Wednesday, 6 August 2014

No Tory bonfire yet for the Forestry Commission

To the surprise of many people the Queen’s Speech on 4 June made no mention of forestry. According to Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, this could be due to Tory campaign consultant “Lynton Crosby’s ‘get the barnacles off my boat’ advice to David Cameron.” Stick to the main message and ditch extraneous policies and projects, especially when they remind the electorate of the controversies of the past such as the proposed sell-off of swathes of the Public Forest Estate (PFE) in 2011. An outraged public forced a humiliating climb down on the Government but who have since continued to deny the Forestry Commission the resources and staff numbers they require to maintain a much valued public service. Hundreds of jobs have been slashed and seven regional offices closed since 2010. 

The Government was planning to replace the PFE before May 2015 with an arm’s length PFE Management Organisation run by their appointees. FC staff would lose their civil service status and FC trade unions (FCTU) have warned that the new organisation would remain vulnerable to a takeover or future government bonfire. Armed with a mandate from members, a well-organised campaign - that has been carried into the halls of Westminster - has been waged by the FCTU with the aim of maintaining an integrated and suitably resourced FC, which is set to celebrate its centenary in five years time.

The lack of a decision by the Government has therefore come as a relief to hard working FC staff. Constituent unions within the FCTU are now taking the opportunity of surveying their members to see if privatisation is happening by stealth and if so, how this is affecting their working lives – their pay, working conditions, working relations, and health and safety – and the health and sustainability of the forests. The results will be ready to help influence the major parties in the run up to the 2015 General Election. 

Barnacles tend to inhabit shallow water and it may not take much for the Tories to be once again exposed for their ill-fated attempt to chop down the PFE and subsequently fail to offer sufficient reassurances that it really is safe if they are returned to power. 

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