Oxfordshire Fossil Free was the first fossil free local government campaign to start up in the UK, and has gone from strength to strength. Having started with the Oxford City Council and secured a win, the group are now working on the Oxfordshire Pension Fund.
You can find a presentation of their strategy here.
Fossil Free Oxfordshire is the longest-standing UK local authority divestment campaign, and it targets two very different councils, politically and economically. The City Council is Labour-led and relatively progressive, but has little by way of investments. The County Council is Conservative-led, and manages the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) which has an estimated £50m invested directly in fossil fuel companies.
We have employed a variety of tactics in the campaign, working in our public-facing activities with the other very active local divestment campaigns. In 2014 we worked with the Oxford University campaign to organise a march and rally which drew hundreds of people to listen to brilliant speakers from academia, the church, a trades union leader, a doctor and a grandparent. We celebrated Global Divestment Day in February this year, again with the University and Church campaigners.
We’ve been active on the “inside track” tactics too, to fathom the official structures and processes of the local authorities, as well as identifying the decision-makers, the influencers and the levers of power
Currently we have a core team of about 5, although it is set to expand soon. The team has had a good deal of continuity through its core members with a fluid group of people who have contributed in particular ways along the way. Crucially, it includes a Trades Union leader and members of the LGPS, and we have input when we need it from councillors and people with other key expertise.
Oxford City Council
Oxford City Council was the first UK local authority to make a divestment commitment.
Fossil Free Oxfordshire first approached the Oxford City Council Finance Panel in February 2014, asking them to put fossil fuel divestment on their agenda. In response, the Finance Panel devised an ethical investment policy, which recognises the need to divest from companies involved in the extraction and refinement of fossil fuels.
At a meeting of the full Council on July 14, 2014, a motion proposed by Green Party Councillor Craig Simmons was passed. It proposed the introduction of the Finance Panel’s ethical investment policy into the Council’s treasury management strategy. The final motion, as amended by Labour Councillors, stops short of moving indirect investments. Still, it is a clear statement from the Council that the industry’s business model and its cynical efforts to block action on climate change are unethical and not to be supported. At the same meeting, the Council endorsed the Leader of the Council’s call to the Oxfordshire County Council pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.
Oxfordshire County Council
We are currently targeting Oxfordshire County Council’s pension fund and our engagement with them is ongoing. We have addressed meetings of the Pension Fund Committee, the full council and the cabinet when we handed in a petition with 1,200 signatures. Most recently, in June 2015, we addressed the Pension Fund Committee and at this meeting the effects of two years’ campaigning, locally and globally, for divestment from fossil fuels finally became visible. The debate during the meeting hinted that we may be at a turning point in our engagement with the Council.
Following our petition hand-in of over 1200 signatures in February, we pushed for the issue of divestment to be considered by the Pension Fund Committee, and accordingly the agenda for this meeting included a 5 minute address (you can read the text of it here) by a member of the campaign team who is also an LGPS member, and a subsequent item on “Corporate Governance and Socially Responsible Investment,” based on a paper from the County Council’s Chief Finance Officer (CFO).
The focus of our current efforts are to continue engagement with the CFO and the pension fund committee, as well as to engage the support of LGPS members and employers. On the back burner for now, but not indefinitely, are plans to gently and non-violently escalate our pressure on the Council to take action.
By Al Chisholm (Oxfordshire campaigner)