Council criticised for arms trade shares

CAMPAIGNERS are calling on Essex County Council to change its financial policies after it emerged more than £12million of its pension fund has been invested in the arms trade.

By Roddy Ashworth

CAMPAIGNERS are calling on Essex County Council to change its financial policies after it emerged more than £12million of its pension fund has been invested in the arms trade.

But yesterday council leader Lord Hanningfield insisted that all the firms involved were respected blue chip companies and that the county had a legal duty to maximise the fund for its employees.

Some opponents to the policy are calling upon the local authority - whose pension fund covers employees such as administrators, social workers and some university staff - to cease supporting those companies which make cash by selling weapons.

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A request made under the Freedom of Information Act forced the council to divulge that its pension fund has placed millions of pounds into British companies such as BAE Systems.

The firm manufactures and sells warplanes, avionics, submarines, surface ships, combat vehicles, radar, electronics and guided weapons systems to 130 countries - including some in the Middle East.

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The council has also invested in US companies such as Northrop Grumman, which supplies missile systems, electronic warfare systems, attack submarines, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology.

Symon Hill, spokesman for Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said: “The arms trade fuels war, undermines development and breeds corruption around the globe.

“People in Essex lose out from the unstable world that the arms trade creates.

“Essex County Council employees are entitled to see their money invested effectively, ethically and in the public interest.

“We say this can only happen if the council disinvests from the arms trade.”

Dr Chris Fox, of Colchester Green Party, said: “We believe that investing in the arms trade is contributing to global instability.

“For example, Saddam Hussein's regime relied on the international arms trade. There is also evidence that some of these arms are being used for internal repression.

“We also believe the arms trade undermines development and breeds corruption. It contributes to inequality.

“There are arguments that ethical businesses are equal, if not better performers.

“For these reasons we would encourage people to raise these issues with those people who manage their pensions.”

But Lord Hanningfield said: “We have a duty to our employees and we are obliged by law in that respect. These are all blue chip companies and we want to maximise our return for our pensioners.

“We certainly wouldn't want to invest in anything suspicious, or in companies that were doing anything that was in any way illegal. But there are strict rules. We can't, unless there is a very, very good reason say we don't want this company or that.”

A statement issued by the council said: “Essex County Council has a statement of investment principles which is published and subject to full consultation with employee authorities and beneficiaries. This accords to best practice.”

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