Incompetence will come to Slater’s rescue - Sue Webber

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the LothiansSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
It’s a sure sign of pressure when failing politicians start blaming the opposition for a deepening mess of their making, but for Greens minister Lorna Slater and her fast-unravelling deposit return scheme it’s turning into blind desperation.

Despite cross-party opposition and unanimous dismay from drinks producers and retailers, Ms Slater remains determined that from August you’ll pay a 20p deposit for every drinks bottle, can or plastic container, but that doesn’t include an estimated production cost of up to 5p an item which consumers will also face.

That means a six-pack of bottled Coca-Cola from Sainsbury’s could go from its current £3.50 to £5, a staggering 42 per cent increase.

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Far from wanting every container recycled, the Scottish Government hopes you don’t return them all, because to help cover the estimated £75m annual cost it has factored in raising around £31m a year from unredeemed deposits, mainly from worthless crushed cans or broken bottles. That’s 60 million containers for which you’ll get nothing back.

During her ministerial statement on Wednesday she announced that 664 drinks container “producers” had signed up to the system, declaring triumphantly, “Business is on board.”

She must, however, think business chiefs’ heads button up the back, because it’s known that Circularity Scotland’s data base alone includes over 2,000 producers, and the four main trade associations estimate it actually affects around 4,000 companies.

That being the case, what’s surprising is that over 3000 firms missed Tuesday’s deadline for registration, because the ultimate punishment for non-compliance with the new rules when the system goes live is an unlimited fine.

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Major producers, who make up the bulk of those signed up, have no wish to be characterised as environmentally unfriendly, but neither do they want to be clobbered with hefty financial penalties. So, when Ms Slater says they are “on board”, it’s in the same sense that shop-keepers forced to pay protection money are on board with gangsters or press-ganged Georgian sailors were on board with the Royal Navy.

Small firms facing disproportionate penalties don’t know where to turn and the entire drinks, hospitality and retail sectors are desperate for a re-think because it will close scores of companies and put hundreds of people out of work, not because they oppose the principle of recycling and reducing litter. Ms Slater’s claim it will create 500 jobs cuts no ice if you lose your livelihood.

And earlier this week she was at her patronising worst by insisting it was in the companies’ interests to proceed because of compliance work they had already done, as if she knows more about their businesses than the people running them. Does she think the judicial review prompted by the scheme’s massive cost burden and backed by the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, is just for the banter?

Fortunately, her lack of attention to detail will come to their rescue because she failed to follow the process for seeking an exemption from the UK Internal Markets Act, as she did last year when UK environment minister George Eustice allowed the Scottish ban on single use plastics, and the legislation will probably be blocked.

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Only she can explain why the UK application wasn’t on her agenda until a meeting next week, but this looks very like a manufactured confrontation to disguise her incompetence.

Sue Webber is a Lothian Scottish Conservative MSP

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