Gavin Shuker MP
Gavin Shuker MP, Labour’s Shadow Waste and Resources Minister, called for a Plan B for resources whilst speaking at the RWM 2012 conference. In his speech, Mr Shuker called on DEFRA to take a more ambitious approach to waste policy, including adopting a higher recycling target and bringing England into line with the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland, as well making the creation of new green jobs in the UK a priority. Leanne Taylor sat down with the Shadow Minister to find out more.
LT: How will Government support for the UK recycling industry encourage investors?
GS: I went to see EcoPlastics a few weeks ago and I was really impressed by what can be done when big manufacturers choose to show a bit of confidence in the plastics industry. What I’m focusing on is how Government can create the conditions where there is investor certainty. I think at the minute the certainty isn’t there at the measure that it needs to be. If you get the investor certainty right, this industry will attract private investors who can put their money anywhere they like to drive up standards as well as to reprocess more, and we know we need to do that more in plastics.
LT: How important is it to keep the reprocessing of plastics waste in the UK?
GS: I am concerned that we are exporting jobs and growth to other nations. There is an economic argument, which is to say surely Government should create a level playing field to make sure that we keep high quality feedstocks here in the UK. There’s also an ethical argument, which is that very often these materials can go poorly sorted because enforcement isn’t right. So I’ve announced that we will look to see what we can do on enforcement, and around the exports regime to make sure we have a level playing field. It’s not about protectionism, but it is about making sure we maximise the opportunities here in this country.
In terms of those opportunities, how important is resource security?
GS: I’ve spent the last year visiting businesses with really innovative products and processes when it comes to recycling and materials but I’ve also seen the chilling effects of, for example, George Osborne saying when it comes to transitioning our economy to new green growth, we don’t want to go any faster or any slower than any of the other countries in Europe. Well, advanced nations around the world are realising that resource security is vital to their long-term and their short-term growth. There is massive potential in the waste and resources sector to create growth and jobs. But if government at the highest levels doesn’t present a united front and provide clear leadership we’ll miss out on that prize.
LT: Do you think that current recycling targets are achievable?
GS: I think the targets are very challenging from where we are right now. I hope that the industry will be able to step up, but I equally think that the action of this Government is undermining investor certainty in new green technologies. It makes it far less likely that we will meet these obligations.
LT: Would the Labour party look at realigning England’s recycling targets with those of Wales and Scotland, if elected in 2015?
GS: I think it’s important to review the targets that have been set as we see progress being made. So I don’t want to give up on ambitious targets, I think that’s really important. The question is how do we get certainty so that investors will put in place the infrastructure we need to handle that recycling. I think it’s important to review this and if Labour come into power in 2015 we’ve got a very short window of time so I’m not going to constrain myself in terms of those targets. Ambitious targets is right, but then let’s not have a government that’s then undermining confidence and then blaming the industry for not meeting them.
LT: Looking at domestic recycling, what do you think is the best way of educating the consumer?
GS: I think there are two issues here. Firstly – recycling isn’t just a physical process – there is a human interaction there as well. That’s why I’m really concerned about the deep cuts to local Government right now and the attack on so called ‘non-jobs’ in that sector, such as people that actually inform local residents how to recycle. It’s driving down quality and it’s driving up costs. A lot of people are uncertain about what they can throw away. So the only route through, therefore, is to have clear and ambitious targets, to work back from that point, to educate people, but most of all to provide certainty because the consumer hears mixed messages and it makes it much harder to get compliance.
LT: How can we encourage more young people into the waste and resources industry?
GS: Waste and resources increasingly presents the opportunity not just to create new jobs, but regional jobs, jobs at every skill level and jobs for both men and women. But it requires Government to be on the pitch to do it. So one of the things that we’ve committed to doing is reducing university tuition fees because I believe fundamentally that we need to attract a new generation of young people into waste, resources and design. Kids in my constituency are put off from picking up those skills but we are going to need those skills. How do we create an economy that works for working people? This is something we need to look at, as right now I just don’t think we’ve got the mix right.