Tories block pension divestment bid at Nottinghamshire County Council meeting

A plan to divest the public sector pension fund in Nottinghamshire away from fossil fuel-based investments has been thwarted, after Conservatives on Nottinghamshire County Council blocked a vote.

Monday, 27th July 2020, 10:30 am

The plan would have obliged the council to investigate whether it was financially sensible to move away from traditional oil and gas companies and instead invest in more sustainable businesses.

Supporters of the move said oil companies now represented risky investments and that the climate situation was so urgent more had to be done to stop investing in ‘dirty’ companies.

However, opponents, who narrowly won the vote at last week’s full council meeting, said it would ‘constrain’ the pension committee and some funds are already invested in green initiatives.

Coun Hollis said investing in traditional oil and gas companies was now too risky

The motion was brought before the council by the Ashfield Independents and was supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

It was opposed by the Conservatives and Mansfield Independent councillors.

The pension fund looks after 138,000 people’s retirement pots – from Nottingham City as well as the county – and includes teachers, council workers and other public sector employees.

The motion was brought by Coun Tom Hollis, who represents Sutton West for the Ashfield Independents.

It did not directly call for the council to immediately divest, but instead called for it to ‘investigate divestment from direct ownership of equities and corporate bonds, as well as any commingled funds, of companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction’.

It said £327 million – around seven per cent – of the total fund was currently invested in such companies.

Coun Hollis said: “This is not a party political motion.

“Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is a matter of survival for communities around the world.

“It’s plain wrong that money we put aside for the future should be used to make that future worse.

"It’s as amoral as investing in pornography, arms or tobacco.”

“It’s important this council recognises a future temperature rise, particularly beyond 1.5 degrees, will increase Nottinghamshire Pension Fund’s climate-related risk.

“It will increase the negative financial impact on the pension fund, and its members and the organisations which it underwrites.

“We urgently call for the pension fund to accelerate large scale investment in low-carbon and sustainable equity funds.

“We call on the pension fund to increase sustainable investment within Nottinghamshire, aiding a stable recovery from the Covid pandemic, and creating sustainable jobs.”

But Coun Eric Kelly, who represents Toton, Chilwell and Attenborough for the Conservatives, and is chairman of the pension fund committee, accused Coun Hollis of ‘seeking short-term publicity’.

Coun Kelly joined his fellow Conservatives in voting against the proposal, and said: “This motion undermines the (pension) committee’s delegated authority to use its specialist informed judgement around investment decisions.

“Like many members of this council, I have children and grandchildren and I believe all of us care about the future of our planet and the environmental legacy we leave to future generations.

“I do support investing in cleaner greener industry business and property wherever it is beneficial to do so.

“This motion seeks to apply a one-size-fits-all solution to a very complex, constantly-evolving area of policy.

"There should not and cannot be a uniform approach to these decisions.

“It might make good copy in the newspapers to have a big simple headline ‘Nottinghamshire Pension Fund goes green,’ but the solemn duty of managing our pension fund is not compatible with blanket policy commitments placed on a council agenda to achieve short-term publicity.”

He went on to add that a risk assessment of the exposure to fossil fuel companies was currently being drawn up.

The motion failed by 32 votes to 34 at a meeting of the full council on Thursday, July 23.