Posts Tagged 'Islington Now'

‘Making money out of murder’

Islington Council has been accused of profiting from “murder” after an investigation by Islington Now revealed that the authority has nearly £5m invested in companies dealing in the arms trade.

The deadly weaponry on this tank was made by a subsidiary of BAE Systems

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that at the end of last year the council’s pension fund held £4.9m of shares with seven key players in the defence industry.

More than a third of the investments (£1.92m) is in BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defence firm. The company has been at the centre of controversy in recent weeks for producing parts of the F-16 fighter planes used to bomb the Gaza strip and cluster bombs recently outlawed under the International Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Campaign groups branded the figures “shocking”. Michael Johnson, who works with Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), said: “It’s not just that these companies make weapons. They make money out of murder – and so does the council.

“There’s been a major outcry against the bombings in Gaza. BAE trades with Israel and Gaza, they have offices there. Where is the action that says: ‘We’re not going to profit from the murder of Palestinians?’”

Local politician Jon Notts, a former Green Party parliamentary candidate for Islington North, insisted it was unacceptable for public bodies to invest in an industry that supported unethical powers abroad.

He said: “The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to the arms trade and the sale of weapons to oppressive regimes. We are against central or local government investing in this sector in any capacity.”

The council’s pension fund, which represents more than 5,000 members of staff and former employees, states that it aims “to promote corporate and social responsibility” in its investment strategy.

An F-16 fighter similar to those used in Israel's bombardment of Gaza and designed by BAE

But the local authority has claimed that its greatest responsibility is to its investors. 

A council spokesman said: “Islington’s pension fund is regulated by law. The council, acting as a trustee of the pension fund, is legally bound to get the best return on investments and reduce the burden on council tax payers. This is the case for all local government pension schemes across the country. 

“We continually review our policies on socially-responsible investment.”

But campaigners argue that ethical investment funds have matched the FTSE 100 over recent years and can actually outperform other investments over long periods. 

The revelation comes in the wake of a growing trend in public bodies towards more ethical investment policies. In 2006, a report by the CAAT found that 45 universities held more than £15m in companies involved in the arms trade.

Since then, many of them have bowed to pressure from students and campaign groups to withdraw their investments, including SOAS, Goldsmiths, the University of Manchester, University of Wales, Bangor and St Andrews, as well as the previous biggest investor, University College London.

The total value of the council’s pensions fund at the end of last year was around £560m, meaning that arms investments amount to less than one per cent of the total. CAAT argues that this is all the more reason to withdraw them.

Mr Johnson, 29, said: “It’s such a tiny proportion of the overall investment that selling the shares isn’t actually going to prejudice the overall fund’s value. It’s going to make more difference to BAE in terms of their reputation and how other funds view holding their investment than it’s going to make to Islington.”

But Unite, the largest trade union in Islington which represents many of those with investments in Islington’s pension fund, refused to condemn the council. A spokesman said: “We don’t have a position on the matter.”

For more information visit: www.islingtonnow.co.uk

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Job Centre blues

The Job Centre on Barnsbury Road presents a bleak prospect. Inside the packed reception, an air of resigned despair clouds the room that no amount of neon lighting or brightly-coloured wall designs can dispel.

Set back on a small side street off the Barnsbury Road, the Barnsbury Job Centre Plus stands like a testament to ‘Broken Britain’; outside, teenagers in hoods skulk around, smoking and shouting. Ironically, cutbacks forced the other Job Centre on Upper Street to close last year. PD*26001897

Islington has been hit hard by the downturn in the job market. Job Centre figures show that there were nearly 1,500 redundancies in the borough at the end of last year – 20 per cent of the London total. The number of vacancies on offer is at its lowest level since records began in 2001, according to the Office of National Statistics, offering the unemployed little hope for the future.

Ben White, 32, from Barnsbury, used to work as a manager in a local accountancy firm. Six weeks ago he was made redundant due to severe cutbacks and he has been unable to find a suitable job since. He stares at the floor, sucking hard on his cigarette. “There’s just nothing decent out there,” he says adamantly.

“I used to make a good salary and enjoy my job. In there [the Job Centre] there’s nothing but shit.”

A trawl of the Job Centre computer system confirms his claim. Of the 2,957 jobs advertised in the local area, the majority offer between £7 and £9 an hour and at least a third bear the grim maxim “exceeds the national minimum wage”, the legal pay requirement of £5.73 an hour for workers aged over 22. Even these vacancies at the bottom of the pay scale require extensive expertise.

An advertisement for a council PA not only demands that the applicant “MUST have relevant experience in the public sector”, but also shorthand, advanced IT skills and audio typing. Another for a Construction Design Manager, which promises to pay only “above the minimum wage”, requires a degree in engineering or equivalent, a mandatory four years at university.

At the higher end of the scale, there were a few vacancies for plumbers and electricians, although the hourly wages on offer were between £10 and £15 an hour, a tenth of the £100 plus an hour wages offered a year ago. The future looks bleak, even for those with essential skills. Unemployment in Islington rose by 0.5 per cent above the national average at the end of last year to 6.6 per cent, aggravating an area already divided by wealth.

Bridget Fox, a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, warns that this trend could have long-term effects. “One of the biggest challenges is the growing social exclusion of some young people,” she says. “The longer they stay out of work, the less suited to and able to cope with work/hold down a job they may become.”

For more details, visit: www.islingtonnow.co.uk


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