My working week – Civil servants

Civil servants David Read, from Defra’s waste sector Covid-19 response team, and Dr Andy Rees, Welsh Government’s head of waste strategy, explain their roles and priorities for the future.

David Read, Waste sector Covid-19 response, Defra

What does your working week entail?

Currently, leading the government’s response to Covid-19 in respect of the waste sector. I have led a brilliant team doing this for the past three or four months. While we are now winding down our response somewhat, we have had a regular rhythm through the week of daily and weekly calls with the team, other parts of Defra and stakeholders. My role has covered coordinating the work of the cell, briefing ministers, commenting on guidance, ensuring that the waste sector has still been able to operate effectively, and working with partners to ensure key services can be maintained.

What do you enjoy about your role?

Lots! I have really enjoyed the sense of common purpose and collaboration that we have had, not just in the Defra team, but across us and stakeholder colleagues. I’ve enjoyed the buzz of being at the heart of something really important and being part of ensuring key services are maintained throughout the pandemic. I’ve also enjoyed leading a team far, far bigger than I normally would – and the fact that I believe we have done a great job!

What challenges have you faced recently?

The biggest challenge has been the frenetic pace and volume of material to get through each day to ensure that: the cell is on top of things; emerging issues are picked up early and dealt with or escalated; stakeholders are up to date with latest developments (this goes both ways – external stakeholders being aware of policy developments and internal ones being aware of service delivery or other sectoral developments); and that we have been able to balance the interests of different stakeholders, ministers and MPs.

What have you learned about yourself and your work during the pandemic?

I’m hugely proud of the team, and think we’ve been a great example of ‘a brilliant civil service’, which is our ambition across the Civil Service as we serve ministers and the public.

I’ve learned more about leading a big team where I don’t necessarily (whisper it) know what everyone is doing. This took me by surprise a bit, as I do like to know what is going on and feel on top of everything. I’ve been able to feel on top of things without knowing what is going on in every area in great detail, which has been quite liberating.

Personally, I’ve been grateful for having to work at home, in our sunny loft room, during this intense period – my wife and children are an important part of keeping my resilience levels high, so being able to have lunch with them and be here for bedtime instead of stuck in the office or commuting, has been a real enabler for me. The sunny weather has really helped, too – I’m so thankful it’s not been grey and miserable!

What are your priorities for the next six months?

My regular role in Defra is heading up the waste regulation and crime team. Our big reform agenda has been delayed by the Covid response, so I’m keen to get that back up to speed and pick up work such as finishing the exemptions reform, developing the carriers, brokers, dealers regime reform consultation, and working with EA to tackle waste crime.

Dr Andy Rees, Head of waste strategy, Welsh Government

What does your working week entail?

A ‘normal’ week is a rare commodity, and especially so over the past few years. My ‘day job’ involves supporting our minister in the development and delivery of our policies on resource efficiency, the circular economy and waste. I’m in charge of the team that has organised the development of, and consultation on, a new circular economy strategy for Wales, Beyond Recycling. Current work includes analysing the consultation responses and deciding how best to take forward the great ideas that came through, including how best to join up everything and everyone.

I am also working with Defra and the other devolved administrations on the new joint proposals for a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), providing technical input based on my 22 years of experience and knowledge in respect of packaging recycling policies. The fact that all the meetings are now virtual is a bonus, because it avoids lots of trips to London!

I am also working on our proposed new regulations to increase recycling in non-domestic premises. So, my current working week involves producing documents, commenting on other people’s documents, providing advice, participating in virtual meetings, sometimes giving presentations in webinars, and responding, as best I can, to an awful lot of emails!

What do you enjoy about your role?

The policy area I am working in is cross-cutting, and involves a lot of interactions with other government departments and a huge range of stakeholders. It is far from being just an environmental issue. Social justice and economic resilience are fundamental components, and make the job very rewarding. We are lucky in the Welsh Government in being able to work closely with stakeholders, so we have a real understanding of what is happening on the ground. This helps us in the way we support policy development and its implementation.

What challenges have you faced recently?

The coronavirus pandemic has, of course, brought additional workload challenges, but we have benefited hugely from staff from other departments being seconded to support us. The core team has also had to reprioritise their work, and everyone has done a superb job. This has especially helped with resolving the challenges that our local authorities and waste companies have faced. It has been particularly gratifying to see how the essential recycling service has been so well maintained across Wales. I was pleased to be able to work closely with our local authority and Natural Resources Wales colleagues to develop guidance on the prioritisation of waste collection services. A continuing rewarding challenge is to ensure we all get the best solution we can from the proposed new EPR and DRS regimes.

What have you learned about yourself and your work during the pandemic?

How adaptable we all can be. We have all coped well with new ways of working, especially with the IT solutions that allow us to communicate, meet and network almost as normal. Ironically, it’s enabled wider networking to take place far more easily. We’ve enhanced our working relationships with ‘Team Wales’, especially with local authority and waste company colleagues. We’ve learned how important close working relationships are to solving problems. Also, a number of us have taken advantage of the excellent webinars that CIWM and others have put on over the past few months, to improve our CPD while saving on transport time and costs, and, importantly, CO2 emissions!

What are your priorities for the next six months?

To ensure a circular economy approach is at the heart of the ‘green recovery’ after the pandemic. We also have some major initiatives to progress, including: supporting our minister to produce a final version of the circular economy strategy, working with Defra and the other devolved administrations on the next consultation for EPR and DRS; and progressing the introduction of regulations to increase recycling in non-domestic premises, to name but a few!

This feature first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Circular.

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