Thursday, 24 March 2016

Round Four! Avon Pension Fund Committee Meeting, 18th March 2016

Clockwise from top: me (Jack), Simon, Dave, Holly. Elaine and Richard, feeling jubilant outside the Guildhall, after delivering our statements to the committee

Last Friday we attended our fourth Avon Pension Fund (APF) Committee Meeting. We weren’t available to attend the last meeting in December as many of us were in Paris, protesting against the lack of any binding emissions reduction targets throughout the 21 years of the UN’s “Conference of Parties” Summits.
At committee meetings, the public are allowed to speak, “make their views known” and present petitions.  All you have to do is let them know that you want to do so a minimum of 2 days prior to the event.  So we did!  It really is that simple!  One email to the committee clerk and then you can have your pop at attempting to influence the decisions of those in charge of the millions of pounds that belong to the pension fund's members.  Richard, Elaine and Holly planned to attend the meeting and give a joint statement from the Fossil Free Bristol group.  Holly wrote the bulk of our statement and put it up to the rest of the team to make amendments, of which there were only a few. Unfortunately I couldn’t go as I had to work…but then at the last minute my work was cancelled and I could attend!
So I went to meet Richard, Elaine and Holly at the cafĂ© at Bristol Temple Meads station. I’m a bit of a newbie and this was the first time I’d met Richard and Elaine in person, so we did the usual introductions.  Everyone was very welcoming and appreciative of the time taken to come to the meeting.  Richard had already split the statement into 3 sections so that everyone had a part to deliver, so that left me with no option to speak (fine by me!!).  However, Richard then had the idea that he could give his part to me. As I was a fresh face, he thought that it would be good for the committee to see me speak as it would suggest that there is a larger group of concerned people.  So suddenly I went from not going, to delivering the opening paragraphs of our statement to the whole APF committee!  I wasn’t too scared by this prospect as I’ve spoken in public a few nerve-racking times before but…it is still nerve-racking.
Then we hop on the train to Bath and head over to the Guild Hall.  I’d never been before. It’s in the grand council chamber…blimey…I felt like I was about to speak in what appeared to be a mixture between a court room and the House of Lords!  Red marble pillars, gold framed paintings of people presumably long-dead, red velvet adorned cushions on dark wooden benches.  The chair and his two cronies (the clerk and someone else) were seated at the front on a wide wooden podium.  
Some members of Fossil Free B&NES (Bath & North East Somerset) were also present, so we had a quick chat with them before we had to be seated at one of the elaborate church pews towards the back of the room.  The committee sat on both sides of the room, facing inwards and the investment managers sat behind them with various graphs and data sets in front of them.  We were told that when we were asked to speak, we should walk over to a long table in the centre of the room and sit at the head of it so that we are facing the chair and with the committee on either side of us.
Before we sat down we grabbed a cup of tea and Richard and Holly chatted to Tony Bartlett (one of the investment managers of the fund). They found out that the Responsible Investment policy review, which we had been told that they were doing back in September last year, has not even been started yet!  We had hoped they would have nearly finished it by now, and so we were planning to present our petition at this meeting. We sat down and after a quick discussion, decided that we should delay handing in the petition, aim to get more signatures, and deliver it at a future meeting.
Then the committee meeting began.  The chair first called Lin Patterson from Fossil Free B&NES, who is also a local Councillor on B&NES council. She gave a very emotive statement about the moral importance of divestment; also calling on the committee's spiritual side.
Then we were up; the chair called my name, so I went and sat in the hot seat and turned on the microphone.  My section mentioned the COP21’s commitment to staying within 2 degrees Celsius warming and the fact that fossil fuel shares are in a bubble as their price is based on them burning ALL of their reserves, which they simply cannot do.  In the event when it is finally decided that no more fossil fuels will be burned, the shares will plummet and thus this makes the investments economically nonviable.
I was nervous but I tried to deliver the statement in the most vocally interesting way (not monotone) and I attempted to maintain a bit of eye contact.  This worked until I glanced back down at my sheet and I mis-read the sentence “Your members’ savings are at risk if you do not divest from fossil fuels”. Instead I stated “Your members’ savings are at risk”. Then I paused…I looked back down and read “If you do not divest from fossil fuels…” as if it were the beginning to a new sentence.  It was said in such a way that it needed a second part – what will happen if they do not divest from fossil fuels? My brain panicked…I had not prepared to ad lib!  I end up just saying “Yeah…well…”  This got a giggle from the committee as it seemed like it was done for dramatic effect.  I continued with the final paragraph and I was done! Phew! Just about managed it!  Hopefully they thought it was all part of the plan…!
Holly read out the second part of our statement about recent divestment commitments from other institutions. She mentioned South Yorkshire Pension Fund's and Haringey Council Pension Committee's recent divestment commitments, and Haringey Council's commitment to explore investing in low carbon technologies. Holly spoke very confidently and with little use of her notes, maintaining good eye contact.
Last to speak from our group was Elaine who read out the section of our statement that spoke about our petition.  This section highlighted that it is not just a mere few that urge the fund to divest in fossil fuels, but there are in fact many fund members and citizens that share our concern.  Again I was very impressed with the standard of public speaking by our team! Elaine spoke clearly and confidently with little use of her notes, and it was really starting to feel like we were making a strong message.
After this David and Simon from Fossil Free B&NES gave very good statements emphasising the financial reasons to divest and the absurdity of B&NES council's recent investments in flood defences, when the pension fund is effectively funding the floods!
This was the end of all the fossil fuel divestment statements.  At this point Cherry Beath, a Liberal Democrat Councillor on the commitee, asked if she could comment on the statements that had just been delivered.  There was a bit of to and fro between the Chair and Cllr Beath but Ms Beath pushed for this and insisted that she merely wanted to make a short comment.  The Chair sought advice from one of his peers, which turned out to be that the decision would be left to the Chair.  The Chair granted Cherry permission to make a comment.
I thought she was going to make a negative statement about needing to do what is most profitable for the fund members, or following their investment managers’ advice.  However it turned out I was wrong and Cllr Beath was very supportive, stating that she personally agreed with everything that had been said!  The others knew all along that Cllr Beath's comment would be positive as she had showed support in a previous meeting. The Chair responded, saying "Yes, I'm sure everyone in the room agrees" and then he referred to the review of the RI policy, saying "we look forward to hearing the results of that next year, or later this year".
This filled me with positivity!  It felt like the group was really getting somewhere with its efforts!  It seems that the issue will be considered when the Responsible Investment policy review takes place…whether they sway to the side of planet saving logic or to the investment managers’ false logic of short term gains, who knows!  One cannot only hope…but also keep pestering them at meetings!!
Jack Lloyd, Fossil Free Bristol. (read our full statement here)

In Other News...

Tate Modern finally breaks ties with BP!

It’s a great day for the climate movement as news breaks that BP’s controversial sponsorship of the Tate Modern is set to end this year!
The victory comes after years of pressure from artists, gallery-goers and activists to drop the toxic brand, with some of the most beautiful and creative interventions in recent years from art collective Liberate Tate.
BPTate-1455The in-situ oil spills, ‘gift’ installations of giant turbine blades, overnight inscriptions of climate messages across the gallery floor, live climate-mark tattooing and many other interventions have been an inspiration to dissenters around the world.
The trademark black veil and composure gave a fresh perspective of arts and activism, and ensured that oil sponsorship of the arts has been a live debate, forced squarely and consistently onto Tate’s agenda...Read more...

The government is meddling with pensions.

In November 2015, the government announced it was opening a consultation on potential changes to the way local government pension schemes operate in England and Wales.
This consultation closed in February. You might’ve seen petitions circulating on social media about these proposals, as well as lots of news articles speculating on the possible implications for the divestment movement.
But what do the proposals actually say, and what could the impacts be on our campaign for fossil fuel divestment? Read about it here...
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When: Thursday 7th April, 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Where: Roll For the Soul community bike cafe, in the upstairs room. 2 Quay Street, Bristol, BS1 2JL.

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