Defra five-year plan draws strong industry criticism

The Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra) has been criticised by waste and resource management associations after a five-year plan issued by the department virtually ignored the resource industry.

In its single departmental plan for 2015-2020, Defra reiterated its desire to tackle waste crime, listing it as one of the many issues it hopes to tackle in the coming year. Liz Truss first pledged to ‘crack down on waste cowboys’ at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, briefly mentioning the need to use on-the-spot fines to ‘enable law-abiding businesses to thrive’ in a speech that focused on farming and food production.

The 2015-2020 plan’s commitment to ‘develop new approaches for tackling waste crime, including using £20 million from reform of the Landfill Communities Fund, and for tackling litter’ is similarly the only mention of waste or resources in the Defra document, which has drawn criticism from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the Resource Association (RA) and the Environmental Services Association (ESA).

‘Highly disappointing’

CIWM, which represents over 6000 waste management professionals, has expressed its disappointment at the plan’s lack of reference to waste and resource management, as well as wider climate change issues.

CIWM Chief Executive Steve Lee
Chief Executive Steve Lee said that it was ‘highly disappointing’ but ‘not surprising’ that waste is predominantly absent from the five-year plan, which he said ‘won’t deliver’. Lee continued to state that the waste and resources policy agenda, comprising of issues such as material resource efficiency, renewable energy, green economic growth and climate change mitigation, is one that requires government input.

He said: “In the short term, there are significant pressures on our sector at present – stalling recycling, pressures on UK reprocessing capacity, and challenging recyclate markets to name but a few – that have to be addressed and will require government engagement.

“In the medium term, we are moving into the critical negotiation phase on the EU’s Circular Economy Package, which will shape the future of environmental policy and legislation across Europe over the next decade and beyond. Whether or not we remain in the EU, this package of measures will impact on UK and it is alarming to see no mention of it in Defra’s plan. This industry requires more evidence of the government’s engagement on this agenda and reassurance that Defra is adequately representing our sector’s views and interests at the negotiating table.

“In the long term, the UK has, along with nearly 200 other countries, just signed up to the Paris climate change agreement. However, the words ‘climate change’ appear only once, with reference to polar bears. Clearly the government’s response to climate change will engage many departments but as the lead department for industry sectors that have a recognised role to play in tackling climate change, Defra’s plan is inadequate.

“The stark picture here is of a department that is utterly depleted in terms of resources, funding and vision.”

Plan raises ‘serious concerns’ about Defra’s representation of industry

Resource Association Chief Executive Ray Georgeson
RA Chief Executive Ray Georgeson, meanwhile, was moved to write to new Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh expressing ‘serious concern’ about the ambition for and interest of Defra in the industry.

In an open letter, Georgeson noted that the work on waste crime is welcome but that the plan ‘has been met with dismay by our industries as it makes no reference whatsoever to the department’s role in delivering household recycling targets for England or even any reference to the expected revisions to waste legislation and new proposals from the [European] Commission under its Circular Economy Package’.

Georgeson wrote: ‘Linked to this is a major concern in the industry about the lack of transparency and clarity of the UK government’s negotiating positions on the draft waste legislation proposals in the Circular Economy Package. Although Defra have run a couple of stakeholder consultation events, there has been very little information forthcoming from ministers or officials about their positions on various key aspects of the package and new recycling targets.

‘We are led to understand by colleagues in the European Commission that the UK government is taking negative positions on many of the proposals and yet none of this has been properly shared or communicated with stakeholders at home. The reality is that, if this is true, then on many aspects of the commission’s proposals it is quite possible that UK government is not at all speaking for significant elements of the UK industry who see much merit in the more ambitious proposals coming from the commission, even though detail needs to be worked upon.’

The letter asks Creagh to call Defra ministers into the EAC for scrutiny of the rationale behind the departmental plan and Defra’s role in the Circular Economy Package.

Absence of strategy 'harming investment'

The ESA, which has members from across the UK’s resource and waste management industry has also commented on the plan. Executive Director, Jacob Hayler said: “It is disappointing that Defra’s departmental plan contains so few references to the waste and recycling sector. As ESA has pointed out numerous times before, the absence of a proper strategy for our industry is really harming investment and the UK’s ability to achieve higher recycling levels.

"Our industry offers great potential for much needed investment in the UK plc to deliver growth and jobs, but this requires political engagement and long term vision from the government.

"ESA will continue to work constructively with Defra and set out our case for future improvements but, if taken at face value, the departmental plan certainly sends out a negative message about the next five years for our sector.” 

25-year plan

The Defra plan also committed to work with the Natural Capital Committee to develop a ‘comprehensive’ 25-year plan for the environment by the end of 2016.

This plan will help ensure that the environment is appropriately maintained and improved to underpin economic wellbeing whilst developing structures to enable people to value nature when making decisions.

A framework for the plan, which Defra says will be supported by better use of data and technology, will be published this spring, with a finished plan published by the end of 2016.

Defra’s single departmental plan for 2015-2020 can be found on the department’s website.