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‘Cllr Fox’ with oily friend outside County Hall at the ‘TIME TO DIVEST’ protest, 6 February 2024. Photo: Steve Lewis

Conservative Councillors ‘unable’ to defend decade-long policy on fossil fuel companies, say campaigners

The three Conservative Councillors on the East Sussex Pension Committee have all declined an invitation to take part in a public debate on divestment versus engagement, to held at Lewes Climate Hub this Saturday (13 April). Gabriel Carlyle from Divest East Sussex reports.

Saturday’s debate was a rare opportunity for the three County Councillors (Gerard Fox, Paul Redstone and Ian Hollidge) to defend in open debate the East Sussex Pension Fund’s ongoing refusal to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

The East Sussex Pension Fund, which covers Brighton & Hove as well as East Sussex, is administered by East Sussex County Council. It currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in oil and gas companies like Shell and BP.

Its investments in fossil fuel companies have been the focus of a ten-year campaign by East Sussex and Brighton residents.

Divest East Sussex supporters collecting signatures for a divestment petition in Robertsbridge – Councillor Paul Redstone’s ward – in December 2022. Photo: Divest East Sussex

Councillor echoes infamous meme

Councillor Hollidge (Bexhill South) declined to take part, citing prior engagements and claiming that ‘the subject has been discussed in full many times’. Echoing the infamous ‘We Should Improve Society Somewhat’ meme, Councillor Redstone (Northern Rother) also declined, posing his own ‘key question’: ‘Do those supporting [divestment] use fossil fuels?’

Councillors Hollidge and Redstone have previously suggested that the Fund rebrand fossil fuel companies as ‘energy companies’, in an apparent attempt to hide the simple reality that it is fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

‘A huge shame’

Saturday’s (13 April) debate will go ahead without the three Councillors, with financial writer Richard Tyszkiewicz stepping in to make the case for engagement. A further event, ‘How to invest for good’, will take place at the Hub at 1pm on Saturday 20 April.

Juliet Oxborrow, a director of Lewes Climate Hub, told Divest East Sussex: ‘At a time of extreme climate crisis, this debate is a timely opportunity to ask what’s the most powerful way that we as pension scheme members, shareholders or simply customers can make companies cease the practices that are wrecking our planet … It’s a huge shame that the county councillors stewarding the East Sussex Pension Fund don’t see the value of joining this balanced, thoughtful debate.’

Not only unwilling, but unable

The East Sussex Pension Fund’s decade-long policy of ‘shareholder engagement’ with fossil fuel companies has been an abject failure.

Indeed, without exception, oil and gas companies are continuing to approve and invest in new extraction projects, even though it’s now widely understood that it’s impossible to burn all of the oil and gas in current fields and still have a fighting chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Given this stark reality we strongly suspect that the Councillors Hollidge, Redstone and Fox are not only unwilling, but also unable, to defend their favoured policy in free and open public.

Who backs divestment?

A long list of organisations and individuals have called on the Fund to divest from fossil fuels, including:

– Bexhill Town Council
– Brighton & Hove City Council
– Hastings Borough Council
– Lewes District Council
– Lewes Town Council
– Peacehaven Town Council
– Rother District Council
– Saleshurst & Robertsbridge Parish Council
– Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes)
– Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion)

However, Conservative Councillors on the Fund’s five-person decision-making body, the East Sussex Pension Committee, have consistently blocked these calls.

Another vote on fossil fuel divestment is expected to take place this summer.

The debate, ‘How do we get companies to change?’ will commence at 1pm on Saturday 13 April at the Lewes Climate Hub, Lewes House, 32 High Street, BN7 2LU. Hastings-based campaigners from the Divest East Sussex pressure group will attend the meeting – and any resident of East Sussex and Brighton and Hove is welcome to attend.

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Posted 18:50 Tuesday, Apr 9, 2024 In: Campaigns

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