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Devon County Council's pension deficit is £894m

By This is Devon  |  Posted: September 09, 2010

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A shortfall in Devon County Council’s final salary pension scheme has soared to £894million – an annual increase of 53 per cent.

The deficit leaves a gaping hole in the pension fund for thousands of

public-sector workers across the county and means taxpayers could be

asked to help fund the shortfall.

The underperforming fund, which guarantees a final salary pension for 15,395 staff, now has a liability of £1.7billion.

And with Cornwall Council confirming an £869 million deficit – up

£565 million in 12 months – pressure to end so-called “gold-plated”

pensions is likely to increase.

Michael Harvey, a consulting actuary and pensions expert at

Bristol-based BBS, said the council clearly had “a big problem”. “It

needs to be treated seriously – the numbers are big, the deficit is big

and it is going to have to be repaid,” he said. “It is going to take a

long time. If it gets worse it will have to be paid back by taxpayers.

“This can only lead to a continued build up in pressure on public

sector final salary schemes and further confrontation with unions.”

Similar schemes across the South West have been chalking up large

deficits this year with Devon and Cornwall Police registering a

£1.6billion “black hole”.

The Devon County Council (DCC) fund is part of a broader Devon Local

Government (DLG) scheme, which covers 100 employers and 38,665 staff and

is still open to new employees.

The liability is calculated every three years by an actuary – the

next review due in March – and is based on all the members retiring at

the same time.

A financial end-of-year report posted on the DCC website blames the

spiralling deficit on a combination of poor yields from investments and

assumptions about inflation rises.

The report says a general “rule of thumb” meant that a 1 per cent

decrease could see liabilities increase disproportionately by between 20

and 25 per cent.

“The corporate bond yield less the inflation assumption used for

these accounts has caused a reduction of 1.6 per cent in the net

discount rate, hence the increase in liability,” it says.

John O’Connell, deputy research director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance,

agreed that markets had been underperforming but said the growing

problem was a ticking time-bomb.

Mr O’Connell said the DCC shortfall was in last year’s top ten

biggest deficits in the country, and could now be vying for the top

spot.

“The inescapable fact is that local authorities are running

unsustainable final salary schemes that are now all but extinct in the

private sector,” he said.

“Taxpayers in Devon already pay a fortune for these pensions, so it

would be grossly unfair for local authorities to try and plug this gap

with yet more tax rises.

“Swift and firm action, like increasing employee contributions, is

essential to lighten the load on council budgets in the short-term, with

more substantial reforms needed to stop this deficit escalating further

out of control in the long-term.”

End of year figures for 2009 and 2010 show DCC assets increasing from

£616 million to £823million but this was offset by the surge in

liability from £1.2 billion to £1.7 billion. The total value of the fund

went from £1.7 billion to £2.4 billion.

Councillor Sara Randall

Johnson, chairman of the DLG fund, defended the scheme as “large and

well managed” and “very different from those covering civil servants”.

She said there were “obvious concerns” but urged people to “take a long-term view”.

“This is a hypothetical shortfall due to the volatility of financial

markets in recent times but not all employees will ever retire at once,”

she said.

“Our scheme is strongly regulated with adjustments made every three

years by the fund actuary to ensure we will always meet our liabilities.

“In fact, the Devon scheme has already begun to recover with our assets actually growing by 34 per cent last year.”

“This means that there will always be sufficient funds to pay for

local pensions. We do not draw money direct from Government because we

fund this ourselves.”

Cornwall Council stressed that its scheme was part of a larger fund including 55 employers, which would be reviewed in November.

Officials say at least £100million of the deficit was inherited from

the former district councils when the unitary council took over in April

2009.

A spokesman said a “true valuation” will be available later in the

year which will show a “much better funding position” than the one

currently indicated.

Unions have said they would defend members’ pensions if any changes were proposed.​

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  • Paracarro  |  December 09 2013, 6:09PM

    This is a total misrepresentation of the FACTS. It depends on how you show the figures! Liabilities for pension funds are paid out over the lifetime of pensioners and that could be over 30 or more years from now. The "deficit" quoted assumes EVERYBODY claims their pensions now! Hypothetically It may be possible if we end up with a civil war and all the men are killed. The figure you quote totally misses out the returns the fund gets from its investments which are added to the value of the fund over the years, while employees continue to pay into the fund. However, In 2013 the total fund was valued at over 3 000 Million Pounds. There is no evidence that any of the 89 Local Government Pension Funds in England and Wales have ever defaulted, and according to the Actuary that has reported on this particular Fund, there is absolutely no likelihood of any default in the future requiring tax payers money to put right. Gold plated is about right (you might as well say painted gold) solid gold they are not! Most Local Government employees are poorly paid and employers do top up their Fund contributions instead of paying them higher wages. The average Local Government worker gets a pension of around £4 200 while his female counterpart is on £3 800 average.

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    Nick113, Devon  |  September 09 2010, 6:32PM

    Final Salary schemes have to be stopped now. They are a gold plated scheme offered to council employees and paid for by the rest of us. It's not fair and it's not-sustainable.

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