It is in land-locked Northampton, HQ for the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, that new chief executive Colin Church chooses a maritime metaphor to reflect on his recent career change from senior waste official at Defra.
“I have this theory that, when you look for a new challenge in your life, work or whatever else, it is important to recognise that you want an element of change and an element of stability,” he said.
“If you throw yourself completely into the sea of change you will drown. But if your island of stability is too big, you won’t learn and develop, and you’re not going to be bringing a great deal to things.
“So you look for a reasonably sized island in a sea. Moving here, I had elements of sea and elements of island.”
For Church, the waste sector offered the stability of an island because he already knew many of the national players and had a keen awareness of the CIWM.
“My board of trustees, general council and then the executive committee are all dedicated, interested and committed folk. That’s not always been the case with every minister I’ve worked with”
Defra and the CIWM are obviously different beasts but the leaders of both require management and organisational skills. Church’s directorate in Whitehall was 200-strong so the requirements of setting a vision, helping people to understand their role, dealing with HR issues and the rest all have similarities with his new land mass.
Some aspects, though, are definitely not the same.
“Being the leader of an organisation that is not bedded into a wider network clearly has differences. Having the freedom that I now have to articulate views on policy and to talk to people about policy is completely new.
“My board of trustees, general council and then the executive committee are all dedicated, interested and committed folk. That’s not always been the case with every minister I’ve worked with.”
Initially, you would think that the financial aspects of a national organisation would be new to a civil servant. But while at Defra, Church was responsible for the multi-million-pound PFI budget and “in government overspending by a penny is a capital offence”.
“Finance is not something I’m scared of, but it clearly takes up a lot of head space”
More prosaically, he has also been a chair of school governors, and had to manage a budget of three-quarters of a million pounds while unpredictable local authority decision-makers moved the goal posts.
“Finance is not something that I’m scared of, but it clearly takes up a lot of head space,” he concedes.
Church is not naïve to the fact that part of his appeal to the CIWM was his established network of contacts in the heart of UK politics and the contacts and understanding that comes with that position. A key requirement of the job is to ensure the institution has a voice, is influential and offers a conduit between the national governments and its members.
So Church is regularly back in Whitehall – and seeing a funny side of the experience: “I have a reasonably high level of security clearance but, rightly, I have to be escorted everywhere in the building, even though I’ve got higher security clearance than the people doing the escorting.”
An early view of his new colleagues in Northampton is of a more geographically diverse and perhaps culturally diverse group of people than you might otherwise expect.
“You’ve got the local authority, regulator, waste company and then people from completely outside the sector. Some of our sales and marketing people are sales and marketing folk first and foremost, who have come into the sector to work at the CIWM rather than to be in the sector itself.
“On the other hand, people are people. My strong philosophy is you engage with people as individuals, you respect them, you communicate, you find out what makes them tick, what they’re good at and what they need help in doing, and you work in that kind of way.”
“If you throw yourself completely into the sea of change, you will drown. But if your island of stability is too big, you won’t learn and develop.”
The personality and sheer presence of his CIWM predecessor Steve Lee is most definitely not an elephant in the room, but it would be a hard act to follow if you were trying to be another Steve Lee. Church insists the trustees were very clear, even at the interview stage, that they were not expecting a replica.
“They weren’t looking for somebody who was going to be like Steve and they didn’t get somebody who was like Steve although, actually, I think that we have quite a lot in common,” said Church.
“We’re both relatively people-focused, we both care deeply about this sector and the issues that are around it, we both are opinionated and not afraid to share those opinions, so there are some similarities.”
His first observation is in tribute, that Lee “did absolutely the right thing in promoting the CIWM through his energy, enthusiasm and his exposure. If you want to take an organisation from not really being present on the stage to being one of the loudest and dominant voices, people have to have somebody to identify with.”
Church wants more of his colleagues to represent the CIWM in the public sphere: “It doesn’t mean to say I’m going to be quiet by any stretch of the imagination. But we’re not in the phase where we absolutely have to have a single person. If that doesn’t work, then you’ll see more of me.”
The conversation moves on to the CIWM itself. What, I asked, is the key priority?
“At one level, it’s really trite because we are a membership organisation and we exist to help members solve issues they face in their professional lives. An absolute priority for me is to continue to do the best job possible we can for those who are already members, and to continue to show to people who aren’t yet members why being one would be a good idea.”
“There is this wonderfully complicated timing jig around the circular economy package negotiations”
The fundamental review of its structure and membership currently underway will help to inform the internal strategy.
Externally, the institution plays a key role in the industry by contributing to the debate on issues that matter. On waste crime, for example, last year it established the ‘Right Waste Right Place’ campaign jointly with the Environmental Services Association (ESA). This year, the CIWM will be looking to reinvigorate the message on the importance of tackling the issue which blights the industry’s reputation and undermines legitimate business.
“We expect Defra’s second waste crime consultation to come out sometime in the first half of the year. It will be something we are looking at very carefully to see where we think we can add some value into the process of addressing waste crime and persistent poor performance in the sector.
“Health and safety remains a [difficult] issue for our sector, second only to agriculture. When you look at the progress that construction has made in recent years, why can’t our sector make that kind of progress? Why do we still have to see so many people being killed or injured in our sector? We must do more about it.”
And what of the implication of Brexit for national waste policy? Church believes the CIWM can help Defra to work through the transfer of EU regulations to the UK via the Great Repeal Bill when it arrives. With an estimated 80% of our environmental legislation having come from Brussels, Defra will need that support.
“Then the question is what happens afterwards? There is this wonderfully complicated timing jig around the circular economy (CE) package negotiations,” he comments.
No-one knows when or how the future CE directive will affect UK law after we leave the EU. For Church, it means the CIWM having “advisory influence”. He is also intrigued at how this will affect the decisions on waste of the devolved administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
“Scotland has always wanted to be different from England on anything it possibly can, that’s a truism”
“There is already divergence as we know between the four UK countries. Northern Ireland is always going to be looking south because it shares a land border with the Irish Republic, and it is going to be interested in what’s happening in Europe because it is going to be affected very directly by Brexit.
“Scotland has always wanted to be different from England on anything it possibly can, that’s a truism. Wales has become a thought leader in our sector globally, not just within the UK.”
So far, the individual nations’ policies have been held together by the common EU framework. What that means, post- Brexit, for households and businesses and their operations across the different borders fascinates a former civil servant.
Fire at waste sites – and preventing them – is another important issue and the CIWM is planning a training course on it. Again, alternative policies within the UK mean that Wales and Scotland take a different line than England on exactly what the fire prevention plan should look like.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is another noisy topic of conversation at the moment, with straitened local authorities ever-resentful that packaging waste producers along the supply chain pay only an estimated 10% of the cost of recycling their materials.
The ESA has been lobbying hard for a smarter system that aligns collection costs, management and ownership of the waste materials more closely. MRW understands that, while the CE package embraces EPR, UK ministers are less than keen on it. Having members in town halls as well as commercial waste operations, the CIWM wants to be part of the continuing conversation.
“As a membership organisation, we are here to try and make their professional lives easier”
Church said: “2017 is going to see a lot more conversations in a more concrete sense about the future of our sector, and we’ve got a number of things happening that can be quite influential.”
I express interest an area in which the UK can be proud: the extent to which we share knowledge on waste management and recycling with developing nations, who do not have the decades of experience we have. The CIWM has been a big supporter of the WasteAid charity (MRW continues to donate sponsorship of its cartoon to help promote its work).
The principle of offering support abroad has been adopted by David Wilson, the current senior vice-president. Traditionally, the person filling that role picks a research topic and produces a report that is published around their inauguration in the autumn.
“David is going to be looking at a toolkit for developing countries on practical things you can do to help manage your waste. It’s something that has been a passion of his for a while now. We’re definitely engaged in that.”
The CIWM has an international membership, and Church is considering what that means for such members and whether a different approach is needed for those who are geographically remote.
“Again, as a membership organisation, we are here to try and make their professional lives easier. So what we offer to a chartered waste manager in Luton might not be the same kind of thing that a chartered waste manager in Limpopo needs. We need to look at that and understand that role better than we do at the moment.”
I end with a question I imagine Church faced at his job interview last summer: where will the CIWM be in 10 years?
“It’s a really fascinating time for lots of reasons,” he says. “The sector itself is developing at a tremendous pace, but so is society and so are expectations. One of the common themes is a significant change in attitudes towards engagement in society and in group activities and community, things like that.
“It used to be the case that, if you worked in our industry, you joined the CIWM. If you were an accountant, you joined one of the accountancy associations. That automaticity has gone for all sorts of reasons, so what is it going to mean for us all? It’s going to really hit during the next 10 years.”
Church knows the CIWM will need to have adapted to be relevant to modern needs and demands: “We will still, I hope, be central to the policy discussion in the UK and in Ireland, maybe elsewhere as well. And we will still be a great place to work.”
What’s in a name?
combining the prestige of chartered institute
Church says: “I very rarely expand CIWM any more. There are any number of organisations now that have an historical acronym that doesn’t actually mean anything. The obvious one that most people will know about is the EEF. It used to be the Engineering Employers’ Federation but it’s now a manufacturers’ association.
“Because CIWM is quite recognisable, it would be a shame to lose that recognition. I don’t think we need to push people’s faces into the fact that it’s all about waste, because it isn’t any more.
”A complicating factor is that, because we are a chartered institution, we are governed by a royal charter which specifies our name and, to change our name, we would have to change our charter.”
A brief history of the CIWM
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) represents around 7,000 professionals working in the sustainable resources and wastes management sectors, predominantly in the UK but also overseas.
It sets the professional standards for individuals working in the industry, and has membership grades determined by education, qualification and experience. The CIWM, originally established in 1898 as the Association of Cleansing Superintendents of Great Britain, was granted its Royal Charter in 2002.
The CIWM is reviewing its constitution to bring the institution in line with current requirements for charities, to streamline and improve operations and decision- making, and to ensure that members are more involved and better represented.
A consultation with members included proposals for a smaller trustee body that has a more strategic focus, a senior management board to take on more of the day-to-day management, changes to the election process and criteria for trustees and a membership council. A review of the professional membership grades is also underway.