Defra risks industry backlash by giving Coffey ‘waste’ brief

Stewart moved on from Defra as reshuffle finalised
Therese Coffey
MP Therese Coffey has officially been given the government’s waste management brief, more than two weeks after previous Resources Minister Rory Stewart moved to a different department.

Coffey, former Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, took Stewart’s position as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs during Theresa May’s reshuffle of government last month (17 July), but her role in the department had not been confirmed until yesterday (1 August).

However, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday edited its website to update Coffey’s ministerial duties, listing her areas of responsibility as:

  • natural environment, including biodiversity, the marine environment, and international wildlife trafficking;
  • rural life opportunities, covering rural childcare, education and skills, and health;
  • floods, water and waterways;
  • air quality; and
  • waste management.

‘Resources’ downgraded to ‘waste’

This brief differs from Stewart’s in several ways, adding responsibility for air quality and narrowing ‘rural affairs’ to ‘rural life opportunities’, but most notable is the definition of her role in the waste sector.

While Stewart’s brief included ‘resource and environmental management’, Coffey’s role in the sector is limited to ‘waste management’, which may be seen by some in the industry as a devaluing of the role and potential that waste and resource management can play in protecting the environment.

Will Coffey take up consistency baton?

Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal since 2010, joined Defra after leaving her role as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, to which she was appointed last year. Prior to that, she spent a year as Assistant Whip in HM Treasury. In 2011, she voted in favour of the then coalition Government’s proposal to sell public forests and woodland, a bill that was subsequently dropped after protests. She has also been a strong proponent of nuclear energy, actively championing the construction of a new nuclear power plant at Sizewell in her Suffolk constituency.

Having been given Stewart’s brief it remains to be seen whether she will continue his work to investigate harmonisation in kerbside waste and recycling collections, which the Waste & Resources Action Partnership (WRAP) has stressed is still a priority for Defra, despite a delay to the project.

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