READERS will be aware that the World Economic Forum is being held in Davos, Switzerland this week. Anyone who professes to be anybody is there, including 2700 top leaders from 130 countries, including many of Norway’s top folk.

Among those is Nicolai Tangen, chief executive of Norway’s oil fund (officially the Government Pension Fund Global). As he should be too, as the oil fund is now the world’s biggest single investor. The fund is now valued at just over £1000 billion (or more than five times Scotland’s annual Gross Domestic Product).

The fund makes its money from revenues from the oil and gas industry, but increasingly from its investments in equities, fixed incomes, real estate and infrastructure for renewable energy. The fund has invested in more than 9,000 companies worldwide in 70 countries. In fact, it owns about 1.3% of all companies listed on the world’s stock exchanges. As such it has direct influence over how companies perform.

But at Davos, Tangen has an unusual mission. Norway’s leading newspaper Aftenposten reports this week that he is in Davos to plead that his fellow top leaders reduce their incomes and bonuses. He argues that by paying themselves inflated sums, these leaders are actually stealing from the fund. If they did not pay themselves so much, there would be more for shareholders like the fund who are just as deserving, if not more so. The fund takes an active role as a shareholder, by attending and voting in shareholder meetings. Recently it has voted against pay packages for Tim Cook of Apple (who earns about £40 million a year) and James Quincey of Coca-Cola (whose take-home pay is £24m a year). A typical boss in a listed US company earns about £15m a year. Tangen himself has a take-home pay of £520,000.

Tangen and the fund have realised that by their sheer size and not least by their voting at shareholder meetings, they can influence the way the companies they invest in perform. Thus, it is not only bosses’ salaries the fund wants to influence. It looks into how companies perform on human rights, climate change, anti-corruption, tax and transparency and many other areas. The fund tries to participate and vote in all shareholder meetings. In some cases it will increase its shareholdings, in some cases it will decrease its holdings or divest of its shares altogether.

The fund was established in 1996. By using its financial muscle power the fund, and its owner Norway, can have a huge influence on business throughout the world. This is a striking example of how a small country like Norway (the same size as Scotland) can punch away above its weight internationally, through judicious management of its resources – and political independence.

An example for Scotland?

Mike Fergus
Oslo, Norway

THE cost-of-living crisis is worsening as a result of temperatures dropping and food prices rising. So it was heartening to hear Alba MP Kenny MacAskill raise the issue of the injustice of fuel tariffs at PMQs in the House of Commons. Mr MacAskill highlighted the issue of pre-payment meters that incur higher tariffs for the user. Those higher tariffs also result in higher standing charges affecting the most vulnerable.

Mr MacAskill called for a “social tariff” to be introduced for the most vulnerable and highlighted to the House that 8.4 million people are facing fuel poverty in the UK this year. He went to call on the Prime Minister to instruct Ofgem to equalise tariff charges, a move that would assist the most vulnerable.

This is a constructive suggestion amidst the cost-of-living crisis. However, from the PM’s reply it seems to have fallen on deaf ears!

Catriona C Clark