The Environment Agency (EA) does a good job. It has strong regulations, strong legislation and fulfils its role well. But my concern is that Government cuts, which will slash EA funding by £32.9m during the next four years, will have a huge impact on the service that such an important body provides for our industry.
What will the cuts mean for the future direction of the EA? If all its eggs are lined up, what will it shoot at - the easy target or the hard target? It seems to me that the EA will tend to target licensed merchants that have made minor mistakes instead of the big problem of unlicensed scrap traders because they are much harder to handle.
“Every time an unlicensed trader sets up nearby, there is less chance of the material making it into your legal yard”
If it is about a numbers game and boxes to tick, the unlicensed traders will give the EA a lot of aggro and hassle. But if it is targeting sites simply to get its numbers higher and hit targets, then licensed sites are easy to visit and check. Add in budget restrictions and reduced resources, and the unlicensed traders may be seen to be too difficult for the EA. It is committed to regulating the industry but it does not have enough support at the moment.
Of course, it needs to sit up and listen to traders on the issue of unlicensed operators. It should be focusing on the unlicensed people. In the first scrap panel column, (MRW 4 February), the author was correct in saying that you only need to look in the local paper to find plenty of unlicensed scrap dealers advertising for metal. The EA only has to look at these pages. Surely for a regulatory body, those illegal yards are the first things to crack.
As a scrap trader in the south, dealing with both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, we have found the problem to be rife. It is worrying, because every time an unlicensed trader sets up nearby, there is less chance of the material making it into your legal yard, so it will have an effect on your profit.
But it is not just the EA that needs to target them - it is the police too. In this case, technically the traders are not doing anything wrong by advertising their services in the paper. It is not until they actually carry out operations on-site that they commit a crime if they do not have licensed premises.
Perhaps the issue of tackling unlicensed traders is being sidelined by the police in favour of metal theft, because it is more visible and simpler to investigate than tackling unlicensed scrap traders.
The British Metals Recycling Association could certainly help, and I am sure it knows about the situation and has taken steps towards trying to tackle it. It is always the way that when the price of metal goes up, so do the number of people trying to make money out of it. With prices the way they are at the moment, the situation is very difficult.
With the EA’s budget cuts, I do not think there will be fewer visits because it has a duty of care to keep them going. But I see the prices of licenses to traders costing more and more each year, while we get less and less for our money because the EA will need to recoup what it has lost in funding somehow. Less funding will mean there are fewer officers on the beat, and so this will potentially lead to more unlicensed traders.
I think the only way we can make the EA take real action is to have each metal recycler in England complaining about illegal traders. I think we need to keep on at them until something is done. For most scrap metal merchants, the unlicensed operators are a significant concern and the EA needs to do more to stop them.
Are you a scrap merchant with an issue to raise? Contact Tiffany Holland on 020 7728 4534 or email email@example.com. All contributors to MRW’s scrap panel will be anonymous