MP’s solution to save base

AN MP has put forward an idea to help save the Forestry Commission’s office in Rothbury while urging the Government to stop job losses.

Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith has asked ministers to consider keeping the village’s office, which has been earmarked for closure by the Commission, and combining its use with other agencies.

He said: “I have a specific proposal for the Government about the Rothbury office. The National Park is considering closing its information centre in Rothbury and both Natural England and the Environment Agency work closely with the Forestry Commission and the National Park, as does Northumberland County Council.

“Why cannot those agencies pool a small amount of resources and maintain a presence in shared offices in Rothbury? In that way, they can retain an effective local service and improve joined-up working, which proved itself to be essential in handling the recent floods.

“It is time to think more radically about how services vital to the countryside and the rural community can be maintained. Here is an opportunity to set an example.”

Sir Alan also set out a case for keeping forestry jobs in the region.

He said that the Forestry Commission is well-liked by the public ‘and that is down to the work of its staff’. He added that forestry staff pay an important role in educating children in the area about forests and wildlife.

An advisory panel has been set up to advise the Government on the future of forestry and woodland policy.

Sir Alan said: “If the panel recommends that there should be very few further sales, how are the redundancies to be financed? How are the losses, funded by the previous Government partly from sales, to be funded? If the panel recommends that more work should be done in access and leisure, in biodiversity or in education, how can it be done without the expertise of the staff who are being made redundant? How will the advisory work of the forest service in Northumberland’s private forestry be maintained?”

Defra Minister Jim Paice said that the Government will do what it can to save jobs but decisions are tempered with a need to get the economy back on track.

He added that more research was needed before any decision could be made on saving offices.

After the debate, Sir Alan said: “The replies were encouraging and I welcome the fact that the minister wants to look into this.”