Scottish independence: SNP pension plan questioned

Accountants have queried pension plans for an independent Scotland. Picture: Esme Allen
Accountants have queried pension plans for an independent Scotland. Picture: Esme Allen
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The ability of an independent Scotland to provide a pensions system which “meets the needs” of its citizens has been questioned by accountancy chiefs.

A report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) has set out 36 questions which the authors claim the SNP has not answered in its white paper on independence.

The Scottish Government cannot give “assurances” on key issues which will be at the mercy of negotiations with bodies such as the UK government and the European Commission, according to the report.

ICAS said the white paper and an earlier briefing on pensions did provide an “overview” and answered many questions previously raised.

But it warns: “Demonstrating that an independent Scotland can deliver a pensions system which meets the needs of Scottish citizens is an on-going challenge for the Scottish ­Government.”

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested a Yes vote in September’s referendum could see people in Scotland picking up their state pension earlier than those in the rest of the UK – as a result of lower life expectancy levels in Scotland.

There is “uncertainty” over the demographics behind this and it is “therefore unclear whether this would justify any reduction in the SPA (state pension age)”, the report states.

Huge costs could also arise from new EU laws on cross-border schemes which require these to be fully funded and a three-year transition has been described as “wholly ­insufficient”.

The prospect of retaining the UK wide Pension Protection Fund (PPF), a bailout fund for company schemes, also meets with a sceptical response from ICAS. The report questions its feasibility while different regulators operate on either side of the Border.

“It begs the question as to why the UK government and the UK PPF might agree to such a degree of risk sharing.”

The Scottish Government has published a report on pensions in an independent Scotland in which it promised to continue paying the basic state pension at the current rate.

Ministers would keep the “triple-lock” guarantee to ensure the pension keeps pace with earnings and rising costs, at least for the first term of an independent parliament

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said last night: “Cross-border management of pensions already takes place elsewhere in Europe as this paper acknowledges, and there is absolutely no reason why an independent Scotland would be in a different position to any other country in that respect.

“In terms of the negotiations needed after the referendum on issues highlighted in this report, we are happy to enter preliminary discussions on these aspects now – but the UK government has so far refused to do so.”

A spokesman for the UK government’s Scotland Office said: “Despite the Scottish Government’s assertions that the white paper would answer our questions on pensions, this report shows there are major unresolved issues when it comes to how cross-border schemes will work, who regulates and protects people’s pensions, and where responsibility for state and public sector pensions lies. Scottish people deserve to know the answers.”

The findings were also seized on by the pro-Union Better Together campaign with Labour’s pensions spokesman Greg McClymont claiming the recent white paper was “an uncosted wish list without a shred of credibility”.