Whilst I share many of the concerns about the Government’s plan to sell or lease many of England’s forests to private companies and charities, there’s another question that’s been bouncing around in my head ever since I heard it and which I haven’t heard answered yet. If forests are sold, leased or donated to private companies or charities, will this bring them within reach of Freedom of Information laws? And if not, then how will they be accountable for managing a fairly major public asset, and one that protests have shown that the public seem awfully protective of?
It’s a truism to say that the (Tory part of the) current government is ideologically in favour of the State not actually doing very much and getting the private sector involved in everything, but they have never satisfactorily answered questions of accountability. Public companies are accountable only to their shareholders, and their only goal is to enrich those shareholders with no obligation to wider society. I find this deeply concerning, both in this instance and more generally. The “Big Society” is all about getting private companies and charities involved in public work. Once they are, how do we as a society hold them to account, and punish them if they are greedy, incompetent or malevolent? Democracy might not be perfect, but we can at least, in theory, vote out people we don’t like. What will we be able to do in the (admittedly unlikely) case that a private company starts cutting down the New Forest for toilet paper?