The pension plans of England’s local councils face a shortfall of as much as 100 billion pounds ($157 billion), according to John Ralfe, an independent pensions consultant.
Based on published accounts of the 60 largest of England’s 81 local authorities, Ralfe calculated that their assets total 132 billion pounds, to meet liabilities he estimates at 232 billion pounds. A government decision this year to link payments to consumer prices rather than retail prices cuts the liabilities to around 212 billion pounds.
The shortfall stems from bad investing by local authorities, Ralfe said in an interview today. “They have no risk management,” he said. “They don’t understand what happens if you bet on equities and it goes wrong. Keeping your fingers crossed doesn’t work.”
The analysis suggests a hidden liability for taxpayers, who underwrite local-government pension plans. England’s councils are required to report the values of their funds every three years, most recently last March. The government hasn’t yet published the reports, which will be used to fix contributions of the 1.7 million current employees of the plans.
“We should not take the numbers at face value and panic,” Mike Taylor, chief executive of the London Pension Funds Authority, said in an e-mailed statement. “We should understand the assumptions that underpin them, and like any reading of a set of accounts, interpret them accordingly.”
Economists often fail to predict inflation movements a month ahead, “so to assess liabilities based on such a snapshot in time is frankly not sensible,” Taylor said.