08 August 2002 | Robin Parker
The government has admitted that it has failed to enforce a two-year-old policy to buy timber from sustainable sources.
In 2000, Michael Meacher, minister for the environment, made all government departments and agencies commit to buying all timber from sustainable and legal sources, enforcing previously voluntary guidance.
But the Environmental Audit Committee has found no evidence that his policy has had any impact at all on public-sector procurement.
In its report, Buying Time for Forests, the committee said purchasers were paying only lip service to the policy, and that its implementation has "little co-ordinated political direction from above".
Meacher admitted to the committee: "I did send out a very clear statement of that policy in July 2000 but it did not communicate as efficiently as we would have expected. We could have, should have, done more to train buyers and to raise awareness."
The government hopes that its Sustainable Procurement Group, set up by Meacher last year, will increase departmental use of sustainable timber, when it reports on a broad range of sustainable issues to policy ministers in September.
The government is the UK's largest timber buyer, and the policy was the world's first attempt to make this area of procurement binding.
Just seven departments have reported on their annual timber purchases, even though Meacher asked every agency to publish details of their practices.
There are also no targets in place to step up sustainable procurement, another key part of Meacher's policy.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would publish a plan of action in response to the report within three months.
The report follows controversy over the £22.6 million Cabinet Office refurbishment. Earlier this year, Greenpeace accused the government of using wood from endangered rainforests, a claim that was refuted by prime minister Tony Blair.