New figures have revealed Essex County Council invests £220 million of its pension fund into fossil fuel companies.

The Essex Pension Fund covers 148,000 people and includes employees at councils, school, colleges, universities and the fire and rescue service.

The data was released today following a number of freedom of information requests by Platform, a charity focusing on the social, economic and environmental impacts of the oil industry.

It shows the multi million pound investment represents 3.66 per cent of its entire pension fund.

Investments include £5,951,160 to Tata Power Company Ltd; £3,391,680 to Oil Search Ltd; £1,733,103 to Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and £1,262,056 to BP.

But county councillor Sue Barker, chairman of the Essex Pension Fund, said only a small percentage is invested in to fossil fuel companies.

She said: “The Essex Pension Fund’s investment in coal, oil or gas companies is a very small percentage – just 3.66 per cent - of its overall value.

“We also invest in renewables, as part of a balanced approach to portfolio management which does not restrict fund managers from choosing certain stocks.

"This contributes to a diverse range of investments which are regularly monitored and ensures sufficient funds are available to pay pensions.”

The charity Platform said compared to 2015 data, investments in fossil fuels by councils nationally have gone up in real terms from £14 billion.

It also said councils had not made significant changes to their investments in response to calls to take climate risk into account, following the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Platform campaigner Sarah Shoraka said: “Local councils are gambling with our future.

"By continuing to heavily invest in companies like BP and Shell, local authorities are risking the future of our pensions and our climate.

"Council pension funds have an opportunity to invest instead in things communities really need: affordable housing, public transport, and publicly owned renewable energy.

"Councils must divest to secure pensions and invest in our future.”

However several pension funds in the local government scheme have already committed to cutting their fossil fuel investments, these include the Environment Agency Pension Fund, Haringey, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Southwark and South Yorkshire.

In June, UNISON, the largest trade union representing local government workers, passed policy to seek divestment of local government pension schemes from fossil fuels over five years.

Its conference motion passed earlier this year said: “By divesting the £14 billion invested in fossil fuels, local councils can take an important step forwards in challenging climate change.

"Reinvesting this money into renewables, housing and public transport is a feasible and sensible strategy for providing a long term return and building safe pensions for public sector workers.”