top of page

Revealed: The bubbling tensions between DWP and Ros Altmann

How long can Baroness Ros Altmann really last as pensions minister? That is the question now buzzing around the pensions industry.

Altmann was the shock pick for the pension job in May after the surprise Tory majority swept them back into Government.

She was initially earmarked for a role as a consumer champion straddling the Treasury and DWP to heal the ancient gaps between the two departments. It is a job former minister Steve Webb would also have dearly liked if he had found himself part of a second coalition government.

She even told Money Marketing that she never even wanted the pensions job, until it was the only offer on the table and she accepted.

Since May, there have been a number of missteps. The first was when she shocked the sector by pouring cold water over a sensitive government consultation on tax relief.

The consultation, launched alongside the budget on 8 July and Osborne said he was “open to radical change”.

Just days later, Altmann was splashed all over the press about the negatives of the pensions Isa, which was put forward in the consultation.

On twitter she was quick to claim she was not pre-judging the consultation. But ministers don’t offer public commentary on reforms, they try to shape them privately.

The bully pulpit of press coverage is used only as a last resort and the nuclear option for ministers disagreeing with colleagues.

To publicly challenge the chancellor so soon after taking the job raise more than a few eyebrows.

Altmann also came under some criticism and mockery for her role in developing Workie, the monster cartoon character promoting state pension reforms. Altmann admitted she was personally involved in the design of Workie, which was fairly unusual.

Journalists love Ros because she picks the phone up, speaks her mind and it’s all on the record. She is clearly passionate, honest and direct.

None of these are qualities government spin doctors and civil servants want to see in a minister.

Steve Webb was a regular speaker at pensions events. Towards the end of his tenure he spoke at almost every event he was invited to in London with fresh ideas and comments on the state of the sector.

Altmann is clearly not as trusted as the free-wheeling and erudite predecessor who was allowed to roam the halls of pensions conferences unimpeded.

Only rarely does Altmann speak and even more rarely does she give Q&As. She appeared at no fringe events at this year’s Tory conference despite plentiful events related to pensions.

Treasury economic secretary Harriett Baldwin attended five fringe events. DWP minister for employment Priti Patel attended nine. Altmann went to none.

“There are clearly some pretty deep tensions between her and the PR team at the moment,” says an industry lobbyist with close ties to DWP. “That PR team is answerable to the party hierarchy. It is not going particularly well.

“She is slightly in the wrong job. They knew what they were getting and the job she was initially pencilled in for would have been much better for her characteristics. They had to re-task her at the last minute into pensions. It was a fudge.”

Altmann is used to banging her drum for the cause she believes in and she has been incredibly successful at doing so.

Being a minister requires more delicate handling. She wields genuine power and speak for the government on pensions matters. Her words can move markets today, not just headlines.

“She wants to talk to the press but her PR team are very keen to rein her in,” says one pensions insider. “How long will she last? I’ve heard it’ll be 18 months but at this rate she may step down sooner.”

Is she in the wrong job? Will she be canned in the next reshuffle or will she walk sooner? There aren’t many people who expect her to still be in the same job by 2020.

bottom of page