AMs raise concerns over Forestry Commission grants

7 Feb 11
Assembly members have raised concerns over 'systematic failings' in how Forestry Commission Wales distributes public money
By David Williams

8 February 2011

Assembly members have raised concerns over ‘systematic failings’ in how Forestry Commission Wales distributes public money. They are calling on the quango to tighten up its method for giving out grants.

A report from the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee published today found the commission ‘failed in its duty’ to consult the public over a £500,000 award to Calon, a workers’ co-operative, to buy an area of woodland in Pembrokeshire in 2006.

The AMs said that the terms of the award were not specific enough to protect either the public money involved, or the community’s access to the site. Their report found that although the commission had required Calon to have a business plan, it made no specifications for what form that should take – a situation it described as ‘bizarre’.

The PAC report follows a review by the auditor general for Wales, which came to similar conclusions. It was prompted by a petition from local residents and community groups unhappy at the award, which was part of the commission’s Cydcoed programme to improve access to woodland for deprived groups of people.

The committee recommended that Forestry Commission Wales draw up a clear definition of ‘community group’ to use when considering future applications.

It also called on the body to more rigorously check the organisations it funds to ensure that they have forestry experience or a commitment to developing the necessary skills to manage the land appropriately.

Committee chair Darren Millar said: ‘While we have been given assurances that lessons have been learned, we are left concerned as to how these failings were allowed to occur in the first place, and how grant programmes are handled today.

‘Public bodies charged with handling taxpayers’ money have a duty to apply best practice to ensure we see value for money.

‘In this instance, Forestry Commission Wales fell well below expectations and now have the task of rebuilding public confidence.’

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