Suffolk: Tobacco investment at county council may come under fresh scrutiny

SUFFOLK County Council’s pension investment in tobacco firms could come under fresh scrutiny.

About �40 million of the �1.5 billion Suffolk pension fund is invested in tobacco firms – when this was revealed earlier this year the council said it had no plans to change its investment policy.

However it has now emerged that the investment policy could be reviewed as concern about the investment rises.

This has been fuelled by the transfer of staff from the NHS to the county council – especially health education staff.

The NHS is one of a number of government pension schemes that has a policy of not investing in tobacco companies because this is seen as incompatible with their basic function.

It is understood that many of the NHS staff who have been transferred to the county are unhappy about their pensions being invested in tobacco companies.

Answering a question about the pension fund’s tobacco investment this week, councillor with responsibility for health Colin Noble said the issue was likely to be kept under review.

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Speaking later he said: “It is very important that the pension fund is managed in a very conservative way to bring the greatest return for the members who rely on it for their pensions.

“The managers need to be given as free a hand to manage it in the best possible way, but there is an issue here and that is something that will be kept under review.”

Senior members of the administration at Endeavour House are understood to have been surprised at the level of investment in tobacco companies.

The county’s pension committee handles the pensions for all Suffolk’s district and borough council employees and many other public sector employees.

Its chairman, Peter Bellfield, said the level of investment in tobacco companies was discussed periodically – but the decision had always been taken to give the fund managers a free hand in what they could invest in.

He said: “It is important to get the best return. If you want to stop investing in tobacco where do you stop? Do you stop investing in armaments companies? In food companies? In oil companies? Then you find your options are limited and you may be unable to achieve the kind of returns you need.”

Any member of the pensions committee could ask for the issue to be discussed at a meeting – the next is scheduled to be held in September.

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