HC Deb 17 October 1995 vol 264 cc132-3
6. Mr. Milburn

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the future of the Teachers' Pensions Agency. [35995]

Mr. Robin Squire

We invited expressions of interest in June for a contract to administer the teachers' superannuation scheme. We are now considering whether to invite certain companies to tender for a contract. We expect to inform the House of our conclusions shortly.

Mr. Milburn

Does the Minister accept that if privatisation of the agency's functions goes ahead, it will not only threaten one of Darlington's key employers but will undermine the impartial pensions service currently received by more than 1 million teachers in this country? Will he explain to the House why, despite meeting all the targets set for them by Ministers, hard-working staff at the agency were denied the right to bid against private competitors to run the service? What assurances can he now give both the staff at the agency and those directly employed by his Department in Darlington about their future job prospects?

Mr. Squire

As the hon. Gentleman knows, considerable discussions have been held, including those that I had with staff, and I fully understand that uncertainty is alarming some members of staff. In fairness, as I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises, whether or not we finally decide that the scheme could be contractorised, there will still be—even in the public sector if it remains in the public sector—a need to find further efficiency savings.

I see no reason why the management of the scheme—of course, there is no fund as such—should in any way jeopardise pensions or in any way lead to a lower standard of service. Indeed, one of the requirements that we would make if we proceeded would be that service should be at least as good as, if not better than, at present.

Mr. Devlin

I applaud the Minister for seeking savings on behalf of the taxpayer, but I remind him that the superannuation scheme is highly complex. It would be prudent if we were at least to allow the work force an opportunity to meet targets and to provide the service in competition with the private sector.

Mr. Squire

My hon. Friend's concerns—no doubt some of his constituents work at the agency—are well noted. As I made clear in my main answer, although at this stage I cannot announce whether we shall move out to the private sector, it should be stressed for the benefit of the House and for those who are expressing concern that the Darlington office has considerable attractions. We are advised that existing staff would transfer to any future contractor under legislation, and there would self-evidently be an advantage of continuity if another private sector body were brought in to administer the scheme from the same site.