By Caelia Quinault
Owen Paterson has been appointed as secretary of state at Defra in place of Caroline Spelman as part of the coalition governmentsbiggest reshuffle to date.
The former Northern Ireland secretary was promoted to the role today (September 4). He will now have overall responsibility for policy at the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, with particular interest in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, biodiversity and climate change.
According to Defra, his portfolio will include strategy, budget and finances, legislative programme, emergencies, EU and international relations, the Environment Agency and Natural England.
The move has been welcomed by the waste sector, some of whom have been critical of Mrs Spelmans lack of ambition on waste and hope the appointment will breathe fresh life into the portfolio.
Mr Paterson is the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire and has a background in leather manufacture, attending the National Leathersellers College, which has now been absorbed into a department at the University of Northampton.
Although he has no specific expertise on waste, Mr Paterson was appointed as shadow agriculture, fisheries and food minister from 2003-05, during which time he became an expert on bovine TB and campaigned for the dairy industry.
He also has knowledge on fisheries and wrote the Green Paper “Consultation on a National Policy on Fisheries Management in UK Waters” which was used by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight Campaign.
Mr Paterson also previously served as Shadow Minister for Transport from 2005-07.
Commenting on the appointment, Margaret Bates, professor of waste at the University of Northampton, said that Mr Patersons knowledge about leather would help him with his new portfolio.
She said: This means he is a proper scientist and will understand how chemicals and the environment interact. In the past some people have not understood the principles of how the environment operates.
Ms Bates added that she would be delighted if Mr Paterson would like to call in at the University of Northampton to learn about its work on waste as well as visit its new tannery facilities.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association for the waste management industry, also welcomed Mr Patersons selection and called on him to put the waste and resource agenda at the heart of the Departments work.
ESAs director of policy, Matthew Farrow said: We look forward to working with Owen Paterson at an exciting time for our industry. With the need to get the economy moving paramount, the waste and resources agenda should be at the heart of Defras thinking .
Mrs Spelman has held her role as Environment Secretary at Defra since the coalition came to power in May 2010. The Member of Parliament for Meridien in the West Midlands presided over an embarrassing U-turn over the sale of national forests in 2011 and has been criticised for her failure to help deliver on the coalition pledge to be the greenest government ever.
On waste, her Review of Waste Policy in England 2011 was met with a mixed reception, which many in the waste sector claiming it was unambitious and lacked vision. One area which she did get enthused about was working with retailers and WRAP on the Courtauld Agreement.
Commenting on her departure, Steve Lee, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM), said: I think she is a skilful politician but I think she found it difficult to help this government live up to its billing of being the greenest government ever.
Whoever comes in to replace her will be picking up a difficult portfolio and we need someone who can prioritise resource efficiency.
All attention is now on whether, in a reshuffle of junior ministers, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, 68, will remain as minister as responsibility for waste and recycling. However, with his experience in the sector many expect him to stay.