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Neil Woodford holds talks with Kent County Council over access to £263m pension investment

A beleaguered fund manager has been in tense talks with Kent County Council today to discuss how the authority can get its hands on £263m it invested in one of his poorly performing schemes.

Neil Woodford was quizzed by members of the superannuation fund committee behind closed doors at County Hall in Maidstone.

He froze access to his Woodford Equity Income Fund earlier this month after KCC’s pension fund managers tried to withdraw their stake.

Mr Woodford stopped savers pulling their cash out of an investment pot managed by his firm on the day that Kent County Council tried to withdraw money because the scheme had performed poorly.

He spent more than an hour with senior councillors and officials days after it emerged that regulators have set up an inquiry into the suspension of the Woodford Equity Income fund.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)said it could not comment on details of the investigation.

A spokesman for Woodford said: "We can confirm we have been contacted by the FCA, regarding its investigation relating to the events that led to the suspension of the Woodford Equity Income fund, and willco-operating fully with its investigation.”

Kent County Council's headquarters County Hall in Maidstone
Kent County Council's headquarters County Hall in Maidstone

KCC has faced questions about whether it acted swiftly enough to protect itsinvestment. Kent Online revealed the pension committee had quizzed Mr Woodford in November last year because they were concerned about the fund’s performance.

Some members had pressed for at least some of the £263m to be redeemed because of the poor return it was getting but it was not until March that a decision was taken to withdraw the money.

Neil Woodford launched his company Woodford Investment Management thanks to his stellar reputation for getting returns for investors during his time at Invesco Perpetual.

However, he has frozen access to his Woodford Equity Income Fund, which had managed assets worth about £10 billion, after it saw its value plunge to less than £4 billion following an exodus of investors.

Investment manager Neil Woodford issued an apology after suspending trading in one of his funds (12765667)
Investment manager Neil Woodford issued an apology after suspending trading in one of his funds (12765667)

Mr Charlie Simkins, chairman of the superannuation fund committee, said: “We had a personal presentation today from Neil Woodford, who outlined the background to the suspension of the equity income fund and his plans for rectifying the situation.

“Committee members questioned him further about his proposals and were promised regular updates on future progress.

“They also questioned Mr Woodford about the fees being charged to administer the fund while its activities are suspended.

“Although the committee accepts that its investment in Woodford cannot be redeemed immediately, it would like to remind superannuation fund members and the wider public that the investment, while subject to a temporary halt in redemption, is invested in listed equities of a large number of companies and thus has an underlying value and is not lost.

“The committee also received an update on investment performance and noted very strong returns in the quarter year to 31 March with the fund increasing in value by £420m to £6.2bn. Fund performance is ahead of the agreed benchmark over the one- and three-year periods reported.”

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