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Richard Burgon’s failings and why it matters to advisers

Richard Burgon has an important job. He is the shadow economic secretary to the Treasury sat opposite Harriett Baldwin.

Baldwin has responsibility for the delivery of pension reforms, the FCA, bank lending, asset management, Help to Buy, Equitable life and all retail financial services including consumer finance, financial advice and capability.

It is a wide-ranging and complex brief for the 35-year old Labour MP for Leeds East who was only elected in May 2015 and appointed to the frontbench just four months later.

He has no notable experience in financial services. Meanwhile, his opposite number spent many years at JP Morgan before parliament as well as organizing a parliamentary debate on the RDR in 2010 and years on the DWP select committee scrutinizing pensions.

Burgon is on the hard left of the Labour party alongside the current leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. He is an anti-monarchist and former trade union lawyer.

So what’s his job?

Burgon is tasked with scrutinising the Treasury’s Financial Advice Market Review. And, as far as I can tell, he has not said a sentence about it.

He hasn’t asked a single parliamentary question on it either written or oral. He’s never given an interview on it, written about it or spoken it. No trade body I have spoken to seems to have met him, or heard from him.

Meanwhile, every personal finance radio show, asset manager, pension provider, adviser, policymakers and journalists are talking about it non-stop. Does he even know FAMR is happening?

More broadly, Burgon has not asked a question on pensions at all. For example, when the government announced a cap on exit charges on 19 January, Burgon was silent.

In fact, I have not heard and can not find a single question or comment from Burgon relating to personal finance. Not just advice but personal finance as a whole. That’s pensions, Help to Buy, advisers, retail funds. Anything on his patch.

In his first set-piece debate leading the opposition on the Financial Services and Bank of England Bill on February 1, he was long on banker bashing but short on pointed questions and scrutiny.

This bill will introduce a new senior managers’ regime for advisers as well as mandate guidance or advice for the sale of second-hand annuities. It is an important bill for the regulation of advice.

But Burgon did not mention financial advice once. He didn’t mention second hand annuities or consumer protection relating to it. He couldn’t muster a single comment on the role of regulated advice or guidance, never mind an amendment.

Instead it fell to SNP deputy leader and former Treasury select committee member Stewart Hosie to grill Baldwin about her casual use of the words guidance and advice, which she confusingly used interchangeably.

I can’t find anyone who has expertise or experience in financial services who has spoken to Burgon or even heard from.

“Even if they [Corbyn’s Labour] disagree with us then you would still think they would hear us out. But obviously not,” said one trade body staffer over Christmas.

CityAM ran an article last year asking if anyone had seen Labour’s City minister. Money Marketing has also reported on Labour’s lack of contact with financial services. Nearly six months into his job and he still isn’t engaging with the City.

In October, Burgon didn’t know what the fiscal deficit levels were when asked on Channel 4 despite claiming they were too high. He admitted he hadn’t met any City representatives too.

On December 1, he missed Treasury questions to attend a Stop the War demonstration and was mocked by Chancellor George Osborne for neglecting his duties.

So what has he been doing?

When he turns up, has only made only five other forgettable contributions as shadow minister. He’s asked about the Northern Powerhouse, the sale of Lloyds shares, sale of the government’s granite portfolio.

On January 7, he also tabled a written parliamentary question to Baldwin asking how much the new Office of Tax Simplifications chair Angela Knight would be paid. Knight is the former Treasury minister and British Bankers’ Association chief executive.

On January 19, he asked about the independence of the next FCA chief executive after Martin Wheatley’s sacking last July.

It is a far cry from Burgon’s excellent predecessors such as shadow Financial Secretary Chris Leslie and shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont who both had a superb command of financial services policy and pushed the government in better directions.

Former MP and shadow economic secretary Cathy Jamieson also improved essential pensions legislation through industry engagement, prodding questions and hard work. For example, she tabled an amendment that ultimately stopped an administrative nightmare forcing savers to contact all their providers when they access pots within 31 days. It could have caused chaos were it not for her diligent team. The detail matters.

And now advisers have Burgon. A man who does not know the size of the deficit, refused to meet the industry and doesn’t appear have a clue about personal finance or the role of advice.

Even if Labour never returns to government then a functioning opposition is essential. It is a recipe for the government to push through bad legislation without fear of proper pressure or scrutiny. Advisers deserve better.

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