Alongside the other forestry trade unions, Unite reps at the Forestry Commission have been raising their concerns with members and senior management in England that 10 Downing Street is moving unnecessarily quickly to sever the 94-year old connection to the non-ministerial government department. Without daring to consult with a concerned public the government is proposing changes after it considered recommendations made by the independent panel on forestry last year.
The panel was established after huge public pressure forced a humiliating climbdown by the government in 2011 over its plans to sell 1,000 publicly owned forests covering 258,000 hectares. In its report the panel confirmed the estate should remain in public hands but proposed it should managed by a trust with a Charter that would be renewed every ten years specifying the public benefit mission and statutory duties.
The Government is proposing not to create a trust and there will be no Charter. All the changes would mean the government would play no direct role in day-to-day affairs at the Forestry Commission. The link with Parliament would be through the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs. Forestry trade unions are concerned that the Government’s new body will be more akin to a corporation that is less willing to consider its public duties.
“As a result we are stressing to our senior management - that are due to meet Government officials - that we wish to see the current direct Government link, that was established in 1919, retained. Especially as that also means workers will remain civil servants, with opportunities to be transferred to other jobs if their current one is made redundant,” said John Stevenson, who has replaced the retiring Robert Beaney on the Unite Forestry Commission National Organising Committee.
Based in Elgin in north-east Scotland, John has worked as a nursery operative for the Forestry Commission, for 14 years. He believes, “every statistic shows there is no need for change as the Forestry Commission provides timber, brownfield regeneration and tourist and leisure facilities for a pittance. I fear the plans are a way to get rid of the Forestry Commission in the long-term by making it easier to sell forests into private ownership. Once that happens the owners will cash in when the price of timber goes up. Then they will be able to make more money by putting the land up for sale for development.
The Forestry Commission is an efficient organisation and changing its current structure will not be improve its workings. Speaking to members it is clear they feel the same and we have been urging them to say so in the consultation meetings that have been running until July 12th.”
Unite members at the Forestry Commission can contact John Stevenson on firstname.lastname@example.org and 07972630285/07771345730