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Fossil fuel divestment campaigners with a message for Councillor Ian Hollidge (Bexhill South) outside the De La Warr Pavilion on 11 June 2022

230+ Bexhill residents lobby their councillor to stop funding local pensions with investment in fossil fuels

On Saturday 11 June, Bexhill South residents gathered outside the De La Warr Pavilion to ask Councillor Ian Hollidge to vote in favour of fossil fuel divestment at the East Sussex County Council (ESCC) pension fund meeting on 20 July. Erica Smith went to see why Councillor Hollidge’s constituents are getting hot under the collar.

Bexhill residents staged a photocall with a giant head of local Councillor Ian Hollidge, demanding that he stop investing in fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas). Over 230 residents of Bexhill South have now signed a petition to Cllr Hollidge (the Conservative party councillor for Bexhill South), calling on him to vote in favour of divesting the East Sussex Pension Fund from fossil fuels when he votes on this matter next month.

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, like Shell and BP, that are driving the climate crisis. Councillor Hollidge is one of five Councillors with ultimate decision-making responsibilities for the Fund. A vote on the issue is expected to take place at the 20 July meeting of the East Sussex Pension Committee.

Saturday’s protest, which was attended by over 25 people, also featured an angel with Greta Thunberg’s face and a devil decorated with oil company logos.

The petition draws attention to the fact that: “Bexhill Town Council, Brighton & Hove City Council, Hastings Borough Council, Lewes District Council, Lewes Town Council, Peacehaven Town Council, UNISON, Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes) and Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) have all called on the Fund to divest”. It also states that “By clinging on to its investments in fossil fuel companies, ESCC is effectively providing a fig-leaf for these companies’ ongoing attempts to block effective climate action and missing a huge opportunity to show real leadership on the climate crisis.”

Bexhill South 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?”

Bexhill 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 – companies like Shell and BP – that are driving us all off the edge of the climate cliff. As residents of Bexhill we call on Councillor 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.”

County Council spokesperson responds

A spokesperson for the East Sussex Pension Fund said: “The East Sussex Pension Fund manages the pensions of over 82,000 members and on behalf of 140 employers, with the primary legal objective to pay pensions in full when they are due. The assets of the Pension Fund belong to the beneficiaries, i.e. those individuals who have made contributions to the Fund in the course of their employment and the Pension Fund is entrusted to invest in a wide variety of investments, and act in the best financial interest for the Fund. The Fund is only allowed to use its power of investment for investment purposes, and not for any wider purposes.

“The Fund has a policy of engagement first and engages with underlying investee companies through its investment managers and the membership of collaborative engagement groups. The Fund was recently named LGPS Fund of the year 2021 at the LAPF investment awards and was highly commended it for its Climate Strategy.

“As the Fund is only a unit holder in pooled investments, and not a direct investor in companies, it does not select the underlying companies itself. The approach of engagement, rather than excluding sectors, is recommended by various government departments, the Fund’s advisers and a wide number of climate investment specialist organisations.

“The Fund believes that climate change presents significant challenges, however this extends well beyond the fossil fuel sector; and selling the investment does not reduce the global demand or emissions. The Fund’s strategy combines investment in climate and sustainability solutions, coupled with engagement to promote decarbonisation in polluting companies and sectors, and as a means of influencing the private oil and gas majors to increasingly divert their cashflows towards renewable energy technologies and solutions.

“The Fund has moved 10 per cent of its assets into investments looking specifically at making a positive impact on climate solutions and sustainability challenges, with a further 20 per cent invested in funds aligned to the Paris Agreement or resource efficient focused funds. A large portion of the remaining investments are in real assets so have no exposure to the fossil fuel industry. The Fund’s exposure to the fossil fuel sector has reduced significantly in recent years.”

 

For nearly nine years Divest East Sussex have been lobbying ESCC to divest their pension fund from fossil fuels. Whilst some investments in fossil fuels have been re-invested, the campaign group will not be happy until the county council has responded to the climate emergency by divesting all investment in oil, gas and coal.

There will be a ‘Bang the Drum’ protest outside the next full council meeting on the morning of Tuesday 12 July. You can find out more on the Divest East Sussex website.

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Posted 21:08 Wednesday, Jun 15, 2022 In: Campaigns

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