8.4 Action: Talk to your local councillor about the Local Government Pension Scheme’s investments in nuclear weapons

Check section 3 of this guide to see whether the local government pension fund that covers your area has investments in nuclear weapons producers. If it does, you can write to your local councillors explaining why you think that the fund should divest, request that they pass on your concerns to the convenor of the pension fund committee, which administers the fund, and suggest that the council passes a resolution calling on the fund to divest (click here for our template letter).

You can find out who your local councillors are at www.writetothem.com. This site also allows you to email them using an online form. If you do not get a satisfactory response, you can seek a meeting with your councillors at their local surgery.

In 2015, new regulations came into force which require local authorities to create pension boards. Pension boards scrutinise decisions made by the pension committees and ensure that the operation of the pension funds is in accordance with the applicable law and regulation. Your local councillor may sit on the authority’s pension fund committee or the pension board and therefore be in a strong position to influence the fund’s policy.

Most councils provide a list of pension committee and board members on their website. Click on the links in the table below for a list of pension fund committee and pension board members in each local authority:

Dumfries and Galloway Pension committee members Pension board members
Falkirk Pension committee members Pension board members
Fife Pension committee and pension board membership
Highland Pension committee and pension board members
Lothian Pension committee members Pension board members
North East Scotland Pension committee members Pension board members
Orkney Islands Pension committee and pension board members
Scottish Borders Pension committee members Pension board members
Shetland Islands Pension committee and pension board members
Strathclyde Pension committee members Pension board members
Tayside Pension committee members Pension board members

What if they say no?

The pension fund managers may claim that divestment is not possible, but the reasons given for this can be countered.

It was reported in September 2017 that Inverclyde SNP Councillor Chris McEleny had written to the convenor of the Strathclyde Pension Fund committee to request that the fund divest from arms companies. The investment manager of the fund replied that “Divestment based on a subjective, ethical viewpoint is not permissible and potentially subject to legal challenge in the context of a fund which is investing for the purpose of paying pensions liabilities to its members”.

In the case of nuclear weapons, calls for divestment are not based on subjective, ethical grounds alone, but on an international treaty adopted by 122 countries. Thirty financial institutions have divested since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017, showing that a new norm against nuclear weapons investment is being established.

Lothian pension fund gave a similar response when questioned by The Ferret about its investments in arms companies in October 2017.  A spokesperson for the fund referred The Ferret to a statement on its website which cites the fund’s fiduciary duty to its members and states that the fund “does not disinvest from companies for purely non-financial reasons, not least because this could lead to legal challenge”.

Pension funds do have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of their members, but this can be interpreted more broadly than simply getting the highest returns on investments. It can be argued that fund members will have their best interests served by a fund which limits the threat of nuclear war by divesting from nuclear weapons producers. Moreover, legal advice from the scheme’s advisory board clearly states that pension committees can take into account non-financial factors in their investment decisions, “so long as that does not risk material financial detriment to the Fund”.

The responses from Strathclyde and Lothian pension funds also questioned the effectiveness of divestment. Strathclyde said that divestment “reduces investor ability to engage and influence”, while Lothian’s statement says that engagement with companies “is preferable to a policy of divestment” because it “can lead to positive change in corporate behaviour and strategy”.

However, the DBOTB Campaigner Guide says that “most of the time there is no transparency about efforts to engage, which means it is impossible to know whether and in what way the engagement procedure is going”. As the authors note, this “engagement” does not seem to have changed the behaviour of nuclear weapons producers so far. The example of cluster munitions discussed in section 1.5.2 of this guide suggests that policies which cut off access to financing will be more effective.