UK - The UK parliament has resolved the long-running dispute over the Royal Mail Pension Plan (RMPP) by agreeing to keep the scheme's £26bn (€29.4bn) assets and £8.4bn deficit in state ownership.

The move - which will pass into law when it receives Royal assent probably at the end of the month - amounts to a government guarantee for existing members' pensions.

In a relatively uncontentious session at the end of last week, the lower house also agreed to accelerate the planned move as part of a restructuring programme for the former state-owned mail firm ahead of privatisation. The scheme closed to new members in 2008.

Employment relations minister Ed Davey said: "Members will appreciate what a relief it will be to the 435,000 members of the Royal Mail pension plan to know their accrued pension rights will be protected sooner rather than later."

Amendments to the bill demanded by the upper house included provision for scheme members who found themselves with accrued rights in the now closed scheme and its private sector scheme.

The amendment was the result of evidence given by RMPP trustees chair Jane Newell before a parliamentary subcommittee on the bill, in which she called on the government to ensure "a seamless service" for these members.

Although the Communication Workers Union grudgingly welcomed the pensions guarantee, spokeswoman Sian Jones said there was no doubt the government should take responsibility for the pensions deficit, having played a significant role in building it up in the first place by allowing a 13-year pensions contribution holiday.

In theory, absorbing the scheme's deficit will make it easier for the government to seek a buyer for the privatised firm.

"That doesn't mean there needs to be a trade-off with privatisation," added Jones. "There is no argument for privatisation that stands up."

In any case, no private company has yet been identified as a likely bidder.

"The market is not right for it," Jones said.

On the absence of a buyer, Davey said: "The government must have the flexibility to negotiate the right deal at the right time."

He will now seek permission from the European Commission to restructure the company's balance sheet with a view to reducing its £1.7bn debt facility with the government.