Campaigners call on Bexhill councillor to ‘stop investing in fossil fuels’

Campaigners staged a demonstration on Bexhill seafront on Saturday (June 11), calling for a county councillor to ‘stop investing in fossil fuels’.

Divest East Sussex, which organised the protest outside the De La Warr Pavilion, said more than 230 Bexhill residents have signed a petition to Cllr Ian Hollidge (Cons, Bexhill South), calling on him to vote in favour of divesting the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels when he votes on the matter next month.

The environmental campaign group said the East Sussex Pension Fund, which is administered by East Sussex County Council (ESCC), currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in the giant oil and gas companies, which campaigners say are ‘driving the climate crisis’.

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A vote on the issue is expected to take place at the July 20 meeting of the East Sussex Pension Committee.

Fossil fuel divestment campaigners with a message for Councillor Ian Hollidge (Bexhill South) outside the De La Warr Pavilion on June 11. Photo from Divest East Sussex

Saturday's protest, which was attended by more than 20 people, also featured an angel with Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg's face and a devil decorated with oil company logos.

Bexhill resident Jack Doherty said: “Voting for investing in fossil fuels is a vote for the cause of climate destruction, including inevitable heating and rising sea levels. How on earth could any councillors for a seaside town/county vote for future flooding of their constituents?”

Resident Barbara Echlin said: “Avoiding catastrophic climate change requires an immediate stop to all investments in new oil and gas. Yet despite many years of toothless ‘engagement’ by investors like the East Sussex Pension Fund, every major oil company is refusing to take even this first step.

"It simply makes no sense for ESCC to declare a ‘climate emergency’ and then continue investing in the very same companies that are driving us all off the edge of the climate cliff.

"As residents of Bexhill we call on Cllr Hollidge to do the right thing and vote in favour of the East Sussex Pension Fund making a public commitment to divest from fossil fuels when this matter is next month.”

Cllr Hollidge said: “The Pension Committee have debated divestment from fossil fuels many times and I support the current policy of engagement rather than divestment.

"The fund has a fiduciary responsibility to pay pensions which are affordable. It is not a campaigning vehicle. Its sole beneficiaries are the 80,000 scheme members.

"It makes decisions under the advice and guidance of the fund’s officers and external advisors, as well as DWP, DLUHC and other government departments. These all favour engagement over divestment.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that divestment would accelerate the energy transition. The fund engages via its membership of the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change and encourages all of its managers to join this body.

"East Sussex Pension Fund was recently awarded LAPF Fund of the year 2021 and highly commended for its investment approach to climate issues. It has invested around £1.5 billion in funds which have a bias to climate solutions, sustainable revenues, impact, water, waste and resource efficiency, including fossil free passive funds.

"So, I believe our fund strikes the right balance between being part of the solution, accepting energy transition cannot take place overnight, while engaging with fossil fuel producers to transition their business models in the longer term towards renewable energy.”