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.”
Recognition given to long-standing members of Council committee
AT AN Ethics and Standards Committee (virtual) meeting held on 17 September 2021, Rif Winfield and Hywel Wyn Jones were given recognition for their 10 years’ of service to the Committee between 2011 and 2021. A small plaque was presented to both.
Hywel was Chair of the Committee for 3 years.
In their place, two new independent members Alan Davies and Caryl Davies have been appointed.
Eifion Evans, Chief Executive of Ceredigion County Council said, “Ceredigion County Council has benefitted from a decade of advice and considerations provided by Rif & Hywel. We welcome the new members of the committee and their input to the function of the Committee will be greatly appreciated.”
Standards Committees of local authorities exist to do all that is possible to promote and safeguard the standards that the public rightly expect from their elected representatives.
Ceredigion County Council Chairman, Councillor Paul Hinge, said, “Our thanks go to Rif and Hywel who have given their time to contribute to the Committee and we welcome the new members.”
The Committee is made up of five independent members, two county councillors and two town/community councillors. Meeting quarterly, reports for the Ethics and Standards Committee including dispensation applications can be found on the Council website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk.
Exciting new developments on the horizon for Lampeter Wellbeing Centre
At a Cabinet meeting held on 01 December 2020, it was agreed that Lampeter Leisure Centre would become the location of the Council’s first Wellbeing Centre in the County.
A significant amount of work and investment is to be made at the Leisure Centre which will improve the facility and the resources for years to come.
Over the coming months, as we see the plans and proposals for Wellbeing Centre develop, they will be shared with service users and the residents of Ceredigion.
Architects have been appointed to oversee the project and work will now begin on the proposed layout for the facility. The layout will be a reconfiguration of the existing facility in order to provide a Wellbeing Centre that can provide an enhanced range of Through Age Services, including Leisure Services to the residents of Lampeter and the mid of the county.
Councillor Catherine Hughes, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member, said: “We are looking forward to the development of the new Wellbeing Centre at Lampeter. This will provide a range of services to residents within their local community.
This development comes at a welcome time, as Ceredigion Public Service Board is carrying out an Assessment of Local Wellbeing, in order to find out about the wellbeing of local people and communities, now and in the future.”
Lampeter Leisure Centre will be closed during the building works, but during this period alternative provision will be made available for all service users and clubs.
We look forward to being able to share these alternative plans with you over the coming weeks, as soon as these arrangements have been finalised.
UK Government must improve HGV drivers’ working conditions – Ben Lake MP
FOLLOWING his contribution during PMQs on September 8 regarding the HGV driver crisis, Ben Lake MP has raised the issue again, with Minister Grant Shapps.
Ben Lake MP has said:
“Many constituents who work in the HGV industry have come forward to share their experiences with me about the HGV driver crisis. As well as expressing grave concern, they have also shared ideas and long-term solutions that would greatly improve the current situation.
“It’s important that the UK Government listens and gives full consideration to these suggestions and I look forward to meeting with the Minister in the near future to discuss them further.”
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