Protesters gathered outside Dorset Council offices to call for the authority's pension fund to disinvest in fossil fuel industries.

A group of more than 20 met outside the council’s South Walks House offices in Dorchester yesterday in pouring rain to make the point.

Their protest is a repeat of previous actions and follows on from two Dorset GPs from Medact Dorset addressing the pension committee in September last year to also ask for pension funds to be withdrawn from anything which is carbon intensive.

The protesters claim that the continual use of fossil fuels is impacting the health of everyone, threatening to reverse the gains made by medicine and good medical practice over half a century.

The committee said at the time that it would investigate the suggestion to disinvest in some funds or areas of investment and has made some changes to its investment strategy, although protestors say this falls far short of disinvesting in carbon funds.

The protesters, among them the Churches Together in Dorset group, say fund managers are not moving quickly enough and will also be writing to persuade the councillors who oversee the fund to agree to changes.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion said: “Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to air pollution, which kills seven million people every year according to the World Health Organisation.  This is similar to the number of deaths caused by tobacco each year”.

The last protest at Dorset Council was held in March, just before lockdown.

The protesters claim that about seven per cent of the Dorset Council pension ‘pot’ is currently invested in fossil fuel companies, with a value of around £140million, or £3,000 each for the of the fund’s 47,000 members of the scheme, either paying into the fund or receiving their pension.

Dorset Council Pension Fund is managed by Brunel Pension Partnership.

Including Dorset Council there are nine local authorities across the South West plus the Environment Agency in the partnership. Collectively Brunel manages around £30billion of investment on behalf of these pension funds.

Individual members from across the local authorities in the Brunel partnership have now come together to form the non-affiliated campaign group South West Action on Pensions (SWAP).

The group is calling on Brunel Pension Partnership and the Local Authority stakeholders to end investments in fossil fuels and environmentally damaging carbon-intensive industries, and invest in 'green' projects instead.

The Dorchester protest was timed to coincide with others being held across the South West.

Said Mike Tunbridge from SWAP: “Managing pension funds is a risky business.  In recognising that the partner authorities they work for have declared climate and ecological emergencies, Brunel has launched its own Climate Change Policy.  As a personal member of the scheme it’s good to know they consider climate change is an issue, and have instructed their asset managers to reduce climate change exposures.  But their policy does not go far enough, they seem to downplay the severity of the emergency and are reluctant to divest from fossil fuels.

“According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis Divestment Brief (February 2019), the powerful fossil fuel industry is in decline with lagging stock market performance, fewer institutional investors, depressed profits and a weak outlook.  Covid-19 has exposed this fragility even further.  Now is the time to stop all investment in such industries.  Now is the time to look forward to new industries that create a carbon neutral future”.

The protesters say one council, Shropshire, has already made the historic decision to call on its pension fund to divest from fossil fuels by 2023.  Their pension committee are now working on the detail of achieving this.

“Shropshire has shown real leadership, they’ve shown it can be done when enough people speak up, ask for change and the Council vote. SWAP supporters want Dorset and South West region to be next. If enough of us in Dorset speak up, we could be next.”