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Baillie Gifford should divest from Russian firms, says Scottish Parliament

The trustees of the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme (SPPS) have written to Baillie Gifford, the firm that manages the fund, asking that it divest from a bank sanctioned following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The move followed a report by The Ferret revealing that the pension fund for Scotland’s MSPs has holdings in a Russian bank called Sberbank which are worth £299,571.

Sberbank — listed on the London stock exchange — is Russia’s biggest financial institution. 

Following Vladimir Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine, Britain and the US sanctioned Sberbank, amid global calls for punitive economic sanctions on Russia.

The SPPS — the pension fund for MSPs — was set up at the same time as the Scottish Parliament in 1999. It is run by Baillie Gifford, an investment manager headquartered in Edinburgh.

We recognise that the SPCB cannot direct the Trustees in exercising its fiduciary duties on behalf of scheme members, but given the seriousness of the threat against our European neighbours, I am certain that all Members, past and present, will be supportive of such representations to Baillie Gifford.

Alison Johnstone MSP

Both the Scottish Lib-Dems and Scottish Greens called on the MSP fund to pull out of its Sberbank investment.

Pauline McNeill MSP — the chair of the fund’s trustees — has now written to Baillie Gifford. She wrote: “With the horrifying situation unfolding in Ukraine, the fund trustees are deeply concerned that the Baillie Gifford’s Managed Pension Fund has holdings in the state-owned Russian bank Sberbank.  

“I recognise entirely the SPPS is one of many investors in the Managed Pension Fund, and as a pooled fund, we the Trustees cannot direct individual investments. I am nevertheless writing to you in the strongest possible terms to request that Baillie Gifford divest immediately from Sberbank and all other Russian companies. 

Baillie
Prague, Czech Republic – March 20, 2013: Sign of a new opened flagship branch of Sberbank in Prague, Czech Republic. Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, started operations in Europe.

McNeill continued: “Similarly, I would ask that any such holdings in our other investment vehicles, the Diversified Growth Fund and Global Stewardship Fund, be divested as a matter of urgency. The appalling events in Ukraine make it incumbent upon all of us to stand against aggression and unlawful military action in any way we can. Exerting economic pressure upon Russian financial institutions by divesting our pension holdings is an important step.”

McNeill wrote to Baillie Gifford after an intervention by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which called for the “immediate divestment” of all Russian holdings. In a letter to McNeill, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alison Johnstone MSP, said: “As you will be aware, there is significant concern amongst Members over reports that the SPPS’s Managed Pension Fund has holdings in the state-owned Russian bank, Sberbank. 

“In light of the invasion by Russia of Ukraine, the SPCB collectively urges the Trustees to make representations to Baillie Gifford for the immediate divestment of all Russian holdings within the fund, and from any other fund in which member pension contributions are invested.

“We recognise that the SPCB cannot direct the Trustees in exercising its fiduciary duties on behalf of scheme members, but given the seriousness of the threat against our European neighbours, I am certain that all Members, past and present, will be supportive of such representations to Baillie Gifford.”

Baillie Gifford has been asked to comment.

Sberbank said its Russian retail and corporate customers would not be significantly affected by new UK sanctions and would examine the restrictions imposed when documents are made public.

Baillie Gifford did not respond to our request for a comment.

Photo Credit: iStock/Wrangle/Jax10289

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