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The man at the back on the man at the front

So Eric Pickles has come and gone. The communities secretary attracted a huge crowd at RWM, received limited applause and clearly annoyed the majority of the audience who, creditably, received him politely.

With huge irony, the event was moved from the smaller local authority theatre to the new Circular Economy Connect area. Ironic because nothing in his speech was about that concept.

The title of this piece owes itself to a bruising part of the proceedings when Pickles suggested that the CIWM’s Steve Lee, who was manfully chairing the event, had his own agenda and that he (Pickles) would pick the questions. “The man at the back,” he said, pointing to me.

Lee promptly restored order and I didn’t get to ask the question, which was/would have been: “Why did nothing in your entire speech address how public and private sectors can work together more to boost reuse or reduce waste?”

Likely answers on a postcard - better still in a tweet to @MRWEditor.

Beforehand several people expressed concern to me about the invitation being extended in the first place. What happened wasn’t surprising but I don’t think “I told you so” is the right reaction.

I take two principal thoughts from the gladiatorial exchange. One is the narrowness of the approach from a secretary of state on a huge topic (hence my would-be question). Weekly collections may or may not be the answer but they sure ain’t the whole answer.

Second: it is no good anyone dismissing out of hand - as some did as they filed out - a politician who is (depending on your view) battling, boorish or downright rude. As MRW proved over the £250m weekly collections fund, Pickles’ data and examples of local authority practice in this area can be highly questionable, clearly capable of rebutting and should be shot down. But his view has wide currency in the community outside RWM. That is ignored at our peril.

RWM 2014 - Pickles and Lee

Source: CIWM @CIWM

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