An interview with Barry Dennis: Miles Smith and the waste industry
Barry Dennis FCIWM CEnv is the current chairman of RWM and a consultant for Miles Smith. Previously, Barry was the Director General of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), and in 2010/11 he was appointed President of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).
1. HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED IN THE WASTE INDUSTRY?
My family were heavily involved in a business called the Deards Group. When I left school in 1964, it was agreed that I would join the group. Part of the business specialised in waste management. We had a fleet of tippers and container vehicles, about 80 in all. We also had a very big contract with the Port of London Authority, working in the London and Tilbury docks, so any waste that arose along the Thames from Tower Bridge to Tilbury had to be cleared by us, under that contract. My father built two incinerators to dispose of the waste from the contract, one in the Millwall dock and the other at the Royal Albert basin, which is now known as London City Airport. This business dealing with waste management was short staffed, and I was sent to work there, so it was by accident really that I became professionally involved in the waste industry.
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED WITH MILES SMITH?
I first met Roy Miles, then Managing Director of Miles Smith, while playing cricket back in the 1980s and we were soon discussing what industries we both worked in. He told me that he was a Lloyd’s insurance broker, so I proceeded to explain to him why brokers did not fully understand the waste industry. I told him that, as soon as you went to an insurance broker, they would tell you that the insurance would be very expensive. I said “My lorries on the road are a no more dangerous motor risk than a baker’s van; they are just lorries driving around. What is different is what we have got in the back, and that is not a motor risk, it is instead an environmental risk.”
Roy and I met up a week later. He told me that following my comments to him about the lack of understanding of the waste industry in the insurance market, he’d been making some enquiries with other brokers and insurers and concluded the same. The underwriters would ‘cherry pick’ risks as they didn’t understand the liabilities or problems that could occur with certain areas of the waste industry, such as landfill sites or incinerators, that they were offered to insure. Over the next couple of years, we met with underwriters at Lloyd’s many times to explain how the industry worked and exactly where and what the risks were. The outcome of our talks enabled Miles Smith to produce a waste insurance product specifically for waste management companies.
In 1993, I left the family business and went to work for NAWDC (National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors) which later became the Environmental Services Association (ESA). Miles Smith joined ESA as a member and thus enabled Miles Smith to meet and engage with waste management companies and offer them the unique insurance solutions Miles Smith could provide to the industry.
3. WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN SINCE MILES SMITH FIRST STARTED PROVIDING INSURANCE FOR THE WASTE INDUSTRY?
Although Roy and I met in the 1980s, we didn’t properly start working together to provide insurance to the waste industry until 1993. From that point forward we worked together to create industry specific insurance solutions for waste management companies, and as a result, these companies are benefitting from working with Miles Smith who fully understands the industry. I’m not sure that many other insurance brokers fully appreciate the risks faced by the waste management companies.
4. HOW HAS THE IMAGE OF THE WASTE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE PAST 50 YEARS?
The industry for decades had three stages when collecting waste from its customers: it was collected, it was transported, and it was disposed of in a landfill site. However, as the government started to impose regulations on the industry, these stages had to change. The first main piece of regulation was the Poisonous Waste Act 1972. There was an incident involving drums of cyanide waste which were dumped in a layby near a school in Nuneaton in 1971. This incident received national media coverage and was the main reason the 1972 Act was introduced. After this, the Government began creating various regulations for the industry, and the Environment Agency (EA) was created in 1994 to specifically regulate the waste industry. Nowadays, our fundamentals have changed, as there is now the fourth step. After the waste has been collected and transported, it is treated before being disposed of. This fourth step has completely changed how the whole industry operates, as it has now become much more technical.
In 1996, the Government also introduced a landfill tax, which consequently created the landfill credit scheme. This meant that when waste was brought to the landfill, we as operators had to pay landfill tax to the landfill company and they paid the tax to HM Revenue & Customs. It was designed to deter companies sending waste to landfill and encourage recycling. Initially, this tax was levied at £7 per tonne for waste, but if it was ‘clean’ waste (soil, bricks, non-active waste), the charge was only £2 per tonne. The landfill tax credit scheme meant that a proportion of the landfill tax liability could be paid to not-for-profit organisations, called Environmental Bodies, set up by the landfill company. These were regulated by ENTRUST. The environmental body could fund projects within the community, such as clearing up village ponds, education or research. This was good PR for the industry as a whole, and a great deal of good work was and is being, carried out. Today government has increased the rates of the tax; ‘clean’ waste is now charged at £2.50 per tonne, but for normal waste, the tax has increased to over £80 per tonne.
5. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO HAPPEN WITHIN THE WASTE INDUSTRY IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
Currently, one of the challenges within the industry is waste crime. Many million pounds of tax revenue is lost a year due to waste crime because people are either avoiding their landfill tax liability altogether or labelling their waste as inert, so they only pay tax at £2.50 per tonne instead of the higher amount. Similarly, fly tipping is another problem that needs to be tackled and, as we see, these incidents are constantly in the newspapers. The industry, led by ESA, and the Government through the EA, are working closer together to fight waste crime. The government has provided funds to carry out this work.
Another big problem for the industry in the coming years is having the capacity by way of facilities to deal with all the waste arising within the UK. There have been conflicting reports about this problem recently in the press. And of course BREXIT, which in my view, is hindering investment within the sector.
6. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT WITHIN THE INDUSTRY TO DATE?
I think one of my biggest achievements was helping to create RWM as we see it today. Initially, CIWM had an annual show in June; the whole industry was there, including local authorities and the private sector. Then a separate recycling show started exhibiting annually at the NEC in September. The industry decided that it did not want separate shows in June and September, instead favouring one industry show a year. At the time, I was President of CIWM and Director General of ESA, and I was closely involved in the negotiations when EMAP, now Ascential plc, who ran the September show, bought the CIWM show and rolled both shows into the one big industry event that we have today at the NEC called RWM. I am still involved with RWM as its Chairman.
I was also involved with the creation of the legislation surrounding skip licences. Skip vehicles started to appear in the UK in the early 60s. Initially, you could put a skip anywhere on the road at any time. This did cause some problems! There were occasions when motorcyclists and cars ran into the skips because they were not lit at night and there were some fatalities. As a result, skip licences were introduced into the Highways Act. I worked closely with the Department of Transport, as one of the industry representatives, in the drafting of the section relating to skip licences. Every skip had to have yellow ends, the owner’s name and telephone number and reflective plates displayed on it. When a skip is placed on the road, a licence must be obtained from the local authority. Suddenly some Local Authorities started to make charges for these licences. This was illegal! I took on the battle and, with the help of a solicitor Richard Rawlence, we took various Local Authorities to court. We did not lose a case and the Local Authorities which had made these charges had to pay the money back. Because of this one skip firm in North West London were paid back over £15,000 pounds, a great deal of money, especially in the early 70s!
I was very proud and a great result for the industry.
Sadly some years later Local Authorities were given the power to make these charges, but the charges vary considerably as does the period of the of time it is issued for. Local Authorities are using this power as a revenue earner, and the public as a whole is suffering. So there is another battle on the horizon to tackle this problem, and I plan to try and do this through working with UROC the trade association that represents the SME companies operating skip vehicles.
7. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WANTING TO WORK IN THE WASTE MANAGEMENT INDUSTRY?
Let us be clear, it is not a waste industry anymore it is a ‘resource’ management industry. The industry now utilises very highly skilled people, chemists, engineers, biochemists, lots of highly technical people and we haven’t got enough of them. There are massive opportunities in the industry because it has become so technical. There is a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and people need to be aware of this.