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Posted Date : 11/04/2012
The Government will put even more jobs at risk and ignore its own expert advisers if it fails to tackle complex, costly and unnecessary bureaucracy in the forestry sector.
The Forestry Regulation Task Force - set up by Government to examine ways of promoting better management of England's woodland by reducing unnecessary regulation - recommended that the sector should be exempt from regulation by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA). Forestry is recognised as "low-risk" by the GLA and by the task force, with no evidence of the kind of employee exploitation the GLA was set up to tackle.
In its response to the task force, the Government has effectively left it to the Red Tape Challenge process to determine any action, even though a range of politicians, including Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander have highlighted that the GLA is putting jobs under threat.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, which represents 2000 forestry and wood-using businesses, said a decision to remove forestry from GLA regulation cannot be put off any longer. "David Cameron has promised to put jobs and job creation at the heart of his government and pledged to tackle red tape - but this decision flies in the face of both those promises.
"The benefits to be gained from England's woodland, including rural employment, renewable wood products, increased biodiversity and recreation are well-known, but regulation and bureaucracy is making it harder to care for our forests. Around 500,000 hectares of woodland in England is unmanaged, and new woodland creation is at its lowest for 23 years. We also face the threat of pests and disease as our climate changes - it is vital we have the people working in forestry."
Mr Goodall noted that the need to remove forestry from GLA was supported by a wide coalition of interests. "The forestry unions and the Woodland Trust both support our demand. We all want to see well-managed woodland and new woods being created. We all recognise that the jobs affected are in areas of rural deprivation where there is little alternative employment."
Mr Goodall said the Government's agreement to implement the majority of recommendations made by the task force was "a welcome start", but added: "I am extremely concerned the important issue of the GLA and its remit over forestry has not been addressed. The task force highlighted the ‘low risk nature' of the forestry sector and this reflects the GLA's own analysis. It is a scandal this has gone on so long already and it is vital that the Red Tape Challenge takes the decision to remove forestry to protect and promote rural employment and the health of England's woodlands.
"The GLA is destroying rural jobs - in areas with few other sources of regular employment - and placing an unnecessary cost burden on small businesses without any benefits being provided. The Government's willingness to act on this point will be seen as an indicator of its approach to implementing other recommendations in the Task Force report."
Confor's Head of Policy, Rupert Pigot, met Danny Alexander and has spoken with forestry businesses about the GLA.
John Wheelan, who runs M1 Forestry Services, based in West Yorkshire, said: "My Gangmasters licence has added cost, complexity and aggravation to my business. There has been no positive impact - it has been hellish."
Mr Wheelan's wife Pauline, who owns the business, added: "It's starting to have an impact on businesses getting work and employing people, which seems crazy in these tough economic times." And Mr Wheelan warned: "There is a danger that good employers will steer clear of areas of work that needs a Gangmasters' licence because of all the hassle - that creates a shortage of planters, and contractors struggle to find sub-contractors who can do the work."
Confor said the Wheelans' experience was typical. "A lot of businesses have been giving us similar stories," said Mr Pigot. "They find the GLA heavy-handed, inflexible and burdensome - and cannot understand why Gangmaster licensing is operating in forestry, when it is identified as low risk.
"In its response to the Task Force's report Government has noted that a ‘lighter touch' has recently been applied to forestry, but this is rejected by the Task Force as inadequate. Mr Pigot said: "Small businesses with low turnovers are still expected to pay £400 a year, fill in forms and be subject to possible inspection. If they change name or address, or even forget to renew their licence, they will be charged an additional £1800 (the registration fee) - to demonstrate that they are not doing something that in fact they already are not doing. It's madness!"
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