Mostly hesitant applause greeted Lord Turner's third and little changed final report on pensions, mingled with worries about the cost to employers and the consequences for existing occupational schemes.

In the background lay fears that Chancellor Gordon Brown will block the central proposal to link an improved basic state pension to rising earnings - and thereby scupper the entire project.

Andy Mewis, director of Deloitte's Consulting practice in Birmingham, spoke for many when he warned that employers will seek to offset any compulsory three per cent contribution by whittling down other benefits for their employees.

"Employers are already beginning to plan for the future by re-engineering the way that they reward their employees," he said.

At present, Deloitte says 4.5 million members benefit from employers' contributions averaging 14.5 per cent of pay in salary-linked private sector schemes and six per cent in money purchase ones.

Against that, the Midlands TUC welcomed every aspect of Lord Turner's report - except the proposal to raise the starting age for the state pension.

Roger McKenzie, the TUC's regional secretary said: "We remain opposed to helping pay for more generous state pensions by increasing the state pension age.

"This means that the poor and those with stressful jobs will end up paying for better pensions for the better off with longer life expectancies.

"Instead we should look at the big sums paid in pensions tax relief to higher rate taxpayers."

CBI deputy director general John Cridland accepted the Turner report as "a solid foundation for defusing the looming pension crisis", but rejected his assertion that there is no viable alternative to compulsory employers' contributions.

"This is wrong," Mr Cridland said.

"There are business-backed alternatives from the CBI, which will fully integrate into Turner's package and actually achieve a better result.

"The Government must heed them.

"The CBI remains very concerned by the risk of levelling down."

Stephen Haddrill, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said: "We support Lord Turner's core proposals. But we need a speedy and secure way of implementing them. The pensions industry has the experience and infrastructure to operate a new savings scheme based on automatic enrolment and employer contributions, without the risks and costs of a new state organisation.

"We are looking forward to further discussions with the Government about how this can be done."

Christine Farnish, chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds, said: "We agree with the commission that significant reform to state pensions must be a vital component of the Government White Paper later this spring.

"A better, fairer state pension and a reduction in means testing is needed if more people are to save for their retirement."

But Paul McGlone, senior actuary at Aon Consulting, cautioned: "Whilst the commission's suggestions with regards to means-testing and auto-enrolment make a great deal of sense, what Turner is suggesting in relation to the NPSS effectively equates to a nationalisation of the UK's pensions industry.

"If a single Government-run scheme such as the NPSS is adopted, the UK's retirement income will effectively all be channelled in the same direction."

British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost warned the BCC annual conference that compulsory contributions could be the tip-ping point for some firms.

"Businesses are already struggling to cope with an increasing raft of complex employment legislation," he declared.