Like many others, we eagerly trawled through the full list of quango fates published by the Government last Thursday 14th October.
Many of the announcements had already been trailed in the media, and in general, the cull is not as radical as we have been lead to believe it could be. In her short statement Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, said the aim was to halve the 90 Defra quangos. On the positive side, English Heritage, JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), National Parks, the National Forest Company, Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Big Lottery Fund and NHMF (National Heritage Memorial Fund) are all retained. CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) is still under review.
The top line for the Trust is that the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Environment Agency are all “ to be retained but substantially reformed”. The fact that the three main agencies we deal with in England have all survived is moderately good news – but this does leave the door open for a range of possibilities, which could include merger, closer working, sharing of core services; so we are still none the wiser about the long-term impacts.
As far as the Forestry Commission (FC) goes, substantial reform could be seen as both a threat and an opportunity. We have considerable concerns that the FC could be emasculated at a time when forestry and woodland issues have as a high a profile, both internationally and domestically, as they have had for many years. It seems inevitable that the mix of different functions which the FC performs: regulation, policy and practice, grant giving, advice and land management will be the subject of scrutiny.
On the other hand, we have always felt that the FC should be retained but also needs to change in order to better meet the challenges of the moment. Such changes need to include;
- a stronger policy framework emphasising the importance of woodland expansion;
- realignment of its public forest estate to focus more on the delivery of public benefits and a greater focus on a few key objectives;
- a thorough review of the incentives framework to achieve real outcomes and
- developing a far stronger and vocal policy capability within government to promote the importance of trees, woods and forests and their contribution to other parts of the Government agenda.
Further and more detailed announcements about the detail of these reforms will follow after the spending review announcement on 20th October. But we can probably say reasonably confidently that a continuing and undefined period of uncertainty, introversion and lack of focus on delivery of conservation benefit on the ground will continue to have impacts on several projects where these organisations are our partners.
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