Divest Hackney blasts ‘shocking’ rise in council’s fossil fuel investments – after nine-month wait for figures

Divest Hackney has been campaigning for three years. Photograph: Divest Hackney

Campaign group Divest Hackney has blasted the council after discovering its investments in the “destructive and reckless” fossil fuel industry have risen almost 80 per cent in two years.

After a nine-month wait following a Freedom of Information request about the council pension fund’s exposure to oil, gas and coal companies, the group has revealed it now sits at £75 million – up from £42 million in 2015.

But a spokesperson for Hackney Council said it has “reduced the number of fossil fuel stocks owned through its active mandates by 57 per cent since January 2016”, and that the rise is due to the value of its existing stock going up.

Divest Hackney’s Martin Jacobsen said: “Despite making a commitment to reduce their fossil fuels investments by 50 per cent over six years, their investments in this destructive and reckless industry have increased from £42 million to £75 million.

“This is shocking and we won’t stand for it.”

Jacobsen said Hackney should be “stepping up its commitment to divest, not betting more and more money on oil, gas and coal companies”.

The council confirmed that, as at 30 September, the figure of £75.2 million is correct.

A spokesperson previously put the number at £67.7 million, but said this was for “holdings in fossil fuel stocks, which we would define as oil, gas and pure coal producers”.

They added: “Divest Hackney made a slightly different request, asking for the value of our holdings in a list they provided of the top 200 companies by exposure to reserves.

“This list also included a number of large, diversified mining companies, which are generally classified under ‘Metals and Mining’ and so would not have been included in the previous response.

“This sector includes both companies that engage in coal mining and those that do not. The figure quoted under the new methodology is £75.2m, again as at 30 September 2017.”

Divest Hackney protestors

Campaigners at a protest outside the Town Hall earlier this year. Photograph: Divest Hackney

A spokesperson for Divest Hackney said: “It even gets worse. Looking over the investments, it appears that Hackney has £27,507,162.21 invested in Shell, a company whose practices in Nigeria have led Amnesty International to recently call for a criminal inquiry.

“It’s their largest fossil fuel investment and represents 2 per cent of the fund’s total investments.

“When we started this campaign three years ago, our aim was to get rid of £42 million in fossil fuel investments.

“We knew it was going to be tough but we believed that the council would do the right thing. None of us thought that their investment would almost double right under our noses.

“We’ve seen other councils in the London commitment to 100 per cent divestment. We know it’s possible.”

On Shell, the council spokesperson added: “The majority of the fund’s investment in Shell is held indirectly, through a passive index tracker fund, which tracks the performance of the FTSE Allshare and therefore provides broad exposure to the UK economy.

“We have maintained a 20-25 per cent holding in this fund for over 10 years, but have committed to reduce this to 10 per cent as part of the April 2017 Investment Strategy.”

The remaining £1.5 million of Shell holdings are “owned directly”, the spokesperson confirmed.

When asked if the council has the power to prevent its pension fund investing in certain companies, they added: “The guidance states that the precise choice of investments may be influenced by wider social, ethical or environmental considerations, so long as that does not risk material financial detriment to the fund.

“However, the administering authority should not seek to impose its particular views where those would not be widely shared by scheme employers and members.

“Given these caveats, the council does not consider that it has sufficient grounds to exclude Shell from its investment portfolio, particularly given its significance within the FTSE Allshare.”

The spokesperson said “it is not pension fund policy to disinvest in particular stocks on grounds other than financial”, adding: “Instead we seek to engage with those companies in which we invest on ESG matters, particularly through our membership of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF).”

LAPFF is a group of 72 funds committed to “ensuring that companies have the right policies and right people in place to create value for shareholders over the long term”.

On its website, the forum says issues such as climate change and employment standards “require as much investor attention as more traditional concerns such as corporate governance and executive remuneration”.

Last month, Cllr Robert Chapman, chair of the Town Hall’s Pension Committee, said: “Hackney Council has a strategy to reduce its pension fund’s exposure to fossil fuel investments.

“The fund’s long-term ambition is to move away from fossil fuel investments, and I can foresee a time when our fund will have no fossil fuel investments.”