Greater London Authority Bill
Lord Warner (Labour)
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Whitty, I rise to move Amendment No. 58, to which I have added my name. My noble friend and other colleagues spoke eloquently in Committee about why a different amendment was proposed to secure the establishment of a single waste disposal authority for London. Since then, a modified version of that amendment has been crafted, which is the version that we debate today. This is a compromise that puts the triggering and timing of the creation of a single waste disposal authority for London in the hands of the Secretary of State, should—and I would say when—the need arises.
This is a significant compromise on the part of the Mayor and others who supported that earlier amendment, but it is still important. It goes further than the Government's proposal for a statutory waste and recycling forum that we have just been discussing by providing executive powers for the new single authority. Some of us still believe that we need that for the longer term. Certainly, we will eventually need to go in that direction.
Since Committee, I have had clarifying correspondence with my noble friend the Minister, to whom I am grateful for his prompt and full answers. It is clear from those answers that, overall, the London boroughs have improved their performance on recycling and disposal. I would not quarrel with that, but I have to acknowledge from other briefing that I have received that there are some worrying unanswered questions about whether some boroughs, rather than genuinely reducing the amount of municipal waste being sent to landfill, may have been using loopholes to give the impression that landfill has been reduced. I do not quarrel with the general proposition that, overall, the London boroughs' position on recycling has improved and looks as though it will continue to improve, but I and others continue to have concerns about whether the structure that we have in place is robust enough for the longer term.
In Committee, my noble friend prayed in aid the KPMG report as suggesting that the Mayor's proposal for a single waste management body for London was one of the worst options. I did a dangerous thing: I read the report. It is quite true that the KPMG report says that the current systems options provide greater certainty in delivering short-term LATS targets. However, the report also says that much depends on the appetite to,
"take risks to secure future (potentially significant) financial savings".
It goes on to say that none of the current set of options,
"would be reasonably expected to generate significant future operational savings".
"It could ... be argued that these options would not be future proofed with regards to the expected shift towards disposal, rather than collection, led solutions".
KPMG actually concludes that the higher-risk options, including the Mayor's, would be expected to perform better on longer-term targets.
We could debate for a long time whether the present arrangements will deliver the 2010 statutory targets, but I do not propose to do so. Personally, I remain sceptical on current information, but if that is a risk that the Government are prepared to take, so be it. Their proposal to establish a London waste and recycling board, if they can get it up and running quickly, is likely to help rather than hinder matters. However, if our focus should also be, as I think it should, on the 2020 position, I remain deeply sceptical, as do others, about whether sticking with what we have now will be good enough.
I have knocked around public sector management for quite a long time. One of its weakest aspects is devising end-to-end solutions to difficult problems. Too often it creates sub-optimising, piecemeal solutions unsuitable for achieving long-term goals. When we devise end-to-end solutions we make better progress, as I have seen in the health service with waiting times. We need a similar approach to waste disposal, with the ability to let the end point of minimising the volume of ultimate disposal in landfill determine the processes in place from the point when people dispose of their waste domestically. You need the executive authority to make changes stick. Under present plans, that is still not the focus, and the investment to ensure delivery of that kind of approach cannot be a guarantee.
Let me take an example from abroad. The importance of collection and sorting to achieve that end point has been well demonstrated in a city of the size of San Francisco, where investment in mechanical sorting has greatly increased recyclable collection, thereby reducing disposal. That is an investment strategy underpinning an end-to-end solution. The amendment, which is in my name and those of my noble friends, would give the Secretary of State the power to change his mind and go down a different path from the forum if, as we strongly suspect will happen, the present and proposed arrangements were not found to be sufficient. As the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee makes clear, the forum that is proposed will not provide any services.
I suspect that the mere presence of this amendment, if it was enshrined in the Bill, would, given the way that human beings behave, shift attitudes locally for the better. It would be a prudent way for the Government to keep their options open at a time of considerable uncertainty—and I think that my noble friend the Minister acknowledges that there are degrees of uncertainty. But the amendment would achieve that without needing to secure a further legislative slot. The Government have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this amendment. I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to take it away and consider it positively for Third Reading. I beg to move.