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Anti-smoking Bucks County Council holds £6m tobacco shares
A BUCKS council which is set take on responsibility for anti-smoking campaigns has millions of pounds invested in cigarette firms.
The tobacco assets, worth about £6 million, make up a small part of Buckinghamshire County Council’s pension fund.
The Conservative-controlled authority is set to receive about £15 million funding from the government in April as it takes over a lead role on public health - to combat major health issues such as smoking and obesity.
Dr Linda Derrick, who chairs Wycombe Labour's health policy group, said: "You can’t be responsible for promoting people’s health and at the same time invest funds in something that’s causing people harm.... I would describe it as hypocritical."
"They ought to be looking at ethical investments, particularly companies that don’t cause harm to people’s health."
Smoking accounts for about 600 deaths in Buckinghamshire each year, according to NHS figures.
Tobacco investments are a common feature in councils’ pension fund investments, and BCC invests less than most other authorities.
In the eastern region, Hertfordshire County Council reportedly has the highest amount invested in tobacco firms with £44 million.
Various councils have pointed out that pension fund managers have a legal responsibility to run their funds prudently and maximise income.
The Bucks Free Press asked BCC if it would consider selling its tobacco investments, given its new public health responsibilities.
A spokesman said: "No more than 0.4 per cent of Buckinghamshire pension fund investments are tobacco related - one of the lowest proportions in the UK.
"The council administers the fund on behalf of 150 other employers including the emergency services, schools and districts. This issue will be considered as part of the council’s continuous monitoring of pension fund investments."
Though he would not comment specifically on Bucks County Council, Martin Dockrell, head of policy at anti-smoking charity Ash, said: "From this April councils will have legal responsibility for promoting public health, that includes reducing smoking rates.
"They also have a specific duty to protect health policy from the interests of the tobacco industry. So far so good, but how are they going to do that when they are the biggest tobacco investors in the area? This gives them a clear conflict of interest."
Liberal Democrat Julia Wassell is one of a small number of county councillors who smoke, though she has cut down since the New Year. She said: "They may well want to review it but it’s not the top issue on the county agenda."