Cross-party approval for pension scheme demand

Coun Keith Cunliffe

Coun Keith Cunliffe

Wigan Council will back calls for independent scrutiny of the mineworkers pension fund amid claims recipients are being short changed.

In a motion to the full chamber on Wednesday, Coun Keith Cunliffe called the current terms a “scandal” as the government has taken around £3bn from the scheme’s surplus.

He asked his colleagues to support calls for the Public Accounts Committee to take a look and received cross-party support.

Coun Cunliffe had said since the pension scheme was privatised in 1994, Conservative, Labour and coalition governments had taken 50 per cent of the surplus amounts.

This is because the Treasury under-writes the scheme but the funds taken out far outweigh their financial risk, he added.

Coun James Grundy, deputy opposition leader for the Conservative Group, said his party would support Coun Cunliffe’s motion.

He told the chamber: “It may surprise you but a number of members of my family, no longer with us, worked at Bickershaw Colliery and would be interested in this issue.

“You (Coun Cunliffe) have been very fair-minded in your discussion and made it clear it has happened under successive governments.

“Our view is that we will support this, we support the idea it should be looked at again.”

Calls for changes have been ongoing for years through the Industrial Communities Alliance and a rally takes place in Liverpool’s Derby Square on September 27.

Coun Cunliffe said: “I think it is right that this looked at again. This taking money from miners who have paid into the scheme.

“The government is using it as a cash cow and, for me, there is no difference between government doing that and Robert Maxwell and Philip Green who raided pension funds of the companies they were in charge of.

“I would to thank Coun Grundy from his show of support. The act only says that the government can take no more than 50 per cent, I think a smaller amount would be more realistic.

“There’s no need to take that much. It’s important this council passes this unanimously because it is not party political.

“But we all represent communities in this borough who are beneficiaries of this scheme and we should be representing their interests as a former coal-mining area.

“These people have been robbed repeatedly over the last 20 years because of this issue.”