I was treated to a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Devon & Cornwall Fire Service in my constituency, visiting not only both Truro & Falmouth Community Fire Stations but the Cornwall and parts of Devon control room in Truro.
While I found the tour very interesting and admired the skill and professionalism of those that I met, I most valued the opportunity to listen to the views and concerns of the fire fighters and members of staff I met about the future of their service. The hot topic of conversation was the Hutton Report into the future of public sector pensions. Over the past few months there have been negotiations between national union leaders and government representatives about changes to pension schemes. Each occupation and profession within our public services is different and there are a range of different pension schemes with varying levels of employee contribution and benefits.
The proposed reforms put forward by Lord Hutton, a former Labour Minister, are far reaching and aim to strike the right balance in these very tough times, between affordability and sustainability as well as providing a good pension in retirement for the members of the pension scheme. My pension, like those of all other MPs, is being reviewed as part of the same process.
From the conversations I have had over the past months, most people working in a public service understand that some reform is acceptable. We all understand that on average people are living longer, although this does vary from occupation to occupation, that many people are now living longer in retirement than they spent working and that as a result, if we want a decent pension when we retire we will have to either work longer or make more contributions or a combination of both. However, it is essential that any changes are fair and seen to be fair - to people of all ages.
Based on conversations with constituents over the past months as well as letters from people working in our public services, I have made a series of representations to the Minister responsible for the negotiations with unions and the Pensions Minister. Later this month, we will be debating the final stages of the Pensions Bill. I am particularly concerned about the impact of the accelerated introduction of a later retirement age on a group of women currently in their mid-fifties. While I agree that women and men’s pension arrangements should be treated equally, these women have been hit particularly hard with changes over the years and I believe should have a smoother transition to the new arrangements.