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Comment: Let smaller operators have their voice too

Over the last few months, MRW has reported on how Cornish scrap merchants have withheld payments on their waste management licence fee in a protest against the Environment Agency (EA).

WH Orchard and some other companies in the area have held back from paying their fees because they believe the Environment Agency has done nothing to crack down on illegal vehicle recyclers in the South West.

In particular, WH Orchard argues that it has spent over £50,000 in order to have the correct facilities and documentation to become an Approved Treatment Facility allowing it to legally process End-of-Life vehicles.

This week its protest came to an end when after three warnings the EA told it to pay up or face going to court to resolve the issue.

While it is right that WH Orchard and other Cornish merchants should pay their licence fee and observe the law, their complaints should be taken notice of.

Increasingly, small businesses in the waste and recycling industry are being forced to invest in modern equipment, safe and non-polluting flooring, as well as attempting to run their business profitably. There is no doubt that this investment is important, not only for customers, for the environment and the companies' workers, but also to ensure that the law is observed and European Directives are met.

But there should be some sort of payback for these businesses who are investing, what is for them, a huge amount of money to ensure they comply with the law. And this payback should be that they can run their businesses without fearing that they will be undercut by illegally operating cowboys who are not clamped down on by the relevant authorities.

So what is the answer? The EA is obviously overstretched at the moment and it is hard to imagine that it will get more funding to ensure it is able to enforce the law in situation's such as those faced by the Cornish scrap merchants.

Even bringing in the police to assist the EA is unlikely because they too have other priorities that are more likely to be important to the general public.

Perhaps there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that small businesses, which the recycling industry relies on, get the same consideration as larger companies.

It could be that the EA randomly targets areas and on a regular basis talks to small, local businesses to find out the extent of problems they face from illegal operators. But it is vitally important that small businesses are listened to, as it could be that they will help the EA to find the answers to local difficulties that could explode into a national problem.

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