UK government 'of course' considering delay of auto-enrolment – Darling
UK - The UK government is "of course" considering a delay of auto-enrolment reforms planned for next year, according to former chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
Darling, who was chancellor under prime minister Gordon Brown and a former secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions, also argued that the introduction of a Tobin Tax - a financial transaction tax - by the European Commission should not go ahead if it is simply a way for Brussels to raise its own tax income.
Asked at the National Association of Pension Funds annual conference in Manchester whether he believed a number of recent press reports urging the government to reconsider the introduction of auto-enrolment in light of the country's current growth levels, Darling said: "Of course they are thinking about [stalling the reforms]."
He said the Treasury would consider the impact of allowing the reforms to go ahead, but conceded: "It's one thing to talk about doing this for a year - it's quite another thing to effectively put the whole thing off."
He said it would be a "big pity" if, having reached cross-party agreement on the Turner Report, the government failed to go ahead with an aspect of it that was "fundamental".
"If you put this off for more than a year, you are effectively saying 'It ain't gonna happen', and it is a huge plank of the architecture that has been put in place - so it would be a big mistake to do it.
"Frankly, auto-enrolment is not going to make the difference to our economy recovering or not. We've got far, far bigger problems than that."
However, he was cautious about endorsing compulsion, arguing that announcing such a policy before auto-enrolment had been launched would undermine it.
"It's taken long enough to get where we are - to start rethinking something again at this stage would frankly be an excuse for not doing anything at all," he said, adding that reforms could not be put off for another parliament.
He predicted that the introduction of a financial transaction tax, as proposed by the European Commission last month, would simply mean transactions would circumvent the euro-zone.
He expressed surprise that France and Germany had backed the proposal, as this was the view put forward by both countries when the issue was raised in 2009.
Darling admitted that it would be an attractive proposal for many European countries, as much of the financial trade was based in London.
However, he opposed the tax in its current incarnation, as he viewed it as a means for the Commission to raise taxes.
"I would be vehemently against any idea that you would have a transaction tax, which would then go back to fund the euro-zone, which actually seems to be what is driving this rather than anything else.
"The euro-zone has got to sort its problems at euro-zone level and can't possibly do that by raising a tax in somebody else's jurisdiction."
He admitted he saw no problems "in principle" with the tax, or saying that institutions had to meet their duty to society, but the lack of commitment from the US, Canada and the Far East meant nothing had changed from the situation he faced as finance minister negotiating two years ago.