Suffolk: Ban on pension fund tobacco investment due to take next step forward

The pension fund may stop investing in tobacco companies.

The pension fund may stop investing in tobacco companies. - Credit: PA

A possible ban on Suffolk County Council’s pension scheme having an investment in tobacco companies is expected to move forward next week.

However a total ban cannot be introduced until all the employers who are part of the fund have been consulted – and it could be necessary to get the views of individual employees which could delay the final decision even further.

The county council’s pension fund committee is due to meet next Monday for the first time since July’s full meeting of the county council when members voted by 49 votes to 10 to replace investments in tobacco companies.

The issue arose last year after the county took over responsibility for public health – and staff working on anti-smoking programmes found themselves members of a pension scheme that invested in tobacco companies.

Committee chairman Peter Bellfield said no final decisions could be taken yet, but he thought it was likely that a formal consultation period could be launched.

He said: “We have to consider whether to carry on with this process, or whether to just continue running things as they are.

“I think it is likely that the committee will go ahead with the consultation – but there is a lot to think about over the next few months.”

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The committee has to make the final decision because the fund is not just for county council pensioners – a total of 114 employers have their staff enrolled in it.

All of these have to be consulted on any changes, and the committee is also seeking legal advice on whether individual pension fund members need to be consulted as well.

Mr Bellfield said: “The earliest we could make a decision is in November, but if we have to consult employees that will take much longer.”

The original motion at the county council was proposed by Labour Group leader Sandy Martin and seconded by Conservative Michael Bond, who is a member of the pension fund committee.

The problems associated with disinvesting in tobacco companies are highlighted in the report – but Mr Martin felt the author’s apparent caution in compiling it would not put off the members of the committee.

He said: “There was a clear wish by the county councillors to take this step – and other authorities across the country have made a similar move.”

He always knew it could take some time to complete the disinvestment process, but was confident it would happen because of the strength of feeling.

He said: “If they do not back that decision, the people of Suffolk will not forgive them and I am sure that you (the press) will not forgive them either!”