Council to draw up climate strategy for pension fund

A climate strategy will be drawn up for Shropshire’s public sector pension fund following mounting pressure for it to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

The council said it would look to publish a report on the matter in near future
The council said it would look to publish a report on the matter in near future

Shropshire County Pension Fund has come under fire in recent months for continuing to invest millions into firms like BP and Shell, which campaigners say does not align with the climate emergency declared by Shropshire Council, Telford and Wrekin Council and numerous town and parish councils for whom the fund administers pensions.

Shropshire councillors came out in support of the movement at their full council meeting in July, when a landmark vote was passed to call on the pension fund to divest within three years.

A climate risk report – detailing the potential risks climate change could pose to investments – was presented to the pensions committee which manages the fund at a meeting behind closed doors on Friday.

It has now been revealed that the committee, made up of Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin councillors, and employee and pensioner representatives, agreed to the report’s recommendation that a climate strategy be created for the fund.

Members also asked for a fresh report to be prepared that could be made public, after expressing disappointment that the climate risk report could not be published due to it containing licensed third party data.

Earlier in the meeting, Laura Hoskison, Shropshire Council’s employee representative on the committee, asked whether a summary of the report could be provided in the open session, but was told nothing could be discussed in public.

Councillor Chris Mellings said: “Clearly this is a big issue, not only for the pension fund but wider afield.

“There is a lot of interest in the issue and I would encourage us to share any outcomes or decisions that the pension committee may take on this, simply in terms of the engagement we have had over recent months from the public and fund members, and for transparency purposes as well.”

Councillor Brian Williams added: “I understand the technicalities and legalities of why this can’t be published, the difficulty is that it puts the council in a difficult light in relation to all those people – the thousands and thousands of them – who are concerned about climate change.

“It makes us look, for whatever reason, like we are trying to keep the matter under the counter.

“I am concerned about the image of the council and about the image of this pensions organisation and I do support Chris and Laura heartily in hoping we can publish, at the earliest possible moment, some synopsis of the report we are going to consider later on.”

Three members of the public had also submitted questions to the committee asking whether the fund would commit to divesting.

One, submitted by Jamie Russell on behalf of his nine-year-old daughter, was signed by 116 children from across the county expressing their concerns about the climate crisis and the fund’s continued investment in fossil fuel companies.

In answer to the questions, James Walton, pension scheme administrator and Shropshire Council’s director of finance, reiterated previous statements that the fund was able to “change company behaviours” of the likes of BP and Shell as a shareholder.

Fossil Free Shropshire, which supported the children’s letter, later criticised the response.

Group spokesman Paul Cooper said: “We were really disappointed that the pension fund committee refused to acknowledge the concerns of Shropshire children about the climate crisis and openly supported the business models of BP and Shell.

“For every £1 invested in fossil fuels, over 95p is spent expanding oil and gas reserves beyond levels that will enable the world to reach net zero.

“The pension fund’s investments are literally destroying our children’s futures and they do not care.

“They did not publicly comment on Shropshire Council’s motion to divest nor did they release the climate risk report.

“Several councillors queried this with one saying it looked like they were trying to keep the matter under the counter. What exactly is the Shropshire County Pension Fund trying to hide?”

Following the meeting, Mr Walton said the committee was “disappointed” that the report could not be made public.

He added: “In the exempt section of the meeting, the issues raised in the report generated significant discussion and reflection, and identified a number of areas for action. The recommendations in the report were all approved by the committee and, furthermore, a specific request was made, and agreed, to commission a similar report that could be made public.

“Upon reviewing the report the committee agreed a timetable for actions and this will be published in due course.

“Furthermore, the pensions committee agreed to adopt the key recommendation within the report, which was to develop a climate strategy for the fund. This would be consistent with the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) recommendations and include a climate stewardship plan, monitored regularly by the pension fund committee.”

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