The Forestry Commission (FC) has provided Great Britain with a verdant rich tapestry of woods and forests enjoyed by the public for nearly 100 years. The UK Government, however, is about to embark on an exercise to set up new bodies – breaking up and tearing the heart out of the FC. We believe there is a simpler and cheaper solution; let the FC continue to evolve and get on with the job it has been doing successfully for nearly a century.
FC Trade Unions believe that a fully integrated and adequately resourced FC would provide the best way forward for all our woods and forests. We have therefore launched a campaign to secure its future. As part of our campaign we have initiated an e-petition and would ask you to show your support for all the staff in the whole of the FC and campaign alongside us in securing the long term future of this much respected organisation.
Follow this link to sign the petition:
What are our concerns?
Threat to the Forestry Commission
We believe that the UK Government has leapt at the opportunity that the Independent Panel on Forestry report in which they recommended new organisations to replace the FC, this allowed the Government to meet their ongoing agenda to bring about the demise of the Forestry Commission. Previous Conservative Governments have tried and failed to get rid of the FC by attempting to sell the public forests. This administration tried the same thing two years ago and failed in spectacular fashion.
FC is greater than the sum of its parts
Staff in the FC are concerned that the recommendation to set up separate bodies in England always missed the point of how the FC operates as a cross border organisation. We are certain that the FC is greater than the sum of its parts and that its contribution to the forest industry or to the private woodland owner is because of its scale. It has the depth of professional knowledge and expertise to place the right people with the right skills to areas where those are needed most. By separating out the various functions employees are likely to find they will have to deliver against much narrower objectives and we will lose the breadth of experience that we currently employ.
Less public facing functions, more control by government
We see these proposals in England as creating separate functions that will in time be less public facing and more directed toward government and that government will exercise more control because of the removal of the Forestry Act from the statute book. The setting up of separate organisations to carry out all these separate functions will require more complex legislation to provide governance and accountability. Minor alteration to the Forestry Act would be sufficient to allow the existing FC to evolve and deliver social, environmental and economics benefits for the nation a whole.
Threat to the PFE
We can be certain that the government will exercise that control and we will see ad- hoc policies being imposed on the PFEMO to make more and more money from the asset they control. The proposal that the PFEMO must focus on generating income and commercial activities is of great concern in this context. Staff will spend their time chasing money and less time on delivery, this delivery will be farmed out to others, and there is a real danger that standards will fall as a result. Once the public become aware of this they could lose confidence in our public forests and there is a danger that we could start to see a reduction in the size of the public forest estate. It could be chipped away by sales of valuable land, particularly if the public don’t see it is worth defending.
Forestry functions in England/Forest Services
The government created uncertainty by its suggestion of merging forestry functions in England with Natural England and /or the Environment Agency. Stakeholders made it clear that the government had not made a sufficient case to warrant such a manoeuvre, so that proposal was dropped. Since then we have seen options put forward only to be rejected or altered and still we have no clear indication of the likely outcome for Forest Services and for the staff working in it. This saps morale and puts people under unnecessary pressures, and it puts at risk the important role of this directorate to protect, improve and expand the woodland of England.
It is possible that charges will be introduced for provision of services provided by other forestry functions, which will endanger the promotion of sustainable forestry: Will woodland owners be prepared to pay for advice that is currently free?
Cross-border and shared services
The Forestry Commission’s cross border and shared services are also under threat from proposals being put forward by the UK government. Expertise could be lost to forestry, and jobs could be lost in Scotland as a direct result. If FC is fragmented then the various splinters will eventually supply their own services or purchase them elsewhere. The government’s suggestion that so-called ‘back office’ or even ‘middle office’ services are shared with DEFRA is of great concern, partly as DEFRA shared services are under threat of off-shoring and privatisation, and partly because this disregards the specialist forest focused nature of the cross-border and shared services.
Risks from fragmentation of FC: Forest Research
All members of staff in the existing FC are committed to providing forest environments in which wildlife, people and commercial activities co-exist in harmony in both England and Scotland. This is now under threat because the fragmentation of this much respected organisation will lead to depletion in overarching forestry policy. It will leave our woodlands further exposed to pests and disease which have no concept of borders or organisational boundaries. Forest Research is an agency of the FC and provides credible research to the FC and the entire industry so that every part of the sector has the very latest information in dealing with threats and exploring opportunities. This again is at risk as fragmentation will lead to a wider customer base with differing objectives and FR will have to react to the market forces created by this.
Raising the issues
As well as launching the e-petition, we are also talking to politicians in both England and Scotland about the crisis we currently face. We will be asking people to write to their local MP/MSP in support of the Forestry Commission and asking them to call for a fully integrated and sustainably resourced FC which will deliver all that our nation demands and would meet the aspirations of the public.