Jenny Marra MSP : Landfill Tax

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate - Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill : Stage 1


29 October 2013

The landfill tax is a result of the Scotland Act 2012 and the financial responsibility conferred to the Parliament in one of the biggest transfers of power since the creation of the Parliament, as Iain Gray outlined earlier.

It is also important from an environmental perspective, as my colleague Claudia Beamish outlined in her speech.

I read with interest the recent Institute of European Environmental Policy report commissioned by WWF Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which found that the Scottish Government has failed to match its ambitions on key environmental policies with the political will and resources to make them work in practice.

Stuart Housden, the chief executive of RSPB Scotland, in commenting on the report, noted :

“major difficulties or complete failures in delivery caused by poor decisions, mixed messages or the lack of or misdirection of resources.”

The landfill tax will be a key lever not only in meeting the Government’s zero waste strategy, as many members have mentioned, but in meeting the Government’s wider environmental ambitions.

It is clear from members’ speeches that, although the legislation is largely supported across the chamber, there is a need for much greater clarity on the practical details of the tax, including how it will operate in the medium to long term, and what policies the Government has to underpin the tax that link it to its environmental targets.

The bill is little more than a framework providing for the landfill tax, how it will be collected and, broadly, what waste might be taxable.

As the Finance Committee and many of its witnesses have stated, the lack of detail that we have on how the policy will work in practice is impairing a fuller analysis of the bill and its impact.

Clarity is needed most notably on what future tax rates will look like.

Although the financial memorandum assumes that tax rates will not be lower than current rates at the point of transfer, we must wait until 2014 to know that for sure.  

Why is that?

The Finance Committee report says that that has caused concern among businesses, local authorities and even SEPA, which will be in charge of collecting the tax.

Iain Gray called for an early indication of what level taxes will be set at, how the Government will use the tax rate to reduce landfill, and how to have a more progressive regime to meet the environmental objectives that I have mentioned.

Malcolm Chisholm, who sits on the Finance Committee, highlighted COSLA’s criticism of the fact that there was no early indication of the level of taxation to be set. Will the cabinet secretary adopt an escalator?

Does he also accept the link—this is a critical issue that many members raised—between an early indication of the tax rate and potential investments to allow businesses to plan?

I hope that he will respond to those questions in his closing remarks.

John Mason: Does not the member accept that the indications that have been given are strong enough for people to make investment decisions, and that people do not need to know the exact detail down to the penny?

Jenny Marra : No, I do not accept that. John Mason has deviated from the consensus across the chamber that an early indication is preferable.

Committee members have highlighted that the evidence given to the committee by experts indicates a consensus that an early indication of the tax rate would be desirable.

Like Gavin Brown, I was very much persuaded and impressed by Michael McMahon, whose speech was the best of the afternoon.

He raised the important issue of environmental justice for the communities close to landfill sites.

There is an argument for more relaxation—but not too much—in local authority boundaries and a more flexible arrangement that is rooted in the communities, as Michael McMahon described.

He made a powerful case on the impact on people living near landfill sites from the odour, the dust, the litter, the noise and the visual intrusion, as well as the impact on house prices, which can be reduced by up to 40 per cent.

He also made the point that communities will need access to funds long after landfill sites have closed.

That relates to Stewart Stevenson’s point about how we will fund such work, which might be a debate for the future.

Jean Urquhart: I hear the member’s support for the communities that are nearest to landfill sites. Does she agree that we will recycle more if we send less waste to landfill and that recycling plants can generate the same noise, dust and disruption as is generated by landfill sites?

Jenny Marra: I absolutely accept that point.

Michael McMahon’s point about environmental justice is just as pertinent to communities such as Jean Urquhart describes as it is to communities that are near landfill sites.

Stewart Stevenson was absolutely right to welcome a return to 1950s recycling, but I draw his attention to figures that are reported in this morning’s The Scotsman, according to which only nine out of our 32 local authorities are meeting their recycling targets.

In my city, Dundee, which under a Labour administration was highlighted as a pioneer for recycling in Scotland, recycling has fallen drastically under an SNP administration.

A general problem for local authorities is how to increase recycling from tenement properties.

That is a cross-party problem that we need to address.

I ask the cabinet secretary to address the stagnation or flat-lining of recycling in some local authorities.

This has been a good debate, in which members have raised important points.

Labour will support the general principles of the bill at decision time.

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