New twist in battle to get rid of tobacco stake in Suffolk pension funds

Suffolk Pension Fund still has investment in tobacco companies. Picture: OWEN HUMPHREYS/PA

Suffolk Pension Fund still has investment in tobacco companies. Picture: OWEN HUMPHREYS/PA

Ipswich MP Sandy Martin is to lead a new front in the battle to get Suffolk’s public sector pension fund to get rid of its shares in tobacco companies.

Sandy Martin, Labour MP for Ipswich. Picture: SEANA HUGHES

Sandy Martin, Labour MP for Ipswich. Picture: SEANA HUGHES

Mr Martin, who was Labour group leader on Suffolk County Council for eight years before being elected to Parliament in June, will be seeking a meeting with finance officers and senior councillors at Endeavour House in the new year to try to find new ways of legally disinvesting in tobacco companies.

He has been a long-standing campaigner against the investment in tobacco industry – a move that took on new emphasis in 2014 when the county council took over responsibility for public health in Suffolk.

That caused irritation among public health officers who are devising anti-smoking campaigns while knowing that part of their investment is in tobacco companies.

The largest single shareholding in any private company by the Suffolk pension fund is £22.4m in British American Tobacco. That makes up 0.8% of the pension fund’s holdings – and its entire holding in the sector is less than 2%.

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The figures will be discussed at next Wednesday’s meeting of the Suffolk Pension Committee. It is administered by the county council – but it has members from all councils and many other public-sector bodies in Suffolk.

Despite a vote by the county council three years ago calling for disinvestment, legal advice given to the committee about the need to maximise returns meant that it was not able to go ahead.

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However Mr Martin said Manchester City Council had managed to disinvest its pension funds from tobacco companies, and he would be finding out how that happened.

He said: “Once I have established that, I shall be seeking a meeting with officials at Suffolk County Council and showing them how this can be done. There is a clear desire by the county councillors to end the pension fund’s investment in tobacco.”

Andrew Reid, Chairman of Suffolk Pension Fund Committee, said: “The committee has previously sought legal advice over the question of potential disinvestment in tobacco shares.

“Having access to this legal advice and other data about the performance of shares, it is not appropriate to consider disinvestment in tobacco at this time.”

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