Tag Archives: Caroline Spelman

#oneaday 29: Hugging trees as well as Hoodies in a Big Society

Things are looking up. The Coalition Government are showing that they are prepared to listen to the citizens, after all we do live in a democracy, don’t we? This new approach of listening is more than Labour ever seemed to do,  indeed Mr Blair and Mr Brown seemed pretty incapable of listening, or even looking before they acted. Maybe our leaders have taken their cue to this new approach from the activity and turbulence currently taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, fearing that the peaceful protest of ordinary people in the UK  could escalate. Or may be they have decided to stop wasting time on policies that are not absolutely ‘in the national interest’ ?

Thus, despite the protestations of my local MP and his personal letter to me which assured me that the consultation would be ‘comprehensive’ and that he had voted ‘against the Labour motion’, as if I care if it is a Labour motion or not, the proposed Act has been kicked well and truly into touch. I think we are in week 3 of a 12 week process, so one can tell that this proposed policy has not reallly had any poplar support amongst Coalition MPs, let alone opposition MPs. Take a look at The Politics Show from 8th Feb, you will see despite some pretty hard questions, the Minister who made these proposals  Ms Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,  did her best to tell us that ‘the lady’s not for turning, yet.’ But we all knew it was not terribly convincing at all.

So it really was  rather nice to see and hear a poltician actually say sorry this week. Sorry for wasting time and thus money. That is new. Politicians saying sorry is pretty rare not just nowadays but any days! Indeed, it was refreshing to see Mr Cameron telling the House of Commons that he really was not that impressed with the policy at all. He even said it with a sense of humour. Hats off to him. It is worth seeing how both politicians dealt with this climb down, may be a sign of a little more humility on the part of all politicians and a sign that debating the issues ahead of us is not just the domain of Parliamentarians, but in this day and age where access to the old media via new media, means that citizens can make their opinions heard, seen and read. Indeed, peaceful and intelligent protest must be the way forward for a democracy.  Have a quick look here courtesy of ITN News.

Mr Cameron has proved that he is prepared to hug more than just Hoodies. He has hugged the Trees, a vital mainstay of any environment, and long overdue for some love from our leaders. Labour sold off  parts of our forests, but we did not notice! Let’s hope Mr Cameron gives Ms Spelman a big hug, she has had a rough few weeks and seems like a decent enough lady and no one likes to be made to look stupid, especially in public.

One final thought. Every cloud has a silver lining. Mr Cameron has struggled to get his concept of the ‘Big Society’ through to all of us. Actually it is us that have struggled to understand the principle, if the truth be told. For my part, I think the ‘Big Society’ is something positive that comes from a number of citizens working together, without pay, collaborating, sharing and helping others. It is cross cultural and cross class. It sees positive action and costs the state ie the tax payer absolutely nothing at all and above all fosters a sense of belonging, purpose and identity.

 The campaign against the sell off of our forests has been organised by a the action group 38 Degrees. 38 Degrees is a not for profit organisation who say that they campaign for fairness, defend rights, promote peace preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK.  I must say they seem to do exactly that. They explained the issue, broadcast it to anyone who was interested via the internet, engaged with social media, asked for donations and allowed ordinary citizens to write to their MPs. And they ran a petition. It was completely free to take part, and over 500,000 UK voters signed the petition.  For me, this is an example of the ‘Big Society’ in action. Let’s hope we can all take part in campaigns to deliver fairer taxes, democratic voting reforms, key climate change issues and protection of our NHS, from privatisation and the pursuit of corporate profit over national health. That will help us all live in a bigger society.

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#oneaday 22: Our democratic right to a reply?

I have just received a letter and Papers  from my local MP , Mr James Gray, in response to my letter to register my disapproval against the proposed sell off of our forests to private owners.

Here it is. Talk about using disingenuous pieces of information…..dear oh dear. It will be interesting to see what reply I get next time round. Hopefully one that actually addresses my questions rather than ‘here’s a load of information, pick the bones out of that’, which appears to be the norm. Transparency  is the word!

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Dear Mr Gray,

Thank you for your letter of 28th January 2011 and for enclosing the recently published papers by Rt Hon. Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. I have posed a number of questions which I would like to put to you for consideration.

In the press notice, I question why it is stated that the ‘new direction for England’s public forest estate will protect for future generations’? Can I ask if the current status quo puts these forests under threat? Indeed, the paper goes on to state that ‘the transfer of heritage forests such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean to charitable trusts will mean walkers, riders and cyclists will still be able to enjoy them as they do at the moment’. Again, are we to suppose that the current ownership model, by the us the people, will threaten our access in the future?

The paper goes on to state. ‘The proposals would remedy the situation where the Commisson is the largest commercial operator in the sector it also regulates’. Can I ask who exactly has made complaints that this is the case? Is it commercial competitors or is it the state, or indeed the people? Indeed, why has the Government already committed to taking 15% of the public forest estate out of state control over the course of this Parliament? You say you will generate £100m income, but what of the cost longer term? Is this a decision driven by the need to unlock money for assets or is it some other principle? £100m in the grand scheme of things, when we waste money on a daily basis in Afghanistan, is frankly pushing irony to its limit. Indeed, do we know how much this nation has spent on Afghanistan under this Government and the previous Government’s administration? Are these figures agreed, audited and known?

I note also the statement that ‘state control of forests dates back to the First World War. when needs were very different. There is now no need for Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management.’ This statement suggests that the concept of state ownership of forests is wrong, and by referencing the First World War, we are somehow living in an outdated manner. Given that we are still involved in t least one futile conflict, maybe your Government would consider rolling this principle out a little further and re-examining exactly what value we are getting from Her Majesty’s Forces being in Afghanistan?

Pam Warhurst, Chair of the Forestry Commission said, ‘Ministers have set out a new vision for forestry in England that will require a fundamental shift in our thinking and how we work. The proposals provide an opportunity to think about ownership and and sustainable land management in a new way and to engage in a wider cross section of society. The consultation will allow people to have their say and we encourage everyone with an interest to give us their views’.  Can I ask did Ms Warhust make this statement, as a public servant, before or after  Ms Spelman had issued her ideas? Does Ms Warhurst believe this is the righh thing to do, or is she just toeing the line? What was the process in Scotland and Wales, and did their Forestry Commissions decide to reject this policy?

I also refer to the letter to all Coalition MPs dated 27th January from Ms Spelman – headed ‘useful points to be aware of’. Frankly this looks like the work of an over eager undergraduate advisor!

1) Only 18% of England’s woodlands is managed by the Forestry Commission. The remainder being owned by various types of organisation. Is this some sort of statement to mitigate the process. Is she saying  ‘please don’t worry, there is nothing new here, it is quite normal, please move on’?
2) ‘Between 1997 – 2010 over 25,000 acres sold with significantly less access and benefit protections that would be the case now’. This somehow suggests, in that awfuly immature party political way that ‘what we are doing is so much better than the previous lot’. Just because Labour, new or otherwise, made a cock up and sold land off to private ownership does not mean it is OK to do the same, as long as you do it ‘better’. Why did we, the people, not know about this? Maybe, just maybe it was down  the appalling lack of transparency that abounded in our public life 5 years or so back.
3) Continuing along the line of argument that ‘Labour were doing this anyway so we are not sure what the problem is’, she states ‘reform of the public forestry estate has been under consideration for some time under the previous Government, with the 2009 ‘Operational Efficiency Programme’ detailing ‘alternatives to public ownership’ and ‘new commercial opportunities’ for the estate. Does this really make the case that this policy is right??

I have checked and noted that in the Commons vote on selling off our woodlands you have voted to support  this policy.  Over 400,000 people and counting have expressed their dismay by petition and yet MPs seem to take little notice. Many of these MPs are the very same Labour and Conservative MPs that refused to acknowledge 1 million ordinary people in the streets of London who marched against the war in Iraq.

Could you also explain to me why you believe that it’s us – the voters – who have got this wrong and not the government? I hope that as my representative in Parliament you will reconsider your position.

Finally, can you enlighten me on a question of Freedom of Information. If these proposals are made law, will the private companies who buy these forests be subject to FOI requests in the same way that the Forestry Commission are now? We are in an age of transparency after long last, and the Coalition Government pride themselves in a new ‘transparent’ approach.

I look forward to hearing from you,

With kind regards,

Andrew Payne

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