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2013 Review - Philip Ward

An interesting thing about 2013 has been the development of the vision for waste and resources. Impetus has been added to the debate. There has been focus on the development of the circular economy with important work by among others the Green Alliance, Ellen McArthur Foundation and WRAP.

In Wales and Scotland these developments are finding policy expression, with far reaching proposals from the governments there, linking resource use and recovery into wider thinking on sustainability and specific activity to promote wealth creation and jobs. But in England the notable development was the confirmation that resource use is not a priority for Defra Secretary of State Owen Patterson. This is reflected in the significant funding reductions for both the Environment Agency and for WRAP.

This was followed up by the, now famous, letter from Dan Rogerson, the new minister for Resource Management – the fourth person to hold the post in the 42 months since the general election. This constant changing of junior ministers is damaging, especially when the senior minister in the department is largely disinterested. Short tenures barely leave time for a learning process let alone the development of a strategic vision.

In other times the civil service provided resilience and continuity but the pressures of downsizing and restructuring in Defra mean that churn among officials is even higher and knowledge and experience levels is lower than it should be.

I assume Dan Rogerson was given this brief because he asked for it and, therefore, that he wants to achieve something. He is after all unusual in having been involved in resource issues through the APSRG and the Select Committee before his appointment.

To achieve he will need to find ways around his own department’s resource constraints. Despite their funding cut, WRAP remains well placed to bring together the right people to drive forward action. While their funding reduction is severe, it is less significant now that WRAP is less involved in “buying” reprocessing capacity and the more positive approach in Scotland and Wales is helping maintain its knowledge base and engagement with key players.

At the WRAP Conference in London, Defra Director Colin Church introduced us to the acronym QTWAIN (Questions to which the Answer is No). Hopefully he and his minister can spend some of the recess considering whether they want that applied to the question “Has Dan Rogerson been a successful minister?”

Philip Ward, former senior official at Defra and WRAP

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