On the first few months as the new LARAC Scotland Rep

Deciding to take on the role of LARAC Scotland Rep took careful consideration and some soul searching. Was I up to the task? Could I balance the demands of the role and my own job at West Lothian Council in an increasingly busy few years ahead, not least the significant service changes to our kerbside collections? My decision took me a few weeks to reach with much discussion with Lee Marshall, LARAC Chief Executive and former LARAC Scotland Rep Stratton McDonald. Stratton had made the role his own over the 9 years in post in his own Inimitable style with intelligence, sharpness of thought and a pragmatic, relaxed approach. He had achieved many things in his time in charge, so he would clearly be a tough act to follow.

Decision made, I eased myself into the job ahead. After all, it couldn’t be that difficult, could it?

I drafted the conference programme over the festive period not expecting it to be pretty much what we ended up with, give or take a few minor changes.

The Conference was:-

My inaugural conference as the Executive representative and first time chairing a major conference;

The first LARAC Scotland Conference post BREXIT, or so I thought during the Christmas break;

The first LARAC Scotland Conference following the DEFRA Resources and Waste Strategy was published.

So, clearly a lot had happened since the last Scottish Conference, and as such, there was hopefully to be much to discuss going forward. I thought we had managed to put together an interesting and topical conference programme. It's up to those who attended to let us know if that turned out to be the case.

It certainly took far more effort than I had appreciated to get the speakers lined up, but thankfully EMG are old hands at organising this sort of conference event and were on hand to answer my questions and last-minute checks. The list of delegates totalled just over 100, a mix of local authorities and the private and third sectors. Perhaps not as many LAs as we'd hoped for and certainly not anywhere near 50% of our member authorities, so evidently scope for improvement.

We had lined up a good and diverse range of speakers, including: -

  • Janet McVea, Head of Zero Waste Unit, Scottish Government;
  • Charlie Devine, Head of Resource Management, Zero Waste Scotland ;
  • Peter Lang, National Waste Manager, SEPA;
  • Nathaniel Chalamanda, Specialist- Producer Responsibility, SEPA;
  • David Barnes, Programme Manager, Zero Waste Scotland.

We had also arranged a diverse range of case studies for the pre-lunch slot, including new technology opportunities within the resource management sector (IoT, and asset management technology), Edinburgh City Council’s relatively new garden waste charging scheme implementation, and my own service manager’s experiences of the demands and lessons learned from the design and implementation of our new service centre and shared operational services depot in Blackburn, West Lothian. The delegate participation tool “Glisser” was being used to enable questions from the floor to be raised and polls for electronic voting of pre-considered questions.

The morning session went very well with our keynote speaker Janet McVea from Scottish Government providing us with a routemap for the sector in the coming months and years. The key point from conference to Janet was that Scotland needed a settled policy landscape over the next 18-24 months to enable stability for investment. Janet acknowledged and accepted this point.

Morning session complete and with lunch eaten and good networking opportunities done, anticipation was building for the afternoon slot, most notably what David Barnes from ZWS, Sector Manager for DRS, had to tell us all about the Scottish Government’s plans for their flagship deposit-return scheme. Our concerns as local authorities as you’ll know are that we may be unfairly penalized for the potential loss of valuable recyclates from our established kerbside collection schemes.

David informed conference that there are currently nearly 2.4 billion drinks containers in Scotland:-

  • 694 million plastic bottles;
  • 639 million cans; and
  • 323 glass bottles.

He advised us that Scotland’s planned DRS scheme aims to capture much of the approximate 50% of drinks containers that aren’t recycled, a large proportion of which is currently littered. The preferred scheme design is to be published shortly, with the Scottish Government committing to bring forward legislation for the introduction of a scheme in 2019. Once passed by the Scottish Parliament, there will be a 12-month implementation period before the scheme is operational.

All drinks (both soft and alcoholic) that come in PET plastic, aluminium or steel cans and glass bottles are within the DRS scope. Containers of these types, sized from 50ml to three litres, inclusive, are part of the scheme. The level of deposit on containers will be 20p.

My conclusions?

Overall, the conference went well I think with most delegates staying on until closure; certainly, those delegates I had a chance to talk to seemed to think that was the case. The e-feedback from delegates post conference has been largely very positive, with some suggestions for improvement. Valuable lessons have been learned, not least for me:-

  • Early planning is essential and identifying really great presenters throughout the year sensible;
  • It will take longer than you anticipate to get everything organised for the conference;
  • Get the most from your presenters by nailing potential killer questions early on;
  • Relax; it will all work out fine in the end.

Planning for next year’s Scotland Conference will begin in earnest over the festive break. Will Brexit have reached a satisfactory conclusion by then I wonder?

Finally, I very much look forward to the national conference in Birmingham in October, it promises to be cracker. Over to you Carole, Lee and Jenny!