Sturgeon’s exit is an opportunity to rethink the Deposit Return Scheme

OUTGOING FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been an enthusiastic supporter of Scotland’s drinks producers

PLUNGED INTO a period of political change, Scotland’s leaders must now ‘stop and think’ about the wisdom of the imminent Deposit Return Scheme.

Commenting on the news that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is stepping down, the Federation of Small Businesses reiterated its call for the Scottish Government to either pause or pare back elements of the controversial scheme.

FSB’s Scotland Policy Chair Andrew McRae said: “As with many of the new regulatory schemes being introduced by the Scottish Government in the coming months, the DRS is the product of a commendable policy aim – a policy aim that FSB supports.

“Where DRS stumbles is that, in its current form, it is destined to fail and will damage small businesses, who make up the majority of traders in Scotland,” he warned. “From independent producers, to small retailers, to importers and exporters, confusion reigns. Promised clarity on, for example, online sales has not materialised.

“We have always encouraged the Scottish Government not to view business as a monolith. Many small businesses are already running on empty after years of crises. They lack the dedicated resource to change their labels, redesign their shop floors or renegotiate all of their import and export deals. And simply exempting smaller retailers wouldn’t be a silver bullet – as there would be adverse impacts on footfall,” said Mr McRae.

“Now, as we face significant political changes, it is time to stop and think. By reassessing the onus that will be placed on businesses, the architects of DRS have an opportunity to create a scheme which will be successful for businesses and consumers across Scotland.”

FSB member Ross Gourlay, of Glencrest Wholesale, commented: “The scheme in its current form is going to make it hard for me to operate my business at all, let alone operate competitively.

“Inevitably, we’re going to have to scale back in terms of the choice of products we offer to customers and unfortunately charge more too. Not only is this unfair to shoppers, but it also means that smaller traders like me are going to lose out to the bigger and online stores who have the capacity to deal with all of the demands of DRS.”

Mr McRae added: “We always enjoyed a constructive relationship with the First Minister throughout her record-breaking term – a period which was dominated by some of the greatest challenges our economy and communities have faced in decades.

“We look forward to continuing this positive role as a critical friend with her successor. The incoming First Minister will have an exceptionally challenging in-tray and we would urge them to look to Scotland’s small businesses and the communities they sustain as an early priority.

A spokesperson for the Night Time Industries Association also suggested that this week had brought an opportunity for ScotGov to ‘reset’ its relationship with the sector.

“The current economic crisis, along with a variety of Scottish government policies during and after the pandemic, has resulted in our sector experiencing the most challenging economic headwinds in living memory.

“Far too many Scottish small businesses are on the brink of failure as a result, and current proposals such as the DRS scheme and alcohol advertising ban only worsen the outlook for our sector,” said NTIA.

It is vital that the next First Minister, whoever they may be, takes this opportunity to reset the relationship with business and work together to grow the Scottish economy into the success story that our people and nation deserve.”