The productive partnership between industry and Scottish Government over the last five years has been crucial to securing the current high level of business confidence, which has led to record investment, new jobs and rural economic growth.
With a new Government, new ministers and new portfolios, the sector is keen to understand whether that will be accompanied by any change in policy, or any change to the positive relationship central to this modern-day Scottish success story.
Scotland is currently planting 80 per cent of the UK’s trees in modern, mixed-species forests which deliver multiple benefits and tackle the two great challenges of 2021 - recovery from Covid-19 and the climate crisis.
Our industry rose to the Covid-19 challenge to provide the wooden products needed to move medical supplies and food. Now, as Scotland looks to a green recovery from the pandemic, it is ready to play an even bigger part in a successful environmental and economic future.
With Scotland targeting a net zero balance of carbon emissions and reduction by 2045 (five years before the rest of the UK), planting trees, managing forests and creating timber products have a crucial role in tackling the climate crisis. Don’t take my word for it; the Climate Change Committee, independent advisers to the UK and Scottish Governments, have said so repeatedly.
When setting out priorities for the new government, the First Minister led with a Covid recovery driven by ambitious plans for a modern, high-tech economy. Anyone who has seen a £500,000 harvesting machine in action, preparing logs to be sent to sawmills which utilise the latest technology to ensure every bit of that log is used, knows this is a hi-tech industry. It is also increasingly crucial in providing well-paid jobs in rural areas.
That success has not gone unnoticed. England has looked enviously at Scotland’s success in planting trees and producing low-carbon wood products and the recent publication of the England Trees Action Plan signals a desire by the UK Government to raise its game. The Welsh Government recognises the carbon and sustainability benefits of using wood in new homes and wants more of that to be Welsh. Unlocking the potential will require new investment.
Scotland has attracted record investment, including £95m by Norbord at its Inverness panel board site, one of the largest inward investments in any industry in recent years. Scottish sawmillers are investing tens of millions of pounds, reassured there will be future supplies of wood.
With a new Scottish Government, we are looking for continuity, to keep confidence high and maintain the momentum that has helped create an industry delivering more than £1 billion in annual economic value and supporting 25,000-plus jobs. Forestry and wood processing is delivering real jobs and growth to all areas of rural Scotland and at the same time, playing a central role in delivering Scotland’s net zero ambitions.
With continued support around the Cabinet table, the confidence and momentum will remain, and the economic and environmental benefits for Scotland will continue to flow.
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor