Deposit return scheme raises questions about Lorna Slater's competence but also the people advising her – Scotsman comment

Ministers need to be able to rely on good advice from their civil servants

Following Green minister Lorna Slater’s admission that the deposit return scheme (DRS) may be “unviable”, it is clear that she will attempt to point the finger of blame at the UK Government.

However, the problems that have affected the recycling scheme bear a remarkable similarity to a string of others that have dogged the Scottish Government in recent years. The common denominator that links DRS with the troubled National Care Service plans, the blocked Gender Recognition Reform Bill, the Ferguson Marine ferries fiasco, and even the state of the NHS is poor governance – bad ideas, poorly implemented, with insufficient attention to detail. And they sometimes appear driven more by an attempt to portray Scotland as somehow superior to England than genuine need.

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So the DRS’s problems could be the latest signs of a much deeper and more serious issue. Slater’s inability to deliver workable DRS and, even worse, to persuade businesses to spend money in preparation for the scheme before it was actually certain to happen raise questions not just about her own competence, or the lack of it, but of the civil servants advising her.

Government is supposed to be a collaboration between ministers and the civil service. If neither is up to the job, then multiple problems are bound to occur – and that is exactly what we have been seeing for far too long. Despite lengthy consultation exercises, which often attract large amounts of common sense, sloppy thinking in government appears to go unchallenged and problems on the horizon are not being spotted and avoided before legislation is passed.

The Scottish Parliament’s committee system may also need to up its game, but fundamentally Scotland needs a competent government. While Humza Yousaf has shown some signs of taking a different approach, like Slater, he can also be too eager to ‘blame Westminister’ as if this was a ‘get out of jail free’ card and government was all just a big game of Monopoly.

The Scottish Government should own its mistakes and fix them. But, fundamentally, it needs to find a way to stop making them in the first place. And quickly.



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