Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Welsh Forestry Employment, Jobs and Statistics

Are there Really 10,000 jobs related to how Welsh Forests are managed?

There are various numbers going around for how many people are employed in Welsh forestry:

Western Mail  6 December 2011 had the Wales Forest Business Partnership claiming 16,000.

This seems to come from the FCW website.  The background research seems to be this (16,300) from Jaako Poyry.

Western Mail 3 November 2011 "employs 10,000 people directly and 8,500 more indirectly"

That one originates from a joint study by the Forestry Commission and the timber dominated industry lobby group ConFor.

They were both printed in the Western Mail so they must be true.... 

What appears to be happening is that lobby organisations are understandably trying to talk up the importance of their industries, in order to gain political influence. Spin doctors at work.

So what is the truth? How many jobs depend on the way in which the forests are managed in Wales?

There IS a published source from Forestry Commission Wales:
Woodlands for Wales Indicators 2011 (pdf takes time to load) 

On first sight the total, 9,141 makes ConFor's round 10,000 look pretty fair.

BUT: 4,781, more than half, are employed in pulp and paper. That's two mills, both using waste paper, so really nothing to do with Wales's forests? (Note: until ten or fifteen years ago the big mill at Shotton did use wood, so you could argue that it might again? But if it did how much would be Welsh?) 

So knock them off  and you are down to about 4,500.

BUT how many of the rest actually relate to the Welsh forests? Where does the wood come from?

This chart makes it clear that certainly in terms of volume, about 60% of wood supporting the 1,356 jobs in primary processing comes from outside Wales.

That would make about 550 jobs.

Only 5% of the volume supporting the 2003 jobs in secondary processing is from Welsh forests. 

That might be 100 jobs.

Totalling these figures gives us about 1,900 jobs.

Or; if you look at the chart on the left above on business numbers and thought that could be a better proxy for jobs than volume it would give a higher number for primary and secondary processing taking the figure to around 3,000.

Does that have a common sense ring of truth? Well about a million cubic metres of timber are harvested every year in Wales. Much of that is highly mechanised  it might not be much more than 100 mechanised harvesters doing 10,000 cubic metres a year each. Carrying 1,000,000 cubic metres will take 50,000 lorry trips, that's less than 200 lorry drivers at 300 trips a year? Primary processing is also very labour efficient. One mill employing about 120 people can process nearly 100,000 cubic metres of timber. I'm over simplifying here, the harvesters and lorries have mechanics, there are sites which are labour intensive with chainsaws, small specialist mills with more employees per metre of timber etc. But overall we seem to be, being reasonable, in the low thousands?

FC Wales received £24.7million last year from the Welsh Government.

'Political Industrial Complex'?
What is going on is politics. The industrial forestry lobby need to maximise their political influence. This linked in the past with the relationship with FC Wales, which was significantly committed to commercial clearfell and conifer restock forestry. The merger of FC Wales with the Environment Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales may mean that people who care about, and are expert in water, landscape, and wildlife issues become more closely involved. The attention of politicians can be gained from talk about jobs. It's in the interests of the industrial forestry lobby to "massage up" the numbers (I've sat in meetings watching it happen). The reason is (we are in Yes Minister territory here) a politician will want to look as if they are taking big account of employment.  

So if a lobby group gets some biggish numbers accepted by the Western Mail and even the BBC, and current in the minds of AMs, there will be worried, or at least engaged, politicians. 

Sir Humphrey: "Or look as if he's TRYING to reduce it. Whereas he's only trying to look as if he's trying to reduce unemployment. Because he's worried that it doesn't LOOK as if he's trying to look as if he's trying to reduce it."

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