Industry figures called for more leadership from the Government after criticising resource minister Rory Stewart for being “disingenuous”.
Stewart gave a keynote speech at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM)’s annual conference, where he said the Treasury preferred to consider policies that had been tried and tested in other countries.
He said his introduction of a 5p plastic bag levy last year was made possible by the fact that similar charges had already been introduced in Wales and Scotland.
But later in the conference, Andy Doran, sustainability manager at aluminium recycler Novelis, said it was “disingenuous of [Stewart] to say that watching everybody else do the plastic bags and then do that in England was leadership”.
“It was a classic example of where we have got our leadership position in the UK or England. Our colleagues in Wales are doing a lot better.”
CIWM chief executive Steve Lee also expressed disappointment in Stewart’s speech, saying he was surprised he was not more “up to speed” on possible Government interventions.
He welcomed the EU Parliament’s draft circular economy package report calling on member states to use regulatory and economic instruments to incentivise uptake for secondary materials.
But he said: “The minister didn’t seem to have a very clear idea about what that might look like either in an England or a UK front.”
Lee compared England’s waste strategy unfavourably with those of Scotland and Wales, and questioned whether any of Defra’s upcoming 25-year plan would include more mention of resources.
“We haven’t got any idea what the big plan is, how our Government sees the industry and our customers fitting into the bigger picture,” he said.
Many speakers, including Lee and Viridor chief executive Ian McAulay, also called for the industry to engage more with the Government to provide leadership in the sector.
McAulay said: “Leadership is an absolute priority for us now if we want to move forward. I sat here this time last year – I think things have changed a bit. I think we have moved forward, whether we are moving forward fast enough.
“But I do recognise there is a real need for leadership. There is no doubt there is a policy vacuum. We have a collective responsibility to provide leadership as well.”
Earlier in the day, Stewart had defended his department against a perceived lack of activity since he joined as resource minister last June.
“It’s very easy to think that if the Government isn’t doing something it’s because it’s incompetent, dishonest, idle. My experience over the past 12 months is that frequently the reason we are not doing things is that there are very profound disagreements,” he said.