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Lack of policy detail in Welsh waste measure makes financial scrutiny “impossible”

The Welsh Assembly’s finance committee has said it is “impossible to comment” on the financial impact of a Welsh waste bill because of a lack of policy detail contained in the measure.

The comment came during an Assembly debate over whether to accept the general principles of the Proposed Waste (Wales) Measure, which includes wider uptake of Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs), a ban on certain waste streams from landfill, the introduction of voluntary levy for carrier bags and local authority waste targets.

Finance committee chair Angela Burns said: “The committee believes that, in this instance, it cannot fulfil its primary duty to scrutinise the financial implications of this legislation, and therefore it is impossible to comment on the overall financial impact of this proposed measure. This was obviously of grave concern to the committee.”

Burns explained that the inability to effectively scrutinise the bill had arisen because “so many of the provisions are simply enabling, with very little detail on their likely effect or their possible financial impact on both the public and private sectors. Although the committee accepts that there is a role for enabling legislation, we are concerned that the Government has not got the balance right in this proposed measure.”

The finance committee’s recent report on the waste measure commented that such ‘enabling legislation’ provides ministers with “powers to make regulations in a particular area of responsibility but do not set these out in any detail and leave this to subsequent secondary legislation”.

In its report, the committee raised particular concern about plans to introduce a levy for the use of plastic carrier bags, the proceeds of which would be donated to environmental charities. The committee commented that the costs of recording carrier bag sales, collating the revenue and forwarding it to the relevant charities could require most small retailers to register for VAT.

Burns told the Assembly: “We have questions about the extent to which the increase in turnover that would result from the levy might push some retailers to a level at which they would be forced to register for VAT. This would bring significant costs with no increase in business. We are not aware of any evidence that this issue has been considered.”

The finance committee’s concerns over the measure’s lack of policy detail were echoed by Assembly Member Kirsty Williams.  She told the Assembly: “If we are to go to the people of Wales and ask for more powers, we need to get to grips with this because, at the moment, we are being asked to vote blind without the detail that we need to do our job as scrutinisers.”

The Assembly agreed to accept the general principles of the waste measure.

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