Council chiefs have been accused of “startling hypocrisy” after it was revealed staff paid into a pension fund which invested more than £180million in tobacco companies in the last year.
The West Yorkshire Pension Fund (WYPF) – which looks after pensions for councils in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Kirklees and Calderdale – invested £180.5million in tobacco companies in 2013-14.
The figure was revealed in an answer to a question posed at full council by Harewood’s Tory councillor Matthew Robinson.
He said the scale of the investment could not be squared with the council’s efforts to promote healthy lifestyles.
Coun Robinson said: “I understand that the pension fund will want to get the best return possible for its members, but there is surely a startling hypocrisy lying at the heart of this particular investment. The council has made great play of its commitment to helping people live healthier lives, and is spending money to help people stop smoking – yet it is also party to an investment that seeks to take advantage of people who do smoke.”
He said the council should take a “moral position” on the issue, but Leeds City Council said the WYPF – administered by Bradford Council – was responsible for deciding how money was invested.
A spokesman for the fund said it would be a “significant performance risk” if money was not invested in the tobacco sector, which was crucial to the payment of pensions.
He added: “The investment panel has concluded that they could not operate a policy of sector exclusion, particularly as any shortfall in returns would be made up by the council taxpayers, which in the current environment of cuts across the public sector would not be acceptable.