Deposit Return Scheme in ’grave danger’ warning from Humza Yousaf

Scotland's First Minister has accused the UK Government of placing the deposit return scheme (DRS) in "grave danger" and called for conditions effectively barring glass to be revoked.

UK ministers wrote to the Scottish Government last week granting a partial exemption to the Internal Market Act which would exclude glass containers from the DRS - which is due to go live in Scotland in March of next year.

On Saturday, Humza Yousaf wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging a rethink and citing concerns from one of Scotland's biggest brewers.

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"The removal of glass fundamentally threatens the viability of Scotland's DRS with reduced revenue for the scheme administrator," he wrote. "Removing glass will also have a significant impact on business. For example, C&C Group - owners of the iconic Tennent's brand - has been explicit that the decision by the UK Government to remove glass threatens investment and jobs. Other Scottish businesses have raised similar concerns privately with us."

First Minister Humza Yousaf  (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)First Minister Humza Yousaf  (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)
First Minister Humza Yousaf (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)

The decision sparked another constitutional row between Edinburgh and London, with the First Minister saying: "There are much wider consequences of the decision. This UK Government intervention at such a late stage demonstrates a major erosion of the devolution settlement.

"I urge you to revoke the conditions set out in your letter and grant a full exclusion for Scotland's DRS, to be implemented as per the regulations agreed by the Scottish Parliament in this area of devolved competence.

"Without this, the Scottish Government is not prepared to put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage due to the last-minute demands the UK Government has made. There is little doubt your Government's action have put the future of DRS in grave danger not only in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK due to the damage to consumer and investor confidence."

Another of the conditions placed on the scheme was the insurance of "interoperability" between the Scottish iteration and the anticipated English DRS, which is intended to launch in October 2025.

The First Minister conceded the ability for the schemes to work together where possible would be "desirable", but added the UK Government was "unable to provide the operational details required to allow the schemes to be interoperable" due to it being at such an early stage.

"Businesses need certainty and they need it now - not in two years' time when the UK Government scheme potentially, hopefully launches," he added.

"The UK Government has significantly undermined the clarity and certainty that businesses unanimously tell us they need."

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The First Minister asked for a response from Downing Street by Monday to allow for the issue to be discussed by the Scottish Cabinet the following day and Holyrood updated.

The Scotland Office said it would respond to the First Minister's letter in due course, with a spokeswoman adding: "The Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment while also upholding the UK's internal market. The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government's DRS differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year.

"We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government's request for a UK internal market (UKIM) exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government's scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK. Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system. A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter - as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers."