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Part of Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 12:45 pm, 1st February 2018

I am delighted to have the opportunity to update the Committee on the pensions dashboard, which is a project I have very much taken to heart in the seven months I have had this job. I am massively committed to it. I endorse utterly the broad thrust of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington says. It is a groundbreaking project that will provide the holy grail of access to the variety of pension pots we have, in various shapes and forms, as we get older in life—state pension, private pensions or other types of pensions—on one accessible portal.

However, the proposal to launch the dashboard was taken only in autumn last year. The Department for Work and Pensions is undertaking a feasibility study, which will be finished in March. I propose to report to the House of Commons by written or oral statement before the end of this term. The objective, which is very ambitious, is to launch the dashboard in some shape or form by May 2019.

I resist the amendment on the simple basis that, although it is very possible that the single financial guidance body will ultimately run the dashboard, that simply cannot be said at the present stage. There are a considerable number of complexities with the dashboard: the retention of a huge amount of different types of data, whether from state pension data or private pensions; who has access to that data; who controls it; and whether that is something that should be done by the Government, as ultimately the most trusted provider—regardless of whether one trusts or does not trust any particular Government—or by a relatively independent quango such as the single financial guidance body. There is an issue about what body would take it forward and hold the data, and the extent to which the data is accessible, to whom and in what way. There is a lot of devil in the detail, but the objective is utterly clear.

The amendment seeks to put in the Bill that the single financial guidance body will be in charge of the pensions dashboard and will take it forward. This slightly goes to the earlier point from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South about three months. I would be nervous of saying to the single financial guidance body, which has a big job ahead of it, that it is being set up to merge these organisations, provide all these services, do all of the things we want it to do, and then say, “By the way, on top of that, you have to do the single most complex piece of administration of all aspects of all pensions straightaway within six months of your creation.” In my view, that would be a significant burden on that body at a very early stage. If it was a business, we would be asking, “Why deviate from the core purpose right now?”

It is possible that once the dashboard is up and running, the logical organisation to take it forward and run it would be the single financial guidance body, but I would be reluctant to commit to that in the Bill. I certainly do not want it to take that on right at the very start. I am happy to work with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and colleagues across the House as we go forward. I do not think there is a single naysayer to the project, but one should not underestimate its size or complexity.

For present purposes, I will resist the three amendments. I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and other Committee members and explain the issue in more detail, as I did when I appeared before my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar and his colleagues on the Work and Pensions Committee. The Chair of that Committee was very dubious about the likelihood of a dashboard coming into existence. He said that it would not happen during his lifetime, but I robustly assured him that it would. I hope that it will be up and running by May 2019, and that the body will advise it. I therefore respectfully resist the amendments.