Extra cash for the Environment Agency (EA) will extend existing multi-agency efforts to tackle organised gangs in the waste sector, the EA has said.
The £30m announced in the Budget, adding to previous injections from the chancellor, has been earmarked across the next four years.
Marie Fallon, director of regulated industry at the EA, told MRW: “This tops up the existing funding and helps us to have certainty in terms of our longer-term planning. “
She said efforts were concentrated on deterrence and collaboration with other public agencies, especially HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), on data and other information.
The comments come as an evaluation by the agency and the consultancy Ricardo showed that, for each £1 invested in tackling crime, at least £5-worth of potential benefits were identified, mirroring research in 2014 from the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Waste Crime: Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret, which estimated that, for every £1 invested, as much as £5.60 could be returned.
In 2014, the EA established the Waste Crime Intervention and Evaluation (WCIE) project to tackle three priority areas: illegal sites, mis-description and illegal exports.
Latest figures from HMRC indicate the current landfill tax ‘gap’ – the difference between revenues expected and those received – is around £100m or 10%. This percentage is exceeded only by the tax gaps for beer and cigarettes, sectors which are bedevilled by fraud and criminality.
The Ricardo evaluation showed that anti-crime activities within the waste sector funded by WCIE produced potential combined benefits of at least £29m. The biggest proportion (£23.5m) was in tax receipts.
The project uncovered:
- 530 extra illegal waste sites, holding 429,000 tonnes of waste
- 630,000 tonnes of potentially mis-described waste, with 63 sites being referred to HMRC for tax investigations
- 191 additional shipping containers containing 4,000 tonnes of waste due for illegal export
Fallon said the focus of the EA work was on organised criminals, describing one “cute” scam which used people kitted out in security uniforms giving the appearance that it was a legitimate operation.
“It is the hardened criminals who cause the greatest harm in terms of the volume of waste dumped on farmland or in rented warehouses.”
Fallon said the agency would “shortly” be publishing further consultation on waste crime which would propose additional powers for the EA at the permitting stage and consider a bonding scheme. Such a financial measure would contribute to the cost to local authorities of abandoned waste sites.
She said greater efforts were being made to verify applications for permits across other Government databases and to add information from the thousands of historic permits.
Agreeing that more could be done to prevent criminals entering the industry in the first place, Fallon said the EA was working with the ESA to “raise the bar” for licensing traders, dealers and brokers.
“We don’t want to make it unduly difficult but, at the same time, we need to put in place appropriate safeguards,” she said.
On 30 November, the EA released details on a new regulatory cost recovery regime, which will mean that poor-performing waste businesses could be billed three times as much as those who meet permit requirements.
A consultation running until 12 January has been published, covering a range of regulations including the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 and definition of waste services.
Fallon said other efforts to fight waste crime included trying to build greater public awareness, through social media and other approaches.
“We are trying to get people to be our ears and eyes, and report crime through our Crime Stoppers scheme. Then we can gather evidence for prosecution and stop it.”