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Thornton to head up watchdog review

UK - The government has appointed Paul Thornton, former senior partner at Watson Wyatt, to test whether pensions regulation in the UK is fit for the future.

The government is concerned that the right watchdogs are in place when it unveils its new national savings plan in 2012.

From that year individuals will be auto-enrolled into proposed Pensions Accounts, wherein 8% of their annual salary will go into savings for retirement.

Thornton will lead an institutional review "which will consider how the functions of the organisations involved in the regulations and protection of the work place pensions, such as the Pension Regulator, the Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Service Authority (FSA), fit with our new proposals," said James Purnell, Pensions Reform minister.

He also confirmed the government's plans for a generic financial advice service to help employees decide whether to opt in to the new personal savings accounts, and consider how to invest their money.

Otto Thoresen, Aegon UK's chief executive, has been appointed to head the taskforce to research and design such a service.

An NAPF seminar on Personal Accounts showed increasing scepticism of the reform as proposed so far, with industry figures and pension funds fearing a "dumbing down".

Michael Goy, deputy chief executive of the Railway Pension Trustee Company and managing director of Railway Pensions Management, said that he is in favour of the reforms, "as long as they don't dumb down what people might be getting elsewhere, and there is a clear risk of that happening."

Watson Wyatt's senior consultant Stephen Yeo, also speaking at the seminar, argued: "Personal accounts are important - but not so important that we should lose sight of what we have got."

Elsewhere, FSA chief executive John Tiner announced he will step down in July, saying in a statement that it was the right time "to pass on the baton".

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