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UK roundup: PLSA launches diversity campaign

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The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) has kicked off a year of diversity campaigns with the launch of ”Breaking The Mirror Image”, a collection of essays on the subject.

The pension fund trade body wants to encourage greater diversity on trustee boards, having found that 83% of trustees are male.

Speaking at an event this morning in London, PLSA chair Lesley Williams said the association will initially focus on gender, but that she intends to extend the association’s work into other forms of diversity. The work will continue beyond the initial 12-month period, Williams added. It will include a series of training sessions and other activities, as Williams told IPE last month.

Contributors to the 44-page book include NEST CEO Helen Dean, Investment Association chair Helena Morrissey, Railpen CEO Chris Hitchen, and Pensions Regulator chief executive Lesley Titcomb.

Richard Harrington, the UK government’s pensions minister, welcomed the initiative, adding: “A balanced workforce is good for businesses, their workplace culture and for investors. Firms with a good gender balance in senior positions and across teams perform better, and therefore attract the best talent.”

Williams said: “Our campaign begins by looking at gender diversity, but there are many elements to consider if we want truly representative and diverse trustee boards – gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, and social class.”

Titcomb added: “Good governance is the foundation of a well-run pension scheme, and diverse trustee boards can help deliver this.”

Elsewhere, workers for the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) have struck a deal on a new defined contribution pension scheme after lengthy discussions with their employer.

Prospect, a union, said it had negotiated higher employer contributions to the scheme of between 11% and 13%, depending on the employee’s contribution.

Workers took strike action in November in protest at the closure of their defined benefit pension fund.

Prospect negotiator Richard Tabbner said employees had secured “significant improvements” to the pension arrangements, but added that it was “extremely disappointing that industrial action was needed”.

“The result should not be interpreted as members being satisfied with the outcome,” Tabbner added. “The closure of the defined benefit scheme broke clear promises that had been made to AWE employees in the past and members are rightly angry about that. The result simply shows that members felt the final proposals were the best that could be achieved at this stage.”        

Meawhile, the Cancer Research UK Pension Scheme has sealed a £250m (€292m) buy-in with Canada Life.

The transaction was a continuation of the defined benefit scheme’s de-risking programme, according to a statement on the deal from advisers LCP. In the past three years the scheme has reduced its equity exposure and invested in assets that “broadly in line with the measurement of the pension obligations”.

Kenneth Hardman, partner in LCP’s insurance de-risking team, said Canada Life’s backing of the buy-in had established the insurer in the “mid-range” market for de-risking, providing competition and further capacity.

Ian Kenyon, chief financial officer at Cancer Research UK, said said the deal “both improves the funding position of the pension scheme and reduces the risk of contributions needing to increase in the future”.

“This is another action which serves to reduce the charity’s cost base to concentrate spending on research,” he added.

The combined shortfall across all private sector defined benefit funds rose slightly during February to £270bn, according to an estimate from JLT Employee Benefits. The average funding level remained at 85%, however, as assets also rose.

PricewaterhouseCoopers also released its monthly DB funding estimate. Its Skyval index estimated that UK pension schemes had a combined deficit of £370bn at the end of February, up by £50bn in a month.

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