A HOLYROOD committee has backed a delayed roll-out of Scotland’s deposit return scheme despite a Greens minister being accused of having lost control of the company set up to administer the policy.

The Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee voted in favour of the SNP-Greens Government’s proposals to push back the start date of the scheme from July this year to August 2023, despite opposition MSPs raising fears.

The Deposit Return Scheme will require people to pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container and will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

READ MORE: Greens minister Lorna Slater lobbied by industry 48 hours before delaying deposit return scheme

But Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater announced a delay to the roll-out of the policy in November, two days after meeting with the Scottish Grocers Federation, who lobbied her to delay the scheme.

A private company, Circularity Scotland, has been set up to roll out the deposit return scheme, instead of a public body being set up.

But concerns have been raised that the details of the scheme are avoiding scrutiny by dodging freedom of information legislation.

A Conservative MSP has also claimed that Circularity Scotland, set up in February 2021 by the industry, announced a 2023 start date for the scheme through a contract tender process, before Ms Slater had officially announced a delay.

READ MORE: Deposit return scheme delay blamed on Covid, Brexit and UK Government

Maurice Golden told the committee that in October 2021, before Ms Slater made her announcement to Parliament regarding a delay to the scheme, Circularity Scotland “issued tenders” that proposed a start date of June 2023.

The Tory MSP asked Ms Slater if she was aware of the proposed delay by Circularity Scotland before she made it official.

But Ms Slater failed to answer the question.

She said: “In line with the principle of producer responsibility, that is polluter pays, Circulatory Scotland is a private company, it was established by the industry to lead on the delivery of the DRS.

“As a private company, its procurement decisions and processes are private and are not for government intervention.”

HeraldScotland: Unimpressed: Conservative MSP Maurice GoldenUnimpressed: Conservative MSP Maurice Golden

Mr Golden added: “I have real concerns about the delivery of this scheme.

“It appears as if the minister isn’t in control of Circularity Scotland and therefore, how can we as parliamentarians have any confidence that this shambolic scheme shrouded in secrecy can actually be delivered?

“The Scottish Government could have set up an independent body, a non-departmental public body, to deliver this scheme but they chose to create a private company that then refuses to reply to FOIs.

“There’s a big question here on the secrecy angle. If Circulatory Scotland is issuing tenders with a launch date of June 20203 in October and the minister isn’t aware of that, how can we possibly be assured that this scheme, with this new delay, will be delivered on that date?”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon called for the deposit return scheme to be sent back to the drawing board for a re-think.

She said: “I think it’s very disappointing that we have this further delay on top of previous delays.

“I welcome the ambition that has been taken but this has to be more than a paper exercise, so I am very concerned about the regulations in front of us.

“I would like to see the Government bring this back through Parliament with a scheme that everyone can have confidence in, that takes account of the concerns raised.”

She added: “If we are ambitious and serious, we have to find a way to make this work.

“I think Maurice Golden has been right to pursue questions of transparency. People are not making party political points – we really want this to work. I know the minster in her heart wants this to work and I really think she has to think again.”

SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop said the policy was a “hugely important scheme to tackle waste in Scotland” but warned that the only reason the scheme would face further delay would be if MSPs moved to hold it up even further.

She added: “Undoubtedly there have been challenges and indeed some disappointments along the way in delivering this. Scotland wants us to get on with this.”

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In response, Ms Slater acknowledged the “depth of feeling” and “everybody’s frustration with delays” to the scheme”.

She added: “There’s no-one who wishes more than I that it had been possible to keep with the original July 2022 date.”

The minister told MSPs that the “plans currently on the table” which sets out the new dates and ensuring IT systems and infrastructure are in place, is the “quickest possible timeline” for rolling out the policy.

But she warned: “That date potentially comes with some risks, especially for small businesses and breweries that have struggled so much during the pandemic.”

HeraldScotland: Circular Economy Minister Lorna SlaterCircular Economy Minister Lorna Slater

Ms Slater added that the scheme is “industry-led” meaning that “the polluter pays, rather than having the public purse – taxpayers' money – being used to set up the scheme”.

She said: “But it does mean that it is one step removed from government and not subject to FOIs.

“It has the advantage that it has industry expertise.”

The Greens minister said that the private sector is “absolutely incentivised to bring in this scheme”, claiming it will “generate something in the order of £600 million per year in Scotland”.

She added: “There’s a lot of money to be made in this and industry knows that.

“It is going to be a good boost for industry overall with a lot of opportunities for business in Scotland.”