MP demanding answers in factory pensions dispute

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AN MP is demanding answers from the Government about the performance of the Pensions Regulator as part of his campaign to protect the pensions of 500 former workers at a Yorkshire factory.

Dan Jarvis, the Barnsley Central Labour MP, wants the Department for Work and Pensions to tell him how many foreign-owned companies have been investigated by the Pensions Regulator in connection with allegations of pension abandonment, and had no action taken against them.

Concerns have been raised that former staff at Carrington Wire, based in Elland, West Yorkshire, are facing “serious hardship” because an investigation by the Pensions Regulator into the fate of their pension scheme has dragged on for almost four years.

Last night, Mr Jarvis said he wanted assurances that current UK legislation is “fit for purpose” to protect British workers employed by foreign-owned firms.

“I’m also seeking assurances that the Pensions Regulator has adequate resources to carry out these very complex investigations,’’ Mr Jarvis said. “People will be very concerned about the outcome of the Carrington Wire case.”

Around 500 members of the Carrington Wire pension scheme want the Pensions Regulator to take action to save their pensions.

Carrington Wire closed with the loss of more than 80 jobs in 2010. Russian owner Severstal said the decision was due to a contraction in the steel wire market.

In 2010, Craig Whittaker, the Conservative MP for Calder Valley, wrote to the Pensions Regulator, calling for an investigation into the position of the company’s pension scheme after Carrington Wire was sold out of the Severstal group. Last year, a spokesman for the members of the pension scheme said that, the “more generous” payments under the Carrington Wire scheme have been reduced to the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) level.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Yorkshire Post, the Pensions Regulator revealed that, since its formation in 2005, it had carried out three successful enforcement actions against foreign-owned companies in connection with allegations of pension abandonment.

This excludes cases where the regulator has reached a settlement with a “target” company before the matter was referred to the regulator’s determination panel, or cases where there is an ongoing referral or appeal.

In response to the FOI request, the Pensions Regulator revealed that the average length of time an “avoidance case” – cases in which the use of the regulator’s avoidance powers were considered appropriate – is open for is 547 days.

However, the regulator said this was not an accurate measure of the length of time it takes it to carry out an investigation. The Pensions Regulator said: “The regulator does not hold data which shows the duration of the investigatory stage.”

A Severstal spokesman declined to comment yesterday.