Lorna Slater: Deposit Return Scheme is 'all systems go'
The troubled Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is "all systems go" and the Scottish Government will "carry on with the launch", Lorna Slater has said.
Slater, the minister in charge of the waste reduction plan, today rejected calls to scrap the scheme and start again amidst fears that it could fall apart by the end of the month unless the UK Government agrees to lift post-Brexit domestic trade rules.
And she dismissed claims by Scottish secretary Alister Jack that her team had failed to go to Westminster leaders early enough to seek an exemption to those regulations under the Internal Market Act.
Appearing before Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee, Jack claimed the Scottish Government had not provided crucial impact assessments on the potential effects of DRS on consumers and business.
Now Slater has hit back, telling MSPs the provision of that paperwork "is actually not part of the common framework of process" and it is "not true that these have not been carried out".
And she called on the UK Government to provide that "last little piece" of the jigsaw allowing the Scottish-only system to begin.
She said: "Industry have invested millions of pounds towards the scheme. They have recruited people, their IT systems [are] underway, reverse vending machines are being installed, sorting centres are being set up for vehicles and logistics are being set up. We are all systems go. We just need that last little piece of the internal market exemption and we will carry on with the launch."
The comments came as Conservative MSP Meghan Gallacher challenged Slater over whether the Scottish Government will compensate firms if it does not proceed with the DRS.
Drawn up under former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, its introduction was pushed back to spring 2024 by her successor Humza Yousaf after an SNP leadership contest in which rival candidate Kate Forbes called for it to be paused.
Gallacher said: "The faults of this disastrous scheme lie firmly at the door of the minister's office. The shambolic roll-out of this policy has damaged the relationship and confidence amongst Scottish businesses. And let's remind the chamber that thousands of businesses have not even signed up to the SNP-Green deposit return scheme because they'll think it will be too damaging for their business.
"The Scottish Retail Consortium has even said that one of Lorna Slater's recently proposed changes to this scheme makes it even less likely that a deposit return scheme will go ahead in March 2024 and the Scottish Licence Trade Association said explicitly that Lorna Slater has effectively torpedoed the scheme. So let me ask the minister, why does she think Scottish businesses are wrong?"
Slater told Gallacher that Michael Gove, the UK levelling-up secretary, had today written to deputy first minister Shona Robison confirming that his administration is reviewing updated Scottish Government analysis of the impact of the DRS.
She said: "There is no reason for an Internal Market Act (IMA) exclusion not to be granted."
On the matter of when Scottish ministers had formally sought this exclusion, Slater said: "We do know that we need an Internal Market Act exclusion to launch this scheme, we've known it all along - that's what we have engaged with the UK Government in good faith on that exclusion for nearly two years now.
"We first raised the need for an exclusion in July 2021 and we have followed the process that was agreed between the UK and the devolved governments. And we have published a summary of the correspondence and engagement with the UK Government, which they do not dispute.
"We submitted a final detail paper on the exclusions proposal to the resources and waste common framework on 13 February this year. This was the culmination of the continued engagement at official and ministerial levels, excluding the DRS from the effects from the IMA.
"We cannot go on indefinitely. We do need an answer for this. But as we've seen in the letter from Mr Gove today, the UK Government now has all the information they need and are actively considering it. Once they've made a decision on that - they know that that decision needs to be by the end of this month - we will proceed with delivering the deposit return scheme."