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Defra’s revolving door leaves waste sector facing policy hiatus  

It has long been a frustration for senior figures in the waste industry that as soon as a minister or official gets their head around the sector, they leave.

The surprise news that waste minister Lord Taylor is heading for the exit after just a year in the post underlines the validity of these frustrations and leaves the department with precious few senior people who understand the industry in depth.

His departure, following that of environment secretary Caroline Spelman, leaves the sector with the unenviable task of having to educate a fresh face who may well have little interest in the subject matter.

Defra told MRW a decision over which of the department’s ministers would pick up the waste portfolio would be made in the coming days.

It’s conventional that changing ministers leads to a hiatus as the new broom plots how to use the fresh brief to maximise their own agenda.   

But with the sector already voicing concerns about slow progress being made on what is perceived to be an unambitious policy programme, the sector will be reluctant to accept any further dragging of Whitehall feet.

Much of the onus to keep the agenda on the move will fall on the shoulders of Defra’s director for waste policy Colin Church - who has himself only been in the role since March this year.

Like many of his predecessors, Taylor has left for a job in one of Whitehall’s more high-profile departments and no doubt many in the sector will wish him luck.

Five issues to watch following Lord Taylor’s departure:   

  1. The MRF Code of Practice: one immediate question surrounds whether the changes will have any impact on the long-awaited document due for consultation this month. As MRW reports today, it has already faced a minor delay and entrenched divisions within the industry remain as stark as ever.  
  2. The Judicial Review on collection methods in England and Wales: the new minister will need to get up to speed quickly on what is a crucial court battle for the sector.   
  3. Energy subsidies for energy from waste projects: While changes to the Renewables Obligation Certificates (subsidies which EfW, notably AD, projects benefit from) are being overseen by the Department of Energy and Climate Change but the EfW sector need all the friends they can get in Whitehall. Alarm bells are already ringing for the sector following news that new environment secretary Owen Paterson has outlined plans to scrap all energy subsidies.
  4. The National Waste Infrastructure Plan: Waste chiefs have already lamented delays to plan, which industry groups say will provide certainty for investors. Fresh delays would not be welcome.
  5. The Energy from Waste guide: the long-awaited guide for residents addressing the environmental, economic and health issues related to energy from waste is already delayed. It was supposed to come out in July and won’t be that near the top of the new minister’s in tray.

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