Letter to PM
Yousaf calls on Sunak to revoke ruling on DRS
Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has written to the Prime Minister urging him to revoke the UK Government’s rejection of glass in Scotland’s deposit return scheme.
As the row over the scheme becomes a focal point of the constitutional debate, he accuses Westminster of reneging on previous agreements, disrespecting devolution, damaging the environment and says its actions are having a detrimental impact on businesses based in Scotland.
Mr Yousaf has demanded a response by Monday and notes the concerns expressed last week by Tennent’s Dublin-based owner C&C that “the decision by the UK Government to remove glass threatens investment and jobs.”
The First Minister adds that “other Scottish businesses have raised similar concerns privately with us”.
He says: “We cannot – and will not – put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage by the UK Government’s eleventh hour changes to the range of materials included, impacting Scottish jobs, inward investment and potentially reducing choice for consumers in Scotland.”
The UK Government has said it will only allow the scheme to go ahead if glass is removed as a move towards a UK-wide scheme. On that basis it would give an exemption under the Internal Market Act which aims to create a level trading field across the UK following Brexit.
Yesterday, Innis & Gunn founder Dougal Sharp reiterated his view that the scheme is inoperable as it stands and disputed Circularity Minister Lorna Slater’s claim that it is ready to begin.
“I have lived and breathed this, and its evolution, for years and I think if you talk to any of the major businesses based in Scotland — either retailers or producers — nobody actually believes that this scheme is ready to go,” he said.
“It wasn’t ready to go in August, it certainly won’t be ready to go in March next year because there are hundreds of unanswered questions as to how this is going to work in practice.”
Mr Sharp said whether glass was included or not, the “price that this is going to force on to consumers is going to be significant” with “£20, £30, £40 extra on your shopping bill every week” of which customers would not get all of it back.
“Whether or not Westminster’s intervention is helpful or unhelpful, as it stands or as it was drafted, the scheme is absolute insanity for consumers and, actually, will lead to potentially less recycling rather than more in Scotland which I find absurd.”
Scottish Government ministers say there is already legislation in place that devolves the decision on setting up a DRS and that the UK government is not only being hypocritical, it is contradicting the Bute House agreement on devolution.
In his letter to Rishi Sunak, the First Minister says: “This UK Government intervention at such a late stage demonstrates a major erosion of the devolution settlement.”
At a rally in Glasgow today Mr Yousaf warned that the attempts to sabotage Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme are “the thin end of the wedge.”
Speaking as he took part in an SNP National Day of Action, the First Minister said that an “increasingly unpredictable and erratic” Westminster government was making it harder to make Scotland a better place to live, to work and to do business.
His comments follow the revelation from the First Minister of Wales that the Welsh Government had received a letter from the UK Government ripping up a previous commitment to respect Welsh devolution on this issue – and warning them that they must also comply with the UK’s unilateral decision to remove glass from their scheme.
The full text of the letter from Mr Yousaf to Mr Sunak is below:
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak
10 Downing Street
02 June 2023
On Friday 26 May the secretaries of state for DEFRA, LUHC and Scotland wrote to me indicating the UK Government is not prepared to agree a full exclusion from the Internal Market Act for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), and instead insist on the exclusion of glass, among other conditions.
These conditions will have a stark environmental impact and detrimentally impact businesses based in Scotland.
Specifically, the letter sets out that the UK Government is only prepared to agree to a temporary exclusion if we remove glass, agree a UK-wide cap on deposit levels, achieve reconciliation between scheme administrators to ensure fair distribution of payments, have one administration fee per participating company, and agreement of a single common UK logo. The removal of glass fundamentally threatens the viability of Scotland’s DRS with reduced revenue for the scheme administrator.
Removing glass will also have a significant impact on business. For example, C&C Group – owners of the iconic Tennent’s brand – has been explicit that the decision by the UK Government to remove glass threatens investment and jobs. Other Scottish businesses have raised similar concerns privately with us.
We cannot – and will not – put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage by the UK Government’s eleventh hour changes to the range of materials included, impacting Scottish jobs, inward investment and potentially reducing choice for consumers in Scotland.
The UK Government had intended to include glass in the English DRS from 2019 right up until March 2022 – two years after our Regulations were passed by the Scottish Parliament, and we planned our scheme on this basis. As late as January 2023, the UK Government confirmed that it was for devolved governments to decide the scope of their DRS. The Welsh Government’s stated intention has been to include glass in their DRS, meaning that it is the English scheme which is out of step with the design of other UK schemes.
In relation to interoperability, we have already been working with your officials to ensure alignment and we agree in principle that this is desirable. The conditions imposed by your letter of 26 May, however, are so lacking in detail as to make this requirement effectively impossible to meet. The reality is that your scheme is at such an early stage of development that you are unable to provide the operational details required to allow the schemes to be interoperable.
Businesses need certainty and they need it now – not in two years’ time when the UK Government scheme potentially, hopefully launches. The UK Government has significantly undermined the clarity and certainty that businesses unanimously tell us they need.
Businesses need firm evidence that the UK scheme will actually launch in 2025. There is no UK legislation in place yet or scheme administrator appointed. Until the full design and timescales of your DRS are in place it is unclear what operational detail we are being asked to align with or agree to.
In essence your letter asks the Scottish Government to either remove glass and sign up to a list of unfinalised and vague conditions to allow us to proceed in March 2024 or delay and align with a more limited UK Government scheme that is, frankly, unlikely to proceed in October 2025.
There are much wider consequences of the decision. This UK Government intervention at such a late stage demonstrates a major erosion of the devolution settlement. I urge you to revoke the conditions set out in your letter and grant a full exclusion for Scotland’s DRS, to be implemented as per the regulations agreed by the Scottish Parliament in this area of devolved competence.
Without this, the Scottish Government is not prepared to put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage due to the last minute demands the UK Government has made. There is little doubt your Government’s action have put the future of DRS in grave danger not only in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK due to the damage to consumer and investor confidence.
I would be grateful for a reply by close on Monday 5 June to enable my Cabinet to consider the matter and the Scottish Parliament to be updated thereafter.
The Scottish Government asked the UK Government to grant a full exclusion under the Internal Market Act that would allow Scotland’s all-in DRS, including glass, to go ahead in March 2024.
On Friday 26 May, after almost two years of discussion, the Scottish Government learned that the UK Government are only willing to grant a temporary exclusion if certain conditions are met, including the removal of glass from the scheme – a key part of Scotland’s DRS proposals.