Our first meetings with South Yorkshire Pension Authority

For the first time in over two years of campaigning we met with South Yorkshire Pension Authority (SYPA) officers and the chair of the Pensions Board last week. “Definitely a step in the right direction,” said Kate Stott who attended both meetings on behalf of Sheffield Climate Alliance (SCA).

Rotherham Town Hall

Rotherham Town Hall

Kate and Janet Paske met with Rotherham Councillor Sue Ellis, SYPA chair, on Tuesday 18th January 2017 at Rotherham Town Hall. Then on Friday afternoon, 20th January 2017, she joined campaigning colleagues Sean Ashton and Brian Webster at SYPA’s Regent Street offices in Barnsley to meet with Steve Barrett, the Interim Fund Manager, Sharon Smith, Head of Investments and Jane Firth, Prinicipal Investment Manager.

The fiduciary duty of the Pensions Authority to its pension members was the recurring message that Kate took away from the meeting with Councillor Ellis.  In this context, fiduciary duty is the duty of the pension authority to provide the best financial return for its members.  “The impression I got,” said Kate “was that maximising return on investment is the over-riding consideration for the Authority.” This was echoed by SYPA officers in the discussion held at the end of the week.

South Yorkshire Pension Fund logo

SYPA offices, Barnsley

SYPA offices, Barnsley

Neither officers nor board members are, however, insensitive to the threat posed by climate change and the need for a radical shift to a low carbon global economy. Indeed, in March last year we congratulated SYPA when it became the first UK local authority pension fund to approve a climate change policy to guide its investment strategy. It is clearly stated in the policy, and was re-iterated at both meetings last week, that shareholder engagement* is the approach SYPA has currently adopted with regard to climate change.

However, we and many other divestment campaigners argue that, in the case of fossil fuel companies, the timeline for engagement is too slow, engagement isn’t working and engagement makes no sense without the threat of divestment. Furthermore, engagement does nothing to affect the social licence of these companies to operate, something we need to achieve.

We welcome the opportunity we’ve had to meet with SYPA and to have a frank exchange of views and positions. We will, however, continue to press for divestment as we feel that this is the only way to bring about change in the timescale available to avoid catastrophic climate change.  In addition we will also ask the authority to provide regular monitoring and publicly available reporting of progress against SYPA’s policy.  We will also urge pension members and their elected representatives to call for concrete action to reduce the carbon intensity of SYPA’s portfolio.

* Shareholder engagement, in this context, refers to entering into a dialogue with the companies that you have shares in, in order to persuade them to change their strategy or policies. It often relates to ESG (environmental social governance) issues that are considered important by a shareholder.

Want to find out more, email us . You are welcome to join us at one of our regular meetings in the Blue Moon cafe or come along and meet us at one of our outreach events.