Thursday, 31 January 2013

Will new forestry structure eventually facilitate forest sales?

Will news that the government intends establishing ‘a new public body that will hold in trust the nation's forests for future generations’  facilitate forest sell offs in the long run? 

Edited version of article for Landworker magazine 

A familiar face will be missing at the Forestry Commission after March. Robert Beaney has combined his skills as a forest craftsman with three decades of trade union activity within the TGWU/Unite. Now, whilst the Scotsman is looking forward to well-earned retirement he wants others to come forward to become union reps and he pleads for “vigilance” in the fight to retain the current Forestry Commission (FC) structure in order to make it more difficult in the future for publicly owned forests to be disposed of.

“I joined the union in my first week at the FC, 31 years ago. I quickly became the local rep at Argyll, Western Scotland. Two decades ago I became senior TGWU rep in Scotland, before assuming the role across Great Britain and then chair of the FC trade unions,” said Robert. 

“I became a rep in order to help members. Sometimes people are not comfortable standing up for themselves. Over the years I have represented them at various levels of the grievance and disciplinary proceedings. There have also been cases of mediation and support for people with serious health problems.

People appreciate your support and as a rep you also receive good training from the union. This enables  you to understand your own role and gives you the confidence to stand up for people’s right. It’s a worthwhile role and I would recommend it to anyone considering taking it on,” explains Robert. 

Beaney has seen the FC grow from being “basically a timber producing outfit when I joined” into one where today’s public forest estate (PFE) is home to well over 100 recreational, educational, welfare and regeneration activities. No wonder therefore that when the government proposed to dispose of the PFE that there was such a public outcry in 2010. In backing down the government set up an independent panel to examine the future of one of the nation’s favourite assets. 

The panel reported in June last year. Although they confirmed the PFE should not be disposed of, the panel refused to rule out a new FC structure. This would see Forest Enterprises become a public body, an organisation that is part of the process of government but which is not a government department, and Forest Services could become, like British Waterways, a trust. Beaney believes this would “weaken the direct link between the FC and government and make it easier in the future for publicly owned forests to be sold.” 

He was therefore waiting with interest today’s announcement by the government that backs the panel’s proposal and says “the Forestry Commission is going to need support if it is to continue the invaluable work that it started in 1919.” 

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