A puff of Green smokescreen can’t obscure the 'absolute insanity' of the Deposit Return Scheme – Brian Wilson
As the Deposit Return Scheme disappears into long grass, joining myriad bottles and cans that cash-starved councils cannot afford to collect, there are two conflicting narratives.
Lorna Slater, minister in charge of the scheme, assures us it would have been ready to go in all its glory next March but has been “sabotaged” by the “eleventh hour” intervention of the UK Government who would not approve inclusion of glass.
Alternatively, as well summarised by Dougal Sharp, founder of Innis and Gunn Brewing Company, it has been “a bonfire of chaos from
the outset” as well as “absolute insanity for consumers” – the latter having been an under-reported dimension.
Take your pick but it is not difficult to separate truth from fiction.
Anyone who has followed the story knows this was a slow motion car crash with Ms Slater in the driving seat, not caused by a sudden jolt
of malign intervention but by a complete refusal to respect warning signs.
That is now acknowledged by the decision to fall into line with a UK-wide scheme whenever it emerges. While this is what the vast majority of Scottish businesses pleaded for from the outset, the costs of rejecting that advice for so long are not going to disappear in a puff of Green smokescreen.
Scotland’s own DRS could “absolutely” have gone ahead without glass according to Circularity Scotland, its operators. Their chief executive, David Harrison, wrote that “even with glass taken out, the Scottish Deposit Return Scheme will be one of the most ambitious start-ups (in the world) so far”.
So why has the Scottish Government walked away from that glittering option and instead sought martyrdom in being “forced” into the UK-wide approach, leaving them in exactly the same position the Welsh Government embraced in January?
At that time, their Climate Change Minister declared: “Wales is working with England and Northern Ireland to set up a joint scheme, meaning you can buy a drink in Barry and return it in Bristol or Belfast”. How very sensible.
My guess is that the big retreat has occurred for a political reason unrelated to glass or the UK Government. More likely, it has dawned on the SNP high command that it would indeed be “absolute insanity”, months before an election and in the midst of a cost of living crisis, to inflict a highly inflationary, logistically nightmarish experiment upon a Scottish public that hasn’t asked for it.
Shelf the whole thing and blame London might make the best of a bad job politically. The problem with spurning the Circularity Scotland plea to carry on with a scheme covering plastic bottles and cans is that it immediately opens the door to very substantial claims for compensation for those who have been misled into compliance.
Thousands of retailers saw no choice but to invest in reverse vending machines. A very large contract was signed with Biffa to put a fleet of lorries on Scotland’s roads. The big drinks companies (who retail overwhelmingly in cans and plastic) spent tens of millions.
In all, says Circularity Scotland, £300 million has already been invested. If even 10% has to reimbursed in compensation, it will be £30 million less for Scotland’s schools and hospitals – not to mention waste disposal – and could be a lot more.
This was all avoidable if the Scottish Government had adopted the Welsh position. The obsession with doing things differently from the hated UK Government, even when pragmatic common sense dictates otherwise, has created another debacle which Scotland’s public services will pay for.
There is a wider question which is asked too seldom. Where has the Scottish civil service, and in particular the Permanent Secretary, been in all of this? Or have they all been enlisted as cheer-leaders?
Is it conceivable that no warnings of jeopardy were given by accounting officers as Ministers ploughed on with a policy which was so clearly heading for the rocks? Anyone in Scotland who was paying attention could see it. Was there nobody in St Andrew’s House?
One specific matter should not be washed away in the tide of recrimination. That is the curious case of the Tennent’s letter which was sent privately by a major Scottish manufacturer to the First Minister of Scotland. The facts of what happened next are not in dispute.
Parts of the letter, confirming Tennent’s concern about a scheme which did not include glass for competitive reasons, were leaked to a friendly newspaper. The intention was to demonstrate support for the Scottish Government so it does not take Taggart to work out where the leak came from.
However, it was so outrageously misrepresentative of Tennent’s position that the company took the trouble to write to the Secretary of State
for Scotland to say so. “C&C Group Tennents is actively seeking and supports a UK-wide scheme introduced at the same time across the four nations,” the letter said.
If the Permanent Secretary, John-Paul Marks, has not instructed an investigation into that leak from the First Minister’s office, then why not? Special advisers are “temporary civil servants” bound by the code which bans “disclosure of information without authority” and which is also intent to “deceive or mislead”.
Are we really in a situation where a major Scottish company writes to the First Minister only to find parts of its letter on the front page of a
newspaper as government propaganda which totally misrepresents its position. And that is the end of the matter?
I happened to hear Humza Yousaf at a press event this week saying how vital it is to protect us from “lies and misrepresentation”. If he meant a word of it, he would know where to start. Does Mr Marks?