COUNCILLORS are benefiting from a pension fund with millions of pounds invested in fossil fuels, The Argus can exclusively reveal.

The East Sussex Pension Fund, which provides retirement income for all East Sussex councils including Brighton and Hove City Council, has more than £8 million invested in oil and natural gas companies.

The fund owns £7.2 million worth of stock in ExxonMobil and more than £900,000 is invested in shares of American petrochemical firm Phillips 66.

It is run by managers appointed by East Sussex County Council’s pensions committee.

ExxonMobil was responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history.

Councillors and council staff across Sussex, as well as staff at the University of Brighton and dozens of schools and colleges, benefit from the fund.

Almost 75,000 workers around Sussex pay into the scheme.

You can view a list of the organisations who pay into the fund here.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said the fund was “up to its eyeballs in unethical investments”.

The Green Party MP said: “There’s growing evidence of the financial risks of investment in fossil fuels and sound economic reasons to divest, as well as ethical ones.

“The degree to which the fund is up to its eyeballs in unethical investments is deeply worrying.

“I hope that Brighton and Hove City Council will repeat its previous demand that pensions are not used to prop up the oil, gas and other companies recklessly ignoring climate science.”

In 2017, the city council voted to end the fund’s investments in fossil fuels. Two years ago the fund had more than £2 million in company stock, but now it holds investments worth £7.2 million.

Since then the city council has declared a climate emergency and pledged to make Brighton and Hove carbon neutral by 2030.

Fossil fuels are considered “dirty” because they produce more carbon dioxide, believed to contribute to global warming, unlike so called “clean energy” produced by wind turbines and solar panels.

Brighton Green Party leader Phelim Mac Cafferty said the oil investments were “wholly unacceptable”.

The councillor said: “Divestment from fossil fuels is a powerful and important step towards halting climate change. Yet in the four years since the Paris Accord [a UN agreement on climate change] the percentage of councils with investment funds in fossil fuels has not significantly changed.

“This isn’t engagement, it’s a wholly unacceptable investment in the very companies worsening the global climate crisis.”

Documents exclusively seen by The Argus also show East Sussex County Council’s fund has investments in companies which make products for oil and natural gas production. More than £11 million is invested in Dow Inc, DowDupont and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, all of which produce oil and gas products.

Labour city council leader Nancy Platts declined to comment when asked whether she thought these investments went against her party’s election manifesto.

Ahead of May’s city council elections, Brighton Labour Party’s manifesto pledged to “oppose fracking”. But the East Sussex Pension Fund has more than £8 million invested in Dow Inc and DowDupont, which both manufacture fracking equipment.

Councillor Anne Pissaridou, Labour chairwoman of the city council’s environment committee, said her party had “made clear” its commitment to tackling climate change.

She said: “As a member of the East Sussex Pension Board, we will continue to use our influence to lobby for investment in companies that support environmentally friendly agendas and eliminate reliance on those that put profit before the planet.”

Environmental campaign group Brighton Extinction Rebellion described the pension fund’s fossil fuel investments as “a truly shocking revelation”.

It said: “This is especially infuriating in light of Brighton and Hove City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency. When David Attenborough is warning that the collapse of civilisation is on the horizon and thousands of UN-backed scientists are telling us we have about a decade at most to address climate breakdown, it is an urgent imperative that all public institutions divest from fossil fuels.”

East Sussex County Council said: “Money from the fund is invested in areas which generate the best return with consideration for the level of risk every investment poses.

“The Pension Fund’s Investment Strategy Statement states how the fund manages its risks. The Pension Fund’s investments need to deliver a sufficient return in the long-term to ensure that funds are available to meet the promised retirement benefits for its 74,965 members.”

West Sussex County Council is not involved in the scheme but refused to provide details of its own pension investments when asked under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Argus has appealed this decision and it is currently under review.