Sepa launches new regulatory strategy

9th August 2016


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Ben Murphy

A new strategy by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency aims to take businesses beyond regulatory compliance and target wider issues such as climate change and overuse of resources.

The original reason for creating environment protection agencies had been largely accomplished and they must now also help society tackle wider environmental issues, the regulator said in its strategy document.

Although there were still improvements to be made on reducing pollution, Sepa said it wants to draw up sustainable growth agreements (SGAs) with industry leaders. These would focus on practical actions that both improve environmental performance and business success, it said.

It is also planning to use new powers granted by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 to streamline charging and develop new enforcement powers.

Despite a slight fall last year, compliance with environmental licensing conditions in Scotland is very high, with 88% of operators achieving a rating of excellent, good or broadly compliant in 2014, according to Sepa's last annual report.

Sepa’s strategy document states: ‘We will set about the essential task of helping regulated businesses to reduce water use, carbon-based energy use, materials use and all forms of waste and pollution beyond compliance standards in ways that improve their profitability and long-term viability. And we will continue to drive all those remaining businesses not yet meeting set standards into full compliance with the environmental laws in Scotland.’

It is planning to engage with businesses at a more senior level, targeting boardrooms, executive teams and owners rather than environmental or plant managers.

Sepa has outlined how it will take forward the strategy over the next year. Actions include:

  • defining business sectors, appointing people to lead on these and developing at least four sectoral plans. These plans will map existing compliance levels, and consider opportunities for going further;
  • securing SGAs with at least three businesses;
  • reforming the permitting system to make it simpler, with permits based on outcomes. Sepa plans a new permitting service to improve the processing of applications;
  • creating a new enforcement policy with a more proportionate and effective approach. New fixed and variable monetary penalties, and enforcement undertakings will be introduced;
  • targeting non-compliance, with a focus on those that have consistently failed to comply or whose compliance is inconsistent. New fixed penalties will be introduced;
  • reforming regulatory charges, with more transparent and balanced charging;
  • changing the structure of high-level staff at Sepa and introducing training on the new strategy. Internal and external communications will be developed to exemplify practical delivery; and
  • establishing an international innovation panel, made up of experts to ensure that Sepa’s ambition and delivery is as powerful as possible.

Chief executive of Sepa, Terry A’Hearn, said: ‘By identifying where individual businesses and industry can go beyond compliance, Scotland has the unique opportunity to set the trend on a global scale. There are huge economic incentives for going beyond basic compliance.’

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