Letters of comfort for forestry and wood industry in Wales

20 October 2020

Forestry and wood processing businesses in Wales have been reassured by Confor that they retain key producer status after the announcement of a "fire break" lockdown by the Welsh Government.

Anthony Geddes, Confor's National Manager for Wales, has written to all members, while new 'letters of comfort' have been produced for industry workers, in case they are challenged by the public for continuing to travel to their workplaces. 

The new measures will be in place from 6pm on Friday (23 October) until the start of Monday 9 November 2020.  

The letter of comfort for key workers, signed by Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall, says: "During the lockdown from March to July, the Welsh Government, through a letter to Confor from the Minister for Environment Energy and Rural Affairs, recognised the important role of forestry and wood processing businesses in supplying wood for key goods, stating: “Those involved in the supply chain of wood for key goods (including, but not limited to pallets, heating, packaging, tissue paper, timber harvesting, sawmills) should be considered key workers. Only necessary workers, producing key goods, should continue to attend workplaces. Working from home should be encouraged for administrative staff.”

"Having spoken with Welsh Government officials on Monday, October 19th , Confor can confirm that there has been no change in policy and that the forestry and wood processing sectors retain Key Producer status. It is important that these key workers are able to travel to work, to take children to and from school where required, and to undertake their activities related to their role as key workers." 

Confor has produced a similar letter for those working in or with the industry who do not necessarily have key worker status, but who cannot work from home. It says: "Many forestry workers simply cannot work from home - including those growing young trees in nurseries and planting new forests and woods. In the longer-term, those young trees will be needed to help many businesses get back on their feet and, lest we forget, to support our ongoing climate change objectives." 

Mr Geddes said: "Confor and its members have taken their responsibilities very seriously throughout this crisis and continue to do so. Our industry remains fully committed to operating in a completely safe and professional way and we hope these letters of comfort will enable Confor members to do just that."  

The letters are on the Confor website here.

Mr Geddes highlighted key points for forestry and wood-using businesses: 

  • Staff must work from home if they can. However, people who are not able to work from home, but can work safely in their workplaces, may do so, provided their workplace remains open;
  • For staff crossing the border for work, travelling to a workplace in Wales is a reasonable excuse to leave home. Similarly, people living in Wales can travel to England for work purposes where this is necessary and they cannot work from home;
  • Public transport services continue, particularly during peak times. However, bus and rail timetables will be reduced and potentially subject to late cancellations. Please check the latest service information before travelling;
  • All businesses are required to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public. Full information is available here https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-minimise-risk-exposure-coronavirus-workplaces-and-premises-open;
  • Restrictions are being enforced by local authority environmental health officers who can issue a “premises improvement notice”.  This requires the person responsible for the premises to take specified measures, and if they aren't taken, an officer may issue a “premises closure notice”. Where necessary, an officer may also issue a premises closure notice without having previously issued a premises improvement notice;
  • Further support has been made available for businesses affected by the firebreak with a new £300 million fund, which will open next week.  Every business covered by the small business rates relief will receive a £1,000 payment;
  • Mark Drakeford, First Minister has written to the Chancellor to ask him to give Welsh businesses early access to the new expanded Job Support Scheme from Friday. The Welsh Government has offered to pay the extra costs to the UK government scheme to ensure businesses can retain staff.

For financial support and information, visit https://gov.wales/business-and-employers-coronavirus

For questions on the fire break in general, visit: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-firebreak-frequently-asked-questions