Wealden and County Hall look to turn off the taps to Russian gas

Olympian Louis Smith

The local authority, which looks after towns such as Crowborough, Lewes and Uckfield in East Sussex, uses Russian gas supplier Gazprom for some if its social housing stock.

According to data seen by the Times, WDC currently has three contracts with the Russian gas giant, totalling £432,000 that it uses to supply energy to 12 retirement complexes.

Wealden District Council Chief Executive Trevor Scott said: “Our legal and procurement teams are currently looking into the issue and we are seeking advice and support from the Local Government Association.

“The council is one of a number of local authorities which receives services through contracts with Gazprom. It is public record that WDC has three contracts with Gazprom running until 2024 relating to retirement living complexes across the Wealden district.

“At the time of procurement, Gazprom put forward the best case to supply services in accordance with the legal obligation on local authorities to obtain best value.”

Council Leader Bob Standley added: “The council utterly condemns the Russian invasion of the independent sovereign country of Ukraine and gives our support to Ukrainian citizens.

“We are seeking advice from the Local Government Association and government on how we can cancel the contract with Gazprom and seek alternative gas supplies to our sheltered homes.

“We are also examining whether there are any other contracts with Russian controlled companies and will take similar action to terminate those arrangements.”

While no other borough or district authority in the South East has connections to Russian energy companies, Kent County Council (KCC) does.

KCC Leader Roger Gough said he has now ordered County Hall to cut ties with Gazprom and is freezing any new transactions linked to Russia.

He also admitted that the authority also has around £20million of its pension fund invested in Russian assets.

Cllr Gough said: “We have also taken a range of pragmatic and practical steps including urgently reviewing the County Council’s commissioning activity, and our own supply chain and that of our companies, to ensure that there is no exposure to Russian interests that could in any way help finance President Putin’s regime and its aggressive policies.

“In the very few cases where activity involving Russian interest, for example in the energy market, has been identified, all new transactions have been stopped.”

He said while the Council’s pension fund did have links to Russian assets it represented less than 0.3 per cent.

The fund is believed to be worth around £6.6billion so KCC’s exposure to Russian assets is currently around £19.8million.

Cllr Gough said: “I have been liaising closely with the Kent Pension Fund Committee Chairman who has advised that the fund’s exposure to Russian assets is very limited at 0.3 per cent of the total fund.

“KCC via its treasury management investments also has a very small Russian exposure of 0.03 per cent of total investments. Officers are in active dialogue with fund managers regarding decreasing our Russian exposures wherever possible.”

It is not the first time County Hall has found its investments at risk.

In 2008, the authority lost £50million when the Icelandic banks it invested in collapsed – it later clawed some of the money back through the courts.

And in 2019, KCC lost around £60million after it had invested more than £260million of its pension fund into the now defunct Woodford Equity Income Fund.

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