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Highland Council Pension Fund needs a charter for responsible investment, groups claim

By Louise Glen

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Highland Palestine have been scrutinising Highland Council Pension Fund.
Highland Palestine have been scrutinising Highland Council Pension Fund.

Groups across the Highlands are calling on Highland Council Pension Fund to adopt a Charter for Responsible Investment.

The call, from Highland Palestine and Extinction Rebellion comes in response to a report that identifies at least £140 million of ethically questionable shares held by the Highland Pension Fund, including investment in gambling, tobacco, armaments and nuclear power.

It explains that when Highland Council pension fund committee and board meet on March 18 this year it will be three years since they approved their current statement of investment principles.

A spokeswoman for Highland Palestine said: "We believe it is time for them to review this statement, to remedy some of the worse deficiencies in their current approach and to set out an explicit and publicly available set of principles and criteria governing their investment decisions.

"The model we are proposing has been successfully implemented elsewhere, by the Church of England and the Norwegian Government Global Pension Fund, for example.

"Our proposals have already gained the support of a number of faith, community and environmental groups across the Highlands, and we expect to receive more over the next month.”

She added: "Our research shows that Highland Council policies and procedures are lagging well-behind current models of good practice in financial management.

"To our knowledge, a number of different local organisations, including ourselves, have raised concerns with the pension fund over its investments only for these approaches to be rebuffed. This is unacceptable."

She asked: "Why is Highland Council dragging its feet over this?"

A spokeswoman for campaign group Extinction Rebellion said: "We support Highland Palestine’s charter for ethical investment.

"Highland Council declared a climate emergency nearly two years ago but its words are not matched by its investments.

"Highland Council is invested in Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache Corporation, Woodside Petroleum and Newcrest mining, all of which continue to invest in oil and gas exploration and development as well as in current production.

"In view of its investments in fossil fuels, armaments and tobacco, XR wonder if there are any red lines that Highland Council will not cross?"

A Highland Council spokesman said: “The Highland Council Pension Fund is independent from Highland Council and decisions regarding investment principles are made by the pensions committee – membership of which includes but is not exclusive to Highland Council councillors.

"The decision making process for the Pensions Committee is scrutinised by the pensions board whose membership includes employer organisation and member representatives.

“The fund’s approach to responsible investments is set out in the statement of investment principles at: https://www.highland.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/3932/pensions_committee_and_board which is reviewed alongside the triennial actuarial valuation.

“There is an investment sub committee responsible for monitoring the performance of the fund’s investments.

"Fund managers have been appointed to manage assets on behalf of the Highland Council pension fund and their performance and approach to environmental, social and governance issues is reviewed and scrutinised regularly by the investment sub committee.”

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