Norfolk council bosses reject calls to remove £44m from tobacco investments

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 September 2012 | UPDATED: 10:05 26 September 2012

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2008

Councillors insist parliament must have the final say to stop pension cash being invested in tobacco companies.

The Norfolk Pension Fund, managed by the county council, has £44m tied into the tobacco industry.

This has prompted questions to be asked about the ethics of these investments - just months before the county council takes responsibility for public health, including encouraging people to quit smoking.

But members of the pensions committee yesterday said it is likely the profitability and value of tobacco company shares will influence their future investments, rather than taking a specific stance against them on moral grounds.

They also questioned where the line would be drawn if one industry was excluded on health grounds, and whether companies who made filters and other parts of cigarettes would also be included.

Committee member John Fuller, South Norfolk Council leader, told the meeting: “Where does it end? It’s for parliament to decide whether these things are investable or not.” He added the dividends from such investments “keep council tax down”.

Cliff Jordan, a county council cabinet member, said: “We used to have an ethical policy, we still do to a point. It used to be on black industries - child labour - the real big hitters.

“This [smoking], I must admit, is anti-social but it’s a long way from child labour and so forth.

“Where does it end? We are here to earn, or the pension fund to earn, enough money for people to retire from work.”

The pension fund is valued at £2.1bn and has more than 66,000 people from 135 organisations.

Councillors agreed yesterday to monitor the situation and await clarification on the committee’s position about what they can and cannot do regarding managing the fund in the best financial interests.

Derrick Murphy, Norfolk County Council leader, told members: “My view is one of the key milestones to improve public health in Norfolk, which is a really serious national problem, and a problem in areas such as Great Yarmouth, is childhood obesity. West Norfolk also has a high problem of diabetes.

“Does that mean we don’t pay money into McDonald’s and put money in food? There are serious issues there.”

But Mr Murphy said a review was ongoing and matters like this should be left to parliament.

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