It was all looking so promising. Caroline Spelman’s ministerial response promised that our public forest estate would remain in public ownership. To rapturous applause she announced she would re-instate the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum, so as many people as possible could help Government respond to the Forestry Panel’s recommendations. The government had heard us and now we needed to pull together for the future of our forests! There was even the promise of a summer of ministerial visits and meetings. Hundreds of stakeholders, engaged in the process up to this point were elated and bursting with the potential of it all.
Admittedly, to date some representatives of DEFRA have visited Thetford and the Forest of Dean. Oh and let’s not forget that Lord Taylor had representatives of the Forest Campaigns Network to his office in early summer, where he suggested that a further meeting would be necessary in autumn.
Campaign groups have also met with representatives of the government’s ‘working group’. This working group is made up of Forestry Commission experts and DEFRA policy writers. The group will advise the ministers on their response to the Forestry Panel’s report. The government will be publishing their response to the report in January 2013. It’s now the 30th of September. If the ministers are genuine in their initial stated intention to engage stakeholders in forming their response, then where is the National Forestry Stakeholder forum? If the working group is ¾ of the way through it’s work on the Governments response already, then exactly what is the welcome but minimal stakeholder engagement achieving? Not only that, with respect to the forest campaign groups unique, broad and cross sector understanding of the PFE, inviting us only to comment with any depth on the community engagement/accountability and transparency aspect of the working groups work shows that, yet again, the public voice is being underestimated. Instead of a forum we have a tightly controlled and pinpointed set of meetings that are not transparent and are not giving all interested parties the opportunity to engage in the process fully.
First of all we had summer, “don’t expect much to be happening over the summer because of holidays”
Then we had the re-shuffle, “don’t expect much to be happening during the re-shuffle because of… erm, the reshuffle”
Then we had weeks of delay before any of the ministers were given forestry on their portfolio “don’t expect much to be happening until we know which minister is in charge of forestry”
Then we had… not much at all, really.
The campaign groups have sent a message to the new forestry ministers, David Heath MP and Rt. Hon. Owen Paterson MP. Welcoming them to their new roles, wishing them well in their work and requesting a meeting with them. That was well over 10 days ago now and we’ve not even had a courtesy response. What are we to take from this? Maybe Mr Heath & Mr Paterson are just busy, there’s CONFOR & RSPB seminars to talk at and Countryside and Wildlife Link meetings to visit, I can respect that, of course I can.
However, with no word on the National Forestry Stakeholder forum, with the working group beavering away and doing their best to engage us within the limited time that they have, with only a few more weeks for any of us to have a real impact on the governments response to the Forestry Panel report and with the new ministers not even saying hello…
Something doesn’t feel right, not right at all.