Cambs County Pensions Invested in Tobacco

17:23 Friday 15th June 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The BBC has learned that over £25 million has been invested by Cambridgeshire County Council in tobacco firms. And the region’s councils together invested more than £167 million. We learned the figures from a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC, which revealed Cambridgeshire is the fourth highest in the East. The revelation comes as those very same councils are to take on a lead role in NHS anti-smoking campaigns next year. With me now is Tariq Sadiq, Leader of the Opposition Labour Group on the County Council. Tariq, good evening to you.
TARIQ SADIQ: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: ..Tell us what your reaction is to the news of the size of this investment, not just by Cambridgeshire County Council, but all the county councils in the East.
TARIQ SADIQ: Well they are very large sums of money. You’ve got to look at it, obviously, in the context of the total value of the pension fund. And I think it works out at something like 2%, which is reasonably significant. So I was surprised at the size of it.
CHRIS MANN: Why do you think they invest in tobacco companies?
TARIQ SADIQ: Well I think there’s been a feeling that tobacco companies are blue-chip companies, they’re reliable, and lots of people smoke, and there’s a profit to be made there in the interests of the beneficiaries of the fund. I think a lot of those assumptions are now questionable, and you’ve got to look at what’s been happening to tobacco across all the main countries in the world. They’re all signing up to increased taxes, and banning advertising, and banning smoking in public places and so on. So there’s a world-wide effort trying to cut down on smoking, even in the developing world, even in places like China as well. So the long-term viability of tobacco companies is really in question. So that does raise a point, why keep investing in them, given that pension funds are meant to be long-term investments? And also, we’ve got this public health issue. This is our responsibility. It should be our main responsibility.
CHRIS MANN: Just explain please what it is that’s changing about the NHS anti-smoking campaigns next year. It’s becoming more localised, isn’t it?
TARIQ SADIQ: Well the local county councils are now responsible for public health, for leading on public health. And Government has passed money over to do that. And now in Cambridgeshire we’ve already had quite a prominent role in public health in any case, but it becomes more and more important. So this is all about making sure people don’t end up in hospital with cancer. It’s a long-term plan to try and get people to lead healthier lives. And given that we spend so much of our money in the County Council on people who are not well, elderly people who need care, and so on, this has got to be quite important.
CHRIS MANN: Does it really matter where the County Council puts its money at the end of the day, as long as they’re getting returns for people?
TARIQ SADIQ: I think it does matter. First of all I would question whether it is an economically good investment to make. And secondly we need to send out a message about what we think is important. And we do think that anti-smoking is important.We do think that people should lead healthier lives. And not investing in tobacco companies removes any perception of a conflict of interest as well. On the one hand we want tobacco companies to do well, because that means a greater return on the pension fund. But on the other hand we’re trying to stop people from smoking as well.
CHRIS MANN: Do you check everything the County Council does in terms of spending? Are you aware of where all the money goes? Do you check them all for their background, and their behaviour?
TARIQ SADIQ: Of course not. There will be lots of people with pension funds which are invested in tobacco companies and other companies as well. They often use investment firms to make the investments for them. So pensions committees aren’t always fully aware of what the individual shareholdings are, what the individual assets are that are held in the pension fund. But as a public body, we have a duty to set a standard about what we think is right and what we think is wrong. And I believe that the County Council needs to look at it in those terms.
CHRIS MANN: Tariq Sadiq, thank you very much indeed for joining me. The Leader of the Opposition Labour Group on the County Council there, on the story of the BBC learning that over £25 million has been invested by Cambridgeshire County Council in tobacco firms.