Small firms 'could get year’s grace period' from deposit return scheme

Green minister Lorna Slater said small producers could get a one-year exemption from the controversial scheme.

Small producers could get year’s grace period from deposit return scheme, MSP Lorna Slater said Animaflora via iStock

Small drinks producers may be given a one-year exemption from the planned deposit return scheme (DRS), Green minister Lorna Slater has said.

Her comments come as SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes has said she would put the scheme on hold in response to a “wave of concern” from business.

Meanwhile, her rival Humza Yousaf has said he would go ahead with a similar exemption to the one being considered by Ms Slater if he becomes first minister.

The DRS is due to begin in August and will see shoppers pay an extra 20p when purchasing drinks in a can or bottle, with this deposit then returned to them when they bring back the empty container for recycling.

Industry figures argue it would impose potentially fatal costs on their business and create a trade barrier between England and Scotland, but environmental campaigners say it will cut carbon emissions and reduce litter.

Ms Slater, the Scottish Government’s circular economy minister, was asked about the views of the SNP leadership contenders on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show.

It was put to her that the scheme would not be going ahead in its original incarnation.

She said: “Oh, it’s definitely going ahead.

“So, Humza Yousaf was really clear that he absolutely supports the scheme and industry investment is such that we have great momentum building toward the August 16 launch.”

Ms Slater said she had been discussing the DRS with industry leaders and was aware of the request from small producers for a grace period.

Greens MSP Lorna SlaterPA Ready

She said she was “actively considering” a one-year pause for small producers.

All relevant businesses will need to contact the scheme’s administrators Circularity Scotland by Tuesday to register, she said.

The Scottish Government has announced a £22 million package to help small producers with the costs of the DRS.

Ms Forbes is the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary but is on maternity leave from her government role.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Ms Forbes said: “The wave of concern needs us to pause, review the pressures and look at this in the context of businesses who are at the moment overwhelmed.

“Businesses in food and drink particularly are seeing their energy bills go up exponentially.”

Mr Yousaf told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show he would exclude small businesses from the first year of the scheme.

The Scottish Conservatives have written to the three leadership candidates urging them to pause the scheme and carry out an independent review.

Tory MSP Maurice Golden said: “Drinks producers, wholesalers and the hospitality industry in general would have had their head in their hands listening to Lorna Slater’s shambolic and clueless interview.

“It’s mind-boggling that the minister in charge of the deposit return scheme should be telling businesses she is ‘actively considering’ a grace period for small firms, just hours before Tuesday’s deadline for them to sign up to it.”

The Scottish Greens said they were against any pause, with MSP Mark Ruskell saying: “Any suggestion of a halt or delay to the deposit return scheme would be totally reckless and irresponsible.

“All over Scotland there are people and businesses preparing for the launch of the scheme.

“They have already invested hundreds of millions of pounds in getting the infrastructure ready for it to go live in August.

“Automatic return machines are already being installed by retailers across the country and the scheme is creating over 500 green jobs, with recruitment already well under way.”

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