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Campaigners outside County Hall with a giant pair of pink cardboard ‘Divest Now’ feet this February, protesting ESCC’s continued ‘foot-dragging’ over fossil fuel divestment. Photo: Divest East Sussex

Outrage as climate vote delayed yet again

The East Sussex Pension Fund’s long awaited vote on fossil fuel divestment has been postponed for a third time – and now cannot take place until September at the earliest. Gabriel Carlyle reports.

Climate campaigners and members of the East Sussex Pension Fund have expressed outrage, after it emerged that voting on proposals to divest the Fund from the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis has been delayed yet again.

The additional delay means that voting on the proposals will not be possible at next Wednesday’s (19 June) Pension Committee meeting and that voting will be delayed until at least 25 September – over a year after they were originally made.

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

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 and Town Councils, Peacehaven Town Council, Rother District Council, Saleshurst & Robertsbridge Parish Council, Maria Caulfield MP (Cons, Lewes), Caroline Lucas Green MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and UNISON.

But the three Conservative Councillors on the five-person decision-making body for the Fund (the East Sussex Pension Committee) have consistently blocked these calls.

A year-long delay

Three fossil fuel divestment proposals were made by Councillors Georgia Taylor (Green, Forest Row & Groombridge) and David Tutt (Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne – St Anthony’s) – both of whom sit on the Pension Committee – at the September 2023 Pension Committee meeting.

The proposals were made in the wake of a £55k report on ‘Engagement vs divestment’ commissioned by the Fund, which itself took a year to produce.

However voting on the three proposals was postponed pending further analysis by the Fund’s officers and advisors.

Nine months later this analysis is still not ready, meaning that voting cannot now take place before the Pension Committee meeting on 25 September.

The March of the Giant Scissors

Campaigners are now planning a ‘March of the giant scissors’ to County Hall on 9 July (the date of ESCC’s next Full Council meeting) to demand that ESCC ‘cut the ties’ between itself and Big Oil.

Pension Fund member Sarah Hazlehurst said:

‘It’s outrageous that more than four-and-a-half years after East Sussex County Council declared a ‘climate emergency’, the East Sussex Pension Fund is further delaying voting on a proposal that it stop investing local people’s pensions in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis.

‘Last year the Fund spent £55k on a report that appeared to show that such a move would have no significant negative repercussions for the Fund and be fairly straightforward to implement. Yet a vote on doing so was delayed, citing the need for further analysis.

‘Nine months later this additional analysis has still not been completed, meaning that the earliest that voting could now take place is September 2024 – fully one year after these proposals were originally raised.

‘It’s time to for the Fund to start taking the climate crisis seriously, stop its endless foot-dragging, and vote now to stop investing in fossil fuels.’

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Posted 21:24 Sunday, Jun 16, 2024 In: Campaigns

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