Government ‘Close to Decriminalising Waste Crime & Fly-Tipping’say MPs
A Commons report accuses the Government of turning a blind eye to organised crime by failing to punish hundreds of thousands of offences which cost the taxpayer at least £1bn a year
MPs accuse the government today of “close to decriminalising waste crime and fly-tipping” after multiple failures to tackle the problem or prosecute offenders.
A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee says the problem is costing taxpayers at least £1 billion a year as well as being anti-social and polluting the countryside.
Dame Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the committee, said:” “With the growing involvement of criminal gangs, adept at evading detection and who regard the fines if they are caught as merely a business expense, a much more serious approach to enforcement is required.
“Currently the Department’s approach to large parts of waste crime is closer to decriminalisation. Targets become meaningless – rubbish, you might say – when there isn’t even a strategy for achieving them, much less any indication or measurement of progress.”
The report goes on to list a catalogue of failures to implement a policy to eliminate waste crime which was started in 2018.
The report says the landfill tax regime introduced 26 years ago by HMRC – aimed to dissuade companies from sending waste to landfill and recycling instead – has led to an increase in waste crime.
“HMRC has not yet achieved a single successful prosecution for landfill tax evasion. The one investigation where it did try to prosecute the alleged offenders – Operation Nosedive – cost £3.5 million yet ended without going to court because evidential requirements were not met.”
HMRC spent six years investigating suspected £78m landfill tax evasion run by Niramax, a waste disposal company based in North East England, and couldn’t find enough evidence.
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Kevan Jones, Labour MP for Durham North, is still calling for further investigations into this failure. “The stark findings in this report indicate that, across the board, the Government’s waste strategy is failing catastrophically,” he told Byline Times. “Organised crime has increased its move into waste crime, spurred on by the lack of prosecutions and regulation, and the cost to the taxpayer is in the billions and rising. The Government must act decisively to overturn this abject policy failure.”
MPs say offenders caught should be jailed rather than fined as this is the only way to deter people.
Other prosecutions involve the illegal export of waste to emerging countries. Biffa Waste Services was fined £350,000 for sending contaminated waste to China in 2019 only to be fined again two years again another £1.5m for illegally exporting waste to Indonesia and India. The Environment Agency was too late to stop some of the waste from going abroad as 26 out of 42 containers had already left British ports.
MPs say 1.1 million fly-tipping incidents were reported in 2020 which would be an underestimate. The largest number of cases were in the London borough of Hackney and Sandwell in the West Midlands. So far the agency has offered £50,000 each to 11 authorities – 8 of them in London and the Home Counties – to trial new methods to tackle the problem.
The committee is most critical of what it calls the “slow and piecemeal” process of implementing the strategy to combat waste crime.
“The 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy set the goal of eliminating waste crime within 25 years and listed 14 actions to be taken. Mid-way through 2022, only three of these actions have been completed: establishing the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, making changes to legislation to give the Agency greater powers and giving the Agency access to police intelligence systems.
“Access to police systems is only very recent and witnesses were not yet able to point to it leading to successful outcomes, such as prosecutions. Fundamental changes to the system, such as digital waste tracking and reform of the carriers, brokers and dealers’ regulations, are still the subject of consultation on how to implement them. “
Environment Minister Trudy Harrison responded: “We are cracking down on waste crime, which costs the economy in England around £924m per year.
“That is why we are reforming the licencing system, introducing mandatory digital waste tracking, investing to tackle fly-tipping, and supporting people to do the right thing by disposing of their waste correctly.”