Somerset Council Overwhelmingly Votes for Motion seeking to Evict Elbit

Motion proposer and seconder Cllr Brian Smedley & Cllr Shane Collins

Somerset Council meeting today at Huntworth, Bridgwater has passed a motion from Labour and the Greens to seek means to dispose of the Aztec West property housing controversial weapons manufacturer Elbit and to secure means to legally evict. The motion was proposed by Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour Bridgwater South) and seconded by Cllr Shane Collins (Green, Frome East). After nearly two hours of debate the overwhelming majority of the council from Labour to Green to Lib Dem to independent and including some Tories voted for the motion with just 6 Tories voting against. Cllr Smedley said after the meeting “This is a brilliant victory for the people of Palestine and the people of Somerset.”

Councillor Smedley’s speech in full

Cllr Brian Smedley
The purpose of this motion today is to end this council’s investment in Elbit systems and therefore potential complicity in the current, historic and ongoing carnage in Palestine. It further aims to establish an ethical investment policy for this council. This is not a new idea and I have been arguing this position since 2020 with former owners Sedgemoor District Council when I was leader of the opposition there. It was also the first thing I asked for when I was elected to County in May 2022 and the ownership transferred across during the unitary process

Background to investment

The background to this investment is the governments withdrawl of rate support funding and compelled councils to seek replacement funding. On Sedgemoor they set up a Property Investment Board and gave £50m to invest in a mixed portfolio of commercial properties with a target of getting a return of 5.5 to 6% per annum against borrowing of 2.5%. I was a non-voting member on this board as leader of the opposition and as such urged that all investments should be 1. ethical and 2. Ideally local. in January 2020 Sedgemoor obtained the  Aztec West Property with Elbit Systems as a tenant (and incidentally Co-op Legal Services as occupier of the second block) on 31/1/2020. I didn’t have a vote on the PiB board and so simply spoke against it. Sedgemoor did this despite being warned at the time of the controversial and problematic nature of the investment by property advisers Montagu Evans, Investment Surveyors from London, who attended All PIB meetings, and said  that ‘some councils would not wish to take on a property with an Israeli defence manufacturer as a tenant’ .    Seems Sedgemoor weren’t one of those councils…  In 2020 there wasn’t the current level of carnage in Palestine but Israel was nevertheless behaving aggressively in its occupied territories and regularly using it’s hi tech weapons against civilians. So Protestors have been active against this long before the current aggression.

About Elbit

To be clear – Elbit Systems, is an Israeli owned defence manufacturer specialising in drones, systems for military aircraft and helicopters, armed remote control boats, land vehicles for command and control and is heavily engaged in the militarisation of borders worldwide. It has electronically controlled walls and borders in the Occupied Palestinian territories since 2002 and is a self-proclaimed leader in border surveillance technologies. Sources include  Sipri (The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) and CAAT (Campaign against the arms trade) and DIMSE (database of Israeli military and security export), Human Rights Watch , the BDS list (Boycott, divestment and sanctions) and many others. The Council was aware of the controversial nature of Elbit Systems    However, I don’t think the Council truly appreciated the consequences of such an investment until protestors directly targeted the Sedgemoor Council Offices with painted slogans in June 2021. As I live next door to the council offices I was probably the first to see this as the sun came up that day and the sedgemoor offices were suddenly daubed with blood red paint symbolising the blood of the victims of Israeli weapons that the local authority was now complicit in The Labour group of councillors called on Sedgemoor to adopt an ‘ethical’ investment policy and I again raised the moral choice of ‘divestment’ by Sedgemoor at the next PiB and at the next Full Council from this property portfolio.  I got the impression that the Council leaders were prepared to quietly withdraw from this investment, however, this proved not to be true and clearly the aim was to pass the problem to Somerset – and that’s why you now have this today.

Property transfered to Somerset

  in April 2023 Sedgemoor District Council came to an end and all properties of all the district councils in the county transfered to the new Somerset Unitary Authority. Now, as a member of that authority, I immediately wrote to the new authority urging rapid divestment from the Elbit investment and received assurances this was being sought. We have not had this divestment yet but what we have had is a major flare up of war in the middle east and more than 30,000 Palestinian lives lost in Gaza as a result of Israel using its high tech weapons to destroy a community and devastate a piece of land-which incidentally is only the size of that bit of Somerset that stretches from Taunton to Glastonbury. Imagine that. Elbit are complicit in this horror and therefore Somerset is.

Purpose of the motion

County leader Bill Revans (North petherton) supported the motion.
This motion recognises that the council is attempting to find ways to divest. Well, it comes at a time when we’re divesting from everything due to the financial crisis anyway. The motions support’s that inevitable divestment but in addition urges immediate action to find legal ways to evict Elbit so that we are no longer complicit in this devastation of lives It further underlines the need for a 100% ethical commercial investment policy so that this kind of deplorable investment doesn’t happen again. This comes at a time when the world is increasingly urging an end to arms sales to Israel. This needs to happen now and the UK Government needs back this. That signal alone would lead to instant divestment and provide the legal grounds for this council to be no longer complicit.  Israel must be able to live in peace with its neighbours and Palestine, must be free.

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Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor
1 month ago

Really good news.

Cordelia Unger-Hamilton
Cordelia Unger-Hamilton
1 month ago

Great step forward. Now for action.

Last edited 1 month ago by Cordelia Unger-Hamilton
EVICT ELBIT! (voting in itself means nothing)
1 month ago

Elbit CEO thanks Elbit employees for working around the clock – their work being CRUCIAL to the ongoing Gaza genocide:

Elbit = genocide
1 month ago

This baby step of yours in STARTING TO THINK about not being complicit in genocide does not end any of your crimes nor wash away the blood from your hands.

Each and every day that you host Elbit Systems – a company whose business model is literally based on terror on genocide, and who according to its CEO has a crucial role in the ongoing genocide in Gaza – you are assisting in the maiming and murder of tens of children a day. One more day of waiting – ten more children that die because of your spineless and inability to act.

Maureen Marsh
Maureen Marsh
1 month ago

This is such a fantastic decision. Words cannot describe the sense of pride I feel in North Somerset Council. Proof that the people can create positive change!

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