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TSSA opposes BTP "crackpot" pension proposals

8 April 2021

Transport union TSSA has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps asking him to withhold authority for changes to British Transport Police (BTP) pensions which the union says "fail the tests of cost reduction, fairness and common sense".

BTP bosses have told TSSA they intend to close the current final salary pension scheme to new members and open a defined contribution scheme for new entrants. The move disregards proposals made by TSSA – the sole trade union for civilian BTP staff – which have included the suggestion of a career average (CARE) scheme which incentivises staff retention and is used elsewhere in our industry by employers such as Network Rail. The proposed changes could increase cost and risk to the scheme, are divisive by only affecting civilian staff, and fail to tackle the issue of staff retention.

BTP requires the authority of the Transport Secretary to make the proposed changes.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA General Secretary, said: “British Transport Police bosses are taking damaging action which will undermine the pensions of our members and further divide an already unequal workforce.

“BTP’s pension proposals fail the tests of cost reduction, fairness and common sense.

“I’ve asked the transport Secretary to withhold authority for the crackpot changes so that our union and BTP can find a solution which saves money, reduces risk and safeguards our members pensions – something the current proposal does not achieve.”

The full text of the letter is copied below:

31 March 2021

Dear Grant Shapps MP, Transport Secretary,

I’m writing in regard to proposed changes to the British Transport Police (BTP) pension scheme for support staff. I understand that BTP has written to you seeking authority to close the current scheme to new entrants and open a new one. I’m asking you to withhold authority for that in order that my union and BTP can find a solution which saves money, reduces risk and safeguards pensions – something the current proposal does not achieve.

My union, TSSA, is the sole recognised union for BTP support staff affected by the proposed changes.

As I’m sure you’re aware, BTP proposes to close the existing final salary pension scheme to new entrants and to set up a defined contribution scheme for new starters.

There are four key factors in play here:

1. Cost
2. Risk
3. Staff retention
4. Fairness

In our discussion with BTP we were told that the move wasn’t about saving money but about reducing risk. It can’t be about saving money because this move is likely to cost the taxpayer in both the short and long term to meet funding shortfalls.

In fact, the likelihood is that it will cost more money to close the scheme to new entrants than to keep it going. Both short and long term the modelling seen by us shows greater potential cost for the taxpayer. It’s also likely that cost will increase for scheme members through higher contributions.

This cost factor is unnecessary and of great concern. There are alternatives that would tackle cost, but these have not been explored.

BTP have told us that the proposed changes are about reducing risk. However, by closing the current scheme to new entrants and making no other changes this leaves the scheme open to more future risk, not less. The proposed change does not achieve the objective of reducing risk, and could in fact significantly increase risk to that scheme.

Staff retention
We have been told that BTP believes the pension scheme is not seen as a significant benefit to staff, evidenced by a high turnover which shows few staff remaining for more than five years. We disagree with this as evidence from the rail industry indicates that the RPS is a valued scheme. We also argue that there is an opportunity to make changes to the pension scheme to incentivise staff retention. Our experience shows that constant company reorganisations are a major factor in staff turnover.

We have suggested implementing a pension scheme which incentivises longevity, such as the Rail Pension Scheme 65 provided at Network Rail where staff start in a DC scheme and can transfer to a DB scheme after five years of service.

The proposed pension changes are targeted at a certain group of employees, not the whole BTP workforce. It’s only support staff in TSSA represented grades who are affected – it isn’t being proposed for police officers or senior police officers. This is a fundamentally unfair and divisive approach to take and one which will erode workforce cohesion and team working.

In short, the proposed changes to pensions will cost more, not reduce risk and fail to take the opportunity to address staff retention and fairness. We have proposed moving to other pension scheme models, including CARE or the Network Rail scheme mentioned above. We want to ensure the longevity of the pension scheme for all those working at BTP while addressing issues of cost, risk and fairness. The approach currently taken achieves none of those things and flies in the face of cooperation and common sense.

I hope you will agree to withhold your authority for this move and urge BTP to meet with TSSA to genuinely discuss positive alternatives. I would be happy to meet with you or your team to explain in greater detail.

Yours sincerely,

Manuel Cortes

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