Should UEA cut ties with Barclays?

UEA’s banking with Barclays and the Barclays branch on campus has been questioned due to Barclays funding over over £66.5 billion in funding for fossil fuel over the past three years.  

Barclays’ lease with UEA is set to expire on January 10, 2021. At the time of publication, Ian Callaghan, member of the Finance Committee as the Chief Resource Officer and University Secretary, has not responded for comment sent on July 23 asking when the decision regarding the renewal of Barclays’ lease will be taken. The Finance Committee’s meeting dates for the 2020/2021 academic year are not yet published.  

UEA has about £5 million banked with Barclays, according to Callaghan in email correspondence with Hannah Hoechner, a lecturer in the school of international development and a member of Extinction Rebellion (XR) UEA. This means, for example, that when office supplies are purchased on a credit card provided by UEA, those purchases are mostly through Barclays. According to the Executive Team’s response to questions submitted at the 2020 Staff Assembly by Hoechner on behalf of XR UEA, the university has no plans to change bank.  

In spring of 2020, the Finance Committee decided to divest its £3 million long term endowment investment in Barclays Charity Fund to Cazenove’s environmentally sustainable fund, according to the Executive Team. The switch is in progress as of July 31. 

Callaghan elaborated that UEA “has very limited power over the investment decisions of the national pension scheme (Universities Superannuation Scheme) to which the vast majority of [the university’s] staff belong as this is a combined scheme with over 300 participating employers.” 

XR UEA members lobbied the university to divest from Barclays throughout the 2019/2020 academic year and continue to pursue this goal. They are coordinating with other XR groups in the East of England are utilizing resources from People & Planet. 

UEA’s £37 million in short term deposits are with numerous banks, but Barclays is not one of them.  

UEA declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency on May 6, 2019. In November of 2017 UEA divested its £320,000 in fossil fuel companies after a four year campaign lead by Lewis Martin, UEA student and former president of the no longer extant People & Planet Society of UEA. That same month, UEA signed an open letter committing to ‘Invest-Divest’: to divest fossil fuel investments and move the money into renewable alternatives.  

 The UK banking giant has been widely criticised for its investments in controversial fossil fuel projects, including fracking and arctic oil drilling. Unlike many rivals, including HSBC, they also have not withdrawn funding from tar sands oil extraction, a highly energy intensive fuel production method. Despite this, the bank claims it is working to decarbonise its investment portfolio, stating on their website: “Our ambition is to become a net zero bank by 2050.  And we’ve made a firm commitment to align our entire financing portfolio to the goals of the Paris Agreement.  That means our own operations, and the financing we do for our clients, in every sector, will support the goal of limiting global warming.” 

While close to doing so, UEA still has not cut ties with the biggest financier of fossil fuels in Europe. 

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Sophie Ciurlik Rittenbaum

May 2021
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