About the Author

Ken Cole
SPS Consultancy

Ken Cole has worked in senior positions in both the public and private sectors and was one of the founding Directors of SPS in 2001. He recently completed a three year secondment as Director of the London Centre of Excellence. Ken has thrilled many public and private audiences with his incisive analysis, robust delivery and his belief in 'telling it as it is'. His blog is a regular commentary of the improvement and efficiency agenda.

Make sure you pay a frequent visit to find out Ken's latest thoughts on the workings of government, the latest policy initiatives and much more...

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The Audit Commission and the "I" Word.

Sep 28, 2008

Some years ago a man knocked on my front door collecting signatures for a petition against the siting of a mobile phone mast nearby. He handed me a leaflet setting out the case against the mast and told me that everyone was up in arms as these masts were proven by scientists to cause cancer to people living nearby. He seemed somewhat taken aback when I asked him for his sources and the evidence to support his claims. Neither did he appreciate the irony of the fact that the contact numbers on his leaflet were all mobiles.

The Audit Commission has just produced a new paper called Well Disposed which can be downloaded from the SPS Library here. The paper claims that if we are to meet our EU driven targets for reducing landfill then we are going to find other ways to hit the targets, including incineration which is referred to as 'waste disposal technologies' . It points out that such projects can be expensive and 'controversial'.

My own feeling is that this debate should be driven by broader considerations than meeting EU targets in order to avoid fines. We are far too eager in racing to implement every bit of EU legislation, and could do better by taking the French approach which is ignoring all those directives that are not in our interest. The Audit Commission report shows that the debate on waste disposal needs to be driven by efficiency as well as environmental considerations, a direction that our friends in Scandinavia have also followed over the years.

The evidence so far shows that any debate on incineration, or whatever you wish to call it, will be far from informed. There are all kind of commercial interests and pressure groups ranged against it. These will add scientific hearsay sprinkled with unsubstantiated rumour to convince local politicians that the status quo is the most obvious choice and the 'I' word should remain a word avoided in polite company. Yet the ability of the taxpayer to foot the bills and the environmental damage caused by the status quo by comparison will be given scant attention.

Let's have the debate on efficiency grounds and let the environmental considerations be informed by robust and independent scientific research about the options. Too many things today are decided by fear and use of selective statistics. The Audit Commission has done well in publishing such a useful paper.

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