Saturday, 21 March 2015

Smoking gun for new health alliance?

EXCLUSIVE - Doug Collie reports

One of the members of a new Borders partnership which will be responsible for promoting public health, including quit smoking sessions, has had a sizable sum invested in global cigarette manufacturers British American Tobacco for many years.

The Scottish Borders Health & Social Care Integration Joint Board is being formed by Scottish Borders Council and NHS Borders, and is due to ‘go live’ on April 1 although services currently delivered by the two public bodies will not be delegated until a so-called strategic plan is agreed by April 2016 at the latest.

This latest layer of bureaucracy is a result of the Scottish Government’s Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 which requires health boards and local authorities to integrate planning for, and delivery of, certain adult health and social care services. Each integration scheme must be submitted to Scottish Ministers for approval.

The two Borders organisations already have a joint Director of Public Health while the local integration board has appointed a chief officer, the post having been advertised with an annual salary of between £74,296 and £100,255. The board will also have a chief financial officer, and is currently advertising for a communities and engagement officer for health and social care integration who can expect to earn between £26,000 and £28,000 annually.

Scottish Borders Council’s Public Health web page sets out the various initiatives across the region “to improve health and reduce health inequalities”. Included in a list of services is the statement: “We offer stop smoking clinics to help people quit smoking”.

The message was reinforced in the NHS Borders Quit for Good statement, issued in September last year.

It begins: “NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council Joint Health Improvement Team are looking to encourage smokers to stop smoking for good by using NHS Borders Quit4Good service.” The statement promises that the support being offered will be consistent and ongoing.

But the council’s involvement in the stop smoking initiative appears to be at odds with the investment strategy of its own staff pension fund, which was worth £486 million in March 2014, according to the latest published accounts.

The fund’s value increased by £40 million from the previous financial year and included £5.2 million in investment income. It currently has 9,500 members including 2,898 pensioners who are either employed by or worked for SBC and eleven other organisations, among them housing associations, sport and leisure trusts and colleges.

The accounts for 2013/14 list the top 20 direct equity holdings of the Fund. They include £4.3 million lodged with Prudential Assurance, £3.6 million invested in Google and £2.7 million with Royal Caribbean Cruises. The seventh highest equity holding is shown as £2.3 million invested in British American Tobacco (BAT).
Ten years ago the fund’s accounts for 2005 show investment in tobacco companies at that time was split between global rivals BAT (£1.344 million) and Philip Morris (£1.2 million).
But by 2008 the stake in BAT had increased to £2.326 million with no mention of Philip Morris on the list of equities.

A council statement of investment principles relating to socially responsible investments declares: “The Pension Fund Sub-Committee is of the view that its prime responsibility is to maximise the returns on its investment for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the Pension Fund. It is aware that should it fulfil this responsibility then the financial contributions required of employers will be minimised.

“The Sub-Committee will hence place no restrictions on its investment managers when choosing individual investments in companies in either the UK or overseas markets. It will furthermore not place any particular responsibility upon its managers to engage in discussions with companies on non-financial matters”.

Statistics compiled by the Scottish Public Health Observatory for their Smoking Ready Reckoner – 2011 Edition showed 239 Borders deaths during 2009 were attributable to smoking, and an estimated 19% of the population were smokers at that time. Tobacco was also said to have been responsible for 1,229 hospital admissions, and costs to the local health services associated with smoking were between £6.1 million and £9.5 million, based on two separate methods of calculation.

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