UK - The National Employment Savings Trust (NEST), the government-backed scheme launched as a cornerstone of auto-enrolment reforms, has sought to improve its environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials by signing up to the Stewardship Code.

The move was widely expected and comes a few months after the scheme became a signatory of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.

The fund has also appointed EIRIS to provide all ESG data services, allowing the trust to analyse the risks associated with its investments.

Speaking of the appointment, chief investment officer Mark Fawcett said he "firmly believed" environmental issues should be addressed within the portfolio to achieve the best returns.

"As part of our commitment to being a responsible owner and investor, NEST will exercise its voting rights in an informed manner via its fund managers and actively engage with its investee companies to meet and exceed standards of good practice," he added.

As part of its drive for better understanding of ESG issues, NEST has also joined the UK sustainable investment association UKSIF, signing up alongside the Pension Protection Fund.

Meanwhile, Mercer has warned that the situation facing the pension industry is "likely to get worse before it gets better" as new figures found that contributions into defined contribution (DC) schemes were stagnating and falling.

The consultancy found that contributions from employees remained static at 7.2%, while workers were opting to pay 0.4 percentage points less compared with 10 years ago, only contributing 4.2%.

Tony Pugh, head of DC consulting, said the stagnation in contributions did not come as a big surprise.

"Once companies start to feel the impact of auto-enrolling swathes of employees, there is even a risk of their contribution levels dropping in the short term," he said. "With a double-dip recession looming, things are likely to get worse before they get better."

However, he predicted the downturn would not continue, as companies began to realise lower contributions meant workers would be forced to stay active for a longer period of time.

Meanwhile, the £1.9bn Norfolk Pension Fund is tendering a framework agreement for a provider of actuarial and benefit consultancy services on behalf of several unnamed local authority schemes.

The four-year contract, which is to run from June next year, would see the successful bidder conduct a range of services, including annual valuations and the calculation of relevant contribution rates for employees.

The tender noted that the value of the notice ranged from £15m (€18m) to £350m, "based on the very widespread take-up by funds eligible to use the framework".

Finally, Aries Pension & Insurance Services has announced a number of appointments, winning contracts to offer technical support a number of schemes including the Taylor Wimpey Pension Scheme, Nestlé UK Pension Fund, the Church of England Pensions Board, Alcatel-Lucent Pension Fund and the recently renamed Everything Everywhere Pensions Scheme - the result of a merger between the pension funds of mobile phone providers Orange and T-Mobile.