Norfolk Pension Fund tobacco investment to continue

A Norfolk pension fund which pledged to review its multimillion-pound investment in tobacco, has decided not to exclude cigarette firms from its portfolio.

The fund invests money from employees of Norfolk County Council - due to take on the responsibility for anti-smoking campaigns - and other local councils.

The pensions committee decided to allow tobacco investment to continue.

However, it is to seek government advice on the issue.

The review was ordered after a BBC investigation found the Norfolk Pension Fund, which operates as an independent fund (valued at about £2bn in total) to provide the best returns for its members, had invested £25.9m in tobacco firms.

'Public health responsibilities'

A report to the committee, which includes representatives of the county council, district councils and staff, says while the London Borough of Newham excludes tobacco investment, "the vast majority of global investors choose not to exclude tobacco from their portfolio".

The committee backed a recommendation saying: "In light of the new local authority responsibility for public health from April 2013, this committee informs the Department for Communities and Local Government of its consideration of this matter and the potential complexities and conflicts of interest for local authorities between the public health responsibilities and investments... in the tobacco sector."

In June this year it was revealed councils across the region have invested more than £167m in tobacco.

Martin Dockrell, director of research and policy at anti-smoking group Ash, said in response to the Norfolk Pension Fund's decision: "No-one is claiming that this in not a complicated issue but there is nothing to stop councils adopting what is called an 'ethical tie break'.

"In that case whenever the fund managers have a choice between a tobacco investment and another investment likely to turn an equal profit they will opt for the non-tobacco option."

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