Suffolk: Rise of 13% in Suffolk County Council’s investment in tobacco companies
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Suffolk County Council’s investment in tobacco firms has risen by 13% during the first year of its new role promoting public health.
The amount of its pension fund tied up in tobacco companies increased from £32.4m in April 2013 to £36.7m this April.
While still only representing 2% of the total pension fund, the authority was criticised last night by anti-smoking campaigners.
County councils took over responsibility for “public health” from the NHS last year – but while many other authorities have reduced investment in tobacco firms, the value of Suffolk’s has risen.
Last night, Suffolk County Council opposition leader Sandy Martin said it was wrong that the investment continued.
He said: “What it means is that Suffolk has the highest investment in tobacco industries of any local authority in the whole country.
“We should be setting an example on this and I would like to see this investment ended right away. I am really surprised (council leader) Mark Bee has not done something about this.”
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He said the fact that less than 2% of the pension fund’s investment was in tobacco companies showed that it was not crucial to the fund’s success.
Mr Bee said: “Responsibility for managing the Suffolk Pension Fund, which serves some 114 local public sector organisations, is vested in the Pension Fund Committee.
“This committee is cross party, and has representatives from district and borough councils and a staff union. All investments are kept under close review.”
Peter Bellfield, chairman of the Pension Fund Committee said: “One of the requirements placed on the Suffolk Pension Fund is to make a return on investment to ensure that we have the funds to meet future pension liabilities.
“We do acknowledge the issues around public health. However, ultimately, restricting choice for the fund managers limits their abilities to do their jobs.”
Anti-smoking campaigners Action on Smoking and Health acknowledged that authorities had a duty to seek the maximum return for pension fund investments.
Policy manager Hazel Cheeseman said: “We’d like to see all local authorities disinvest their pension funds from tobacco shares.
“While pension funds have to secure a return on investment for their members there is no reason why this duty can’t be fulfilled through other investments.
“All councils should have clear rules on protecting local health policy from the influence of the tobacco industry but where they continue to invest in tobacco shares this is even more important.”
Essex County Council ended its investment in the industry several years ago.