Norfolk County Council to reconsider �26m tobacco investments - two years after ethical concerns were raised

Council bosses are to reconsider multi-million pension investments in tobacco companies - two years after calls were made for a more ethical approach.

Almost �26m of the �2bn Norfolk Pension Fund, managed by Norfolk County Council, is held in tobacco firms, despite the authority playing a leading role in trying to improve public health.

But an immediate investigation into the investments was ordered today by the council's pensions committee, with the head of fund expected to report back in September.

Conservative council leader Derrick Murphy told the EDP: 'The idea is it's a matter of interest to all of us, we want to look at the length, breadth and depth in the cold light of day and get a detailed report.'

The most recent published annual list of the fund from 2010/11 shows �7.88m of shares in British American Tobacco, two blocks of �5.362m and �891,251 in Imperial Tobacco and �5.8m in Philip Morris.

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BBC research under the Freedom of Information Act released last week suggested the figure totals �25.9m.

These figures prompted anti-smoking campaigners to call for a change due to the conflict of interest between the council's responsibilities to public health and investments of the fund.

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But the council said as a matter of policy it does not exclude specific companies or instruct managers not to put cash into large global companies, such as Philip Morris.

Officials say this is to prevent the fund's return being limited.

Mr Murphy said: 'If there's a shortfall in the pension fund that will have to be made up by people, such as taxpayers.'

Today's announcement to reconsider the fund's tobacco investments was prompted by the BBC's recent findings, Mr Murphy told the BBC.

But the issue of a more ethical approach by the fund was raised in 2010 by Stephen Little, a Green Party county councillor.

He called for a change in the aftermath of BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr Little told councillors: 'If this BP Gulf slick experience taught us one thing, it's that investment decisions should not be wholly based on the cold figures provided by ratings agencies, but should also be informed by our independent knowledge of the world around us, and the political, economic, social and environmental truths that provide the context of the every investment decision.

'If we make an investment which is not ethical, it is these truths we are choosing to ignore.'

The Norfolk Pension Fund has members ranging from across the public sector, including district councils, Norfolk Police Authority and parish councils.

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