Guy Opperman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, is one of Westminster’s more interesting and enthusiastic characters.
In his youth, he was a half decent amateur jockey and a much respected barrister in the City before becoming, eight years ago, MP for Hexham, Northumberland.
In recent years, he has shown a penchant for fighting financial injustices (admirable) and waving the flag for community- style banks. Indeed, he was one of the driving forces behind the launch in his constituency of the Tynedale Community Bank – a provider of loans and savings products to locals which has since merged with a near neighbour to form Northumberland Community Bank.
Phone rage: If we are lucky, any cold-calling ban may be implemented this autumn but other more pressing parliamentary issues could easily push it further back into the long grass
Great stuff – a style of banking that we on Personal Finance wholeheartedly embrace as part of our ‘Keep Our Communities Open For Business’ campaign.
Although his zest is admirable and indomitable spirit indisputable, it does not always lend itself to the sobriety demanded of Ministerial office. Opperman has a habit of promising much and delivering precious little.
So, around about this time last year, he took to the pages of The Mail on Sunday to announce the ‘important’ introduction of a ban on pension cold-calling – action we had long called for following great campaigning and petitioning from financial adviser Darren Cooke. ‘Having carried out a detailed public consultation’, he trilled, ‘tough new measures will be introduced to protect savers from the threat of unscrupulous private pension scammers.’
Yet the ‘measures’ have yet to see the light of day. Last Friday, another ‘consultation’ was launched. If we are lucky, any cold-calling ban may be implemented this autumn but other more pressing parliamentary issues (you know what they are) could easily push it further back into the long pampas grass.
Now, it seems that proposals for the introduction of a pensions dashboard – allowing savers to go online and see the progress of all their various pension pots (state, public, private) in one place – are in imminent danger of being ‘killed off’.
This is despite the fact that last October Opperman again used the pages of a national newspaper to confirm that the dashboard would definitely go ahead with the Government’s blessing – and that the Department for Work and Pensions (not the cost- conscious Treasury) would take the lead.
Indeed, last December, he delivered a speech at a ‘pension dashboard development day’ where he declared the Government was ‘truly on board’, adding: ‘The pensions landscape is transforming and we need to bring the consumer with us.’
While the wish to abandon this particular pensions initiative appears to be driven more by Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Opperman’s boss), the former jockey will have much mud on his face if the dashboard is indeed killed off.
Last week, for once, Opperman managed to quell his normal exuberance by telling the Work and Pensions Select Committee that it ‘probably wasn’t appropriate’ for him to comment on any rumours.
If the dashboard goes the way of the dodo, it would be a great shame and a black mark against Opperman’s name.
I trust he uses the long summer recess to reflect on the fact that soundbites have a horrible habit of biting back.
Actions speak louder than words. On pensions that means an end to cold-calling NOW before yet more people get scammed – and a swift U-turn on deserting the dashboard. Nothing else will do. Tally-ho!