We set out our position on the issue of public sector pensions and independence in Scotland’s Future and in the detailed supporting paper Pensions in an independent Scotland, which we published on 23 September 2013.
Almost a year on I am aware that there is interest in this important issue, with a number of organisations being asked to provide more information to their staff. That is why this week the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing responded to questions which have been raised with him on this subject by writing to NHSScotland employees.
Firstly, as we set out in Scotland’s Future, I want to confirm that all public service pension rights and entitlements are protected and accessible and that this government is committed to providing a fair, affordable and sustainable pension and reward package to public sector employees.
In Pensions in an independent Scotland, we went into more detail clarifying that, as well as the pension schemes that are already fully or partially devolved to Scotland, on independence the public service pensions of members of currently reserved schemes who live in or work for Scotland, for example, the armed forces and civil servants would continue to be paid in full. We also confirmed that there would be no difference to individual contribution rates or benefit levels as a result of independence.
Whilst the Scottish Government has overall responsibility for the management of pensions for Scotland’s teachers, police officers, fire-fighters and NHS and local government workers and is responsible for all other terms and conditions for Scotland’s devolved public servants, pension legislation is currently set by Westminster for those, and the other main public service schemes in the UK. This means that the UK Government is able to impose its pensions policy on Scotland.
In an independent Scotland, our approach to negotiations about any future changes to public sector pensions would be positive and inclusive, in contrast with policy that has been imposed on Scotland with insufficient engagement and consultation.
In Scotland’s Future we also expressed our concern at the proposed rise in the State Pension Age to 67 and confirmed that one of our early tasks will be to establish a commission on the appropriate State Pension Age for Scotland. We will consider the impact of their recommendations on the working and retirement patterns of Scotland’s public servants and review the pension terms of all ‘uniformed’ services in that context, all within the first parliamentary term of an independent parliament.
It is also important to remember that Scotland already has the necessary people and infrastructure in place, delivering high quality public pensions. Independence would mean that future policy decisions on public service pensions would be taken in an independent Scottish Parliament and in the interests of the people of Scotland.
In summary, as the Deputy First Minister said in Pensions in an independent Scotland, independence will deliver a public service pensions system that is affordable, sustainable and fair; one that works for and with public sector employees, public service provision, the taxpayer, and the overall public finances. Independence will enable a positive and inclusive approach to negotiating public sector workers’ pension arrangements.