Put health before pension

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Town hall pension fund managers have been asked to consider pulling out of controversial investments in tobacco and alcohol amid claims it flies in the face of high profile public health campaigns.

It has emerged Lancashire County Council’s £5.5bn retirement fund, which also covers Blackpool Council, has £33.8m invested in British American Tobacco, £22m in Philip Morris International (also a tobacco company) and £24.4m in drinks company Diageo.

The fund has 3,518 current members who are employees at Blackpool Council.

Leading public health expert Professor John Ashton has criticised local authorities for allowing pension contributions to be invested in booze and tobacco companies.

Blackpool Council has recently launched a number of high profile awareness campaigns aimed at tackling high levels of illness in the town caused by excessive drinking and smoking.

Coun Mark Smith, who represents Blackpool on the Lancashire County Pension Fund Panel which was due to meet at County Hall in Preston on Friday, said: “These concerns have been raised a couple of times previously, and I will be raising it again when the panel meets.

“We are trying to tackle issues in order to improve the health of people living in Blackpool, but this is sending a mixed message out.

“The difficulty is funds may be directly invested in a certain way, and then they are reinvested somewhere else.

“We have to look at how far down the line we can control it.

“You have to get the best return for the fund for people’s retirement but I think we should be looking at better ways of investing the money.

“It is a Lancashire fund so I would prefer to see some investment in businesses locally.”

British American Tobacco manufactures more than 200 brands worldwide, Philip Morris International makes Benson and Hedges and Marlboro, while Diageo produces brands including Guinness, Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon’s Gin, Baileys and Blossom Hill wine.

Professor Ashton, who is president of the Faculty of Public Health UK, said: “We are jeopardising the lives of our children while seeking to protect our pensions.”

County Coun Terry Burns, chairman of the Pension Fund Committee, said: “The first consideration is to be as ethical as possible.”