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Developing a new resource efficient UK

Date: 6/09/2013 | Author: Paul Sanderson

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Paul Sanderson talks to Laura Sandys MP to find out about her plans for resource efficient policy recommendations

The MP for South Thanet in Kent, Laura Sandys is eager to find out people’s views on resource efficiency and productivity as she seeks to shape a new economy for the UK with the backing of Chancellor George Osborne.

In what is quite an unusual interview for me, I am asked almost as many questions to get my view, as I put to her.

She wants to get a wide variety of opinions and she recently held a number of roundtables to get the opinions of people such as Confederation of Paper Industries chief executive David Workman, Packaging Federation chief executive Dick Searle, WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin and Novelis Europe sustainability and recycling development head Andy Doran.

This is because at the end of June, she launched the 2020 Productivity and Efficiency Commission along with fellow Conservative MPs David Ruffley, Nicola Blackwood, Stephen Barclay, Claire Perry with Baroness Wheatcroft joining from the House of Lords. The commission will be investigating how best to shape the UK’s economy for the future, making it fitter and more productive.

When it reports back in November, the commission will produce a range of policy recommendations to drive greater efficiencies and eradicate system waste in our economy if we adopt new approaches to the use
of resources.

Giving his support, Chancellor George Osborne said: “We want the UK to have the fittest, most productive economy when the global recovery starts to gain pace, with the policies in place to drive up productivity, tackle waste in our economy, ensure the best use of resources and raw materials and significantly reduce energy waste.”

Laura Sandys says to me that she views it as essential that the UK becomes more productive and efficient in its use
of resources in order to secure future economic growth.

“The last century was about competing political ideologies,” she says. “But this century is about competing for resources.

“It is crucial that the UK thinks about this in public policy terms.

“I’ve been impressed by the academic thought around resource efficiency, but this has not translated into political action, because it hasn’t been delivered in such a way to appeal to a political audience.”

She says that the Chancellor has backed this commission because she presented the ideas to him, and he was really interested into how this can boost the UK economy.

Laura Sandys MPHowever, she adds that the Treasury looks at topline economic growth, but needs to better understand the importance of profit margin to businesses, and how better use of resources could add to boosting the profit levels of companies.

She says: “We need to start looking at good consumption - this is something which amplifies the economy, creates jobs, and added value consumption.

“Dead consumption is using energy but not creating added value for the economy.

“We’ve got to look at value. What is the value of resources and not think about disposable resources.”

She is well aware of how we have tended to measure progress by the weight of materials collected and recycled, and how we need to look at the value of that material and consider whether we continue to treat goods as waste or secondhand goods, rather than as a resource.

“In Parliament, we don’t have an understanding of this economic model and how it can derive competitiveness.

“For example, we don’t have a measurement to the UK economy of each unit of energy saved from better consumption and that is something we need to do.

“The Commission will try to identify and address the barriers that somehow have led to reverse incentives.

“We have created a ludicrous world where we cannot re-engineer products that have been sent back, because consumer law will now allow it, or customers do not wish to buy these goods, even if there is nothing wrong with them.

“In some markets Caterpillar will export is re-engineered equipment, but this isn’t allowed in some markets, and we need to change that.”

I ask her why this is a Conservative commission when Shadow Environment Minister Gavin Shuker from Labour outlined similar ideas when I interviewed him in the May issue of SCM.

“Labour has lots of ideas, but it does not have effective public policy measures,” she says.

“EEF (the manufacturers’ trade body) is proposing the Office of Resource Security which Labour has picked up on and it something we are taking into consideration as part of this strategy. But we are also looking at it across Government and what can be done there.

“The Ministry of Defence (MoD) gets this better than any other department. It is doing a lot of work on food security and how food shortages could lead to conflict around the world.

“So the MoD understand the need of how resource security can make our economy work better and is behind it.”

With the European Union’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe suggesting a revival of manufacturing in Europe alongside resource efficiency, does she believe this manufacturing growth can happen in the UK?

“We are having manufacturing growth and I am seeing it happen in my constituency. If you look at Germany, it is great at engineering and has high social taxes, but it is thriving.

“But Germany offers something different in terms of the quality of its manufacturing. We have to aspire to that level, giving ourselves a competitive advantage from using resources efficiently, and this doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be the cheapest place to manufacture, but the most efficient and productive.”

She is also practicing what she preaches. In 2012 she launched a campaign called Ugly Food where she is helping to get supermarkets to sell food that is misshapen, but perfectly good to sell.

Indeed, a not for profit company she created, also called Ugly Food, is working in her constituency to sell this
food to the public.

“We are wasting products that families in my constituency, who are on the breadline, will want. Two thirds of the price is better than them paying full price for the food in the supermarket.

“Also, the supermarkets put the cost of their lost food onto the cost we pay as consumers, so if the waste is reduced, then we will all pay less overall.”

She believes that it will be the private sector that will make the difference as long as it is given the right conditions for it to be efficient and productive.

“Good engineering and manufacturing will enhance our competitiveness and resource efficiency and we have to be sensitive to how we use our resources.

“The private sector will lead the way on this, and the Government must understand that efficiency and productivity is part of a new and modern economy. Government will need to celebrate all of the great things that are going on.

“By doing this, we will build a modern, über-lean economy that is fit for the next 100 years.”

 


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