Thirteen West Sussex County Council (WSCC) councillors today failed to disclose financial ties to fracking company Cuadrilla.
The thirteen – all council members present at a meeting to decide on a Cuadrilla planning application – declared they had no pecuniary interest in the outcome of the meeting. And yet – via their WSCC pensions – each councillor owns a stake in the company.
WSCC admits it holds £26,000 of securities in Cuadrilla.
WSCC’s code of conduct states councillors have a pecuniary interest if they hold “any beneficial interest in securities (stocks or bonds) of a body where that body has a place of business or land in the area of the relevant authority; and …the total nominal value of the securities exceeds £25,000”
The key phrase in the code of conduct is “any beneficial interest”. That doesn’t mean WSCC employees need to own all the relevant securities. It means they are required to disclose ANY interest in ANY securities above the £25,000 threshold.
All contributors to WSCC pension fund fulfill this criteria, including all WSCC councillors and officers.
According to the Department for Local Communities and Government councillors with a pecuniary interest “must not participate in any discussion of the business at the meeting… or participate in any vote or further vote taken on the matter at the meeting”.
This is highly significant because it renders the council – in its entirety – exempt from deciding on any application by Cuadrilla, or any other company in which the pension fund has holdings above £25,000. You can see the full list of WSCC’s £2.4bn pension fund investments here.
WSCC’s pension pot is proving to be more of a liability than an asset.