Incoming chairman Richard Butcher says bringing more members into the trade body's policy process will produce better policy argument
I became chairman of the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) the other day. I was "elevated" on the last day of annual conference. After my elevation I made a plenary speech, introduced Matt Frei as a speaker and closed the conference after what had been three exhausting days for all.
That evening I relaxed by going to the pub with my wife and some mates. We ate, drank and were merry. At the end of the evening we split the bill and wandered home.
We split the bill because, as Aristotle once wrote, "a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse" although, to be fair, he was illustrating the value of collective intelligence rather than suggesting a way to pay for my vegetarian lasagna.
The concept of collective intelligence is simple: the more ideas or bits of information considered, the better the eventual outcome. Better because it will be more informed and more tested.
The PLSA's policy engine has always been pretty plural. Our councils (each made up of 15 members) own the policy, which is drafted by a team of experts and there is often, also, a steering or working group made up of council and non-council members with a wide range of expertise and knowledge in the matter being considered. This is a system that works - except the only people involved are (a) members of council (b) team members or (c) people known to (a) or (b).
The PLSA's mission is to help everyone achieve a better income in retirement - a mission that I believe we share with government and other stakeholders. To achieve that, however, we have to have good policy and good regulation. This is a high bar for our law-makers and regulators and so we help by producing expert, optimistic policy argument.
In my plenary speech I announced that we would be "opening up the PLSA". My ambition is twofold: (a) to address the challenges above by bringing more members into our policy process and in so doing (b) to produce even better policy argument.
We're going to make it easier for members to take part in the policy process. We'll do this in a number of ways, for example: the policy team will start by always seeking the views of at least five members who aren't otherwise involved in policy work when we produce an item of output; we're holding national policy roadshows and we're going to take the policy debate online using PensionLab a new interactive forum. If you'd like to be involved in any of this, email: [email protected]
We're also consulting on changing the policy governance structures of the PLSA. We are proposing that from October 2018 policy be owned by one committee (provisionally called the policy board). We're proposing this because (a) increasingly policy straddles defined benefit, defined contribution and master trusts (for example, pension scamming) and (b) this is how it has worked, albeit informally, for the last few years. The policy board (if it comes into being and is called that) will build on our existing governance and we expect it will want to retain the current councils - at least for the time being. It will also be able to create permanent or temporary councils, working groups, steering committees or chats down the pub as it thinks necessary. This structure will allow us to include more members in policy making and to deploy them and the PLSA's policy resources more precisely.
An open PLSA with more policy debate will produce better policy argument. We should all drink to that - provided we split the bill of course.
Richard Butcher is chairman of the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association and also managing director at PTL
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