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FERGUS EWING: Deposit Return Scheme is textbook example of how not to govern

By Fergus Ewing

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MSP Fergus Ewing slams the deposit return scheme.
MSP Fergus Ewing slams the deposit return scheme.

Today is the deadline for Scotland’s producers of beverages to return their contracts, called ‘producer agreements’ under the planned Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

Craft brewers and gin and whisky distillers must sign and return these contracts which impose upon them major costs. If they do not, then, as from the start date in August they cannot actually sell their products in Scotland.

But on a TV show on Sunday morning, the minister who is in charge of the DRS suddenly announced that “small producers” would be exempt for a year. When asked what was a small producer she said she didn’t know!

She announced this total change of plan hours before the deadline! I have never come across anything quite so shambolic in government.

In Holyrood, a couple of weeks ago in questioning the First Minister, I pointed out that for small producers, trying to recover from the trio of shocks – Covid, Brexit and price hikes in energy and supplies – were now facing the prospect of being closed down by their own government’s flawed legislation, because of its costs and insane complexity.

I said is was a disastrous scheme, and if not halted would become a catastrophe.

Some small businesses would close others would fail and some would cease selling in their own country.

I spoke out in the chamber only out of sheer frustration. I issued prior private warnings, in a series of detailed letters over a year ago, to Lorna Slater and warned the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and others internally. Having spent thousands of hours speaking to business about this scheme, I felt I knew what I was talking about.

Now the scheme is in tatters, and Kate Forbes MSP in her SNP leadership campaign has rightly called for it to be halted and reviewed. The top six countries in Europe for glass recycling do not use deposit return schemes. We could learn from them.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that a young MSP, newly elected for the first time with no ministerial experience, was put in charge of a scheme estimated to cost £2.5 billion.

When I first became a junior minister I had run a business for 17 years, and served as an MSP for eight years, but I was still not prepared for doing the job. To put such an important scheme in the hands of a complete novice was surely a reckless decision. This disastrous scheme has thus, I am sad to say, been a total abrogation of leadership responsibility.

If it goes ahead, it will force people away from small shops to supermarkets and increase prices.

It will put out of business many who at present purchase the glass and recycle it well. It will also cause millions of extra road miles as glass, tins and plastic is collected from 15,000 or so return points and people make additional journeys to return items.

It’s a textbook example of how not to govern. Scotland deserves better and now there is a chance to achieve that.

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