This sounds like a bit of a joke, but it isn’t.
The Independent reports this morning that local councils, public bodies and even student unions are to be banned by law from boycotting “unethical” companies, as part of a controversial crackdown being announced by the Government.
Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank
A publicly funded institution could also include a charities.
So, under this proposed law a charity campaigning against the arms trade or for the environment could be banned from refusing to work with arms or oil companies.
As a Labour spokesperson points out:
This Government’s ban would have outlawed council action against apartheid South Africa.
Some also say the plan would be unworkable since local councils don’t always directly control their pension funds. Paul Cotterill on Twitter:
Tory plan is to amend Local Govt Pension Scheme Regs 2009, but councils do not (generally) run their own pension funds.
That is, there are 90 regional pension funds, so it would be legally impossible to sanction LAs for decision they don’t make.
The government claims that boycotts of specific countries (such as Israel) could breach trade agreements and “weaken community relationships”.
Here’s some background info. Recently, Osborne announced he planned to “take effective control of the nation’s local government pension schemes” to direct them to invest in his pet infrastructure projects. The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) money comes directly from contributions of employees and employers, not taxpayers, and covers the pensions for five million Britons.
But, EU law forbids this. As UNISON pointed out to us, EU IORP [Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision] says that governments cannot tell pensions what to invest in. So Osborne’s plan isn’t even legally sound.
The government is already stopping MPs from finding out where their pension money is spent. Now it wants to do the same for other pension funds.
That still doesn’t explain why any body that gets public money has to follow the government’s line however.
So much for the Tory committment to localism, devolution or even free speech.