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Divestment Campaigners Scale East Sussex County Hall

Tuesday, 9 July 2024 16:29

By Gabriel Morris and Huw Oxburgh, Local Democracy Reporters

Campaigners have scaled the roof of County Hall, as part of a protest intended to highlight the East Sussex Pension Fund’s investment in fossil fuels.

On Tuesday (July 9), environmental campaigners held a demonstration outside of County Hall in Lewes, which was scheduled to coincide with East Sussex County Council’s first full council meeting since last week’s general election.

Two protesters had gained access to the building’s roof, hanging banners which called on the pension fund, which is administered by the county council, to “cut ties” with oil and gas companies.

Speaking to the LDRS, Gabriel Carlyle of Divest East Sussex (one of several groups present at the demonstration) said:

“East Sussex County Council runs the local government pension scheme covering both East Sussex and Brighton and Hove. In doing so it is investing tens-of-millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies in the giant fossil fuel companies, the Shells and the BPs, that are driving the climate crisis. 

“We know that if we are going to have any chance of preventing even more catastrophic climate change than we have already seen, we have to stop expanding the fossil fuel system. That means no new oil, no new gas, no new coal. 

“But four-and-a-half years after declaring a climate emergency here at County Hall, East Sussex County Council, through the East Sussex Pension Fund, is still investing local people’s pensions in the very companies that are doing this expansion; that are looking for new oil, new coal, new gas.

“That is a catastrophic failure of leadership and also just the wrong to be doing. It is completely irresponsible. The East Sussex Pension Fund’s long term health depends on there being a livable planet for people to have a pension on.”

Ahead of the demonstration, campaigners from Divest East Sussex had also raised criticism of what the group described as a “delayed” vote on proposals intended to prevent the pension fund from making new fossil fuel investments.

These proposals had been tabled by county councillors Georgia Taylor (Green) and David Tutt (Lib Dem) at a meeting of the pension committee in September last year. No vote has yet been taken, however, with officers at the time saying they were unable to provide evidence or advice without further investigation. Officers said work to collate data on the proposals was “in progress”, at the committee’s last meeting in June. 

Divest East Sussex has criticised this “delay”, pointing out that the next opportunity for the committee to vote on the proposals would be in September — a full 12 months after first being tabled.

But this description of the process is disputed by the county council. 

A spokesperson for the East Sussex Pension Fund said:

“It is incorrect to say a vote on whether the East Sussex Pension Fund should divest from fossil fuels has been postponed. The fund makes decisions around investments within a fully governed process, with professional advice and full information about the financial and legal implications. When the fund is not in possession of the appropriate information this process cannot take place. Once this information is available, the Pension Fund Committee will receive the appropriate report at a future meeting.

“East Sussex County Council is designated under legislation for the local administration of pensions and other benefits payable for people entitled to the Local Government Pension Scheme in the county.

“The fund’s primary responsibility is to pay pensions to its 85,000 pension scheme members, and must make investment decisions to generate a return in order to achieve this.

“The fund invests in line with regulation and only invests indirectly through investment managers and not in any company directly. It has a strong focus on responsible investment in its stewardship of assets and takes climate risk and environmental, social and governance factors into account when investing.

“The fund has removed fossil fuel companies from its equity allocation within the investment portfolio and has also reduced the exposure in other parts of the portfolio. Instead the fund has a focus on investing in climate solutions, greener revenues, and resource efficiency.”

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