Newly appointed pensions minister Ros Altmann certainly wants to make friends. Specifically friends in the House of Lords.
That’s easy to understand. You start a new job, you want to make sure you have someone to have a swift post-work pint with, in the Lord’s bar, after a gruelling day grappling with tax relief or contracting out.
It’s perhaps unusual though, in your first official speech in a new job, to make your intentions quite so clear.
Altmann opened her maiden speech: “I am proud and honoured to stand here today as a member of this house and I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Flight for initiating this debate and for the many important and interesting points he raises, which I look forward to discussing with him.
“I would also like to thank the other noble Lords for their kind words. I must say I am finding this such a friendly place. I am enormously grateful to my two supporters, my noble friends Baroness Wheatcroft and Lord Freud.”
I must say I am finding this such a friendly place”
Old friends, new friends, it’s probably a good thing she’s not in the more combative House of Commons.
With friendship intentions out of the way, perhaps it was time for some pensions?
Unfortunately not. When trying to make friends, what is crucial is making sure that everyone firmly understands why you’re suitable for the job at hand.
Altmann explained: “I wish to thank all the many noble Lords who have already shown me such warmth, kindness support and friendship since arriving in the house. As this is my maiden speech may I just share with the noble Lords a few words about my background.”
A good C.V. pulls relevant experience from recent jobs and even, if necessary, childhood experiences.
- I had a strong sense of social justice, helping those wherever I could. Even at school I would stand up for those who were bullied.
- After reading economics and studying at Harvard, I completed a PHD on pensions and later life poverty at the London School of Economics.
- I then worked in the City and spent many interesting years managing institutional assets, mostly pension funds.
- I took time out after having my third child and then returned to corporate life as an independent consultant and worked on pensions and investment policy advising the Treasury and the number ten policy unit but also working with many top international firms on pension investment, risk management and member security.
“That work, I believe led to public recognition as a pension expert and consumer champion, which is ultimately, why I’m here today among such distinguished company,” concluded Altmann.
What’s happened so far?
Of course, when amongst new friends, it’s helpful to praise their recent projects. Accordingly, Altmann made sure to pay tribute to the work of new colleague Lord Hutton’s Pension Commission.
She highlighted its “excellent analysis” that will form the bedrock of her job over coming years, saying: “That is why the delivery of the new state pension, rolling out auto-enrolment to all employers and ensuring customers are treated fairly in the new pensions landscape will be major priorities for me as I do my utmost for both the pensioners of today and the future.”
The NEWS: State Pension Age
Any new employee wants to make a splash, and Altmann was no different. Fortunately, she was able to announce a commission to review the State Pension Age in the light of increasing life expectancy.
The independent review, which will take place by 2017, will consider “wider social, occupational and indeed gender factors” as well as rising life expectancy, said Altmann.
In the pursuit of new playmates, it’s important not to alienate old chums, particularly not when they come in the guise of the Treasury and hold the purse strings. And Altmann was sure to give the recently announced consultation on the industry’s response to freedom and choice her full backing.
“Of course, we must also make sure that customers have good value options to choose from.
“The pensions industry needs to help individuals act as they would like to and as the law now allows, but so far too many firms are not offering many of the new options to their customers or are imposing hefty charges, lengthy delays or exit penalties on those wishing to transfer to other providers.
“This is most disappointing.”
One does wonder if the pension providers feel they are being excluded from the pension friendship party.
Making friends can be hard, and sometimes humourous deflection is needed. Particularly when someone is already plotting your demise:
“I was indeed both amused and grateful for the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, about my possible retirement from my new ministerial role even before I have made my maiden speech.”
The speech, and indeed the debate were coming to a close, and it was time to remind everyone of why she was there:
“In conclusion, my aim as pensions minister is to try and make pensions work better for people. As I explained to your Lordships at the start of this speech I have been involved in all aspects of pensions for my entire career…
“… As the Prime Minister announced to the press when asking me to join his government he said, ‘what we’re doing is taking the country’s leading expert on pensions on savings on financial education and she’ll be at the heart of government making sure we complete this great revolution…’”
And of course, the importance of friendship:
“I realise that my new role in government and as part of this house is a huge responsibility and there is much to do. I’ve had the privilege of working with a large number of noble Lords from all sides of this house over the years and I hope I can count many as friends. I would like to get to know and work with more of your lordships in a spirit of co-operation and consensus rather than confrontation.”
A veritable master class on making friends on your first day at work. Now it’s down to business.