Thursday, 21 September 2017

    Fog on the Tyne

    Kevin Keegan (twice). Kenny Dalglish. Ruud Gullit. Bobby Robson. Graeme Souness. Glenn Roeder. Sam Allardyce. Joe Kinnear. Alan Shearer. This is Newcastle United FC’s roster of managers since Labour came to power in 1997

    A truly rapid turnover of personnel that has often been blamed for the club’s mixed level of success and general feeling of underachievement.

    During that same period, Manchester United’s roster of managers has been: Alex Ferguson. And during that period, their success has been unrivalled.

    What’s our conclusion? Readers of this column will know I am reluctant to attribute historic outcomes to the inputs of individuals, without first determining the statistical significance of the outcomes and finding a clear causative link.

    However, I think it is reasonable to conclude from the comparative outcomes of Newcastle United versus those of Manchester United that frequent changes of manager is not a recipe for long term football success. There must be remain a chance of success, as there are random effects and all the Newcastle managers did have footballing credentials.

    Imagine an alternative scenario where those managers had little or no experience of football. They might be excellent managers maybe in an alternative sport or other endeavour, but never in football. It would take such a manager a long time to pick up the fundamentals and nuances of the game then apply them to exert any impact on outcomes. One can safely say that a sequence of non-football managers would be viewed as a poor appointment strategy.

    This doesn’t happen in football because it would be too stupid. That hasn’t, however, stopped it occurring in pensions. Over the last 12 or so years, the Government has built a far more ludicrous roster than Newcastle: Frank Field. John Denham. Stephen Timms (twice). Jeff Rooker. Ian McCartney. Malcolm Wicks. James Purnell. Mike O’Brien. Rosie Winterton. Angela Eagle. This is the list of pensions ministers of state. The job title has kept changing, as has the identity of the pensions minister’s boss (I think there have been about 142 of those, including big guns like Harriet Harman, Alistair Darling, David Blunkett, James Purnell (again) and Peter Hain).

    I doubt any of the above has ever calculated a GMP. Or dealt with a pensions increase exercise. Or built an asset liability model. Or drafted a SIP. They may be capable, experienced individuals, but they are not pensions experts. The chances of them delivering an informed solution without the time to explore and appreciate the technical background are near zero.

    The last couple of ministerial reshuffles have demolished what little confidence the pension industry had in the Government’s will to resolve “The Pensions Problem”. Pensions is never viewed as a big enough subject by government, yet because of the technical nature of our business – and its ultimate importance to UK plc – it should be.

    We desperately need a government – whatever party it may be – to embrace this. They must allow a minister to master the brief and, from there, develop robust solutions that have the endorsement of the pensions industry. We need our Alex Ferguson, somebody to learn the pensions game inside out and execute a dynamic strategy.

    That seems a long way off. Rosie Winterton moved on after a fleeting exposure to our industry. By now, she’s probably managing Real Madrid. Let’s hope the next pensions minister isn’t Steve McClaren.

    Steve Delo, chief executive, PAN Governance

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