24 July 2018 by Steve Eminton

Environment Agency speaks out after NAO report

The Environment Agency has defended itself against a National Audit Office report which made a number of observation’s about the Agency’s work with regard to the PRN system.

The NAO noted that the Agency had made 124 compliance visits compared to a targeted 346 and just 3 announced visits.

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The Environment Agency has responded to the National Audit Office PRN report (pictured: Agency headquarters, Bristol)

The number of compliance visits carried out by the Environment Agency has fallen significantly in recent years, and is significantly below planned levels for years when targets were set.

And, the NAO noted that in April 2017 the Agency commissioned an internal review to examine the reasons for poor performance across its non-site-based waste regulations, including producer responsibility regimes. “This found that this work was not generally viewed as a priority, that there was a lack of technical resource and resilience, and that activities carried out were significantly less than that funded and planned for. As a result of this review the Agency’s Operations Leadership Team is now considering proposals for a nationally managed approach to its waste regimes instead of the current area-based approach, which it believes has resulted in resource being spread too thinly. The necessary change programme has not yet been approved by Agency management.”

‘Strong track record’

Responding to the points raised, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We have a strong track record of using enforcement to bring businesses back into compliance. Since 2011, we have brought 258 businesses into compliance by using Civil Sanctions which has resulted in a combined financial payment of over £5M to environmental causes.

“Where we find any evidence of fraud or error in data reported to us, we remove that information from the overall packaging recycling data and calculations.”

The spokesperson added: “The Environment Agency adopts a risk based approach to compliance, seeking to target those businesses likely to have the biggest impacts. We recognise the need to improve our work on inspections and we are currently reviewing options to achieve this.

Environment Agency made just three unannounced inspections in the packaging sector

“We undertake a wide range of compliance activities to ensure those we regulate are compliant. Site inspections are only one element of this. We also undertake desk based compliance checks as well as data and trend analysis.”

Defra response

For its part, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responding to the NAO, confirmed it is “committed to overhauling the current system and [we] will set out our ambitious plans in the upcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Since the current packaging producer responsibility regime was introduced, recycling rates have increased significantly.

“However, there is much more to do. We don’t recycle enough waste, and we export too much of it.

“That’s why we have already committed to overhaul the system, and we will set out our reforms in the Resources and Waste Strategy later this year.”

“Our packaging waste regulations have resulted in a significant increase in recycling over the last 10 years – recycling of packaging has risen from around 46% in 2005 to over 70% in 2016.”

Defra added: “Our statistics are based on independent research (http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/plastic-packaging-market-study-plastic-flow-2014-0) undertaken by waste industry specialists Valpak and WRAP and our data is scrutinised by the European Commission as part of our annual submission. As part of our planned reform work on producer responsibility regimes, we will review the data on which we make policy decisions to ensure its ongoing accuracy.”

 

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