Divest East Sussex is campaigning to put pressure on East Sussex County Council to stop investing its pension fund cash in fossil fuel companies. Supporters organised a fast and vigil outside County Hall in Lewes in the run-up to July’s vote. This blog by Gabriel Carlyle outlines the issues involved and the campaign’s next steps.
Some local councillors seem to want to hide the role of fossil fuel companies in driving the climate crisis. Divest East Sussex believes our job as campaigners is to keep their role front-and-centre of local political debate and to make the links with the current cost-of-living crisis.
On 20 July, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) voted yet again to continue investing local people’s pensions in the giant fossil fuel companies that are driving the climate crisis. But there were also signs of a dawning realisation that publicly siding with these companies is becoming increasingly toxic politically.
Don’t mention the fossil fuels!
The East Sussex Pension Fund, which is administered by ESCC, currently has tens of millions of pounds of local people’s pension monies invested in companies like Shell and BP.
The 20 July decision was taken by the East Sussex Pension Committee, the Fund’s five-person decision-making body. Conservative councillors Gerard Fox (Hailsham New Town), Ian Hollidge (Bexhill South) and Paul Redstone (Northern Rother) all voted against the proposal, which was therefore defeated 3-2, with Green councillor Georgia Taylor (Forest Row & Groombridge) and Liberal Democrat councillor David Tutt (Eastbourne – St Anthony’s) voting in favour.
Cllr Hollidge suggested that the Fund should “stop trying to say that a fossil fuel company is bad. They’re not a fossil fuel company – they are an energy company and they are in the midst of a transition”.
Cllr Redstone echoed these remarks and opposed there even being a vote on fossil fuel divestment, saying that he was “really concerned that we would be tarred as a committee with having voted against divestment”.
These remarks suggest that these councillors are beginning to feel the heat politically.
Indeed, hundreds of residents in Bexhill and Robertsbridge had signed petitions calling on them to back divestment, with protests taking place in both of their divisions in the run-up to the vote.
As campaigners we need to press ESCC even harder on this issue. At the same time, we also need to be making the links with the cost-of-living crisis. Soaring energy bills are expected to push two-thirds of UK households into fuel poverty this winter while the giant oil and gas companies that are driving the climate emergency are now making vast profits out of this crisis.
And these are the same companies that have also spent decades blocking and lobbying against the transition to renewable energy – exacerbating both the climate and cost-of-living crises.
It’s time to tax Big Oil properly
Earlier this year, ESCC leader Keith Glazier rejected calls for ESCC to back a windfall tax on the UK oil and gas industry, arguing that there was insufficient support from Conservative councillors for the move. The proceeds from such a tax could be used to cut peoples’ bills and to invest in a nationwide roll-out of heat pumps, insulation and other energy efficiency measures.
The UK government introduced a 25% windfall tax on these companies in May, which will remain in place until the end of 2025 unless oil prices fall back towards what the government regards as “historically more normal levels”, of around $65 a barrel.
Divest East Sussex argues that this does not go far enough and has therefore created a new petition to ESCC, demanding that it stop investing in fossil fuels and that it publicly support a proper permanent windfall tax on Big Oil and a rapid transition to a system that provides affordable green energy for everyone.
If we can get 5,000 signatures from people across East Sussex, Brighton and Hove then we can force ESCC to debate these issues at County Hall in Lewes – helping to put pressure on both them and the UK government:
But we need YOUR help to do this.
Please sign the petition online today, spread the word and help collect signatures in your local area. Full details and resources here.
Gabriel Carlyle is coordinator of the Divest East Sussex campaign. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org