Cracking down on waste crime through procurement

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photo of an officer inspecting a waste siteWaste crime is a threat to the environment, the economy and legitimate businesses – and tackling it is not easy. Criminals will always find ways to circumvent the law, especially when money is involved, and new ways of thinking and new tools to tackle them are always required.

One key area that can make a significant difference is procurement. With lucrative waste contracts up for grabs it’s vital that steps are taken to prevent them going to companies and individuals involved in waste crime.

procurement guidanceA new document Guidance on procuring waste services for public bodies and their contractors: Good practice guidance to prevent crime has been published by SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) to provide advice on procuring waste services, to help cut waste criminals out of the process. While it’s primarily intended for public sector bodies, the advice will be of use to anyone procuring waste services and the legitimate companies looking to bid for them.

The document aims be an easy-to-use, practical workbook for those procuring services – which is does by highlighting ‘red flags’ that may indicate a risk of crime, suggesting wording that can be used in procurement documents, providing best practice checklists and providing advice on what to do if you think something isn’t right.

What is the risk?

There are a number of waste crime risks including:

  • Fraudulent waste transfer notes.
  • Waste is flytipped or deposited at unlicensed sites.
  • Vehicles are not properly licensed.
  • Hazardous waste is collected and delivered to unsuitable treatment or disposal facilities.
  • ‘Cash in hand’ commercial waste collections are carried out which the local authority has to pay for to dispose.
  • Material is deposited at sites that are in breach of licence conditions.
  • Recyclable materials are sent for disposal or energy recovery.
  • Stored materials are burned on site in breach of permit.
  • Contractor has had unusually serious or an unusually large number of health and safety issues.
  • Valuable material (e.g. copper wire) is stolen and sold.
  • Contractor’s key staff are engaged in criminal activity (e.g. metal theft, sale of narcotics) that is separate from their waste activity.

A UK company run by organised crime was within 72 hours of obtaining a contract worth over £10 million. This was only averted by dedicated information sharing and intelligence exchange between regulators and law enforcement which identified that the organisation was bidding for a public service contract.

  • The guidance came about due to concerns raised by public bodies around the complexity of procurement law. Many felt that it was hard to avoid awarding contracts to companies or individuals who may be involved in waste crime but have not been prosecuted.

    By following the tips and advice public bodies can minimise the risk of a contract being awarded to a criminal – or to an organisation that may, deliberately or otherwise, allow waste to be passed on to criminals. The document also suggests ways to ensure that appropriate action can be taken if a contract is awarded to an organisation that is subsequently found to be engaged in criminal behaviour. Following the guidance may also help public bodies to meet their environmental obligations, including discharging their duty of care in respect of the waste they manage.

    The best way to help keep criminals out of contracts is to ensure that the tender document asks for all the right information, and that there are adequate and appropriate opportunities to highlight anything that might seem suspect. If you ask for evidence to prove that everything is above board and a bidder doesn’t provide it, then you need to ask yourself why.

    It’s understandable that cost is a bit consideration in procuring services, but that in itself can sometimes supply a red flag. Tenders that are too low should raise questions – can the bidder afford to have all the correct licences and registrations in place, pay for waste to be disposed of at an appropriately regulated site, employ sub-contractors at a rate that enables them to do the same and still make a profit? Remember, if they’re not making a profit on their contracts then they must be making it somewhere else.

    If a bid is abnormally low, and the bidder is unable or unwilling to provide adequate evidence to explain its price, you should advise SEPA in case it is indicative of an ongoing breach of environmental legislation.

    Public bodies – When Scotland implements the new EU Directive on Public Procurement (2014/24/EU), it is likely that contracting authorities will be required to examine all abnormally low tenders. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  • If you bid for public sector contracts you may also find the guidance useful, as you’ll be able to see what would be expected of you. There is a section in the guidance for bidders, but the basic

    Much of the information that is likely to be requested by a public body will be held as a matter of course, such as:

    • Financial records.
    • Waste management licences.
    • Operator licences.
    • Waste-related registrations.
    • Duty of care documentation.
    • Records of regulatory inspections, actions required and any enforcement action taken.

    However, if you use sub-contractors this information is unlikely to be at your finger-tips, it may be worth regularly requesting some or all of these so you can save time when putting together a bid, ad provide assurance that your sub-contractors are also reliable.

    You should ensure that you can explain how:

    • organisational policies on crime prevention will be applied specifically to the work being procured;
    • compliance will be monitored, and the actions that will be taken if a problem is identified;
    • the selection of any sub-contractors or waste treatment providers takes account of their compliance record, and how their compliance will be incentivised and monitored;
    • the client will be kept informed regarding any issues that arise.

    By thinking about all these areas in advance and making sure you have a clear corporate plan regarding how you will prevent crime you can incorporate it into method statements for new tenders.

A recent study estimated that crime associated with the waste industry impacts on the UK economy in the region of £568m per year. These economic impacts are felt by the public sector through lost tax income, and through the costs of clearing up and remediating illegal waste sites. At the same time, legitimate operators lose out on business through being undercut by criminals, who don’t have to meet the costs of handling waste properly.

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