Call for funding reassurance
19 July 2016
The forestry and timber sector needs urgent reassurance from Government on short-term financial support, at the same time as discussing how to shape a positive post-Brexit future. A detailed discussion organised by Confor at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry, which took place less than three weeks after the vote to Leave, included a call to ensure that debate about the future should not lead to paralysis in the short to medium term.
A total of £80m is spent annually on supporting activity in the sector across the UK and it is vital current commitments are honoured and funding made available to support current grant-aided activity, in particular new planting, to ensure business confidence.
APPGF Chairman Chris Davies promised to take the issue up with Government, while Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said that all the initial signs – from the UK Government and devolved administrations – were that those contracts would be honoured. However, he warned that a lack of clarity over future funding could be damaging: “Uncertainty over continued grant support is undermining new activity, especially planting. People are already considering if they should be working up planting schemes if they don’t know if they are going to get approval and funding.”
Mr Goodall explained that Confor had commissioned the paper on the impact of Brexit as quickly as possible to provide information, guidance and reassurance to members. “Following the vote to leave, there have been a lot of questions from members and we had to react quickly to that,” Mr Goodall said. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Vice-Chair of the APPGF and a prominent Leave campaigner, urged the sector to seek the opportunities presented by Brexit. She said she had personal experience of the challenges of obtaining grant support to plant trees under the current CAP system and called on the forestry sector to be proactive in shaping a post-Brexit future. “The decision gives us an opportunity to look at how we fund our rural industries,” she said. “No-one has decided what the new model might look like so it’s up to the farming and forestry sectors to bring a new system forward. This will not happen in the next two years, it will be the next 5-10 years, so there is plenty of time for the forestry sector to decide how best it should be done. If we have strong, robust conversations now, and ask people to think in a different way, we can shape policy.”
Stuart Goodall said that the amount of money which goes to forestry through existing schemes funded by the EU was “comparatively very small, but hugely influential in supporting new planting”. He added: “Coming out of the CAP would allow us to do things differently. The current system acts as a disincentive to farmers to diversify.”
Summarising the Martin Glynn paper for the group. Mr Goodall said the forestry sector was “exposed to a huge amount of environmental legislation from the EU” and that Confor members would be substantially affected by fluctuations in exchange rates and trading rules. Mr Goodall said Confor had to get information out quickly: “There is no information yet coming out of the public sector so we have a chance to step into the breach and inform our members, the whole sector and stakeholders.” Chris Davies said he saw great opportunities for the forestry and timber sector after Brexit. He welcomed the work done by Confor and others in reacting quickly to the Brexit vote but urged co-operation across the rural economy: “This is a massive opportunity and we need to be together. He also told the meeting: “We are in a great state of fluidity but we need to be sensible, calm and have a plan.”
For a full report on the APPG on Forestry, see August’s Forestry and Timber News