Council’s huge tobacco investment

Photographer Ian Georgeson, 07921 567360'ERI, Smokers, Smoking, NHS, Hospital
Photographer Ian Georgeson, 07921 567360'ERI, Smokers, Smoking, NHS, Hospital

The investment policy of Scottish Borders Council’s pension fund could be reconsidered after it emerged it has shares worth £2.3million in British American Tobacco (BAT).

That holding is revealed in the annual accounts of a fund whose membership comprises 9,500 past and present staff of the council and 11 other employers, including Borders Sport & Leisure Trust and Borders College.

The fund is administered by a committee, comprising seven elected members of a council which, on its public health web page, stresses its mission to “improve health and reduce health inequalities”.

SBC also hosts the joint health improvement team with NHS Borders which runs the Quit4Good smoking cessation service.

The two organisations, which share and jointly fund the director of public health post, also combine on a joint integration board to deliver health and social care from April 1 next year.

The pension accounts for 2013/14 list the BAT investment as the seventh highest single equity holding in a fund valued on March 31 last year at £486m – up £40m on the previous year.

Other major holdings include £4.3m in Prudential Assurance and £3.6m in Google.

A spokesman for the council confirmed this week the BAT holding remained intact, although he explained that the fund’s value, at December, 31, 2014, had risen to £520m with just 0.7% invested in tobacco companies.

“The council acknowledges there is an ongoing issue between the objectives of the council as the body providing a wide range of public services, including a public health remit, and its role in administering the pension fund,” said the spokesman.

“The topic of investment in tobacco and the wider socially responsible agenda in its strategy is considered by the committee when updating the fund’s statement of investment principles.”

They added that when that was last updated in 2013, the committee decided investment managers should have “unconstrained mandates, but be encouraged to constructively engage with companies as the most effective means of influencing their social and environmental policies”.