West Sussex pension fund

Branch pensions officer Judith Taylor reports on the health and governance of the West Sussex pension fund.

“There are over 150 employers in the fund, including:

  • districts and boroughs;
  • town and parish councils;
  • outsourced services’ organisations such as Capita; and
  • academies.

“This makes a huge job for our administrators, Hampshire County Council, but so far they seem to be doing well and I’ve not received any complaints. My personal experience using the portal and the phone line has been very good.”

Judith represents scheme members including employees, pensioners and deferred members (those not in work but not yet old enough to take their pension).

Pension fund health

“I am pleased to report the ‘health’ of the pension remains very good. At the last valuation, it was 110% funded. This means our actuaries (pension experts) believe there is enough money in the fund to pay pensions into the foreseeable future (20-30 years).

Ethical, social and governance

(ESG) issues in investments “The government’s scheme advisory board asked all authorities to ensure we are putting ESG issues at the forefront of investment decisions. I’ve been to two ESG seminars in the past few weeks.

“Our main investments are managed by an ‘active manager’, in our case Baillie Gifford. Active managers must perform against targets – known as ‘benchmarks’ – set by the pension panel. Baillie Gifford has consistently outperformed the benchmark.

“We are significantly invested in areas such as artificial intelligence, battery technologies and biomedical research, so we look to the future as well as considering stocks and shares which have performed well over the long term.

Investment structure, pooled investments and employee representation

“When the current local government pension scheme (LGPS) governance structure was set up, all administering authorities (such as WSCC) had to have a board – dealing broadly with governance – and a committee, dealing with investments. Our pension panel is the equivalent of a committee.

“Government guidance required scheme member representation on boards but not necessarily on committees, and even if there was a rep on a committee, they would not necessarily enjoy full voting rights. In West Sussex, I am given full voting rights on the panel and our reps on the board are Chris Scanes, Tim Stretton and Rebecca Caney.

“To reduce fund manager fees the Cameron government required all administering authorities to form ‘pools.’ WSCC is one of 11 local authority members of the ACCESS pool.

“The guidance was ‘silent’ on the issue of employee representation, but reps across the 11 South East councils have been lobbying for over a year for representation on the ACCESS joint committee.

“The ACCESS committee has voted twice in that time and decided unanimously it does not believe pensioner/employee representation is necessary or desirable. In this they are out of step with most other pools, as 5 out of 7 already have member reps. With the support of UNISON regional officers, we will keep trying.”