IN AN unprecedented move ten of Wales’ major timber processors have formally notified the Welsh Government they have no confidence in Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) management of its commercial forestry.
The companies expressing concern include local firms Teifi Timber Projects Ltd and James Davies (Abercych) Ltd.
In a leaked letter, the companies claim that NRW mismanagement of its forestry estate risks 12,000 jobs in the Welsh rural economy; £100m of new investment; Welsh Government revenues; mill closures; and Welsh processing becoming uncompetitive.
The problem is particularly acute as NRW forestry is the principal supplier of the Welsh wood processing industry, providing over 50% of raw material to the companies.
Their principal request is the removal of commercial forestry management from NRW.
NRW ACTIONS INEXPLICABLE
Late last year, a key Assembly Committee concluded that incompetence alone could not explain the actions of NRW in the awarding of a series of multi-million pounds timber contracts to a single logging company, that led to the qualification of NRW’s accounts qualified for three consecutive years.
The Committee stressed it didn’t have enough evidence to reach a full conclusion but said it struggled to comprehend how an organisation led by highly experienced, knowledgeable and skilled individuals could repeatedly make the same mistakes despite previous warnings both by the Assembly and the Wales Audit Office (WAO).
NRW awarded more contracts to the same company without a tendering process even AFTER it was warned off by the WAO.
David Sulman, Executive Director of the UK Forest Products Association told the Committee: “I certainly wouldn’t call these actions mistakes or oversights, as has been claimed. And it seems to us that these actions were premeditated, deliberate, and made in the full knowledge of the facts and the existence of long-standing and well-understood official procedures around timber marketing.
“Talking to people in the industry, some might even go so far as to say that, in view of the very serious concerns that the Auditor General and his staff—and, indeed, this committee had expressed about NRW’s behaviour, their action might amount to almost being contemptuous.”
For Welsh Conservatives enough is enough.
Shadow Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary, Andrew RT Davies AM, called for NRW to be scrapped and replaced by two separate bodies; one handling the regulatory duties undertaken by the organisation and the other its commercial aspects.
The scandal has claimed the scalps of former-NRW Chair, Diane McCrea and former Chief Executive Emyr Roberts.
PLAID WANTS INDEPENDENT REVIEW
Responding to the letter, Llyr Gruffydd AM Plaid Cymru shadow minister for environment and rural affairs said: “This letter is a significant development in the ongoing issues surrounding Natural Resources Wales’ handling of its responsibilities over forestry in Wales.
“For the sector to state that it has lost confidence in NRW’s ability to deliver a commercially viable and sustainable service should force the government to consider looking again at whether NRW is the best vehicle to deliver some of these services.
“I am therefore calling on the Welsh Government to establish an independent review to ascertain whether it is still appropriate for NRW to continue to manage the commercial forest estate in Wales. If the inquiry finds that a change is needed then it should offer alternative models for the government to consider. If it concludes NRW is the appropriate body then it must make clear recommendations as to how to improve relations with the sector.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaked correspondence.”
Clare Pillman, chief executive of Natural Resources Wales, said: “We fully accept that we have had some significant issues in our commercial forestry operations.
“We are taking these very seriously and have left no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of these issues, which is why we commissioned independent experts to carry out a thorough review, which will conclude very soon.
“Our relationship with our forestry partners is very important to us and we will be meeting with them in the near future to discuss our plans for improvements.”
Ceredigion hometown heroes & lockdown legends sought for 2020 National Lottery Awards
THE National Lottery is searching for your ‘hometown hero’ or ‘lockdown legend’ as part of the 2020 National Lottery Awards.
This year the annual search for the UK’s most popular National Lottery funded projects will, for the first time, honour individuals who have made an extraordinary impact in their community, especially those who have adapted during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
New figures reveal more than £2.8 million of National Lottery funding has been invested in good causes in Ceredigion in 2018/19 alone.
A total of 108 National Lottery grants were awarded in the region during the previous financial year, providing vital support to arts, sports, heritage and community projects.
From today, The National Lottery are calling for nominations of people who have done amazing things with the help of National Lottery funding and are an inspiration to us all.
Winners in each category will receive a £3,000 cash prize for their organisation and a coveted National Lottery Awards trophy.
Jonathan Tuchner from The National Lottery is encouraging the people of Ceredigion to make their nominations.
He said: “The National Lottery continues to have a positive impact on life across the UK. Thanks to National Lottery players thousands of projects are making an incredible difference to their local communities.
Now, more than ever, people have rallied together, and individuals are performing inspirational acts and extraordinary endeavours to help in cities, towns and villages up and down the country.
Thanks to National Lottery players, up to £600 million has been made available to support communities throughout the UK amid the coronavirus crisis. People have used National Lottery funding in amazing ways during these challenging times. We want to honour them as part of this year’s National Lottery Awards and recognise their selfless dedication and thank them for their fantastic work.”
Encompassing all aspects of National Lottery good causes funding, the 2020 National Lottery Awards are seeking to recognise outstanding individuals in the following sectors:
Community / Charity
And there will be a special Young Hero Award for someone under the age of 18 who has gone that extra mile in their organisation. All nominees must work or act for a National Lottery funded organisation or have received National Lottery funding.
To make your nomination for this year’s National Lottery Awards, tweet @LottoGoodCauses with your suggestions or complete an entry form through our website www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards . Entries must be received by midnight on 19th August 2020.
Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts
The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.
Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.
The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.
He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.
Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.
Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”
Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.
Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.
He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.
He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”
Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.
He also announced:
A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.
VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.
£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.
A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.
Safe zones in Ceredigion town centres
Plans are being put into place to create safe zones for pedestrians in Ceredigion town centres.
Most of the county’s towns have a historic street layout with narrow footways and traffic running through them so as businesses re-open and visitors return to these areas there is insufficient space for people to keep a safe distance from one another.
Our towns will look different to how they did a few months ago but changes will mean businesses can re-open safely whilst also ensuring residents’ and visitors’ health and safety can be maintained.
The plans being developed by council officers include closing off roads to traffic during the day to create more space for shoppers to walk safely, particularly as large numbers of tourists and students return to the county. It’s also aimed at helping businesses too by creating more outdoor space for retailers and the hospitality sector to trade. It is important that the Council acts quickly to put arrangements in place as quickly as possible and these initial arrangements will be continually reviewed.
To do this, spaces for traders will be re-defined, some roads will be closed to traffic, pavements will be de-cluttered by removing street furniture (and other items), visitors will be asked to park away from the town centres for free and signage will be introduced to help visitors maintain safe distances.
These changes will protect the community and people’s health whilst ensuring businesses can still trade.
Further information on the safe zones will follow.
Keep Ceredigion safe.
Information related to the Coronavirus can be found on the Council’s website, www.ceredigion.gov.uk/Coronavirus
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