UK Government delays key decision on deposit return scheme while details ‘reviewed’

The UK Government has delayed making a key decision in relation to Scotland’s controversial deposit return scheme because its details have yet to be finalised.

Thérèse Coffey, the Conservative Environment Secretary, pointed to comments made by Humza Yousaf during the SNP leadership campaign that he would make changes to the scheme.

She said she understood the Scottish Government is now carrying out a review, including potentially introducing a small business exemption. Lorna Slater, Scotland’s circular economy minister, accused the UK Government of “dragging its feet”.

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The scheme, set to begin in August, involves shoppers paying an extra 20p when purchasing drinks in a can or bottle, with the deposit returned when they bring back the empty container for recycling.

Picture: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty ImagesPicture: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
Picture: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was previously accused of trying to “sabotage” it after hinting an exemption from UK-wide internal market legislation may not be granted, which would be a severe blow.

The Scottish Government has asked for the scheme to be excluded from the Internal Market Act. But in a letter to Màiri McAllan, the SNP Net Zero Secretary, Ms Coffey said the UK Government is waiting for the plans to be finalised before making a decision.

She said: “In response to concerns raised by stakeholders, your First Minister made commitments during his leadership campaign to change the scheme to ease pressures on small businesses by exempting them for the first year.

"Following his election, the First Minister’s spokesperson indicated he was considering next steps and discussions were taking place. I understand a review of the scheme, including a small business exemption and other potential changes, is currently underway.

"These factors are pertinent to the UK Government’s consideration of your exclusion request and I would welcome updates on any changes that may affect the scope or timing of your scheme at the IMG [Inter-Ministerial Group] on 17 April.

"The timelines for our decision making have, understandably, been affected as we await confirmation of any changes to the scheme resulting from leadership changes to the Scottish Government. Given your policy has not been finalised, we will not be able to make a decision on the UKIM [internal market] exclusion request by the IMG on 17 April. We would appreciate confirmation of the outcomes of the review into scope of the Scottish DRS scheme and any changes that are being made as a result, to enable us to consider the request.”

Earlier this year, a leading lawyer, Aidan O’Neill KC, said concerns the scheme would create a trade barrier between Scotland and England were “well founded”, as it would require different prices to be charged for the same product on each side of the border – potentially breaching the Internal Market Act.

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Ms Slater said: "The UK Government has had more than enough time to make a decision. We have engaged in good faith with the common frameworks process for nearly two years so it is deeply disappointing that the UK Government is still dragging its feet.

"This is yet further evidence of the damaging impact of the Internal Market Act, which was imposed on the Scottish Parliament without its consent. The deposit return scheme regulations, and their implementation, are a wholly devolved matter. They are central to our aims to reduce litter, cut emissions and increase recycling and the scheme is strongly supported by the public. The UK Government should not be using this process to impose its views on the merits of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament."

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Yousaf said: “I’m actively looking at the options around the deposit return scheme, to make sure that when it does go live it is a scheme that will work, practically, on the ground.”

He said he was “taking advice” and would update the Scottish Parliament “in due course”. The First Minister insisted he still wanted it to go live in August, but added: “More importantly than that, we have to make sure that when we do go live, we have a scheme that is not just able to be operational but works, and works well. So that’s the priority.”



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