Brexit – reflecting on policy

15th June 2017 Posted by

The result of last June’s referendum was greeted with dismay by most waste watchers, concerned that a hard Brexit would pull the rug from under our sector’s feet, exposing a policy vacuum. Our first reaction was to ask for the entire EU waste acquis to be retained – including the Circular Economy Package (CEP) currently under discussion. But perhaps we should now move from reaction to reflection, and sketch out in broad terms what policies we would like to see post-Brexit. While the page is not exactly blank, Brexit does give us an opportunity to think afresh.

Here are some suggestions, in no particular order.

  1. Make resource productivity the sine qua non of the UK’s industrial strategy. We need a more balanced economy that promotes and grows UK manufacturing. The CEP and Industrial Strategy green paper are both deficient here; the former bottling out of setting resource productivity indicators and targets, and the latter relegating resource productivity to a sideshow. Putting non-labour productivity centre stage will de facto formalise the deployment of secondary materials and recovered energy as preferred resource inputs.
  2. Update the Waste Management Plan for England. The 2013 Plan has been rendered obsolete by stagnating recycling rates, shortfalls in domestic residual waste infrastructure capacity and an uncertain European export market – collectively constituting an impending market failure that England must address. An updated Waste Management Plan must also be fully integrated into the proposed UK Industrial Strategy.
  3. Revise public sector procurement rules. It is deeply anachronistic that EU procurement legislation gives one actor special dispensations over the other with regard to contract self-award, VAT exemptions and suchlike. The Open Public Services White Paper (2011) adopted a neutral ideological stance, promoting a “truly level playing field between the public, private and voluntary sectors” such that “competition is free and fair”. The argument was not about favouring the private sector over the public sector, but about open competition under common rules giving the taxpayer better value for money. Let’s resurrect these principles and level the playing field.
  4. Prioritise innovation and commercialisation of waste-to-value transformations. The potential for using waste as a starting material for value-added products is huge. Taking the bioeconomy, the report Achieving Growth Within estimates that over 10 years creating proteins and nutrients from waste sources will attract EU-wide investment of €12 billion. Add in non-biological resources and the value-added multiplies several-fold. The BEIS industrial strategy offers an ideal framework within which to mainstream such waste-based transformative processes, supported by government investment in R&D.
  5. Get a grip on the data deficit. For too long the UK has been handicapped by poor quality waste data, both in terms of coverage and granularity. Waste Data in the UK, a report for the RWM Ambassadors, recommended to Government a route map for improvement which is being actioned in part. Significant benefits would flow from a concerted effort to hardwire a more robust UK-wide data management system.
  6. Focus on remanufacturing. Described as the “arguably the gold standard” in resource-efficient strategies, remanufacturing can provide a significant boost to jobs and growth in the UK. However, while other countries are capitalising on its potential, the UK is in danger of being left behind (£15 billion output value in China versus £5.6 billion in the UK). Again, another plank of the Industrial Strategy.

Save for procurement rules, all of the above have been within the gift of the UK to implement, irrespective of whether we were in or out of the EU. So let’s not pretend that we were hamstrung by our membership.

No vision = no ambition = no action.

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