Divesting Pension Funds and Carbon Neutrality: A Response by Cllr Godfrey Daniel

On Tuesday October 15th 2019, East Sussex County Council had its Full Council Meeting. Below, Godfrey Daniel responds to concerns raised about decisions taken by the Council, including a guarantee that Labour will propose to bring forward the target date for Carbon Neutrality for East Sussex County Council to 2030, rather than the agreed “as soon as possible and in any event by 2050”, should Labour achieve a majority in the County Council elections in 2021. In February, Hastings Borough Council passed a motion declaring to make Hastings carbon neutral by 2030, aiming for the borough to become energy self-sufficient through local sustainable energy generation, and call on East Sussex County Council to adopt a parallel commitment for Hastings. Hastings Borough Council’s policy remains unchanged.

Cllr Daniel’s response below:

Divestment of Pensions

“In terms of the Divestment of Pensions, the direction of travel is clear in that investment in fossil fuels will inevitably decrease. We voted for the two motions that were in line with the wishes of Divest East Sussex – the Lib-Dem one and then when that fell, the Conservative one. Divest East Sussex, inter alia, called on us in their briefing paper to “immediately ask their investment consultants (Hymans Robertson) to provide an analysis of the implications of fossil fuel divestment and its associated risks and opportunities, with a particular focus on answering the question: ‘Can ESPF meet its long-term investment strategy objectives if it divests current fossil fuel holdings?’”. I did not vote for the poorly worded amendment in the name of Councillor Stephen Shing as it did not contain that important caveat. This is important as the fiduciary duty of the Pension Committee is to the beneficiaries i.e. the present and future pensioners, and as in the legal advice we received it says “acting in good faith and sincerity is not enough”. These things are more complicated than one might wish.”

There was a Guidance note that was circulated to all Members which clarifies the legal position, which can be found here.

Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality

The relevant report on the Full Council agenda referring to Climate Change and carbon neutrality can be found here.

Cllr Daniel’s response:

“You will see our Labour Group’s original motion did seek to identify 2030 as a target date for carbon neutrality. The original Conservative motion was very thin in my view.”

For information, Cllr Tutt, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, did propose an amendment to the motion to bring the date forward to Labour’s original proposed date of 2030 (but losing the notion that carbon neutrality would be achieved “as soon as possible”), to include environmental impact assessments on reports, and to have the council report twice a year on its progress towards the target. The amendment was not carried.

“I suggested compositing (a good old Labour Party tradition) the two motions so that the Scrutiny Committee could have a clear recommendation which could get agreement of the overwhelming majority of the County Council. You need to be aware that as there are thirty Conservative Councillors out of 50 then the Conservatives could have just maintained their position and their weak motion would have easily been passed. You will see that the composited motion is much stronger than the Conservative motion and I was pleased that we Labour Councillors (after all there are only 4 of us) managed to considerably beef up the resolve. We argued about the 2050 date and managed to get further movement by the insertion of “as soon as possible” but the Conservatives weren’t budging further and surely it was better to move ahead on a more progressive motion than their original one. The final motion was agreed by the whole Scrutiny Committee.”

“Of course the 2050 target date was agreed unanimously when this issue was debated in Parliament.”

“As I pointed out that in 2021 we would hope to remove the Conservative administration of the County Council and we can change the target date then, if not before as point (vi) of the agreed resolution states “East Sussex County Council will report annually at the May County Council Meeting on its progress towards the target”.”

“I am proud of what we were able to achieve. Later that morning we successfully got the County Council to unanimously support the following motion:

“East Sussex County Council believes that:

(i) people seeking asylum generally want to be able to work so that they can use their skills and make the most of their potential, integrate into their communities, and provide for themselves and their families;

(ii) restrictions on the right to work can lead to extremely poor mental health outcomes, and a waste of potentially invaluable talents and skills both for the economy of East Sussex and the UK; and

(iii) allowing people seeking asylum the right to work would therefore lead to positive outcomes for those seeking asylum in East Sussex and for the local and national economy.

East Sussex County Council calls on the UK Government to consider giving people seeking asylum the right to work, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list, after they have waited six months for a decision on their initial asylum claim.”

The entire Full Council meeting, including all paperwork provided, can be viewed here.

The Divest East Sussex Petition debate and decision can be viewed here.

The Climate Emergency and Carbon Neutrality debate and decision can be viewed here.

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