The ‘greenest hospital in Britain’ appoints charity adviser with investments in some of world’s biggest polluters
Campaigners have criticised the appointment by a hospital that has described itself as the greenest in Britain of a charity adviser with investments in some of the world’s biggest polluters.
Velindre University NHS Trust recently chose the company Abrdn as its charity fund adviser, but the Scottish investigative news website The Ferret revealed how “Abrdn’s shares in polluters has caused millions of tons of climate emissions”.
It stated: “Asset manager Abrdn has stakes in some of the world’s biggest polluters including the oil multinationals Shell and BP, German coal firm RWE and global mining companies Glencore and Rio Tinto. Abrdn’s investments in the 20 highest polluting companies in its portfolio resulted in the equivalent of 4.8m tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere in 2022.”
Earlier, however, a press release issued by Velindre said: “Velindre University NHS Trust is underpinning its plans for a new cancer centre in Cardiff with a list of commitments aiming to make it the ‘greenest hospital in Britain.’”
On the back of The Ferret’s revelations, Cardiff’s Save The Northern Meadows Campaign – which opposes the building of a new Velindre Cancer Centre on a well-loved green space – has accused hospital managers of “being in the grip of greenwashing and tokenism”.
As well as being appointed Velindre’s charity adviser, Abrdn is also one of the main investors in the £725m contract to build the new cancer centre.
In September 2023, Velindre Trust’s own Charitable Funds Committee raised a possible conflict of interest in Abrdn‘s appointment as their charity fund advisor, while being a key funder. When the committee sought reassurance on this issue, it was told that Abrdn had been “through a competitive tender process to become investment managers, and then subsequently discovered they are also one of the investors funding the new cancer centre.”
Velindre’s previous charity investment advisor, Brewin Dolphin, had already provided a reminder of the Trust’s commitment to a distinctly ethical investment, highlighting the rules embraced by Velindre Trustees: “Companies whose trade is inconsistent with the aims of the Velindre NHS Trust include those who derive a significant portion of their income from gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and armament activities… And there are further restrictions on… fossil fuels companies.’
Brewin Dolphin also stated in December 2022 that the Velindre Trustees had explicitly excluded such investments in the choice of portfolio.
A spokesperson for Save the Northern Meadows said: “Is Abrdn‘s role at Velindre Trust now at odds with these rules? Furthermore, a study of shareholdings up to 2020 found Standard Life Aberdeen (now rebranded as Abrdn) ‘owned or managed shares worth over £1.5bn in 20 of the world’s top 28 nuclear weapons producers in that period. It was urged to stop investing in weapons of mass destruction.’
“A particularly pressing question is whether Velindre Trust has signed up only to an Abrdn bond with the same restrictions as before, including the ruling out of nuclear armaments, in line with the Trust’s commitments. Also, minutes of a sub-committee show a new focus by the Trust on changing from a low risk to a medium risk portfolio to gain better returns. This was to ensure that a 4% profit was standard (the ‘benchmark’). So did this involve any change in the ethical restrictions?
“We are increasingly concerned regarding Velindre Trust’s disregard of the public’s love of green spaces and their environmental concerns, together with its easily disproved claim to be building ‘the greenest hospital in Britain’.
‘With the Full Business Case for New Velindre not even approved yet by the Velindre Trust Board, now is the time for the Welsh Government to step back from the brink and recognise that colocation of new Velindre with the University Hospital of Wales is the best way forward, not only environmentally, but also ethically, clinically and financially.
“Excellent new developments are taking place in cancer care in south east Wales, with the building of a new radiotherapy treatment centre at Nevill Hall Hospital and the increase in chemotherapy treatment being given at hospitals such as Prince Charles Hospital and Nevill Hall Hospital.
“Calm heads in the Welsh Government should now prevail and resist Velindre Trust’s misplaced pressure for New Velindre to be built as a matter of urgency. Health Minister Eluned Morgan, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans and the First Minister Mark Drakeford now have the time to listen to people’s environmental concerns. They can also now pay heed to the 200 cancer care specialists who have told them that building New Velindre as a standalone cancer centre would be a huge mistake and bad for patients.”
A spokesman for Velindre University NHS Trust responded: “The successful appointment of our new charity fund advisor underwent a thorough and rigorous process, all in line with the Trust’s governance standards. This included confirmation that there was no conflict of interest. Abrdn are one of three investors of the new Velindre Cancer Centre and part of the Acorn Consortium. The Acorn Consortium is our partner in developing the new Velindre Cancer Centre.
“Following advice from both the previous and new investment advisors, alongside a financial review as part of Abrdn’s on boarding, the investment risk portfolio was assessed while maintaining its ethical restrictions clearly reflected in the Trust’s investment policy.
“Developing our new Velindre Cancer Centre in the most sustainable way possible and mitigating our impact on the environment has always been, and continues to be, a key priority at every stage. This is reflected in several key commitments including retaining 60% of the development site as landscape with a 40% built footprint, and the off-site habitat works to support and enhance wildlife in the area. Developing the new Velindre Cancer Centre is vital in safeguarding the provision of crucial cancer services over the coming decades and allows us to keep pace with increasing demand as the number of people referred to us with cancer grows every year.”
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