The Guardian (USA)
Ex-environment secretary to take role at UK waste firm fined for polluting water
A former UK environment secretary is to take a consultancy role with a waste management firm that had to pay £36,000 after an Environment Agency (EA) investigation found contamination of groundwater at a site.
George Eustice, who was the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs from February 2020 until September 2022, is joining Augean, a waste treatment company with sites across the UK.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) gave Eustice permission to take the role as a strategic adviser, responsible for providing “strategic counsel […] on how to navigate existing permitting and regulatory regimes’ processes [and] offering wider advice on the environment, social and governance issues”. He is banned from lobbying the government or using his contacts in Whitehall on behalf of Augean until September 2024.
Eustice declined to answer questions on how much he would be paid for his role and what experience he would rely on in his work for Augean. He said if a financial interest did arise it would be declared through the parliamentary register.
In Acoba’s advice letter, neither Eustice nor the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs made any mention of the investigation by the EA, an arms-length body of Defra.
The investigation resulted in Augean South, a subsidiary of Augean, paying £25,000 to an environmental charity in Northamptonshire, where the company’s site is located, as well as £11,058.90 to cover the costs of the EA inquiry.
The groundwater contamination was discovered during routine inspections by Augean in March 2020, with the agency finding the company had “negligently exceed its environmental permits”.
The EA investigated a discharge in 2020 that had a “short-term impact on wildlife and saw some amphibian species decline but populations recovered by the following summer”.
The agency said “vegetation also naturally improved after the pollution”, and it was satisfied that Augean had taken appropriate action to resolve the situation.
Eustice told Acoba that a meeting, held in April 2023, with one of the partners of a private equity firm that is a shareholder in Augean had led to the job offer being made.
Augean said neither it nor the private equity firm had any contact with
Eustice before the conclusion of the agency’s undertaking.
Defra told Acoba the department had no “specific dealings” with Augean, but transparency records show other ministers had three roundtable meetings with the company in 2016 and 2017.
The Liberal Democrats have criticised Eustice’s appointment. Christine Jardine, the party’s Cabinet Office spokesperson, said: “It is a kick in the teeth that a former secretary of state responsible for overseeing environmental degradation is now working for a firm that has been fined for these very acts.“This comes as the Conservatives continue to tear up environmental regulations and leave communities to pick up the pieces of our withering countryside.”
Rose Zussman, the policy manager at Transparency International UK, said: “This latest appointment should serve as a compelling reminder to government that, despite Acoba deploying stringent terms in this case, the public are likely to find the relationship between public service and private interests too close for comfort in the absence of better regulation.
“To mitigate this risk, the government should implement its existing commitments for better regulation of the revolving door, and bring forward plans for tighter controls on lobbying.”
Defra declined to comment.