A DELEGATION from United Co-operatives led by Chief Executive Peter Marks has lobbied Treasury Minister Ruth Kelly on the issue of pensions.
The society, which recently announced £ 3 million special contributions to its main pension funds, urged the Minister to take action to support those businesses which were committed to offering well-funded final salary schemes to their staff.
Speaking after the meeting with Ms Kelly ? MP for Bolton West ? Mr Marks said: "Over the past few years, the Government has taken a number of decisions which have had a very serious impact on the ability of good employers to continue to fund final salary pension funds.
"We wanted to meet Ruth Kelly, who has responsibility for pensions issues in the Treasury, to express our grave concern over the impact of Government policy on this matter."
Added Mr Marks: "United Co-operatives is very keen to continue to provide the best possible pensions for our staff. Government actions, however, are making that more and more difficult. We have already demonstrated our commitment to maintaining final salary schemes by the £ 3 million special contribution we announced in August. We wanted an opportunity to urge the Government to stop doing things which make it harder and harder for employers to provide such schemes.
"We also had a number of positive suggestions to put to the Minister which would make it easier for employers to provide well-funded schemes."
Amongst the issues raised by the United delegation was the cost to pension schemes of the proposed Pension Protection Fund.
Said Mr Marks: "The scheme which the Government is proposing to introduce appears to be based on the unsuccessful American model. We estimate that such a scheme could cost United Co-operatives pension schemes as much as £ 500,000 per year.
"That is £ 500,000 which could be better spent ensuring that we continue to have strong pensions schemes which can offer attractive benefits to our staff, rather than paying for the failures of other schemes.
"In our view, the Government rather than positively encouraging employers to provide and support occupational pensions schemes, is doing the reverse and the introduction of new legislation in this area will only further speed up the trend of employers withdrawing from providing adequate pension schemes."
The meeting with Ms Kelly was described as "positive" by Mr Marks who also indicated that the society would continue to attempt to influence Government policy on this matter.