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Gove: 'Waste sector's most urgent problem is crime'

Environment secretary Michael Gove has said the most urgent problem facing the waste sector is crime – and links to criminals in the wider community.

Gove was appearing before the Efra select committee which monitors the work of Defra. Labour MP John Grogan asked about his strategy for waste.

Gove said: “I’m taking a look at how we can move to a better policy on waste, a better policy on what’s been called the circular economy.

“One of the things I want to explore is how we can generate less waste in the first place and then ensure that the waste we do generate is disposed of in the best possible manner.”

Gove said crime was a priority.

“The most urgent problem we face in waste terms is illegal waste sites and that number has gone up recently. There are links between those who are operating outside the law in the waste industry and other criminal activity.”

gove so high

gove so high

He also confirmed that the delayed 25-year environment plan would be released before the end of the year.

He said officials were going through it “block by block” and indicated by raising his hands that, so far, waste had not been high on the agenda.

Committee chair Neil Parish asked for confirmation of rumours that Gove was rewriting the plan. The minister said he was “augmenting” it, suggesting that changes were “some fine-tuning adjustments”.

When Prior insisted he was indeed rewriting the plan, Gove did not correct him.

Adapting to Brexit had required extra staff at Defra, he confirmed, but he would need time to give the committee the exact figures. 

He said the Treasury had stumped up extra cash because Brexit was having a bigger impact on Defra than other departments due to the number of EU regulations.

He added that he had been impressed by Defra staff since taking over the department after the general election and the UK civil service “has a great many highly skilled people”.

400 john grogan

400 john grogan

Grogan (pictured) had initiated the discussion on waste by referring to the recent report on infrastructure from Eunomia, which reiterated the consultancy’s long-held belief that the UK faced an overcapacity of energy-from-waste (EfW) plants.

Earlier reports have been used by Defra to justify the withdrawal of financial support for large EfW schemes.

Gove said he did not know know about Eunomia but promised to come back to the committee with his views on incineration.

One of the lighter moments in the discussion about the subject was a reference to a Wagner opera which Gove attended with the former chancellor George Osborne.

Gove pointed out that, at the end of the opera, “the home of the Gods goes down in flames”.

Meanwhile the committee is inviting evidence on the impact on the UK food and farming sectors of potential new trading arrangements with the EU after Brexit. 

One of five themes, for which responses are due by 20 October, asks: ”What trade policy objectives should Defra/UK Government establish in order to achieve the right balance between the interests of food consumers, producers and processors, and the environment?”

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