Council cash tobacco link probe launched

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Leeds City Council’s role in an investment of over £180million in tobacco companies should be the subject of a public inquiry, a councillor has argued.

The West Yorkshire Pension Fund (WYPF), which looks after pensions for councils, schools and firms in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees and Calderdale, invested £180.5million in tobacco companies in 2013-14.

Coun Matthew Robinson (Con, Harewood) has brought the issue to the council’s health scrutiny board, once again accusing the local authority of “hypocrisy” as it continues to spend large sums on smoking prevention in Leeds.

But council health chiefs believe the issue is a regional one, given that four other West Yorkshire councils are also involved.

“We must have consistency in our policies, in what we say and what we invest,” Coun Robinson said. “This could see us as a leader in health investment in the city and sets an example to other local authorities on this.”

He said some companies have already taken an approach looking at a “moral investment policy” allowing people to opt out of such investments, while Leeds’ two councillors on the WYPF investment advisory board should be “held to account”.

At Tuesday’s meeting the council’s executive member for health, Coun Lisa Mulherin, said she has written to the Local Government Pension Scheme Advisory Board and “pointed out to them the clear health impact of the investments and what they deliver for our city”.

It appears that the Leeds health scrutiny board will not undertake an inquiry but councillors called for the issue to be considered at a regional level.

Board member Coun Brian Selby said a regional scrutiny board “ought to be looking” at the WYPF but said he would “hate to think this issue gets lost in an argument in terms of who actually conducts an inquiry”.