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Town Hall once again refuses to ditch fossil fuel investments

'I get the feeling that I’m being patted on the head by a grandad and told not to worry about this problem'

07 December, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Richard Olszewski calls for a more ‘sophisticated’ debate

RULING Labour group councillors have been accused of taking a “patronising” approach to campaigners calling for Camden Council to remove its pension investments from fossil fuel companies.

The Town Hall dug its heels in once more over the controversial deposits in firms accused of worsening climate change as a Liberal Democrat motion demanding a timescale for “divestment” was batted away at an all-member meeting last week.

Finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski suggested that some objectors were “showing their virtue” and that there needed to be a more “sophisticated” debate. While other local authorities, including neighbouring Islington, have greened up their pension portfolio amid the declaration of a climate change crisis, Camden has refused to completely follow suit. The new push for divestment followed similar demands from Camden’s own Citizen’s Assembly.

Some of its members, as well as Extinction Rebellion campaigners, specifically called for the investments to be halted.

But Cllr Olszewski told last week’s meeting: “It’s a much more complicated picture than just simply making facile declarations,” adding: “It’s not strange for people to sort of, you know, show their virtue and all the rest of it. But we’re actually talking about people’s livelihoods in retirement, current pensioners and future pensioners.”

Richard Olszewski during his comments at Monday’s meeting

Last month, Camden Unison, the largest union among council workers, said it supported divestment.

But Cllr Olszewski added: “If we get it wrong, potentially pensioners face the consequences. But actually, if we undermine the funding of the fund, it then falls on the council to do more to make up the gap. That’s more money from our general fund to go into the pension fund, which is less money available for other services. “I think we really need to have a more sophisticated discussion.”

Camden has reduced the number of investments in fossil fuel companies but has not gone the whole way, and as a result has been faced with demonstrations, petitions and challenging media coverage, which, image-wise, has clashed with its wider ambitions to lead the way on climate change.

Labour councillors feel they are not getting enough credit for trying to “decarbonise” the pension portfolio, rather than just immediately whipping out investments in fossil fuel-burning companies.

The Conservatives said more research was needed into how much money was at stake if Camden divested its deposits, but also to see whether there were other affordable ways to introduce more eco-friendly measures.

Sian Berry

Green councillor Sian Berry, said: “I get the feeling that I’m being patted on the head by a grandad and told not to worry about this problem. It has to change. We should think about the fact that our pensioners do not want their pensions to come at the expense of their grandchildren’s whole world. We should listen to them, not patronise them.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Simon said Labour had “watered down” the motion, adding: “Camden Council is a local authority whose voice is considered to be substantial. We are well respected within local government. People will listen if we speak. If we join our voice to other local authorities, we can influence people beyond our borough”

Tom Simon

His colleague Councillor Luisa Porritt told the meeting: “We’ve all acknowledged that there is a climate emergency and we have to do everything in our power to tackle that. And this is a huge gaping hole in the strategy. “There are lots of good things that Camden is doing but I don’t know why we pass up the opportunity to show leadership in this area as well.”

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