Defra wasn’t set up to successfully deliver reforms set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy 2018, the department’s permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein has told MPs.
Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee yesterday (11 September), Finkelstein said Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has now made changes to ensure it can implement reforms to revised timelines.
Finkelstein – alongside director general, portfolio delivery Sarah Homer and director, resources and waste, Emma Bourne – was questioned on the delays to extended producer responsibility (EPR), consistent collections, and deposit return scheme (DRS).
MPs relayed concerns that significant delays to implementation have led to a lack of clarity, slowed momentum for reforms, and created a lack of coherence on what is actually to be delivered.
The committee’s chair Dame Meg Hillier asked Finkelstein if the reason for delays was down to the department having a lack of proper planning in place.
There were things we would have done differently.
“I would definitely say we were not set up for as much success as I would have liked to have been. There were things we would have done differently. We’ve made some changes to how we’re managing this programme and more broadly to ensure we have the capability and capacity to deliver,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein also said that across the package of reforms, the purpose is to transition to a circular economy and establish the changes needed to do so.
Earlier this year, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) ranked the successful delivery of Collection and Packaging reforms as “unachievable”.
When approached for comment, a Defra told Circular Online work is ongoing to deliver the EPR scheme and they’re continuing to engage closely with manufacturers, retailers and packaging companies on the design of the scheme.
Homer told the committee that the department had now implemented all the recommendations in the IPA report. She also said Defra is fully resourced in the programme management office, have brought in over 100 new programme delivery specialists over the last 12 months, and now has a delivery partner that enables Defra to bring in resource at short notice.
Finkelstein went on to emphasise the importance of “consistent and open engagement with stakeholders” to deliver the reforms. She also claimed Defra has a good appreciation of the complexity of the reforms and has learnt a lot from projects related to the UK’s exit from the EU.