FINANCE Secretary Kate Forbes has laid into her government’s controversial deposit return scheme – as the SNP leadership hopeful called for her party to acknowledge the “economic carnage” the policy could do to businesses.

Ms Forbes, who is hoping to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister and SNP leader, has called for the policy to be put on hold and has lashed out at her government’s anti-business attitude.

It comes amid reports that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack is set to block the legislation, which was agreed by MSPs in 2020, by refusing consent on a UK-wide trade agreement.

Under the plans, shoppers charged an additional 20p on every drink they buy in either a glass or plastic bottle or in a can, with producers having until midnight on Tuesday to sign up to the scheme – something they have to do if they wish to sell their products in Scotland.

Under the Scottish Government proposals, the 20p deposit on cans and bottles will be returned when customers take empty containers back.

Read more: Kate Forbes distances herself from de facto referendum strategy

The Finance Sectary, who is vying with Humza Yosuaf and Ash Regan for the keys to Bute House, spoke out as she unveiled her economic priorities if she is to become first minister.

As part of her pitch to SNP members, Ms Forbes appeared to take a veiled swipe at Mr Yousaf as she insisted the public believes “continuity won’t cut it” following Ms Sturgeon’s resignation and suggested she was the only candidate with “competence”.

The Scottish Government's Finance and Economy Secretary appealed for a change in government tact as she warned her “track record” on delivery sets her above her rivals vying to become the next first minister and SNP leader.

Read more: Kate Forbes insists her 'competence' puts her above SNP leader rivals

Ms Forbes said that Scotland needs “competent leaders” who are able to “execute and deliver” on plans, as she hinted that has not always been the case under the current leadership of Ms Sturgeon.

Speaking at the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, Ms Forbes said the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme was “an example of a good idea badly executed”.

She warned that since the pandemic, businesses are “weathering storm after storm”.

Ms Forbes said: “What they need is a break. What they need from government is a bit of breathing space to weather these storms, to re-invest in their business and ultimately to survive."

The Herald: Kate ForbesKate Forbes (Image: PA)

She insisted the deposit return scheme was “a good idea, which is well-intentioned”, but starkly warned that “execution is leaving businesses like this one fearing for their future”.

Ms Forbes said: “It’s leaving businesses like this fearing the economic carnage it will cause if the policy will continue as it’s planned right now.”

She stressed the policy, as it stands, “fails to achieve its aim and causes economic carnage in the process”.

Ms Forbes added: “The primary issue that countless businesses have raised with me across the constituency and across Scotland is that the scheme is not ready to be implemented in August.

“They want it to work, but right now they do not have the information and we don't have confidence in an overly complex scheme.

"Many of them are still waiting for answers on questions that have been raised.”

Ms Forbes said if she was to become the next first minister, she would not just “halt and pause” the deposit return scheme, but would prioritise looking at “how we give small businesses...the breathing space they need to survive”.

Read more: Minister touts last-minute change to 'farcical' deposit return scheme

She added that as first minister, she would “reset the relationship with business” and said she was “committed to making Scotland an attractive place to do business”.

Ms Forbes told The Herald that the deposit return scheme had “been devised and designed from an environmental perspective”, but not been thought through from a business point of view.

She said: “We've seen a big backlash against the proposals for whisky advertising, which were designed by public health.

“What I would like to see is how we join up the wider discussions and debates that all have an economic impact that have perhaps been designed in silo.”

Ms Forbes added: “From a finance and economy perspective, I obviously represent workers, I represent businesses, represent trade unions, and they want to talk about what's happening in other parts of government.

"But as Finance Secretary, you don't necessarily have any ability to influence what's happening elsewhere because it just seems really through a public health lens.”

Her intervention comes amid speculation Tory ministers are set to refuse permission for a trading exemption for cans and bottles from outside Scotland under the Internal Market Bill.

Read more: UK Government set to block Scotland's troubled Deposit Return Scheme

Under the post-Brexit Internal Market Act, goods that have been produced in, or imported into, one part of the UK and comply with relevant requirements there, can then be sold in any other part of the UK without adhering to different regulatory requirements.

That means the DRS will require an opt-out, otherwise, producers from the rest of the UK would be able to sell their wares without having to add 20p on to the cost, putting Scottish firms at a disadvantage.

According to the Scottish Sun, no formal request for an Internal Markets Act exemption has been made by the Scottish Government.

Their source said it was "crystal clear the present scheme is in deep trouble".

Samantha Faircliff, managing director of Cairngorm Brewery, warned that the biggest challenge facing the deposit return scheme was that it wasn't being launched across the entire UK as she said her legal advice indicated she should not sign up to the policy as it stands.

Ms Faircliff said she has not signed up as a producer and will not before Tuesday's deadline set by Circularity Scotland (CSL) without changes.

She said: “We have registered with Circularity Scotland. I have loaded all my product information, so it's just the push of the button.

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“I have a legal responsibility as a director of a company to not be signing a three-year legally binding agreement that at the moment there are too many anomalies in.

“If I sign that agreement and there's any delay, how that reads at the minute is I am potentially liable for any losses of CSL.

“We've taken legal advice and the legal advice says you'd be foolish to sign it right now with too many anomalies still outstanding.”

She added that the fact the UK Government is poised to intervene was “sad for Scotland”.

Ms Faircliff added: “I think it's a real shame for Scotland, that it takes Westminster to actually do a sanity check on the scheme.“

Asked by The Herald if the current Scottish Government was anti-business, Ms Forbes said: “I would certainly take a more pro-business approach because I don't think we can achieve our aims of reducing poverty or investing in the NHS and public services unless we've got a growing prosperous economy.

It’s a starting position.”

The Scottish Conservatives have demanded an emergency ministerial statement today.

The Herald: Maurice GoldenMaurice Golden (Image: PA)

Tory MSP Maurice Golden said: “It should never have got to the stage where, on the eve of the deadline, key questions about the scheme remain unanswered – such as, will there be a grace period for small producers and, if so, what is a small producer.

“But, astonishingly, that’s where we are.

“This could be cataclysmic for the firms affected. It’s no exaggeration to say there are 24 hours to save Scottish businesses. That is why we must have an emergency ministerial statement tomorrow – to lift the cloud of uncertainty and fear hanging over them.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s deposit return scheme goes live on August 16 this year and will make producers responsible for recycling the bottles and cans they put on the market.

“Similar schemes are common in other European countries and have been shown to be very effective in improving recycling rates and tackling littering.

“The regulations that established Scotland’s deposit return scheme were based on these schemes and passed with cross-party support in 2020.

“Any producers with concerns about meeting their obligations should get in contact with the relevant organisations.

“We have always said we will take a pragmatic approach to implementation, to ensure that as many businesses as possible can be part of Scotland’s deposit return scheme and can continue to sell in Scotland after August 16.”