Public research on recycling given away to private sector

14 Sep 00
A £1.3m government-funded research programme that will play a key role in deciding how Britain's local authorities meet new tough recycling targets over the next five years has been given away to private enterprise by Whitehall.

15 September 2000

The civil servant who handled the transfer has accepted an expenses-paid trip to New Zealand to promote the product while retaining his job with the Environment Agency.

The transfer went ahead despite a warning from the Commons environment committee two years ago that it should not take place.

Under the deal negotiated by Terry Coleman, waste strategy manager for the agency, all government research for a computer model called Wisard was given to a French company called Ecobilan, based in Arundel, West Sussex.

Three months ago, Ecobilan was taken over by the leading accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which intends to update the computer model.

Coleman said that he decided the research project should be handed over to private enterprise as a 'short cut', so that the software for the programme could be developed more quickly. 'It would have taken much longer if we had done it in-house and I saw it would have much better benefits for local authorities in a shorter timescale,' he said.

He had two bids from private firms, but accepted Ecobilan's because it promised to update research using money from the charges paid by consultancies and local authorities to use the software.

Before the deal went ahead, MPs from the environment committee said: 'We were very concerned to learn at the end of our inquiry that the model developed by the Environment Agency is to be sold through a private company on a commercial basis, at a price which will be prohibitive to local authorities.'

Coleman said that since Ecobilan had taken over it had introduced charges to local authorities – but these were far lower than the charges to private management consultancies.

A price list obtained by Public Finance shows that Ecobilan was asking £25,000 for consultancies' to use the model, while local authorities were charged £915.

Coleman also confirmed that since the sale he had taken a trip to New Zealand to promote the computer model. 'The contract with the New Zealand government did include the costs to cover me going to New Zealand,' he said.


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