Government axes electrical waste quango

Members of WAB, the body charged with developing and advising the government on electrical waste regulations, say they were given no warning that the axe was about to fall
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

An independent public body which advised government on the implementation of regulations surrounding the disposal of electronic waste has been axed, the government announced on Monday.

The WEEE Advisory Body, which advised the government on the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations, was abolished on Monday, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced.

"We are absolutely committed to reducing the number and cost of quangos that we no longer need," said business secretary Vince Cable in a statement. "I have already said that I want to reduce the number of these bodies by a third and we've achieved a lot in a short space of time. This is the latest phase of that work."

A BIS spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Monday that the functions of the WEEE Advisory Body (WAB) would be taken on by "BIS officials, industry, and wider stakeholders". The quango cost £10,000 per year to run, said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson said that the entire cost of the quango will be saved by shifting the WAB's responsibilities to central government and industry. No breakdown was available from the spokesperson about how many BIS officials will be assigned to undertaking the work of the quango, how much of their time will be spent on the work, or how much that work would cost.

The WAB was in the process of performing a study of individual producer responsibility (IPR) for electronic waste, and of how IPR could be realistically implemented in the UK. In addition, the group carried out reports on amendments to current WEEE practices and collaborated with other groups in awareness-raising campaigns. It also collaborated to produce standards such as the WEEE Reuse standard, which is being evaluated by the British Standards Institute.

UK environmental charity Waste Watch, one of whose staff sat on the WAB board, said on Monday that the quango had been mostly voluntary, and that BIS had overstated the cost of the body.

"In announcing its closure, the department of Business, Innovation and Skills has grossly misrepresented the cost of the WAB," said a Waste Watch spokesperson. "Members contribute their time and expertise for free with the chair receiving a small gratuity. We believe therefore that the WAB represents excellent value for money to the taxpayer."

Waste Watch said that it had only heard that the WAB was to be abolished when it was contacted by the press on Monday morning. The charity added that it remained unclear whether NGOs would have a role in the future development of WEEE implementation.

"It is not clear at this stage that there will be any representation from NGOs in the future development of policy in this area," said the spokesperson. "In our view, the decision to close this body, which is staffed by volunteers, runs completely counter to the government's Big Society agenda."

BIS also announced the closure of the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property policy (Sabip) on Monday. Other quangoes that have been axed by the coalition since they began their efficiency drive on 24 May include Becta, which had provided IT buying support for schools, seven Regional Industrial Development Boards, UfI/Learndirect; the Learning & Skills Improvement Service, the Institute for Learning and Standards and Verification UK.

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