Twenty individuals who applied to speak at the next Oxfordshire Pension Fund Committee meeting with the hope of warning members of the dangers of further investment in fossil fuels are angered by the county’s refusal to let them speak at the meeting.
The Local Government Pension Scheme in Oxfordshire, of which Oxfordshire City Council is the administering authority, is contributed to by over 150 local employers and their staff. The Oxfordshire Pension Fund is responsible for maintaining, administering, and paying out the benefits from the collective pension fund. Although their website welcomes scheme employers and members, there is no mention of meetings being open to the public. It is unclear whether the individuals declined attendance to the meeting are paying members of the Pension Fund or not.
“The committee’s response to warnings about the risks of investing in fossil fuels has been completely inadequate” said Al Chisholm of Fossil Free Oxfordshire. “Refusing to let anyone address the committee is evidence that, once again, they prefer to kick the issue into the long grass. Written representations, like all our previous communications, will simply be ignored. The economic risks relating to climate change are developing almost daily and citizens ought to be able to make a timely representation on this issue.”
“We have important facts to present. In a democracy, our representatives should make it possible for us to speak up.”
The Pension Fund Committee will be discussing their Environmental and Social Governance Policy at their quarterly meeting on 10th March. The proposed draft for the meeting includes no mention of climate change, a source of frustration for Fossil Free Oxfordshire. A number of local individuals and groups submitted written requests to address the pension committee, headed by Councillor Stewart Lilly. They plan to call for the divestment from fossil fuels following the lead of many other institutions, including Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council.
Fossil Free Oxford has condemned the move to exclude the citizens from the meeting as demonstrating “a lack of democracy.” “The issue of where local government pensions are invested is one that affects all of us,” said Local Government Pension Scheme member Jill Green. “We have important facts to present. In a democracy, our representatives should make it possible for us to speak up.”
The recent reorganisation of local government pension funds into eight groups across the UK means that Oxfordshire County Council is given control over the £55 million of employee funds that are currently invested in fossil fuel. Fossil Free Oxford claim that this marks “the perfect time” for Oxfordshire Pension Fund to change this; “a unique opportunity to divest.” They argue that “the county pension fund should no longer invest in companies that are driving climate change. Instead, it should be invested more ethically, sustainably, and profitably.” Oxfordshire Pension Fund declined to comment.