Local Liberal Democrats are celebrating after councillors approved a motion proposing a rethink of Waltham Forest Council’s ethical investment and procurement policies.
As part of the resolution, Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Macklin asked officers to carry out a full evaluation of current guidelines and report back to councillors, highlighting both possible areas of concern and potential opportunities for improvement “in order that practices can be revised to reflect our desire to achieve the highest possible standards in these areas.”
The issue of the Council’s ethical investment protocols came to light in October last year when it was revealed – after a Freedom of Information request by local Green Party members – that portions of the employees pension fund had been invested in companies with links to the military regime in Burma. The Council, however, revealed that it was bound by a legal obligation to maximise the return to the pension fund through its investments.
Cllr Macklin immediately expressed his alarm at the revelations, promising in a letter to the Waltham Forest Guardian that he would “push the Treasury to get rid of the financial shackles placed on local government in this area”.
He told residents that the Liberal Democrats had long called for the removal of the legal ties that stopped public bodies making socially responsible investments
During the debate in the Council chamber, the Liberal Democrat leader told councillors that “socially responsible ethical investment is an idea whose time has come.”
Cllr Macklin continued:
“Legal obligations do exist that place restrictions on the Council with regards to our financial investments. However residents must be confident that their Council is diligent in ensuring that it meets its ethical obligations to the best of its abilities whilst also supporting calls for the loosening of the ties placed on local government.
“I want officers to carry out a full evaluation of our current guidelines and report back to councillors, highlighting both possible areas of concern and potential opportunities for improvement in order that practices can be revised to reflect our desire to achieve the highest possible standards in these areas.
“This evaluation and possible revision of existing guidelines will enable Waltham Forest Council to reaffirm its commitment to the adoption of the most appropriate ethically responsible practices and to ensure that all Council partners are fully aware of the standards which we expect on behalf of our residents.
The motion was passed unanimously by councillors from all sides despite Tory Leader Cllr Matt Davis’ defence of the investment in Burma. He claimed last year that such a policy of ethical investment would result in the Council only being able to put its money into “tofu companies”.