Dear Dr Tom Scanlon,
I am emailing you, as Brighton and Hove’s Public Health Director, about the current investment by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) Pension Fund in tobacco companies. As you well know, the health impacts of tobacco are devastating, and it is hypocritical and unethical for the ESCC Pension Fund to invest in tobacco companies while councils across the country advocate for people to reduce or stop smoking.
The last time their investments were made public, the ESCC Pension Fund had stocks of British American Tobacco worth £3,774,010.68
(see here for full list of its investments from an FOI request I made:
I was hoping that you could use your influence to lobby the ESCC Pension Fund about divesting from tobacco companies.
I have been in contact with Stewart Brock, who is a Public Health Specialist and Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, and who runs the website Tobacco Free Pensions in his spare time (I am CCing him into this email):
He recommended that I get in touch with you on this issue and said:
“You might want to try lobbying your Director of Public Health to raise the issue with the Pensions Committee. Tobacco has seriously underperformed the market in the last year or so (it always does well in recessions). Tobacco volumes are falling worldwide. BAT reported a 3.7% fall today. The economic case for divestment is getting stronger.”
I also wanted to draw your attention to a recent exchange between Simon Hughes and Anna Soubry in Parliament:
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Liberal Democrat)
In my borough of Southwark we have higher than average smoking rates, and the Cabinet member responsible for health has said that hundreds of people are dying early because they smoke. Can Ministers help me to persuade our Labour council that it is inconsistent to say “Don’t smoke” on the one hand and invest £2.6 million of pension funds in British American Tobacco on the other?
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe, Conservative)
That is a good point, but I have to say that I am not convinced that it is just a Labour-run council that might have chosen to invest their staff pensions in this way; I strongly suspect that all political parties are guilty of this. While this is, of course, a matter for local authorities, it is also the sort of great campaigning work that MPs can do with their local councillors. It is even more important that they do that, given that they now have this great responsibility for public health.
Please also look at this recent Early Day Motion on Public Sector Investments in Tobacco Firms: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/339
There seems to be an increasing desire for changing the investment practices of Council Pension Funds. It would be great that you could help push this momentum into action by directly engaging with the current panel members of the ESCC Pension Fund, whose emails I have put below:
Finally, you may be wondering why I am so interested in this issue? I run the Reform the East Sussex Pension Fund website, which I set up after making several FOI requests and consulting with a couple of academics who work on pension funds. Find the website here:
It has extensive information on the ESCC Pension Fund as well as proposals on how it could change.
I am happy to talk to you in more detail about all of this.