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Guns, cigarettes and fizzy drinks: How Camden Council invests its money

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 June 2015 | UPDATED: 12:01 05 June 2015

Camden Council has been criticised for its investments in arms companies. Picture: PA

Camden Council has been criticised for its investments in arms companies. Picture: PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being used to shore up tobacco companies and the arms trade – leading campaigners to label Camden Council “hypocrites” and “unethical”.

The local authority has been attacked this week after it emerged more than £60million of its residents’ money was plunged into guns, cigarettes and fizzy drinks as part of its pension investment fund.

This was despite earlier promises, its critics say, to have an “ethical investment policy”.

A Freedom of Information request found the local authority had this year invested about £40million in tobacco companies and £11million in confectionary – all while sending diktats to residents saying they should give up smoking and lay off sweets and fizzy drinks.

The data also showed it currently holds shares worth more than £10million in some of the world’s largest military companies.

With Camden residents’ money used to help sell missiles and nuclear weapon systems around the world, the investments have drawn the ire of those fighting the global arms trade.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, told the Ham&High: “Camden Council is meant to have an ethical investment policy, but it is saying one thing and doing another.

“Public money should be used for public good. The reality is that every penny invested in arms companies is going to an industry that directly profits from war and conflict.”

But the council hit back saying it had a “legal responsibility” to get the best return for residents’ money. It said it had held stock in tobacco “for many years” describing it as a “classic defensive stock in times of economic uncertainty”.

It also said arms investments made up a small proportion of its pension fund, and that refusing to invest in certain sectors of the economy “could lead to a serious shortfall in that fund”.

But Cllr Sian Berry, a lone Green Party representative in Camden Council who has long been calling for the council to divest from “unethical” companies, described the council’s argument as “flawed”.

She said: “The council says it has an obligation to get the best return on investments but I’d say investing in cigarettes and weapons of destruction aren’t in the long term interest of residents.

“A number of big organisations – including universities and the Church of England – are joining the drive to invest ethically, and the council should set the same example. We also should be looking to divest from fossil fuels.”

Less than a fifth of the council’s investments support companies from this country, with the largest country to benefit from tax payers’ money being the US.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, suggested the council had no choice where it invested money and that the council was encouraging companies it invested in to make “socially responsible decisions”.

He said: “As a council we do not encourage people to use tobacco and actively carry out work to discourage its use, but like every pension fund across the country we have a legal responsibility to our members and in the case of local government pension funds, council tax payers to secure the best investment returns available.

“Simply refusing to invest in certain sectors of the economy could lead to a serious shortfall in that fund that could see council tax diverted away from providing valuable services. At the same time we would no longer have any say in how those companies are run.

“The committee that manages our pension fund works closely with other public sector pension funds through the Local Authorities Pension Fund Forum (LAPPF) to increase the influence the council has over private corporations’ decisions. We are committed to seeing this financial clout used to encourage companies to make socially responsible decisions.”

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