ONLY a week after urging smokers to quit as part of a national NHS campaign, it has come to light that Gloucestershire County Council has nearly £11 million invested in the tobacco industry.

Earlier this month, the council gave its support to the new Smokefree campaign which is aimed at stopping smokers from lighting up in their homes and cars.

The council’s message to Gloucestershire’s estimated 86,000 smokers was ‘quitting smoking is a great way to kick start a healthier and happier lifestyle.’

As part of a shake-up of the NHS, local authorities like GCC are now responsible for public health, hence the support for the campaign.

Now a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the authority has £10.9 million of its pension fund invested in tobacco firms.

More than £7.2 million is invested in British American Tobacco, which owns Benson & Hedges, while £3.7 million is invested in Imperial Tobacco, which owns Rizla, Golden Virginia and Drum.

While GCC insisted the investments are acceptable because they provide good value, opposition councillors have accused the Tory-run authority of hypocrisy.

Green leader Sarah Lunnon, who represents Stroud central, said: "It remains a mystery to me how an organisation responsible for public health can at the same time profit from an industry that can only have a negative impact on peoples lives.

"How can we have public health strategies which say 'don't smoke' and at the same time have public money funding tobacco products and advertising?"

Labour leader Lesley Williams, who represents Stonehouse, added: "It is simply not acceptable for an authority with responsibility for public health to have investments of this kind."

Lib Dem Jeremy Hilton, shadow cabinet member for finance and resources, said: "For many years we have argued for an ethical policy and I think now is a good time to consider moving money away from the tobacco industry."

The Labour Group plans to bring a motion before the council to ensure that all investments are ethical and do not conflict with GCC’s responsibilities.

But Mark Hawthorne, the Conservative leader of GCC said: "If pension investment decisions end up driven by politics, by councillors trying to get their names in the newspaper, both pensioners and council taxpayers run the risk of seriously losing out."

Gloucestershire’s Local Government Pension fund currently invests £1.385 billion for more than 160 organisations across the county including councils, schools, colleges and police forces.

Stroud District Council last year contributed £2.2million to the fund.

Ray Theodoulou, GCC cabinet member for finance and change, said: "The money in the pension fund belongs to pensioners, not the council.

"While councillors from all political parties are represented on the pension committee, they have a legal duty to maximise return on that investment.

"Investments are chosen by professional investment managers, not councillors.” 


COMMENTING on the revelations, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael said: "The Government is right to discourage smoking and I hope we can reduce the number of young people who smoke.

"Personally I do not smoke and I think the interests of public health are best served by fewer people smoking.

"However, the county council has a duty to maximise income through the pension scheme and must make a judgement on that priority.

"If people don’t want to invest in firms producing tobacco they can move their pensions."

Commenting on the conflict with the investment and the council’s new responsibilities for public health, Mr Carmichael said: "There is always conflict in politics.

"The government taxes cigarettes to generate revenue and on the other hand we are running a public health campaign. It is the same for alcohol."