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Welsh waste infrastructure programme

The Welsh Government’s Waste Infrastructure Procurement Programme has won several awards for its innovative approach to procurement. Andrea Lockerbie looks at why

Billed as the “first of its kind in the UK”, the welsh Waste Infrastructure Procurement Programme recently won an award for collaboration at the National Government Opportunities Excellence in Public Procurement Awards. According to the judges it was in “a different league” in terms of delivery scale and value for money, and they praised its innovative approach to getting the best of public and private sector expertise.

Welsh Government Permanent Secretary, Derek Jones, said the programme was “leading the way for strategic joint working across the public service in Wales” and could “provide a blueprint for the future, not just for waste management”.

The programme was established to implement ‘Towards Zero Waste’, the national waste strategy for Wales, published in 2010. This set out the Welsh Government’s ambitious objectives for sustainable waste management, driven by its obligations to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill as well as landfill’s rising cost and decreasing capacity.

The aim of the £750m capital programme, delivered through public private partnerships, is to enable local authorities to deliver sufficient and affordable treatment capacity to meet EU landfill diversion and statutory national recycling targets. The overarching programme provides coordination, commercial transaction and financial support through two sub-programmes made up of seven food and organic waste projects (operational 2012-15) and four residual waste projects (2016-19). These will deliver respective treatment capacities of 150,000 and 700,000 tonnes per annum and produce a combined electricity output of around 80MWe, equivalent to 11% of Welsh homes.

Where the procurement initiative is unique is through the significant economies of scale and public value being achieved through the collaboration of 21 authorities in regional consortia. Better bargaining power and attracting investment has meant financial savings to date of over £30 million - expected to rise. The collaboration also ensures close partnership working with the Welsh Local Government Association, Welsh Government departments and other delivery partners.

Early engagement with contractors and funders has been crucial to differentiating Wales as a distinct waste market and providing investor confidence. As securing timely planning consent is a key risk, a Planning Taskforce was created, bringing together individuals and agencies with strong planning related experience. Targeted training – on planning, permitting and commercial skills – was also recognised and provided. And to help communicate the need for new infrastructure, a Community Engagement Steering Group, chaired by Waste Awareness Wales, was established.

Designed as a series of funding-linked targets, the programme incentivises the authorities to develop efficiencies, so reducing costs for the bidders and the public sector. Rigorous project assurance means that projects must successfully pass through a series of ‘stage gates’. These include scrutiny at project initiation, outline business case, readiness reviews prior to start and close of dialogue, and final scrutiny at full business case. Gateway reviews are mandatory for the residual waste projects.

Simple measures, such as using a standard contract, has also saved money by reducing legal costs and creating a more straightforward commercial environment, and a central pre-qualification process has delivered time and cost savings for local authorities and bidders.

The Welsh Government says waste procurement is one of the best developed examples of local authority collaboration and strategic joint working in Wales. It has provided assistance in procuring waste treatment infrastructure to other public bodies, as well as guidance and support to other sectors such as the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools Programme which could benefit from a similar approach.

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