Select Committee on Environmental Audit Sixth Report


The Environmental Audit Committee has agreed to the following Report:

1. Not only does the Government have a responsibility to lead by example in environmentally sound timber procurement practices; it also has, through its buying power, the potential to change the nature of timber markets through the procurement decisions that it makes (para 6).
2. Public sector demand for sustainable timber would stimulate additional supply in the long term. Where requirements cannot be met from legal and sustainable sources, Government should be able to demonstrate that it has considered alternatives to virgin timber. Recycling and reuse of timber, or use of alternative species or domestic supplies, could be valuable tools in the drive to halt the wanton destruction of forests and endangered species (para 8).
3. While Government rhetoric has been laudable, we see no systematic or even anecdotal evidence of any significant change in the pattern of timber procurement since July 2000. The permissive wording of the policy has left those not committed to implementation free to pay it little more than lip service (para 12).
4. The greater resistance to green procurement appears to come not from the European Union and its procurement rules, but HM Treasury's traditional hard line "of not using procurement to achieve other policy ends" (para 18).
5. The Government has failed to provide officials with adequate guidance on legal and sustainable timber procurement or the regulatory framework (para 20).
6. Lethargy in the provision of guidance on certification demonstrates a lack of commitment on the part of the Government (para 21).
7. That the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lacks the capacity to deliver in any policy areas other than the most immediately essential areas must have undermined its ability to commit fully to providing the required leadership and guidance on timber procurement just as much as its lack of authority has prevented it enforcing the policy across Government (para 24).
8. That existing guidance to officials from other sources does not 'tie-in' with the Government's policy on timber procurement is only now becoming apparent, two years after the policy became binding and four years after the introduction of the model contract, is indicative of the malaise that has permeated implementation (para 25).
9. As Mr Meacher has acknowledged, "the lack of available data makes it impossible to monitor performance" (para 26).
10. Had reporting occurred as originally envisaged, DEFRA may have been alerted to failures to implement the policy earlier. As it was, the department was denied the opportunity to take timely remedial action (para 26).
11. It is disappointing the that Government has not taken greater advantage of the experience that exists in the private sector in initiating the required culture change in procurement operations. It should do so in the future (para 28).
12. The Government failed to undertake adequate research or preparatory work prior to or immediately after its July 2000 commitments on timber procurement. As a result it hugely underestimated the scale and complexity of the challenge it was facing and failed to commit adequate priority or resources to implementation. This in turn led to an abject failure to deliver on the promises made (para 30).
13. We warmly welcome the Government's recent efforts to reinvigorate implementation of the timber procurement policy and in particular the work now being undertaken by consultants. We acknowledge the valuable role that Greenpeace have played in stimulating recent Government activity (para 35).
14. Concerted action needs to taken not only right the way through the supply chain but also through the layers of civil service decision-making and operations. In order to produce a real step change towards sustainable and legal timber procurement we recommend that Government, by the end of the year:
(a)Establish permanent and demonstrable commitment to the policy from Ministers across Government;
Set timber procurement policy as a priority for implementation which is not to be put aside as other priorities emerge;
Ensure that every department has effective data capture and reporting mechanisms in place and a means by which inadequate reporting can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. It is totally unsatisfactory for departments to be let off the hook for failing to report adequately and in a timely manner;
Establish clear criteria for the assessment of certification schemes, drawing on the expertise of NGOs where appropriate;
Establish clear and progressive targets, in line with the expected ERM report, on the basis of the data provided this year, which reflect the potential to make significant progress immediately but also the incremental improvements which can only be made in the longer term; and
Provide definitive guidance to procurement officials on the application of public procurement rules in the light of the Commission's interpretative communication and on terminology (para 36).
15. Medium term objectives should include:
Constant and multi-level engagement between DEFRA, Office of Government Commerce and procurement officials in departments and agencies;
Greater involvement on the part of OGC (on the behalf of departments) with the supply chain at every level. This will necessitate the commitment of significant resources;
When the required infrastructure is in place, a change in the onus of proof so that procurement officials are prepared to defend their decisions to purchase from non-certified sources rather than having to demonstrate that they sought not to do so; and
Encourage further development of public procurement policy in a direction which facilitates rather than hampers green procurement (para 37).
16. Lessons learnt from experiences in the last two years should be applied in other areas of greening procurement. Most important, adequate and thorough research should be undertaken prior to the announcement of policy changes and a clear indication of timescales for implementation given or the Government risks eroding support and fostering cynicism over its commitment to green procurement (para 38).
17. Inconsistent interpretation of CITES undermines the Convention's credibility, as well as the UK's profile as a leading force against illegal logging. If the UK were to come to be seen as the weak link in the EU chain of CITES controls, there is a risk of an even higher proportion of illegally logged timber entering the EU through UK ports (para 48).
18. We welcome the Government's proposal to consider with other EU Member States whether the CITES Regulations should be amended to impose a requirement of prior presentation of export documentation for certain Appendix III species (para 49).
19. We welcome the Government's proposal to pursue greater protection for big leaf mahogany through its transference from Appendix III to Appendix II. (para 50).
20. We welcome the preliminary work that is being undertaken through the Commission to consider the possibility of a new EU framework to enable controls on the importation of non-CITES timber species to be put in place and the Minister's support for this development (para 51).
21.   We congratulate the Government for its groundbreaking agreement on timber with Indonesia and for pursuing similar agreements with other timber producing countries. We encourage it to promote the use of such agreements among other EU Member States (para 52).

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