Disappointing budget delivers contradictory messages for waste

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:

Further to the spring budget unveiled by the chancellor, British Plastics Federation's director general Philip Law said: "In the waste area, there are some contradictory messages. On one hand, we ...: "In the waste area, there are some contradictory messages. On one hand, we see a substantial increase in the recycling targets for packaging, but on the other hand the value of landfill tax only slightly increased. We would have liked to see a more coherent and ambitious approach by higher increases of the landfill tax to further incentivise the recycling of our plastics back into new valuable products.”

Steve Lee, director general of R&WUK, also expressed concern over landfill tax. He said: “We expected announcements on the extension of landfill tax to illegal deposits and the packaging targets, and these have already been welcomed by both ESA and CIWM. However, the chancellor has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor in making no reference to the much broader policy challenges around climate change, the low carbon economy, and energy and resource efficiency and security. Our sector has a lot to contribute to this agenda – both in economic growth and environmental protection terms – and it is disappointing to have to point to this omission yet again."

Nonetheless Lee went on to give the government the benefit of the doubt. “The government may have a credible excuse this time. We are going through an unprecedented period both as a result of Brexit and because four major (and hopefully interlinked) policy frameworks are currently under development on national infrastructure, industrial strategy, the environment and emissions reduction. And if we want evidence-based policy making then the evidence has to be gathered and assessed. Once these strategies and plans are live, however, R&WUK will be calling strongly on the Treasury to show that it is firmly behind the plans and objectives set out.”

Turning to the Treasury's response to industry pleas to tackle waste crime, ESA’s executive director, Jacob Hayler stated: "ESA is pleased that HM Treasury has listened to the industry and adopted measures already in place in Scotland and Wales to tax illegal deposits of waste. This will help punish the criminals who undermine legitimate operators in our industry and restrict the option of illegal dumping as a means of avoiding landfill tax."

Looking at the wider picture of the sustainable economy, Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, warned: "If the UK is to meet the chancellor’s ambition of being at the cutting edge of the global economy, the autumn budget will need to be much clearer about the UK’s environmental and low carbon ambitions and provide a clear business plan to meet the UK’s policy objectives under its emissions reduction plan and 25 year plan for the environment.”

Divorce between fiscal and environmental policies

The Environmental Industries Commission's executive director, Matthew Farrow, was not impressed by the chancellor's budget. He said it contained "little positive on the environmental agenda. In part this is symptomatic of the divorce within government between fiscal and environmental policy making, which is a more significant problem than any individual budget. So while a bold move on linking vehicle excise duty (VED) to air pollution would have been good to see, what we really need is for it to form a properly integrated part of the forthcoming new air quality plan.

“The one aspect of the budget which was relevant to the environmental industries was the confirmation of the Industrial Strategy related funding. The government needs to recognise the potential of the environmental sector to play a key part in the strategy.”

Call for government commitment

Paul Taylor, CEO of FCC Environment, said that while it is encouraging to see the government pledge its ongoing support for UK infrastructure projects, he felt that a major opportunity has been missed to set out plans to maximise the resource productivity of the UK economy - a central pillar of the industrial strategy.

"At present, UK waste management companies are paying to export waste out of our country for incineration, which other countries use to make fuel to power homes and businesses - which is simply not sustainable," stated the CEO. "Following Brexit, we now have the chance to define our own approach to waste and resource policy, away from EU environmental diktats which could cost UK businesses an additional £2bn over the next 20 years, We would welcome clarity on future recycling policy direction.

"We urgently need a commitment from government to further invest in our domestic waste management infrastructure, which will not only mean that we can manage our waste more efficiently, but also better safeguard the UK's long-term energy security," added Taylor.

Lack of green bite

Simon Ward, head of environment at communications consultancy Prova PR, expressed concern over the omission of the 25-year environment plan in the chancellor's budget.

“The real message in government announcements can often be understood by absence, as opposed to the posturing and hyperbole at the dispatch box. Budget 2017 brought no direct mentions of climate change, air quality or energy, nor reference to the emissions reduction plan. The 25-year environment plan was also overlooked, as were the levels to which we will adhere to European environmental legislation in our post-Brexit world. All this in the same week, as the World Health Organization has said air pollution is "one of the most pernicious threats" facing global public health today, on scale much bigger than HIV or Ebola.

“At a time when green-tech should be coming to the fore, oil & gas operators were given 'unprecedented support', via tax incentives. Furthermore, businesses who invested in solar panels to generate energy for their own use will still see hikes of up to 800%. The opportunity to push renewables and clean-tech was not grasped, with worrying echoes of Trump’s growing support for fossil fuels," continued Ward.

“There was a £270m investment to keep the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies and £690m to tackle urban congestion, while the small print pointed to a spring air quality consultation. All welcome, if a little undercooked. However, the depth of dismay within the green business sector shouldn’t be overplayed, as we’ve become accustomed to hope and anguish being replaced by resignation in a lack of green bite by successive chancellors.”

Stronger signals on resource

While CIWM chief executive Dr Colin Church welcomed the proposal to consult on extending the scope of landfill tax to illegal disposals of waste made without the required permit or licence as a useful measure in the fight against waste crime, he said: “Stronger signals on resources will be needed moving forward, however. In this budget the chancellor focuses on labour productivity; in the future we will all need to increase our efforts to improve resource productivity to support the UK’s transition to a low carbon, resilient and resource efficient economy.”


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