WHO should those tasked with investing the pension funds of Yorkshire councils answer to – their members or the policy-makers of the authorities concerned?
This conundrum comes after a contradiction emerged between the public health responsibilities of local town halls, and the fact that vast sums are being invested in tobacco companies and global giants which are accused of unethical practices.
Ask each public sector employee privately and they will argue, especially in light of the Government’s proposed pension reforms, that investments need to be maximised – and that Britain’s lagging opportunity means they have to look overseas.
Ask the same question in public – and they will contend that there should be a moral obligation to invest in businesses that pursue sound ethical practices and are local to the authority concerned.
The challenge is achieving both objectives when decisions discussed by local councillors, on issues such as smoking bans or tackling alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour, are at arm’s length from those individuals tasked with enhancing the value of pension funds.
That said, there certainly should be more awareness about pensions – it is an issue that many individuals (and politicians for that matter) simply try to ignore because of its complexity and potential ramifications.
And just as the Government is looking to empower shareholders with greater transparency over executive pay, then there should also be an obligation on pension funds to inform their members of the reasons behind investment decisions. For, if a majority of council employees do not want their pensions invested with British American Tobacco for example on moral grounds, surely they should have the right to veto any such decision if they are sufficiently exercised? In reality, it is a very a big “if”.