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Hastings & Rye PSC campaigning in the town centre last year (photo: H&RPSC).

Campaigners keep pressure on ESCC ahead of Full Council

As it prepares for the next Full Council meeting on 1 December, East Sussex County Council continues to feel the heat from well-supported campaigns pushing for changes in its pension fund investment policy. Nick Terdre reports.

Hastings & Rye Palestine Solidarity Campaign has called on supporters, as a matter of urgency, to send questions to East Sussex County Council’s Full Council meeting on 1 December demanding divestment of its pension funds from companies “complicit in Israel’s war crimes.” The deadline for submitting questions is 4pm on Monday 23 November.

Divest East Sussex, which also has the East Sussex Pension Fund in its sights as it campaigns for an end to investment in fossil fuels, has similarly urged supporters to table questions for the full council meeting.

H&RPSC says it has made what it calls “shocking discoveries” about the ESPF. It claims that ESPF is one of only three local government pension funds which invest in Elbit Systems, a “company that produces banned weapons used repeatedly to kill and maim civilians in Gaza,”and that it has investments in more companies on the UN list of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlement economy than any other local government pension fund.

According to a database developed by the national PSC, ESPF has more than £111m invested in “companies complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights.”

Exposure reducing

In response to questions naming several such companies submitted to the Full Council meeting in October, the ESPF chair, Cllr Gerard Fox, said that the pension fund committee was in the process of reducing its investments in passive index, or tracker, funds, which represented its complete exposure to these companies. This exposure, he said, amounted to just under £1.8m, plus a further £16,000 in Elbit Systems, the private Israeli arms manufacturer.

However, the change in investment policy will make little difference overall as most of the fund’s investments in companies targeted by PSC are held directly.

All new decision-making in investments would be guided by the Statement of Responsible Investment Principles which the committee had agreed in September, Cllr Fox said.

H&RPSC, which is campaigning together with Brighton and Hove PSC, is encouraging supporters to keep the campaign growing. At the Full Council meeting in June, 13 relevant questions were tabled, and 26 in October. “The more people who write in, the bigger the pressure on the fund,” they say. “Together we can bring about real change.”

Climate change questions unanswered

Over 90 individuals tabled questions to the October meeting calling for divestment from fossil fuels. Divest East Sussex subsequently said that ESCC failed to respond to several of the issues raised, including acknowledging that the goals of the Paris climate agreement could not be reached unless the big fossil fuel companies rapidly aligned themselves with a 1.5° pathway [towards combating climate change], which, it said, none had so far done.

The ESPF committee is split on the issue of divestment, with the three Tory members resisting it and the Lib Dem deputy chair and Labour member in favour.

Both Divest East Sussex and H&RPSC provide question proposals on their websites and social media.

 

H&RPSC website and Facebook page.
Divest East Sussex website and Facebook page.

 

Posted 12:57 Sunday, Nov 22, 2020 In: Campaigns

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