Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Annex B


Letter from Rt. Hon Michael Meacher Mp to Green Ministers

  I am seeking your and colleagues' help in reviewing the progress we are making in implementing the Government commitment that all central government departments and agencies actively seek to buy timber and timber products from legal and sustainably managed sources.

  The commitment was made in a Parliamentary Answer to Colin Burgon MP on 28 July 2000, publicised in press notice (Appendix A) and notified to heads of procurement in letters from DETR of 29 September 2000 and DTLR of 19 June 2001 and in the OGC notice PPC(G)(01)1 issued on 3 January 2001.

  You will be aware of the recent Greenpeace demonstration at the Cabinet Office building in Whitehall. That incident highlights the need for those involved in the procurement of timber and timber products in all departments to understand the importance of ensuring that the policy is being fully implemented and properly monitored. I appreciate that this can be a complex issue and that officials need clear guidance on how to implement the policy without falling foul of the procurement regulations. We have commissioned consultants to suggest how this can be done and expect a final report this summer. In the meantime we need to evaluate whether the Government really is actively seeking to implement the policy and identify any remaining problems other than the need for guidance.

  At Appendix B is a model contract specification clause. It should help project managers and buyers within your Department who are involved in drawing up documentation for forthcoming contracts for procuring timber and timber products. The clause builds on advice given in the Green Guide for Buyers and elsewhere on the Greening Government web site (http://defraweb/environment/greening/greenpro/greenbuy/28.htm). It also takes account of the current legal framework for public procurement, which prevents public contracting authorities from specifying certification schemes such as FSC to the exclusion of alternative forms of evidence. Timber certification schemes are voluntary and have no legal force. They can provide excellent evidence of sustainable and legal sources but to deny suppliers the opportunity to submit alternative evidence would be discriminatory within the context of the EC Directives as currently interpreted.

  The Greening Government Third Annual Report 2001 showed that the lack of available data makes it impossible to monitor performance across Government. Only seven Departments were in a position to report on purchases of timber (including sawn timber, furniture, flooring and prefabricated units). All departments have been asked to review data collection systems to ensure that they are in a position to report in full on timber purchases for the next annual report due out in November and I would appreciate feedback on how this challenge is being tackled specifically in relation to timber.

  I propose that the issue be discussed at the next meeting of ENV(G) and, in the meantime, would also be grateful if you would ask your officials to undertake the following tasks:

    —  review all the projects currently being planned within their Departments that are likely to include timber of timber products;

    —  remind those responsible for the projects that it is Government policy to actively seek to buy timber from legal and sustainably managed sources;

    —  explain how they are putting that policy into practice, eg by working with their suppliers to raise awareness and explore the implications for seeking verified sustainable and legal sources;

    —  provide us with details of the projects, including a description of the timber or timber products to be purchased and their value;

    —  identify a project where we can take advantage of an offer from WWF to work with us in sourcing the timber or timber products from a legal and sustainably managed source.

  The last bullet is important. WWF has criticised the Government in an article in the May edition of Green Government for not taking advantage of an offer to help central government source independently certified timber. The article says: "Since 2000, (central Government) has been trying to identify a pilot project, but not one Department has come forward to participate—a farce which Shotton says belies the Government's lack of commitment and imagination".

  Please send the information to Bob Andrew, chairman of the inter-departmental Timber Buyers Group, to reach him before Wednesday 30 May.

  If further advice is required about the Government's policy on timber procurement or the contents of this letter, contact: Bob Andrew, DEFRA's Procurement and Contracts Division, Room 438, 19-29 Woburn Place, London WC1H 0LU.  Tel: 020 7273 8903  Fax: 020 7273 8912.  E-mail:

  I am sending this letter to all members of ENV(G) and am copying it to the Deputy Prime Minister and Sir Richard Wilson.

  Finally, can I ask you to take a personal interest in seeing that these actions are carried out without delay. The Government's record on progressing towards its goals for sustainable development is coming under increasingly close scrutiny and we need to show that our performance matches our aspirations.


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