Forest panel must heed in-house specialists

Forest panel must heed in-house specialists

Prospect called on the chair of the government’s newly formed Forestry Expert Panel to take on board the expertise of specialist employees in the Forestry Commission before making recommendations on the future of England’s forests.

The union welcomed the statement by the panel’s chair, Right Reverend James Jones, that he is committed to a ‘robust, thorough and independent review’, and to seeking the views of grassroots campaigners who showed how much they care about the country’s woodland.

“However, we are disappointed that the group has no staff representation,” said Prospect negotiator Malcolm Currie. “Nor do the panel’s terms of reference mention consultation with the staff as stakeholders. The public forest estate needs a long-term plan for its future, and guarantees that it is properly and sustainably funded. This review must not be used to justify the break-up of the Forestry Commission.

“The government’s declared intentions for the future of forestry have already broken the trust of the public, staff and the unions. That trust needs to be rebuilt through full and proper consultation with all stakeholders, including the Commission’s staff.”

Currie pointed out that Commission management is still consulting on plans to shed 150 jobs in Scotland and 350 jobs in England as a consequence of the Comprehensive Spending Review. “The unions have asked for this consultation to be put on hold until the panel reports in the autumn. Yet at the moment we are in danger of losing jobs this summer, before the findings even come out.

“While a key battle was won a month ago, there is still a lot to worry about and we urge the public to keep up the pressure.”

Prospect represents 270 specialists in the Commission, who carry out vital environmental research to guard against and combat tree diseases and monitor climate change. Other expert roles held by members include engineers, foresters, policy writers, librarians, photographers and recreation experts.