Campaigners challenge council pension fund bosses

Campaigners fighting for Brighton and Hove City Council to be represented on East Sussex County Council’s Pension Committee submitted a petition yesterday (Tuesday 10 May) asking for support.

Divest East Sussex campaigners presented a 13-metre long, 450-signature petition to the county council.

It asked for an end to fossil fuel investments and for the county council’s Pension Committee to include a city council representative.

Pension fund member Sarah Hazlehurst, who is based in Brighton, had support from Green county councillor Wendy Maples, who represents Lewes, when she presented the petition yesterday.

It was received by Conservative councillor Peter Pragnell, who chairs the county council, at the full council meeting yesterday.

Ms Hazlehurst said: “As a climate activist, I do not want any of it (the East Sussex Pension Fund) to be invested in fossil fuels which is both morally and financially imprudent.

“All my working life has been for and with children and young people – and I don’t want my pension to contribute to jeopardising their futures or that of my children and four grandchildren or indeed anyone else around the world.”

In addition to the petition, Ms Hazlehurst was one of 52 people who submitted the same question to the county council.

They asked if the council accepted the International Energy Agency’s conclusion that to limit global warming to 1.5C, all investments in new oil, coal and gas should stop at once.

Brighton resident Hugh Dunkerley said that the Pension Committee had refused to stop investing in the big oil and gas companies.

Professor Dunkerley said that the sector planned to spend £930 billion on new oil and gas supplies over the next nine years – “investments which, if they’re successful, make limiting global warming to 1.5C impossible”.

He said: “East Sussex County Council has declared a climate emergency. It is hard to see the point of this considering the council’s continuous support for the fossil fuels industry.

“When will the Pension Committee and the council more widely finally stop providing a fig leaf for these companies and their, frankly, sociopathic policies – and divest in fossil fuels?”

Conservative councillor Gerard Fox, who chairs the Pension Committee, said: “The fund’s investments (that are) focused on climate solutions, greener revenues, impact equity, water, waste and resource efficiency amount to £1.5 billion.

“It is not for the Pension Committee to debate and agree or disagree with the views expressed by the IEA in its first piece of 1.5C modelling.”

Councillor Fox also said that Professor Dunkley’s question was not a supplementary question and that he could not provide any more information because the committee made decisions.

Councillor Peter Pragnell receives a petition from pension fund member Sarah Hazlehurst supported by Councillor Wendy Maples

Councillor Fox added that the policy for responsible investment was on the Pension Committee page on the county council’s website.

In February, Brighton and Hove City Council voted to ask the pension fund for a two-year timetable to end investment in fossil fuels.

The East Sussex Pension Fund is operated by the county council on behalf of local authorities and other public bodies across the county.

City council employees make up more than a quarter of the members of the East Sussex Pension Fund members and account for a third of the contributions.

But all of the five members of the Pension Committee are from East Sussex County Council – while the county council’s Pension Board has seven members including two councillors representing Brighton and Hove.

Green councillor Tom Druitt, who represents Regency ward on the city council, is preparing to ask the Pension Board for two seats on the Pension Committee for Brighton and Hove representatives. The board is due to meet on Friday 27 May.

In March, Councillor Fox replied to a question from Green councillor Elaine Hills, who represents Hanover and Elm Grove ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.

He said that he did not see why Brighton and Hove should have a seat on the committee when 130 other employers in the fund did not.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Well done to them, but isn’t making a 450-signature into thirteen metres a stunt?

    That is the stuff of a few A4 pages.

    I know something about all this. A petition – however many names and space they fill – is far less effective than asking people to submit individual letters/e-mails to Councillors. Imdeed, when we had the latest campaign to stop Hove Library being closed down, cllr Ann Norman said that she had never had so many telephone calls about it “and people do not usually telephone nowadays”.

    • Peter Challis Reply

      Thanks Chris – as Green Party spokesman on almost everything perhaps you’d like to suggest how we migrate from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources especially considering the global reduction in oil and gas supplies from Russia.

      I guess you are ecstatic with the ever increasing price of electricity, gas, petrol and diesel and the subsequent impact on inflation for everyone.

      What is your party’s practical migration strategy other than, trying to meddle with pension fund schemes, actively supporting the slashing of SUVs, and putting in cycle lanes?

      • Hugh Reply

        Dear Peter, I am not a spokesperson for the Green Party, but I do know that the Green Party never supported letting people’s tyres down. What would be your solution to the twin problems of fuel prices and the overwhelming threat of climate change? More fossil fuels will only exacerbate the problem. I’d be interested to hear what you think we should do.

        • Peter Challis Reply

          I was replying to Christopher Hawtree – hence I started by reply to his post with “Chris”.

          Are you both Hugh and Christopher Hawtree and use multiple pseudonyms? 😉

          Anyway.

          Hugh – I think we need a proper plan to get us to sustainable energy sources including the necessary migration steps which may require further gas and oil exploration in the interim whilst new technologies (especially energy storage and distribution) are developed.

          I am not naive enough to think we can stop all exploration now without having practical alternatives in place – especially in light of the need to stop taking oil and gas from Russia.

          I’d be very interested to hear what your plan is and the likely increases in fuel costs for businesses and homes and whether this is part of your master plan?

    • Sarah Hazlehurst Reply

      Thank you Christopher.
      Yes, Divest East Sussex is of course trying to draw attention to what we are doing via the petition and the many other actions we have held over many years. I personally collected many signatures over the past couple of weeks and could have got a lot more had I had the time before the deadline to hand it in.
      We also regularly send emails, cards, letters to councillors and submitted many questions to East Sussex County Council on this issue.

  2. Hugh Reply

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your reply. I am not the same person as Chris. My argument is about investment in new fossil fuels when the International Energy Agency states that to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming we cannot allow any new sources of fossil fuels to be used. In fact, 60 per cent of existing oil and fossil methane gas, and 90 per cent of coal must remain unextracted to keep within a 1.5C carbon budget (Nature, 8th Sept 2021). So any investments in new oil, gas and coal is simply crazy. And yet this is what the big fossil fuel companies are doing. This is why divestment is so important.

  3. Hugh Reply

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your reply. I am not the same person as Chris. The International Energy Agency states that to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming we cannot use any new fossil fuels reserves. According to a study published in Nature, 60 per cent of existing oil and fossil methane gas, and 90 per cent of coal must remain in the ground to keep within a 1.5C carbon budget (Nature, 8th Sept 2021). So any investments in new oil, gas and coal is simply crazy. And yet this is what the big fossil fuel companies are doing. This is why divestment is so important.

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