…on why the industry must ensure those in power understand the issues
The industry faces a major problem in the constant shift in the focus of politicians. This is a perennial problem for all those engaged in lobbying. A classic example is the tortuous process of the waste review.
In the course of the review, the Government has been lobbied by multiple interested parties, many of whom have conflicting interests. Eric Pickles, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) minister, has made recent announcements about bin collections. But the position held by the DCLG does not reflect the problems faced by Defra in trying to develop an economic and sustainable model for the treatment of waste.
These problems are exacerbated by the policy objectives of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which has targets for using waste as feedstock.
Lobbying is a process of winning the arguments not once, but over and over again, within the same departments, in different departments and every time a new policy initiative is announced.
I worked out that, in a 15-day period last summer, I received 42 invitations from organisations attempting to sway my opinion in all manner of policy areas. The value of these events is that interested MPs and peers can be collared and the issues explained. The problem is that, with such a constant stream of information being presented, there is very little time for a politician to fully appreciate all the issues and the repercussions of changes in regulation or legislation, let alone for them to act on what they have been told.
“Lobbying is a process of winning the arguments not once, but over and over again”
But it is often not MPs or peers who have the major impact on the decision-making process: most work on legislation or regulations is undertaken by civil servants. These civil servants, who cannot be experts in every area due to the complexity of the issues, are meant to take the views of the industry through consultation. The problem is that a popular issue will have hundreds of submissions, often of a technical nature, many of which will be extolling the virtues of different technologies.
I have spent 18 years on the front bench, dealing with legislation in many areas. Yet I am always surprised that, during lobbying meetings, there is often an assumption that, after a quick word to the minister, legislation or regulations can be immediately altered.
Successful lobbying is about winning the argument in a number of different arenas. But each time an argument is won, another issue will raise its head. The teams involved in the original decision will change, and the process will have to be gone through again. Although this seems a depressing synopsis of the political process, the reality is that the waste industry has made enormous strides in the past few years. The work undertaken in convincing politicians that this is an issue they have to take note of, understand, and do something about, means that waste is now high on the political agenda.
But if the industry wants to consolidate its gains, then it is up to every company and trade association to make sure that those in power understand the issues - principally that waste is a valuable resource. There could well be a Cabinet reshuffle in the summer, which will recycle the lobbying process once more.
Lord Redesdale is chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association