Poor Money Advice Service. Marginalised by the Treasury, disliked by the industry and beset by an endless stream of “reviews”.
The latest review was published this month with two more scheduled for later this year followed by a three-year overhaul programme. Seriously.
Let me explain. Created in April 2011 MAS has been dogged by controversy since the first day of its existence and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The body was created to fill a gap in financial information and guidance that fell short of regulated advice. A noble idea but the industry was furious with the size of the near £80m annual budget and how it was being spent on a £350,000 chief executive Tony Hobman, ineffective online tools and a vast marketing spend.
What to do? Call a review.
In March 2012, less than one year after it was formed, the Treasury select sub-committee launched a review into MAS which resulted in the resignation if its chief executive and heavy scrutiny of its money advice arm in tense parliamentary evidence sessions.
Moneysavingsexpert.com Martin Lewis called its tools “crap” (although worth mentioning MAS is effectively a competitor) while MPs hit out at “colossal” spending on advertising.
Despite the obvious concerns the report took two years to publish in December 2013 because of the creation of a parliamentary commission on banking standards.
It heavily criticised the service saying it needed a “radical overhaul” and questioned whether it should exist at all.
What to do? Call a review.
The TSC recommended an independent review into the organisation commissioned by the Treasury which was duly launched and led by ex-Consumer Focus chair Christine Farnish in May 2014.
The review was handed to the Treasury in December and the industry waited to hear its findings.
Another delay. The Treasury sat on the Farnish report for three months before she was forced to go public in criticising the Government’s delay.
It was published this month when it recommended massive its £43m money advice service budget to be halved and staff numbers slashed.
What to do? Call yet another review.
MAS will now conduct an internal review into its future based on the Farnish report which report into the Treasury by the autumn.
What will they do then? You guessed it. Have ANOTHER review.
The Treasury will then conduct its own review into the MAS findings and finally decide what to do by the end of the year.
It is also worth noting that in December 2013 the National Audit Office published a report into the service claiming its money advice was not providing “value for money” for fee-payers.
By my count that is five reviews into the service in a three-year spell riddled with delays and uncertainty.
Farnish estimates her preferred overhaul of MAS would take up to three years. Assuming the Treasury reports early next year then we are looking at a restructure being completed in 2019.
Seven years since the first TSC review started and that assumes everything is on schedule. An utterly ridiculous state of affairs.
And it is not all MAS’ fault. Its money advice job is to assess and increase the financial capability of Britain over the long-term but how it can it do that properly if it has no certainty over its future?
Someone in the Treasury – and I’m looking at Treasury economic secretary Andrea Leadsom who previously sat on the TSC and has responsibility for MAS – needs to make a decision.
This has gone on long enough. The Farnish review should have been the final point to decide, not another internal review. The Treasury should cut the organisation down to size, give it a clear role and order reforms to take place within a year.
To have the sword of Damocles hanging over the organisation and its staff for so long is not fair. And to have advisers keep partly funding an organisation that has been deemed so ineffective is equally not fair. Get on with it.