Minister hits out at Scottish Secretary as deposit return changes announced

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The minister charged with implementing Scotland’s deposit return scheme (DRS) has hit out at the Scottish Secretary as she announced that small containers and products with low sales would be exempt from the initiative.

The start of the DRS scheme was delayed from August to March earlier this week by First Minister Humza Yousaf, with Lorna Slater providing more detail on Thursday.

Under the Scottish Government initiative, a 20p deposit will be added to the price of drinks in cans and bottles which will be repaid to the consumer when they are returned to a retailer.

The scheme had previously caused concern among businesses, which Ms Slater said was primarily due to the UK Government not providing an exclusion to the Internal Market Act (IMA) and comments from Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.

Lorna Slater
Lorna Slater said the Scottish Government is committed to the deposit return scheme (PA)

“Together with public briefings against the scheme from the Secretary of State for Scotland, the effect has been corrosive, undermining confidence, stalling progress, halting private investment.

“Some businesses have said that they will simply not join the scheme because of the UK Government’s position, and there has been extensive feedback from industry that they are not willing to proceed with investments until they have clarity.”

There has been some argument around the request for the exemption to the IMA, with the UK Government claiming no such request has been made while the Scottish Government asserts it had been asked for by former deputy first minister John Swinney.

Ms Slater said on Thursday she would write again to the UK Government with the request, believing the exemption would be given.

A spokesman for the UK Government said: “Ministers only received the formal request for a UKIM Act exclusion for the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme on March 6 2023.

“The Scottish Government has since been reviewing and has now paused the scheme, so it has not been possible for us to fully assess the impacts of the exclusion request on cross-UK trade, businesses and consumers.

“We will continue to engage with the Scottish Government to understand the outcomes of their review and will work together to realise our shared ambition to improve the environment while meeting the needs of consumers and businesses across the UK.”

Plastic bottles
The DRS will see a 20p deposit added to the price of drinks in cans and bottles which will be repaid to the consumer when they are returned for recycling (PA)

Larger producers who have smaller product lines which also sell less than that threshold, the minister said, would not be required to put a deposit on the product.

She said 44% of small producers would be exempt from the scheme because of the changes.

The minister went on to say the Government has an “unwavering” commitment to the scheme, adding: “I call on members across this chamber who share these values to put an end to their increasingly desperate attempts to undermine Scotland’s deposit return scheme.”

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing, who has been a frequent critic of the DRS, predicted the scheme would be delayed further, and urged the Government to align the Scottish initiative with similar plans expected to come from the UK Government.

Responding, Ms Slater said: “I often forget Fergus Ewing is not a member of the Conservative Party.”

Scottish Conservative environment spokesman Maurice Golden said Ms Slater had “made such an almighty mess of this scheme that she has now had to effectively re-write it”.

Labour environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said Ms Slater is “out of touch” and should not be left in charge of the scheme.

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