A year after local councils became responsible for public health, figures show Lancashire County Council’s £5 billion pension fund still has millions of pounds invested in tobacco firms, fizzy drinks companies and confectionery.
Before the take over last April, campaigners called for a review of where money in the pension fund, which incorporates all of East Lancashire’s borough councils, was invested.
But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the county council’s pension fund has almost £68 million invested in tobacco firms, despite the authority now having a lead role in NHS anti-smoking campaigns.
The figures also show that there is more than £78 million is invested in fizzy drinks and beer companies and more than £119 million is distributed between some of the largest manufacturers of chocolate and processed foods in the world.
The findings have come under fire from health campaigners who feel the council’s responsibility for public health is in direct opposition to pumping cash into industries whose products are recognised as detrimental to health and wellbeing.
Health campaigner Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “This is sending mixed messages to patients and voters .
“It’s scandalous supporting these companies by investing money in them, while at the same time campaigning for better public health.
“It’s totally hypocritical and nonsensical.”
Blackburn with Darwen councillor and chairman of the council’s health scrutiny committee, Ron O’Keeffe said: “I have been saying for a long time that the council departments need to work together and the pensions department need to know the problems we are battling against and look for different companies to invest in.
“I understand they have to get best returns on investment and tobacco may seem like a good way but it’s like investing in atomic bombs – you just wouldn’t do it because it would harm the population.”
A county council spokesman said: “The pension fund is wider than just the county council.
“We administer it on behalf of more than 270 employers – including other local councils, further and higher education colleges, as well as voluntary and charitable organisations who all need to agree and have a say on where the money will be invested.”