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Kent County Council criticised for investing in tobacco companies

Kent County Council has faced renewed criticism of its investment in tobacco companies with a claim that it is hypocritical when the authority has a remit to promote public health.

Green councillor Martin Whybrow, a long-standing critic of the authority’s investment strategy, said it was time for KCC to look at more ethical funds.

But ruling Conservatives dismissed the claim and said it was acting to ensure that those in its pension fund got a good return.

A packet of cigarettes. Picture: Getty Images
A packet of cigarettes. Picture: Getty Images

Mr Whybrow took up the issue at a full council meeting, and said the council was conflicted because it had a statutory role to encourage people to lead healthier lives as part of its public health remit.

“When we look into these funds who do we find?British American Tobacco; Philip Morris who export to 180 different countries; Japan Tobacco the third largest company and Imperial Brands.”

“It is pretty hypocritical of us to preach to the Kent public and hold a public health remit when we still invest in these companies.

"You are not telling me that there are not large scale stocks we could hold that would perform as well if not better.

"There is no performance data anywhere that unethical stocks perform better than ethical stocks.”

But Conservative councillor PaulCooper said KCC’s primary role was to act on behalf of taxpayers.

“If weare squandering or mismanaging our funds, it is the people of Kent to suffer and have to pay extra tax.

"We are here to represent the people of Kent not to tell them what to do. Many of us smoke, many of us eat fast food and many may consider that immoral.

"But disinvesting our funds from legitimate businesses would be financially reckless and against the interests of the people of Kent.”

KCC's come under fire for investing in tobacco companies. Picture: Getty Images
KCC's come under fire for investing in tobacco companies. Picture: Getty Images

But one Conservative councillor said he had some sympathy with the call for disinvestment from tobacco companies.

Cranbrook county councillor Sean Holden said: “Cigarettes kill half the people who use them.

"Money that we invest will be used to promote cigarettes which kill large numbers of people - our people - and I am very sympathetic to the idea that we should not be colluding with these people and that we should find other places to invest.

"The difficulty is that we are free to make a choice about cigarettes but what about other things like cocaine? Why shouldn't we be free to make a choice about smoking cannabis?”

KCC finance cabinet member Cllr John Simmonds said he would not apologise for the investment fund strategy.

He said: “If we get the pension fund wrong, there is a huge liability to the public. The number of objections you get to tobacco, food and drink and armaments - they are all high-returning investments.”

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