No-one with any credibility would delay Scotland’s deposit return scheme, the circular economy minister said after two SNP leadership candidates said it should be paused.
Lorna Slater said it would be “absolutely a kick in the teeth to industry” to delay the controversial initiative, which is due to start in August.
She was speaking after SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, said the deposit return scheme (DRS) will cause “economic carnage” for businesses and backed calls to pause it.
Scottish Labour has called for Ms Slater to resign, saying she has “lost control of this scheme after failing to do the basics to make it work”.
The scheme 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.
Producers have until midnight on Tuesday to sign up for the scheme.
SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan has said she would delay the DRS, saying it needs to be “returned and recycled so that it works for everyone”.
Ms Slater, a Green MSP, said at the weekend that small drinks producers may be given a one-year exemption from the planned scheme, but she stressed on Tuesday that its introduction should not be delayed.
She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “No-one with any credibility to support business in Scotland would delay the scheme any further because those businesses that have made that substantial investment, those shops that have got their planning permission for their reverse vending machines, they don’t get their return on that investment until those 20 pences start flowing.
“No-one with any credibility would delay that. The question on the table and the sensible question is what small producers can do to become compliant with the scheme, we’ve been working very closely with small producers, we’ve got an extra £22 million of cash on the table, cash flow support for them last week, we’ve got support for labelling, we’re working through the issues.
“One of the requests on the table from small producers is that grace period and that’s exactly what we’re working on to see how that would work with the scheme, bring those producers into the scheme at the time that works for them.”
SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s Health Secretary, has said he would keep smaller businesses exempt from the scheme for at least the first year of operation if he becomes first minister.
Asked what she thinks of the comment Ms Forbes made about “economic carnage”, Ms Slater said: “It would be absolutely a kick in the teeth to industry to delay this scheme.
“Industry have put so much work into this, people have been recruited into posts, there is recruitment ongoing, we’ve got the sites for the sorting facilities, the trucks to collect all these materials, all of that is happening, that investment has been made and those business who have done the right thing, who are working towards this, they deserve that return on investment.
“I don’t believe anyone can credibly say they are supporting industry who would delay that, the question on the table is, and it is absolutely the right question, how we support small producers to participate in the scheme – and that is an ongoing piece of work.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has hinted the UK Government might not agree to a UK Internal Market Act exemption for the scheme, however the UK Government said that following any decision it would be up to the Scottish Government whether it proceeds with the scheme.
Ms Slater said the Scottish Government has been following the agreed process to seek that exemption for the deposit return regulations from the Act.
She added: “We’re continuing to press the UK Government for a decision as soon as possible because, of course, businesses need that clarity from the UK Government.”
Scottish Labour net-zero spokesman Colin Smyth said: “Lorna Slater has completely lost the confidence of Scotland’s small businesses and has now lost control of this scheme after failing to do the basics to make it work.
“If we are going to stand a chance of fixing this mess, she must stand aside.
“If this incompetent Government can’t even get a deposit return scheme right, what chance to do they have to deliver our wider net-zero targets?”
The Scottish Beer and Pub Association called for clarity ahead of the midnight deadline.
A spokesman said: “The beer and pub sector remain committed to a workable DRS, however as a result of the pledges made by leadership candidates we are now in the situation where producers are legally required to sign up to a scheme with key elements now unknown and highly likely to change when a new first minister is appointed.
“This added confusion, alongside the now unknown financial risk they could be exposing their business to, will likely see producers not signing ahead of the deadline tonight. Allowing businesses to fly blind into this is simply not acceptable and puts the whole scheme at risk of failure.
“The Scottish Government need to provide urgent clarification ahead of the deadline.”
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