Public Forest Estate – an update

28/01/2014

in National Forestry Stakeholder Forum, Opinion, Uncategorized

Wednesday 29th January sees the next National Forestry Stakeholder Forum that began as a result of the 2011 public campaign to stop the privatisation of our Public Forest Estate (PFE).

As the long grass turns to scrub, the big question hanging on our lips this past 3 YEARS is ‘what will Government DO with our Public Forest Estate?’

There’s not been much to report since the DEFRA Woodland and Forestry Policy Statement report was published last February. Will there be much change?  Will I be writing the same article that I wrote almost a year ago?

Concerns then were; Ownership, Governance, Finance

Concerns now are; Ownership, Governance, Finance

 

Will there be much change from the article I wrote last August after the last Forestry Stakeholder Forum? (I was a bit disspointed after that one..).

Concerns then were; Ownership, Governance, Finance

Concerns now are; Ownership, Governance, Finance

 

Ownership

At the last forum it was re-iterated that the PFE will be ‘held in trust for the nation’. It turns out that means ownership of the PFE will be held by the new PFE management organisation (PFEMO), a new public body created from the Forest Enterprise bit of the Forestry Commission.

If the legislation is changed to allow for the transfer of ownership of the PFE from the Secretary of State for the Environment, where it is currently held, to this new public body (PFEMO), then what legal protections will ensure that this new public body and it’s precious forest asset can never be privatised?

Will every land sale/land made available for lease, be available for public scrutiny before being put on the market?

 

Governance

Members of the new PFEMO executive and non-executive board will be appointed by civil servants and ministers through the public appointments process.  Hopefully this process will be more transparent than normal and not become just another public body run by directors placed by ministers for political purposes.

What will the Secretary of State for the Environment’s role be in the new PFEMO?

Where does civil society fit into the PFEMO’s decision making processes? Better to have involvement at the decision making level rather than having to delay or reverse decisions that do no fit with communities, local or national.

Will the Forestry Panel’s idea of a group of ‘Guardians’ happen and what will it’s role and influence be?

Will there be a good spread of relevant experience across the directors on the non-executive board that includes civil society?

 

Finance

The PFE should and can be financially sustainable BUT the PFEMO’s potential new commercial freedoms, which may lead to large industrial exploitation, are of deep concern. Therefore it is crucial that there is civil society presence on the non-executive board, alongside a strong link between PFEMO and communities, to ensure the integrity of the estate is maintained.

Before any timber is felled or pies sold in a forest café the PFE provides an estimated £400 millions (it’s priceless really…) in natural capital a year. A staggering illustration of the PFE’s vital environmental benefit to the public. The PFE can be financially sustainable, however it is important that there is a contract agreed between DEFRA and the PFEMO to pay for those public services that will cost the PFEMO money.

The Treasury are unlikely to accept that Government should pay the new PFEMO the true natural capital value of the PFE (I can understand that!), so hopefully the Treasury will accept the very fair deal of a 10yr minimum contract of no less than £22million budget a year to pay for the priceless ecosystem services that our PFE provides us all.  Bargain!

 

I’ll try and tweet throughout the day on Wednesday on @SaveOurWoods and do an update when I get home again on Thursday. Fingers crossed for something new to say…

 

Hen

 

 

 

 

 

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