Exasperation over DRS chaos

Convenience chiefs voice their concerns over scheme confusion

Pete Cheema addresses the SGF mini summit.
Pete Cheema addresses the SGF mini summit.

THE future of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) appears to be on a knife edge.

And the latest twists in the saga have sparked alarm among organisations representing the nation’s convenience channel.

ScotGov circular economy minister Lorna Slater told the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) mini summit in Falkirk that UK ministers’ delay in granting the necessary exemption under the Internal Market Act (IMA) was putting the scheme in jeopardy.

The Green MSP told delegates on 18 May: “If we haven’t heard from them by the end of May, we will have to make a proactive decision at that point as to whether the scheme is viable or not to move forward.”

In response, the UK Government said it had only received a formal exemption request on 6 March and still had to fully assess the impacts.

The Fed claimed the potential loss to the many stakeholders if the scheme was ditched could be as much as £500million.

Deputy vice-president Mo Razzaq said the Fed backed DRS but he hit out: “The scheme in Scotland is deeply flawed and seems unlikely to get off the ground. We believe less than 3% of our members have taken out leasing contracts for the machines to process the empties.

The Fed's Mo Razzaq.
The Fed’s Mo Razzaq.

“And the few that took out contracts are regretting it as, so far, the Scottish Government isn’t offering compensation for the delay. The seven-month delay until March next year is costing them over £2,200 at £320 a month for a five-year lease.

“If the scheme is delayed further, they will be even more in debt. We’re taking legal advice with a view to court action.”

The SGF also made it clear that it still supports the delivery of a Scottish DRS that is fit for purpose for consumers and small retail businesses.

Chief exec Pete Cheema said: “The SGF will continue to work proactively with Circularity Scotland (CSL) and the Scottish Government to ensure a successful launch of the scheme in March 2024.

“It is vital that the Scottish Government confirms urgently that it will support industry and, in particular, CSL to ensure preparations can continue unabated while it concludes agreement with the UK Government on the IMA and all other outstanding issues.”

After the SGF summit, Slater claimed ScotGov had engaged with Westminster in good faith over the exclusion for Scotland’s DRS for nearly two years.

Yet despite following a mutually agreed process, Holyrood had still not received the necessary assurances that this would be provided in good time, she said.

That was creating uncertainty for all the businesses involved, she added, as she called for an urgent agreement.

Scottish Wholesale Association chief executive Colin Smith.
Scottish Wholesale Association chief executive Colin Smith.

Highlighting heavy investment in DRS, Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA) chief exec Colin Smith said: “As members of CSL, we understand the financial and organisational impacts of the new go-live date and unresolved exemption issue.

“There are businesses, jobs and investment at risk potentially if the UK Government doesn’t make the decision right now to give the IMA exemption.

“SWA has written to the UK Government to ask for pragmatism and a common-sense approach, which may mean concessions from both governments.

“That would allow the scheme to go ahead on schedule with as much cross-border synergy built into the scheme as possible.”