Defra director Colin Church leaves the department this week after four years as the senior civil servant for the waste sector.
His tenure ends on 17 March, and he told MRW he had no immediate plans for his professional life outside Whitehall.
In March 2012 MRW reported that Church was replacing Nigel Thornton as director for climate, waste and atmosphere. He had previously been director of climate change, exotic diseases and agency relations.
Before that, Church was director of national climate change in DECC and also worked in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Business.
In his time, Church has seen his department take significant budget cuts – one of the hardest-hit at Westminster. He leaves at a time of significant job losses and reorganisation.
In November 2013, he was the official advising Dan Rogerson, the then Liberal Democrat waste minister, who wrote the infamous ‘Dear Stakeholder’ letter to the waste sector.
In it, Rogerson said that, because of the cuts, “we will be stepping back in areas where businesses are better placed to act and there is no clear market failure”.
This brought both alarm and criticism from the resource management sector which has been largely established through regulatory measures.
In terms of renewable energy, waste is a minor player and therefore why would a rational policy-maker looking at energy policy spend a disproportionate amount of his or her time on energy from waste?
Earlier that year, Church was the subject for MRW’s Big Interview and had warned that Defra would have to do less in future.
Even so, he told MRW that the “normal market” did not work in a sector created by regulation and “without its own economic rationale”.
“We have to intervene in a way that we wouldn’t want to if it were a rational marketplace,” he said at the time.
He told MRW that part of his role had been persuading ministers and business leaders to see waste as a resource and the circular economy.
Another problem, he said, was working with other Whitehall departments for which waste was a “minor player”.
“For example, in terms of renewable energy, waste is a minor player and therefore why would a rational policy-maker looking at energy policy spend a disproportionate amount of his or her time on energy from waste (EfW)?” he said.
“So you can quite understand the frustrations because, for the waste industry, EfW is really quite important but to the energy industry it’s much less so. One of my roles is to try to help the industry understand that reality. But also to have those dialogues with other departments.”
For the Environmental Services Association, executive director Jacob Hayler called Church ”a fine leader on waste and resources issues”.
”He has been in charge during a difficult period when the broader political situation has put downward pressure on staffing and other resources at Defra, but he has always demonstrated a full grasp of the range of stakeholder interests and appeared to balance them in a fair way,” he said.
Shaun Gallagher small
Church is being replaced as director of environmental quality by Shaun Gallagher, currently a director in the Ministry of Justice. He has also worked for the Department of Health.