Debbie Lovewell, deputy editor of Employee Benefits: Challenging year must strengthen our resolve

The past 12 months have certainly been an eventful time in the benefits world. Economic turmoil, legislative changes and the continuing need to cut costs have all posed significant challenges for employers.

To mark the end of such a testing year, this month’s cover story takes a look back at the main issues – good and bad – that have shaped reward in 2009. We are surely unlikely to see another period in the near future that will bring such fundamental changes to employee reward and benefits.

Many of these issues have also sparked intense public debate – no one will forget the outcry that arose around bankers’ bonuses, executive remuneration and reward for failure.

But by far the most controversial news of the year in benefits was prime minister Gordon Brown’s announcement of plans to gradually phase out the tax breaks on childcare vouchers from 2011. A petition set up on the Number 10 Downing Street website has received nearly 90,000 signatures so far, and various groups have been set up to protest against the move.

Last month, the government appeared to have been listening when it hinted it may be willing to offer a compromise on its plans. Just what this means is likely to become clearer later this month when Chancellor Alistair Darling announces his intentions for childcare vouchers in this year’s pre-Budget report on 9 December.

But despite such moves, employers have by no means been deterred from offering competitive reward packages for their employees, which is vital to ensure that they retain the talent they need to remain competitive when the upturn arrives. In many cases, this involves being more targeted with their benefits spend, rather than investing
significant new sums of money.

In this month’s employer profile, for example, public services provider Amey describes how its focus on health and wellbeing is at the heart of its programme to ensure staff are wellplaced to meet the requirements of its rapid business growth.

As we head towards 2010, it will be interesting to see what the next year brings.