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Drought ahead for Environment Agency's waste resources

Never mind orange or red alerts during the flood crisis - the key warning sign for any politician is the four words: ‘Something Must Be Done’.

Demands from the media that something had to be done about metal theft heralded the law change last year - rightly but belatedly. This year, parts of Somerset were under water for weeks before the waves of concern reached Westminster.

The trouble often occurs as politicians try to catch up with such ‘unexpected’ events.

We have had the unedifying spectacle of politicians briefing against the Environment Agency (EA) chairman Lord Smith, cabinet ministers lining up to berate him more publicly and others sticking up for the former environment secretary.

In fairness, slapped wrists behind the scenes and a return to the West Country by the prime minister seems to have got the ship of state back on course.

The danger when the waters subside is that the EA’s already-eroded budget will be diverted under political pressure to ‘do something’ to prevent a repeat of the fiasco. There has to be concern in the waste sector that tackling crime and other regulatory roles will suffer as resources are reallocated in the longer term - let alone dealing with the MRF Code of Practice which was unveiled this week.

When last October the EA announced 1,700 jobs cuts - 15% of the workforce - fears were expressed that the Waste Crime Taskforce would struggle to maintain or beat its recent record of shutting down more illegal waste sites. Less rigorous enforcement ultimately reduces the much-needed income Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs receives from landfill tax.

The consultancy Eunomia calculates that every £1 cut from the EA’s budget would mean £6 less landfill tax being collected. Who knows, it might even prompt media calls for ‘something to be done’ about a rash of fly-tipping.


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