County hall has been criticised for running a stop-smoking campaign while investing millions of pounds in tobacco companies, the Times can disclose.
Through the independently operated Kent Pension Fund (TKPF) Kent County Council (KCC) has invested a total of £5.8billion in various industries and businesses to benefit employees including teachers and firefighters.
Of that sum, two per cent has been put into tobacco companies, which equates to £116million.
During 2015-16 the council spent £1.2million on its stop-smoking services.
Around 110,000 staff and employees are enrolled in the TKPF scheme, the vast majority working for KCC.
The authority’s only Green Party member, Councillor Martin Whybrow, told the Times: “We are telling our residents not to smoke and then investing in tobacco firms.”
He said KCC was one of the ‘main entities’ in the collective fund and that some people were ‘horrified’ that such investments were making up their pension.
“This is something I have been campaigning against since I was elected,” he added.
“They [KCC leaders] are hiding behind fiduciary responsibility [a legal obligation for one party to act in another’s best interests].
“This means they have to make as much money as they can for the owner of the fund but that is no excuse.”
Cllr Whybrow said the council was also ‘investing in fossil fuels contrary to the environment strategy’. Fossil fuels account for three per cent of the council’s investment portfolio, which equates to £174million.
He said the desire to make as much money as possible for pension funds was ‘a poor reason for supporting fossil fuel and tobacco companies’.
The figures were contained in data provided by campaign group Platform London, which also criticised the investments.
The council’s cabinet member for finance Councillor John Simmonds, said: “We ensure investments are legal and ethical, while also providing the best level of return possible.
“The council’s pension fund is managed independently from the council itself by external investment managers who are given the responsibility of getting the best return for organisations and individuals, including the pension holders and their families, that KCC represents.
“As a council, we are committed to spending public health money on reducing smoking across the county.
“Fossil fuel and tobacco shares have been among the best investment by way of return but they also represents a small proportion of the overall investments.”
The Times asked the following questions to Kent County Council
Would you accept that people might view it as wrong to invest in tobacco companies while running a stop smoking campaign?
Local authorities became responsible for key areas of Public Health in 2013 and our overriding aims are to improve and protect the health of the Kent population, and improve the quality, effectiveness and access to, health and social care services.
This includes a number of major health issues such as smoking, alcohol and drugs, obesity, sexual health and mental health.
As a council, we are committed to spending public health money on reducing smoking across the county as it has a significant impact on health and all the money that is allocated to us by the NHS for preventative measures around smoking is spent on support and cessation programmes.
How do you justify such
The council’s pension fund is managed independently from the council itself by external investment managers who are given the responsibility of getting the best return for organisations and individuals – including the pension holders and their families – that KCC represents.