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10 May 2006 : Column 138WH

But let us return to cost, which is what the debate is principally about. I cannot remember who said it, but I agree, in response to the hon. Lady’s question, that saying we will introduce ID cards is easy, but making it happen is a different matter. I agree with that in spades, given the complexity of the project. However, it is not the case that we should simply think of a number and double it. Nor is it the case—there is a fundamental flaw in the argument—that all that money could be spent on so many other things. Much of the set-up costs will already need to be in place for the biometric passport system, with which everyone broadly agrees. Beyond that, the only moneys available are, as the hon. Lady correctly says, the £30 fee for a stand-alone ID card or the £93 fee for the combination ID card and passport. There is no other money.

As I said earlier, unless the hon. Lady is suggesting that we scrap the Bill and scrap any notion of going forward with the ID card project, but keep in place the £30 per head and the £93 per head—she is clearly not saying that—then there is no additional pot of money for all those mythical policemen, security services and others. It is a complete and utter fallacy to suggest that there is, but that is what has been said on countless leaflets—during the general election, before the Bill came to the House and subsequently. The net result in Harrow was one Liberal Democrat councillor, which is one too many. None the less, that flaw demeans the nature of public policy debate in the House. There is no additional money, unless the hon. Lady is suggesting that we should keep that little tax of £30 or £93—which is about £30 more than is now charged for passports—and she clearly is not suggesting that.

It is equally facile to suggest—as the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats did at length—that if we cannot come clean about the set-up costs, we must be trying to hide something. That shows a fundamental lack of understanding about basic public procurement, whether under a Labour or Tory Government or anyone else.

The hon. Lady wants a degree of financial transparency and prudence, and a cost base that works—entirely praiseworthy ambitions—but one cannot do that by giving a blank cheque to all potential IT procurers without exposing every aspect of the architecture of the database and the commercial structure. It is easy to say that because the Government are hiding behind commercial confidentiality, they must have something to cover up. It is an interesting point, but a fourth-form one.

The Government stand by the regulatory impact assessment for the Bill and the costs therein. In January 2006, the Office of Government Commerce carried out a gateway zero review of the overall programme and we were advised that we can proceed to the next stage. That internal process continues. There must be rigour and probity. It is not in the Government’s interests for costs to spiral as the hon. Lady suggests. The review team has full access to our business case for the setting up and the issuing of cards, including on the anticipated use of the scheme in the public and private sectors.

What the hon. Lady said about the durability of biometrics was entirely wrong. What she said about Northrop Grumman happened in 2002. I freely admit that the development of the technology improves by
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leaps and bounds year after year. It is wrong to compare smartcards with highly developed biometric cards.

It is a canard to say so—I have said it myself of other projects—but as and when there is time, the Government and the public sector are getting rather good at large IT projects. Invariably, past failures have been the result of a big-bang instant roll-out—rather like the passports. That will not be the case for ID cards. We think that the cost structure is robust. We are absolutely certain that the country needs ID cards. I do not know when the next cost review will be published, given that 30 September is the six-month deadline. Whether we go for July or slip into October, once we are ready I will be more than happy to discuss the review in detail with the hon. Lady.

Buried in a cliché-ridden rehash of old canards, some serious points were made, and I shall reflect on them.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (in the Chair): Order. We must move on.

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Community Recycling

4.30 pm

Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for being here to respond. I make no excuses for being parochial and talking about a hugely successful recycling scheme, which is a model of best practice, based in my constituency. I ask my hon. Friend to look at that scheme, which we can all learn from, and to listen to points raised by community recycling groups.

In the race to avoid being buried under a mountain of landfill, and facing hefty penalties, local authorities are in danger of grasping at easy waste options, often ignoring community enterprises such as Wastesavers in my constituency, which offers cheaper, cleaner systems and added benefits for the local area. It is relevant that we are discussing this matter today. The waste strategy consultation closed just yesterday, and this major national debate is one that normally enjoys significant cross-party agreement.

We all understand the need to reduce landfill, and to recycle and reuse our precious resources. We all produce waste—that is a fact. We create 100 million tonnes of industrial, commercial and household waste annually, and it is growing at a rate of 3 per cent. each year. The Government have rightly introduced stringent targets backed up by a punitive landfill tax that will increase by £3 per tonne in 2005-06 and by at least £3 per tonne in subsequent years to a rate of£35 per tonne by 2010.

Newport city council, which partly covers my constituency, has developed a highly innovative partnership with a provider of waste services in the area—a community enterprise called Wastesavers, which handles dry recycling and furniture. It isdifficult to ignore the recent achievements of Newport Wastesavers. It provides the most cost-effective recycling scheme in Wales, and arguably in the UK. With the support of the council, it has scooped prizes at the resource awards and the national recycling awards, and collected the prestigious Marks and Spencer award for a community recycling project in 2005.

Eighty per cent. of households in Newport participate in recycling. The partnership between the council and Wastesavers has resulted in Newport doing far better than the Welsh average. It recycled or composted 27 per cent. of total municipal waste last year.

With a sustained partnership with the council and a determined and dedicated group of people, Wastesavers has moved from humble foundations and now occupies a purpose-built clean-stream resource recovery centre in my constituency. It employs more than 50 people who provide kerbside collection services for recyclable material and a furniture reuse project that helps disadvantaged families in Newport. Operating since 1985, it takes pride in being a true recycler—it does not do waste but aims to make everything reuseable or recyclable in any way possible. Over the years, it has innovated and expanded its range of services in Newport, and in the process has
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demonstrated that the community sector is capable of delivering economic efficiencies as well as environmental benefits.

I visited Wastesavers in Newport. What comes across is its enthusiasm and professionalism, and most of all the simplicity of an operation that achieves the lowest costs and highest participation rates that I have come across. So what makes it successful?

First, Wastesavers works in partnership with the council and the community. The council took the radical and difficult decision to reduce collection of traditional black-bag waste to a fortnightly service while Wastesavers collected the recycling weekly. Therefore, recycling became the default waste action. In areas where that system operates, the rate of households participating has risen to a staggering90 per cent. The model has been so successful that it is being rolled out into more areas of Newport, and it has generated much enthusiasm for recycling among the public, including those residents who were sceptical when the fortnightly refuse collections started.

Secondly, Wastesavers is efficient and therefore cheaper. Newport pays only £41 a tonne for recycling, which is only a few pounds higher than its cost of landfill. I understand that charges in other authorities are at least several times that cost, and anecdotally I have heard of authorities being charged up to £400 a tonne. The £41 rate is not subsidised by grants but is a reflection of the true cost.

Thirdly, Wastesavers separates at source so that it can command higher returns. Residents separate, wash and sort the materials themselves and put them out in kerbside boxes. The result is clean, contaminant-free materials for collection. Those valuable products command the highest prices from customers who are prepared to pay for the highest-quality materials. I used to live in an area where all recyclables were collected in green bags and I often wondered how all that was recycled; did it not just get all squashed together and mixed up? The answer seems to be that it is squashed together and mixed up and much of it does not end up being recycled. The high level of contamination of materials collected in that way means that they have to be incinerated or sometimes they even find their way into landfill.

Wastesavers keeps things simple, investing in people, not machines. Clean, sorted material comes in, because people sort it themselves, so the Wastesavers depot has no need of big, expensive sorting machines. It invests in training and developing its people and it provides opportunities for the whole community, with employment possibilities for people on probation and people with learning difficulties. Fifty per cent. of people who come on placements become permanent employees, and 80 per cent. of the employees were previously unemployed. That is a testament to true social enterprise.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she agree that the organisation to which she is referring and ones such as the Bradford Area play association and the Windhill community furniture store in my
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constituency bring not only waste management and recycling benefits—that is important enough—but community benefits, which she is also mentioning? That is the crucial part of why such organisations should be supported.

Jessica Morden: I agree and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I congratulate him on the successful scheme in his constituency—may it go from strength to strength. I agree that it is the community benefits that we get from such schemes that add value. They are not just commercial operations; they are adding something to the community.

Wastesavers looks to the future and educates the next generation of recyclers. A not-for-profit organisation, it runs fantastic educational programmes on recycling, and the results are everywhere. Yesterday, pupils of Llanmartin primary school visited me in the House of Commons and spoke enthusiastically about their school recycling programme, which was inspired by Wastesavers. Wastesavers provides a model of good practice that is efficient, effective and economic.

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She is a powerful advocate for both her constituency and the scheme. What advice would she give people such as me, in my constituency? Swindon borough council has made recycling a relatively low priority. We have only 0.24 recycling points per 1,000 of population, compared with the national average of 0.41 per cent. I am struck by the contrast between Swindon borough council and Newport borough council, which seems to have played a very entrepreneurial and constructive role. How would my hon. Friend advise people such as me? I want Swindon to do better on recycling and to follow the good practice that she is outlining.

Jessica Morden: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. One success of the Wastesavers scheme is the strong partnership that it has had with a committed local authority. I am sorry to hear that he does not have a successful recycling scheme in his area. I suggest that he speak to Community Recycling Network UK, which I am sure can suggest a way forward for him and his local council.

As I said, just yesterday pupils of Llanmartin primary school visited me and talked enthusiastically about their programme. The educational benefits and the will of Wastesavers to do such work with the community are great. Is it really simple to be so economic, effective and efficient? It is, but what annoys Wastesavers and similar organisations represented by Community Recycling Network UK is that the potential for community enterprises to do even more seems to be slightly ignored in planning for the future.

Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I share the optimism in the hon. Lady’s speech; I share also the frustration of some community organisations. Does she agree that sometimes we have had difficulties with the Environment Agency’s interpretation of licensing exemptions, particularly for small recycling schemes? In my rural area, small community schemes find, for instance, a £6,000 charge for a licence prohibitive of future recycling work.

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Jessica Morden: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I think that Wastesavers is entitled to an exemption because the materials are sorted at source—residents sort the materials themselves—so perhaps one answer for the residents of Ceredigion would be to consider that type of operation. I am sure that the Minister will respond to the point and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

Many councils take a mechanical approach to recycling and, threatened by rising targets and penalties, are willing to sign up to long-term contracts for treating waste, sometimes for up to 30 years. Such contracts are likely to involve thermal treatment, incineration or anything that keeps waste out of landfill. Machine-based systems to sort or treat waste are costly to install and can produce low-grade recyclable materials or even destroy a valuable resource. Crucially, we end up paying more for materials to be destroyed than we do to have them recycled, with all the economic benefits that that brings to the community and the environment. Something simple is being made complicated and more expensive.

Committing to a 30-year contract for incineration of up to 60 per cent. of waste might solve a landfill problem for a local authority in the short term but will prevent the expansion of the community recycling model, which would add the social benefits and the ability to deal with the long-term problem, as I have outlined.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware of the work of the furniture re-use network, which has its national headquarters in my constituency? It promotes the reuse of 1.5 million items of furniture a year and does some incredibly good work throughout the country. There are also local organisations in Bristol, such as the SOFA project and Emmaus, which reuse more than 10,000 items a year, most of which go to low-income households. Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not just about environmental concerns but, as the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, about tackling social exclusion? Such organisations have an important role to play in that.

Jessica Morden: I agree with my hon. Friend. Wastesavers also has a furniture recycling project that adds much to the community in Newport, so I commend the projects that she has mentioned. We are fundamentally ignoring the principles and the success demonstrated by community recycling schemes such as Wastesavers, which have been run throughout the country. Such schemes are rapidly increasing the tonnage that they recycle and therefore reducing waste to landfill at the same rate.

Anecdotally, some Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials have indicated to the community recyclers that they believe that it would only ever be possible to divert 40 per cent. of household waste to recycling. However, Wastesavers and its colleagues in the community recycling networks think that that is not an ambitious enough target. They think that they can do a lot better and believe in striving towards a state of zero waste. However, that takes time and will require us to look at the issue from
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the other side, creating a service designed around recycling, rather than modifying the existing waste services.

In the short term, it is vital that we do not hamper progress towards the goal of reducing and recycling all waste by committing to very long-term contracts that prevent the growth of other models. I look forward to seeing the evidence and the outcomes of the waste strategy review, which closed yesterday. In the meantime, I ask the Minister to take note of the excellent alternative systems on offer—perhaps by visiting Wastesavers with me and meeting representatives of the networks that support them, such as Community Recycling Network UK and its Welsh counterpart Cylch. I also suggest that a comparative study be commissioned to evaluate the wide variety of systems on offer, the range of costs and the various social and environmental outcomes that can be achieved. Without that information, we could find ourselves in an expensive recycling trap.

4.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) on securing this debate and on her excellent speech. It is encouraging to see such a high level of interest from all three major parties—that is not always the case in shorter Adjournment debates—and all hon. Members who have intervened have made important points.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, we have just finished a major public consultation on the review of our waste strategy. In the renewed strategy, which we will publish later this year, the Government are determined to see an enhanced role for the community and voluntary sector. We have made considerable progress in recent years, which all hon. Members recognised, although it has been rather patchy, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) pointed out. We have trebled the amount of municipal waste that we recycle or compost and we are on course to hit our targets. It is not every Department that can say that about all its targets.

That is partly the result of the excellent work of local authorities, working in collaboration with the private sector and the community and voluntary sector. It is also the result of the work of our public, who are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable waste management; that subject is rising up in the public consciousness. If people are asked in opinion polls, for example, whether they think it is important to recycle, about 90 per cent. say yes; but only about 45 to 50 per cent. recycle regularly. We must close that gap. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East pointed out, one of the best ways to do that is by providing a high-quality kerbside recycling service for the public.

Those services have increased hugely in recent years and my hon. Friend has rightly—not just in this Adjournment debate but several times in DEFRA questions—drawn attention to the Wastesavers project in her constituency of Newport, which, as she says, is a beacon for the rest of the country. In partnership with the excellent local council and her constituents, it has achieved a tremendous increase in the percentage of recycling.

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