is a strong case for government to establish a cross-party independent commission, similar to Adair Turner’s pension commission of the early 2000s. Retirement and savings policy is by its very nature a long-term matter, with policy decisions today having a ripple effect into the future and across generations. Savers and the pensions industry can’t afford for government to make mistakes on key pensions policy and establishing a consultative approach to policymaking via an independent commission would be responsible step for any government to take if they are serious about building a healthy and sustainable savings culture.”