Local Councils divest from tobacco: pension fund investigation

See this article in the Independent on Sunday (9/11/14) – 

We have an interview with Kent County Council whistleblower Dr Marion Gibbon below:


Dr Marion Gibbon

In a BBC Radio Kent interview in September 2013, Dr Marion Gibbon, who had been in situ as Kent County Council’s Public Health Consultant since April 2013, said: “I’m willing to stand up and say that it’s difficult to have policies that are detrimental to people’s health when we are now a public health organisation.” When asked about KCC’s tobacco investment, she said: “I don’t think it’s acceptable but we’ve still got to have the dialogue to make everyone see that that’s not an acceptable position to be in.” She was formally warned about the comments by council chiefs and later resigned. The doctor who has worked internationally in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nepal, spoke to The Independent about the KCC resignation and how she believes dealing with tobacco-related illness and death should be the Number 1 priority for local authority health teams.

ASSET TRACKER: How should local authority pension funds invest?

Dr GIBBON: “I would like to see local authorities investing ethically. It is something that Croydon council have done, they have disinvested in tobacco and now invest ethically. The top performing ethical funds have rewarded investors with 40-50% over the past three years compared to that from funds that tracked the FTSE 100 companies over the same time period. It is not true that investing ethically means compromising returns on investment. With the recent large pay out awarded to a woman in the US due to her husband’s death from tobacco-related illness, I would suggest that such investments are increasingly risky. I would therefore advise investments in green technology and sustainable development and not in alcohol, tobacco or arms.”

ASSET TRACKER: What thoughts on Kent County Council?

Dr GIBBON: “With regard to Kent I feel that a real opportunity was missed as they were well-placed to make real changes by being among the early implementers to sign up to the WHO declaration on tobacco control. A great deal of work had been done at district level with local councils wanting to sign-up as they could see the benefits to their communities. Given the recent news on alcohol abuse it would also help if this was considered as investments go into this industry too. Kent kept on about having nothing left to invest in but ethical investments have been shown to make good returns too. I considered my role was one that was to promote and protect the health of the people of Kent and that meant that I should be able to speak out on matters that compromised people’s health.”

ASSET TRACKER: How high do you think public health authorities should rate tobacco-related illness/deaths?

Dr GIBBON: “Number 1. Public health authorities need to be concerned about sustainable change in the public’s health. Helping people to live longer healthier lives by reducing preventable deaths – smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, poor mental health and poor relationships with alcohol all contribute the the significant ill health of people in this country. I consider these to be the top priorities and possibly tobacco-related illness as the Number 1.”

ASSET TRACKER: How should councils go about reducing conflicts of interest?

Dr GIBBON: “I think stronger corporate social responsibility is key and transparent governance processes so that people’s pecuniary and business relationships are at the forefront. It would probably be beneficial that these are backed by making them a statutory responsibility for councils.

ASSET TRACKER: What is your current employment?

Dr GIBBON: “I have recently established my own health consultancy and work in the south of England. At the moment I am working as an interim consultant in public health in Yorkshire. I have recently sold my house in Kent as there is little point having a house there as I no longer work in that area. Through my resignation I am no longer entitled to continue to contribute to my NHS pension and will not get the maximum I would have been able to if I had stayed working as a consultant in public health in a local authority. I now have to make my own way through my expertise and work in short-term positions.I am intending to get further involved in public health research, write, undertake interim consultant roles and work internationally again.”

ASSET TRACKER: “Thanks for your time.”

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