Darren Philp says the dashboard programme team should be congratulated on the work it has done to put together a properly scoped out and stress tested plan that will maximise the chance of the project's success
A year is a long time - certainly the last year has been. It was a year ago that we were all in the midst of grappling with the immediate consequences of the pandemic and the first lockdown, working from home and adapting to the ‘new normal' (I hate that phrase….). But a year is also a long time in the world of pensions dashboards (note the plural), and we achieved a significant milestone on the 13 April 2021 for the procurement of the architecture services that will underpin the dashboard ecosystem.
Now, the pensions dashboard project sometimes gets a bad press. There are sceptics out there, quite understandably, and the project hasn't always been driven forward with the momentum and speed people like me would like. It's certainly stuttered along from time-to-time with peaks and troughs of activity and I sense there has sometimes been a frustration about the pace of delivery and progress. At times, I have shared in that frustration, but we need to remember that this is an ambitious and complicated project. We also need to remember that the Money and Pensions Service (MAPS) haven't been driving this car for that long and they had to spend a lot of time internally focussed on programme management to get us where we are now. As the Army would say… Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (the ‘6 Ps' - the actual version is ‘7 Ps' but I'm keeping it clean for pension folk….).
I remember when Tim Jones took over the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority (the organisation that built NEST). I was at the Treasury at the time and one of the first things Tim and his team did (if memory serves correctly) is to stop all build activity on the programme and order a timeout so that the programme office could put together a stress tested plan that was deliverable and would work. I remember civil servants, like me, in almost a blind panic at the thought of the programme ‘stopping work' (‘what would the minister say??'….).
We were all thinking that this thing needs to be ready by 2012 so what the hell was this guy thinking in taking three months out of our delivery roadmap?
But actually the three month timeout was the best thing that could have happened to the programme and was, I'm sure, a key factor in the successful delivery of NEST, delivering against the 6 Ps. Ultimately developing a plan that was derisked as far as possible and would ensure that NEST would be open for business on time, which it was.
So has been the case with the dashboard programme.
The dashboard team knows they need to ramp up their industry engagement and be more proactive sharing latest thinking and developments, but they wanted to make sure they had a firm grip on the issues and have a properly scoped out and stress tested plan that will maximise the chance of success. This actually makes a lot of sense and if it means people like me have to wait for the latest updates so we can drive forward internal planning then so be it. A price worth paying.
The programme will no doubt go through rocky phases - it is complicated, it is ambitious - but get this right and we will change the UK pensions landscape and architecture for the better. So, on publication of the tender document, which marks an important milestone for the project, I raise a virtual glass to Chris Curry and the dashboard team and congratulate them on reaching this next phase. Chin chin!
Darren Philp is director of policy and market engagement at Smart Pension