Forestry staff may still face cuts after u-turn

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THE future for Forestry Commission staff has been thrown into confusion by the Government’s u-turn on selling off forests.

As user and conservation groups welcomed the Government giving in to massive public pressure, unions representing the Forestry Commission’s 1,200 staff in England, including 119 in the east, say it leaves them in limbo.

Staff are being consulted on ways of cutting costs and reorganising the commission to meet 25 per cent cuts across the Environment Department, including possible job losses.

But a Thetford-based representative for the Prospect union, which mainly represents professional staff, said: “We’re undertaking this consultation without any idea of what woodlands we’re going to be managing.”

He added that as environment secretary Caroline Spelman said on Friday that a panel of experts would be set up to look into forest access and biodiversity, there were still decisions to be made about the commission’s role. Yet staff consultation was continuing.

“The whole cost of FC is relatively low,” he said. “Someone needs to look at this a lot closer to see if we’re adequately funded to deliver what’s required.”

An eastern representative for the biggest union, PCS, said: “We’re being consulted on something we don’t have the details on yet. It’s causing a lot of worry.”

Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Friends of Thetford Forest and groups representing horse riders and husky racers welcomed the decision but said they would keep an eye on the make up of the panel.

SWT chief executive Julian Roughton said: “It can’t be business as usual again. The forests are plainly there for the public benefit, both for access and for wildlife.

“We should get a better deal for access and biodiversity.”