Series of recommendations issued regarding Defra’s progress on waste crime

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) issued a series of recommendations last week (19 October) regarding Defra and the Environment Agency’s progress in implementing the 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy.

Defra signIn the report, the PAC called the progress made so far ‘slow and piecemeal’. Defra has been given 42 days to respond to the report.

The Environment Services Association (ESA) called the inquiry ‘damning’ and a ‘depressingly familiar analysis’.

The seven recommendations issued by the PAC are:

  1. Firstly, the PAC encourages the increased implementation of the actions laid out in the Resources and Waste Strategy 2018. It identifies that the ‘slow’ progress includes the lack of a delivery plan for achieving its goal of eliminating waste crime, as forecast for 2043. Suggestions are therefore made for  annual updates on Defra’s progress and the completion of an outline plan by the end of this month.
  2. Secondly, the PAC identifies a lack of accurate tracking and a general under-reporting of true waste crime statistics. Current statistics show that approximately 25 per cent of waste crime is currently reported. The committee recommends that Defra and the Agency explore possible solutions for data weaknesses, including the possibility of satellite technology, to ensure successful and accurate waste crime reporting.
  3. Thirdly, it recommends that Defra works with HMT and HMRC to review landfill taxes in order to ensure they include appropriate incentives to reduce waste crime. It addsthat HMRC should report improvements made to its landfill tax prosecutions by the end of 2022.
  4. Following this, the PAC recommends a reevaluation of the sanction approach to waste crime – saying that sanctions are ‘not effective in deterring people from committing waste crime’. Presently, any member of the public can register as a ‘waste carrier’ and be licensed to remove waste. The PAC states that the number of prosecutions on waste crime has fallen 90 per cent since reaching its peak in 2007/08. It recommends that Defra, the Agency and HMRC collaborate with relevant elements of the criminal justice system to form a plan to create more effective enforcement systems.
  5. According to the PAC report, Defra is also failing to work with local authorities to tackle fly-tipping. In England in 2020-21, over a million recorded incidents of this form of waste crime were made. Although Defra is of the position that local authorities are responsible for handling fly-tipping, PAC states it should offer support in the form of guidance and sanctions – for example, it worked on a fly-tipping toolkit in 2018 to assist local authorities. It suggests that Defra strengthen bonds with local authorities to set ‘a clear national framework’ while still allowing flexibility for local circumstances.
  6. Another issue highlighted is the lack of action on the illegal exporting of waste crime. The Agency estimates that approximately 14 million tonnes of waste are illegally exported every year, although it also recognises the total figure may be higher. The PAC recommends that the Agency inform it within six weeks of further action taken to understand the true scale of illegal waste exports, plus an idea of further action to prevent it.
  7. Finally, the PAC presents the current waste tracking system as still being in development after four years. It says the successful implementation of this system is essential to the elimination of waste crime by the prescribed deadline. The PAC asks to be informed by Defra when the IT contract is let and what the plan is for full implementation.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: “Another day, another policy headline with no plan or demonstrable progress towards achieving it, despite years of resources put in.

“The result is property and countryside blighted by flytipping, toxic leaks into our soil, and tonnes of waste illegally exported by the UK to developing countries even less able to cope with its indefinite negative effects.

“With the growing involvement of criminal gangs, adept at evading detection and who regard the fines if they are caught as merely a business expense, a much more serious approach to enforcement is required.

“Currently the Department’s approach to large parts of waste crime is closer to decriminalisation. Targets become meaningless – rubbish, you might say – when there isn’t even a strategy for achieving them, much less any indication or measurement of progress.

“Sadly, all the signs four years into a 25-year target period are that the problem is getting worse.”