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£600m a year fees for investing town hall pension funds – John Clancy

£600m a year fees for investing town hall pension funds – John Clancy

🕔10.Mar 2015

The millions of pounds paid each year to investment managers to run town hall pension funds is a scandal that the Government may finally be waking up to, argues Birmingham city councillor John Clancy.

How would you like to deliver a fee invoice for your services that comes to £600 million for just one year’s work? Can you think of anyone who could?

Radio 4’s File On 4 will reveal the latest details of an ongoing scandal which has just got dramatically worse. I was able to inform File On 4 of the results of my latest research into the scale of investment management fees paid by local council pension funds.

There are now publicly available reports from around 100 separate Local Government Pension Funds (the LGPF) across the UK. Adding up all of those separate funds’ Investment Management fees, the grand and shocking total comes to £597 million – for just one year’s work!

Last year I pointed out in my book The Secret Wealth Garden that there was a scandalous payout to the investment managers of a record £477 million. I was shocked then that those kinds of sums were being annually creamed off the pension savings pots of 5.3 million local government workers and pensioners.

This is £600 million from funds where the average pension currently paid out is £4,800 a year; for women the average payout is just £2,800 per year. These are the savings pots of mainly poor council workers. With this year’s fee bombshell just dropped, you have to ask: in whose interests are the council workers’ pension funds are ultimately being run?

But here’s the rub: while the investment managers get paid their £600 million, taxpayers are being asked to pay hundreds of millions extra to make up illusory deficits in these healthy and wealthy funds. In Birmingham the council was presented last year with a pay-up demand of £80 million, as one of the employers of the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund.

The hard up council started paying the bill in the sum of £17million last year and over the next three years is paying about £23million a year. And this while the pension fund making the demand has paid £35 million in fees over the past three years.

You have to ask why these funds didn’t get their own houses in order first by radically cutting their payments from the fund to ineffective, unnecessary investment managers before asking you and me as taxpayers to help them out.

If you take out £600million a year for the next 22 years (the notional lifecycle of these illusory pension fund deficits) from these pension funds and factor that in now, then I would suggest that very little in the way of a demand from you and me would be necessary.

It’s a merry-go-round whose tickets are made available to the exclusive already very wealthy few. The tickets aren’t subsidised by the taxpayer, they are paid for in full.

The investment managers simply cream off about 0.26% of the funds pretty much every year, come rain or come shine. The funds take a dive: they get their 0.26%. The funds have a spike: they get their 0.26%. Performance of the fund really is irrelevant.

In fact, their £600 million was for a net return on investments which was half what it was the year before when they got £477 million. The trick is for each fund to benchmark their performance against the 100-odd others. That way, as long as everyone else is performing to the same rubbish or great standard, you get paid the same. That’s essentially how the game works.

0.26% is not much, you might think.

But the combined total of the UK’s council workers’ pension fund last year, I was also able to reveal to the BBC, is a staggering £232 billion. That’s how they get their payout.

The returns to the council workers’ funds by being actively managed by these investment managers simply does not justify the stellar returns being doled out to them. Without system-wide public sector intervention to save the financial system from collapse, and then the pumping in of £Trillions into the markets through quantitative easing, over the past six years these funds would have been left in a parlous situation.

Equity markets and asset prices have soared as a result. It takes simply no skill or expertise to have ‘managed’ these funds’ investments to their current height in such a rising market. Tracker investments would have delivered the same results.

Let’s face it, the fund managers are not being paid a fee for performance, they are simply effectively being paid an annual salary with built-in massive annual increases, whilst the council workers whose money these funds actually are, have suffered pay freezes.

It would be cheaper and more responsible to appoint a few of the world’s top investment managers and pay each of them a top salary to oversee a tracker-based system.

Instead, over the past three years the investment managers have been paid £1.5 billion.

William McChesney Martin Jr was the longest serving chairman of the US Federal reserve. He is famous for saying that it was the Fed’s job “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.”

Why do I get the feeling that just as some of us (including, possibly, the Government) have woken up to the fact that so much wealth is being leeched away from these funds, that the investment managers sensed in the air that their massive jewel-encrusted punch bowl (filled with the world’s finest and most expensive concoctions) was about to be removed, and that the party was about to stop, so they thought they’d better take a bigger, perhaps last, long cool draught from the bowl of £600 million?

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