UK – The UK’s new pensions minister has put forward proposals to ensure that half of pension scheme trustees are nominated by members, up from a third at present - observers were "staggered".

The proposals, which will form part of the new Pensions Bill, “will encourage more pension scheme members to have a direct involvement in the running of their scheme”. The announcement was made at the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress, the umbrella group for the unions.

Earlier this week TUC general secretary Brendan Barber had warned that the unions in the UK were prepared to strike over pensions if necessary.

“Everyone agrees that member-nominated trustees are a good idea,” said Alan Johnson, who took over the pensions brief from Andrew Smith this month.

“This change will mean that trustee boards will have a wider range of skills and experiences to draw upon. We want to see good trustees and well-run schemes, and putting more member trustees in every scheme under new simpler legislation will help ensure we have that.”

Tim Keogh, European partner at Mercer Human Resource Consulting, said: “We're staggered. The Government is struggling to get the Pensions Bill through Parliament, and cannot yet explain how key provisions like the Financial Assistance Scheme will work. Its resources are clearly stretched yet, out of the blue, it finds time to tinker with member-nominated trustee rules, which have already been strengthened.

"These new proposals distract from correcting and polishing real measures to restore confidence in pensions, like creating safety nets and encouraging employers to stick with pension schemes. A rushed change like this may upset the carefully thought out balance of powers in schemes, further encouraging employers to move away from private provision.

"What's the point of having a rule requiring member involvement if there are no schemes to be involved in? Or is this just confirmation that compulsory schemes are just around the corner?"

In a newspaper article published yesterday - before the government’s announcement - the chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds, slammed the government’s “schizophrenia” for wanting more lay people as trustees while at the same time making investment competence a requirement.

Christine Farnish added: “Nowhere does the government appear to be challenging the fundamental legal model for running pension schemes, nor thinking laterally about how lessons from the debate on corporate governance in listed companies could be translated across to the governance of multimillion pound pension schemes.”

The unions welcomed Johnson’s announcement. The Transport and General Workers Union said: “This will send a clear message to employers that the days of raiding pension funds and closing pension schemes are over.”