ICF Challenges Rejection of Forestry Skills Funding Bid
ICF has called on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to reverse a decision that will deny the forestry industry a £400,000 Employment Ownership of Skills Pilot (EOP) funding package to improve leadership and management skills.
In a letter to the Rt Hon Vince Cable, written by Shireen Chambers FICFor, ICF Executive Director, and co-signed by a Steering Group of private sector forestry organisations set up to oversee this project, ICF expressed ‘disappointment and dissatisfaction’ at the decision to reject the bid at a late stage in the appraisal process. The requested funds had initially been offered, and would have been to be used to create a Professional Development Learning Network, focussing on developing skills to foster innovation. The letter read:
“The Institute of Chartered Foresters had pulled together a partnership of private sector forestry businesses to apply for £254,000 from the total available fund of £240 million. This very small grant application took two years of work to get to this stage encouraged from the outset by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. To be rejected at this late stage following changes to our application that were requested by UKCES is difficult to understand.”
Disparity Between Investment and Market Potential
The letter also criticised the ‘tick-box’ nature of the EOP appraisal process, and highlighted the disparity between investment in the industry and market potential, saying:
“England’s forest industries directly employ over 11,000 people, contribute £4.2 billion of GVA annually and support a further 100,000 jobs in downstream industries. Yet 50% of England’s woods are not in sustainable management and we import approximately 80% of our wood products, worth £6.8bn. This represents a significant opportunity for the industry if it can overcome barriers to success. Innovation is essential to this growth; ensuring businesses are better able to capture the potential.”
The decision to reject the funding bid comes at a particularly challenging time for forestry, with a recent Defra report suggesting a notable skills gap in the industry, in particular concerning a lack of tree health expertise coming through the UK educational system. In February, leading industry figures joined HRH the Prince of Wales at Highgrove for a Woodland Skills Seminar, where there was a strong consensus for improved collaboration to facilitate skills creation.