The resources industry holds the key to a sector deal for green industry in the UK

Written by: Adam Read | Published:
Secondary raw materials could prove to be a key component for green industries in the UK

Those of us working in the resources and waste sector don’t have too much difficulty defining the sector or its component parts.

But for some time now parts of UK government have often found it to identify the critical role that it plays not only in terms of environmental and public health protection but also in terms of economic growth, jobs and social value.

We should not only be visible to Defra, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG), the Environment Agency and HM Treasury, but to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Trade (MoT) too.

As such, The UK Resources Council was formed to help redefine the sector now in terms of the UK economy in 2030 and beyond, and consider what the sector could offer to deliver in terms of enhanced performance and output if the government (in this case BEIS) were to provide some new support in terms of legislation, regulation and investment as part of a new sector deal.

So what is a sector deal?

It is a partnership between government and industry on sector-specific issues that can create significant opportunities to boost productivity, employment, innovation and skills. And our intention is to go above and beyond the expectations of Defra’s Resources & Waste Strategy and focus on what the sector could be doing post 2035 in terms of secondary raw materials provision for green industries in the UK.

The UK Resources Council

The UK Resources Council may have had a relatively quiet launch back in January 2019 as the founding members were announced, with representation from Government (Defra and BEIS), manufacturers, the waste sector, feedstock producers, converters and think tanks, all with the common intention of securing a sector deal for the resources and waste sector with BEIS during 2020, but the Council and its working groups have been anything but quiet in the intervening six months.

Each working group, with its 6-10 independent members drawn from a representative group of experts and specialists, have been actively attempting to understand the current sector and its relationships and interdependencies and looking forward through a series of roundtables, technical workshops and online sessions.

This helps provide analysis to help deepen the appreciation of what the sector might ask for and what it should want in return from government to enable it to deliver ahead of schedule, exceed targets, or ensure greater economic returns than are being projected today.

The level of commitment from the 30 plus experts and their respective organisations has been exceptional to date, and the initial assessments of the opportunities and barriers that need to be addressed have helped to fuel a vision for what the resources and waste sector could look like and more importantly could deliver in terms of the UK economy from 2030 and beyond.

Through the working groups, a number of deep dive analyses have focused on what the period 2030 to 2050 might look like in terms of other sector deals (including aerospace, automotive, and construction) and their potential demand for secondary resources.

This has coincided with a great deal of discussions and debate about the new skills, services, facilities and technologies and the locations where the best benefits could be realised if our sector was to play a critical role in underpinning several other green growth initiatives.

And this is why the UK Resources Council and the working group membership profile has been so critical, representing designers, infrastructure builders and operators, innovators and researchers, teachers and trainers, plus local economic partnerships and a number of the expected new and developing end markets for products we can develop.

Asking key questions

Each of the four working groups have been set the same questions to fuel their thinking to date, namely: what will the sector look like in 2030 and beyond; what could the UK resources and waste sector contribute to UK green growth, economic development and net zero emissions from 2030 and beyond and what would each group ask of BEIS to facilitate the sector in delivering this productivity and performance . Therefore what would we need to ‘offer-up’ as part of this deal in terms of people, place, technology and business performance.

Some of the initial analysis of the working groups now points to an agreed direction of travel, including some obvious and some less obvious headline outputs:

  • The deal is perfectly aligned with the government’s long-term environmental objectives of net zero carbon; zero avoidable waste; and higher resource productivity.
  • The deal will deliver jobs, investment, growth, export potential, higher productivity, and stronger international competitiveness across a range of materials and products.
  • It will build upon existing key government and other initiatives to transform the secondary resources sector in a shorter period of time and for better economic return.
  • Without the deal, the sector will struggle to develop and deploy solutions which go beyond current treatment technologies.

But our thinking is far from complete.

The Resources Council is currently looking to develop a short list of keys asks (of government) and offers (in terms of the sector’s participants) and already a number of recurring themes have been identified.

In terms of ‘asks’, we are looking for a national data hub of resources, match funding for new training centres, regulatory changes, creation of investable conditions to encourage new technologies and enhanced capacities, a self-regulation system to lighten the burden on quality operators and the need for regional spatial planning strategies that reflect resource management needs.

On the ‘offer’ side, we are suggesting the sector will commit significant capital investment into new beacon training centres and R&D hubs, will adapt and support any new materials data hub, will redevelop old industrial and contaminated sites and grow locally recruited and trained staff, and will offer up £10 billion in new infrastructure investment. Does this sound appropriate and ambitious enough?

So what next and what’s your role in all this?

This summer should be even busier given the UK Resources Council is planning on sharing its initial thinking on priority opportunities for the resources and waste sector and will be actively seeking commentary and feedback from a much broader group of stakeholders than have been actively involved to date.

The intention is to release a short consultation by the end of July 2019 to stakeholders both from within the existing resources and waste sector, but also from the sectors that might be considering secondary resources as future key feedstocks for their own green agendas, namely chemicals manufacturing, transportation and agriculture.

The consultation documents will be designed to enable any interested parties to share their insights, feedback, concerns and ideas, while we are planning a significant number of phone calls and some face to face meetings with key stakeholders to ensure we can dig deep and review the context, the direction of travel, the initial outputs and the longer term plans for the proposed sector deal.

We really want the sector deal to have the right asks in terms of government (new policies, targets, changes in taxation, planning or regulation) to match the offer from the sector in terms of delivering resource productivity, reducing carbon emissions and new economic growth, industrial redevelopment, skills and training. So watch this space for upcoming launch of the consultation, which should run into September, and please engage as fully as you can in the discussion.

The deal can only succeed if it has wide and demonstrable support and commitment from the secondary resources sector and those that will benefit from it, BEIS have said as much. So if you are in the secondary resources sector, this is your chance to create the conditions for your business to grow and provide the high value resources, energy and fuel needed by any number of planned UK sectors.

For manufacturers, in any number of sectors, this is your chance to ensure that the sustainable resources you need to meet your clean growth targets and sector commitments are available from the UK market. So don’t miss out on these exciting times for the resources and waste sector, a sector that sits closely aligned with the new green growth plans of so many other sectors, and one that I am proud to call my home.

Adam Read is external affairs director at SUEZ UK.

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