Deposit return scheme Scotland: Under-fire Lorna Slater blames ‘corrosive’ Westminster for delay to DRS

Scotland’s circular economy minister has moved to shift blame for the delay of the trouble-hit deposit return scheme onto the UK Government by condemning the “chilling effect” of its delayed decision over whether the initiative should be granted a trade exemption.

Lorna Slater attacked Scottish secretary Alister Jack, accusing him of briefing against the large-scale recycling initiative and having a “corrosive” effect that brought private investment to a halt.

A ministerial statement to Holyrood that was designed to set out a revised timetable for the introduction of the DRS quickly descended into a constitutional war of words, as Ms Slater insisted Westminster’s delay over whether to grant an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act (IMA) was the “primary” reason for the scheme having “stalled.”

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In a significant escalation of the stand-off between the administrations at Edinburgh and London, the Scottish Greens co-leader condemned the “chilling effect” of the UK Government’s position, and claimed that it had deterred businesses from signing up.

However, a UK Government source said: “Lorna Slater is only embarrassing herself further by making these laughable claims. This is a mess entirely of her own making.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats accused Ms Slater of playing an “exercise in blame shifting", while the Scottish Conservatives said she was prioritising “constitutional grievances”.

On Tuesday, First Minister Humza Yousaf announced the DRS launch had been delayed to March. Ms Slater told MSPs the delay was “unavoidable” due to uncertainty around the IMA exemption.

“In recent months, progress has stalled,” she said. “The primary cause of this has been the uncertainty created by the continued failure by the UK Government to issue an IMA exclusion. Together with public briefings against the scheme from the secretary of state for Scotland, the effect has been corrosive, undermining confidence, stalling progress, and halting private investment.

Circular economy minister Lorna Slater.Circular economy minister Lorna Slater.
Circular economy minister Lorna Slater.

“Some businesses have said 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. Readiness for August was always going to be challenging, particularly given the difficult conditions that industry has faced in recent years. But the chilling effect as a result of Westminster’s position has made it impossible.”

There has been some argument around when the request for the exemption to the IMA was made. A UK Government spokesperson said on Thursday night a formal request had only been received on March 6. The Scottish Government has previously asserted the exemption 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.

Ms Slater also set out a series of amendments to the DRS, which will now exclude containers under 100ml, effectively removing all miniature bottles of alcohol. Products selling fewer than 5,000 units a year will also be excluded – a move designed to allay widespread concerns among small craft producers.

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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 per cent of small producers would be exempt from the scheme because of the changes.

However, Ms Slater declined to confirm whether any compensation would be forthcoming for businesses who had made significant investments in the belief the scheme would launch in August as planned. She also said the total liability for producers and retailers was a matter for the “contractual agreement” between businesses and Circularity Scotland, the private firm appointed by the Government as the scheme’s administrator.

Liam McArthur, the Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman for the climate emergency, said: “As an exercise in blame shifting, it’s both ill-advised and lacking in self-awareness. Over the last two years, I’ve spoken to many businesses, not one of which has mentioned the UK Government, and all of whom have criticised the Scottish Government’s approach.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said: “The minister has made such an almighty mess of this scheme that she has now had to effectively rewrite it. Today’s changes should have been made months ago. Business can’t have confidence in a scheme that sees continual delays and massive changes at the last minute.”

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

Elsewhere, concerns have been raised by politicians in Falkirk the delay to the DRS could see recycling rates in the town plummet. Its local authority had already agreed to phase out kerbside glass recycling collections in September to coincide with the DRS rollout. Tory councillor James Bundy warned: “People in Falkirk face being left without kerbside collections for their glass bottles with no deposit return scheme in place.”



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