Calls for West Sussex pension fund to divest from fossil fuels unlikely to succeed

A call for West Sussex County Council’s pensions committee to stop investing in fossil fuels will be debated next month but looks unlikely to succeed.

(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images) SUS-210127-160240001
(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images) SUS-210127-160240001

Labour leader Michael Jones has tabled a notice of motion asking the committee to take ‘all necessary steps to divest all of its investments from fossil fuel companies as soon as practicable’.

But the matter was referred to a meeting of the governance committee by Tony Kershaw, director of law, to decide whether it was ‘right’ for the council, in its role as an employer in the scheme, to make such recommendations about investments.

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The majority of the committee refused to support the motion or a suggestion from Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh that all members of the pension fund should be consulted on whether to divest. 

Mr Jones said supporting the call to divest would show the council was serious about tackling the climate change problems – a move already taken by councils such as Waltham Forest and Southwark.

He said: “This is a climate emergency. Many forecasts now think that even some of the most pessimistic estimates from previous years may not have been pessimistic enough.

“It’s all well and good making climate change pledges – which this council’s done – but what really matters is taking the necessary action to reduce the impact.”

Pointing out that it was the duty of the council to make sure the pension investments were successful, he added: “It’s becoming more and more difficult to justify that fossil fuel companies are a safe long-term investment.”

The pension scheme has almost 80,000 members, split across 246 employers such as the county, district and borough councils, academies, the Police and Crime Commissioner and Office of the Chief Constable.

Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for economy, said the fund was historically one of the best funded in the country and should not be ‘unduly restrained’ when it came to investment decisions as this could ‘diminish returns and be damaging to members’.

Pete Bradbury (Con, Cuckfield & Lucastes) added that there was a ‘balance to be struck between ethics and long-term sustainable investment’.

The motion will be debated in full at the next meeting of the full council, on Friday February 12.