Stewart promises to champion resource industry

Newly-appointed Resource Minister Rory Stewart has promised delegates at Resourcing the Future that he will listen to and support the resource industry.

The minister addressed a gathering of the waste and resources industry for the first time this morning (24 June), giving the opening keynote address at the joint conference of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the Resource Association.

Saying that he was “embarrassed” to be giving a speech as he would rather have been listening to the experts in the room, he promised to bring ambition to resources policy, in a speech that many present thought could indicate a positive change from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), after the department ‘stepped back’ from waste policy under the previous coalition government.

Stewart promised “to champion your industry and support you”, highlighting the contribution that the “remarkable industry” makes to the UK economy, adding that “this industry and the work that you all do is going to be absolutely essential in keeping [the world] going”.

Although Stewart was a surprise appointment at Defra, given his military background, he used his keynote address to demonstrate what he said was his limited experience with waste, describing his work with an NGO in an area of Kabul, where he said there had been no waste management for years. By clearing away the rubbish, he said that they dropped the street level by six to seven feet, which improved the quality of life of the area’s residents. “Every indicator there is turning around because of one thing: waste management”, he claimed.

Role of government

The new minister offered few details for what policies he envisages pursuing in his new role, but said that “government should not be complacent” and that the devolved and central administrations must learn from each other “and speak to the EC with one unified voice”.

Touching on the issue of targets, Stewart said that “rushing out with targets we can’t meet can get us in trouble”, though he claimed: “We are working hard within the British government to create a new [waste and resources] plan that is more ambitious.”

Stewart wants the UK to ‘lead the world’

During a brief question and answer session, Stewart was asked what he would like to achieve over the next five years, and he replied: “In five years’ time, I want to be able to give a presentation highlighting 15 to 20 ways the UK is leading the world when it comes to resources.”

Asked whether he would consider instituting a landfill ban to help with this aim, however, he refused to be drawn, noting that it was “a very important issue” about which he “must consult and listen to you”.

Resourcing the Future continues tomorrow, when delegates will hear from Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, amongst others.