Council employee leads petition against pension investment in fossil fuel firms

Council employee leads petition against pension investment in fossil fuel firms
Council employee leads petition against pension investment in fossil fuel firms like Shell

A petition for Oxfordshire County Council to pull out of pension investments in fossil fuel companies has attracted more than 500 signatures – having been started by one of its employees.

Kate Robinson said she was “deeply ashamed and quite frankly alarmed” that companies such as Shell form part of the council’s portfolio.

Introducing herself as an employee of 17 years with a stake in the local government pension fund throughout, she said: “I am generally very proud to be an employee of Oxfordshire County Council and feel very motivated to push towards its priorities, including putting climate action at the heart of our work and the ambition for Oxfordshire to reach net zero by 2030.

“However, when I look at our pension fund, I am deeply ashamed and quite frankly alarmed by the fact that the Brunel portfolio includes fossil fuel companies such as Dutch company Shell.

“Although professing to be looking at the roadmap to renewables, Shell continues with its large programme of expansion and extraction, which includes recent exploration of the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. 

“This behaviour directly contradicts the scientific evidence which shows we need to leave at least two-thirds of known fossil fuels in the ground if we are to keep global warming within the safe level of temperature rise, 1.5 degrees. 

“The thought that my money is being invested into these companies is deeply concerning to me.

“The irony has not been lost on me that our organisation has signposted to Climate Action Oxfordshire’s website to change our own personal behaviours, at home and at work.

“We are encouraged to insulate our homes, turn down our thermostats, use active travel and change to a plant-based diet. They also tell us to choose ethical pensions, banking and investments.”

She added: “I am hugely conflicted as a member of this pension scheme. I want to do the right thing. I believe in working collectively and constructively with my colleagues to make the future better.

“This petition shows a growing consensus that members (of the scheme) such as myself urge you to put climate action at the heart of your decision making.”

Councillor David Bartholomew (Con, Sonning Common) twice sought to question the validity of the petition. 

Quoting procedural rule 10.1.1 – any person other than a member of the council may present a petition at a council meeting – Councillor Bartholomew asked: “Was that last petition therefore legitimate or not?”

Council chair Councillor Susanna Pressel (Lab, Jericho & Osney) replied: “She is not a member of council; she is a member of staff. Councillors are members of the council, not the staff.”

Following two more public addresses, Councillor Bartholomew returned to the issue, this time quoting paragraph 22 of the officers’ code of conduct, which includes: “If you wish to protest against council policy, you must not use the council’s headed notepaper, work time or council facilities to do so.”

Councillor Bartholomew said: “That clearly states an officer must not use council facilities to protest against council policy, so that was wrong.”

Anita Bradley is the council’s monitoring officer, the person responsible to the council for the lawfulness and fairness of the council’s decision-making.

She said: “Councillor Batholomew, that is a separate issue to the point you raised, which was whether or not an employee could present a petition.

“Anything under the officer code of conduct would be dealt with outside any public meeting.” 

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