Clause 61

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 5th February 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions 12:45 pm, 5th February 2008

As the hon. Member for Eastbourne said, there is a certain familiarity about the arguments that we are engaged in, so I will try to be as brief as possible.

As we have already established in debates on previous amendments this morning, there will be an initial period when the scheme has insufficient revenues to cover all its costs. For example, it is envisaged that the authority will incur costs in finalising the design of the scheme and making payments to contractors before the scheme has actually opened its doors to its first members. Clearly, given our intention that the scheme be ultimately self-financing, the likely source of financing for those costs could, indeed, been borrowing. However, as I hope I have already made it clear in earlier debates, no decision on how the personal account should be funded has yet been taken and we have not yet decided whether any borrowing will be from the private sector, the public sector or from a mixture of both: that will depend on a number of factors, including the scale of any borrowing requirement and the willingness of the private sector to engage with a project of this scale.

We can only be certain of the right approach once the authority has been given time to finalise the scheme design, develop its procurement strategy and engage with the market. If borrowing is required, then, like any other non-departmental public body, the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority will need to comply with all the existing guidance and legislation to show that value for money can be achieved.

As we have heard in previous debates, it is vital that we keep all the options open at this stage and allow the authority to recommend the best financing strategy for the personal accounts scheme. We should, at this stage, try to tie the authority’s hands by removing any of the options that are open to us.

Conversely, amendment No.37 would allow the authority to borrow, but, again, it would remove the requirement for the Secretary of State's consent. As the Committee will be aware, it is normal for borrowing by non-departmental public body to require precisely that consent, because its financial arrangements are required to be taken into account under its parent Departments’ budgets. Therefore it is right and necessary that such an arrangement is subject to scrutiny by the sponsoring Department’s Secretary of State. That process also provides a crucial safeguard to ensure that the wider interests of the taxpayer are being taken into account and, indeed, that the personal accounts scheme will be self-financing in the long run and will meet the non-departmental public body’s objective to set up a scheme that balances low charges for members against ensuring that the scheme is commercially viable.

For reasons that are, by now, somewhat familiar, I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne will ask leave to withdraw his amendment.