The union identified three key issues:
1. Why is it necessary to create a new body to manage the Public Forest Estate? The Forestry Commission is a world-leading organisation, widely acknowledged to be doing excellent work.
2. How will the government meet its assertion that it will retain essential forestry expertise at its core? Ash dieback disease has exposed the current lack of specialist expertise at the heart of government. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Forestry Commission have already suffered significant staff cuts and all the indications are that these pressures will continue.
3. When will it resolve the uncertainty about the future of GB-wide functions, such as Forest Research? Although the government says that it will work with the devolved nations, it acknowledges that the degree of collaborative working will, in practice, depend on the willingness of the relevant authorities in each country to do so.
Sue Ferns, Prospect’s director of communications and research, said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to continued public ownership of the Public Forest Estate. But it is disappointing that it has taken six months to respond to the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report and, as we feared, has continued to make cuts in the meantime. The new policy statement will lead to unnecessary and disruptive change.
“The government’s statement that it is providing ‘sufficient funding in this spending review to ensure that high levels of public benefit continue to be delivered by the Forestry Commission across the full 250,000 acres of the Estate’ is at odds with FC GB/England’s annual report and accounts 2011-12 which said:
‘…significant restructuring and downsizing of many programmes and support services has taken place throughout the year in preparation for the transition to new structures in 2012/13.’”
Forestry Commission England and Forest Enterprise England lost 273 staff between 2010 and October 2012. Forest Research lost 74 staff in the same period.