LORNA Slater has been accused of “desperately spinning figures” after it emerged that less than 20 per cent of drinks producers have signed up to the Scottish Government’s under-fire deposit return scheme (DRS).

Registration for producers has been extended by ministers after only 664 out of an estimated 4,000 producers registered with Circularity Scotland before Tuesday’s initial deadline was closed.

Under the scheme, people will pay a 20p deposit when they buy a drink that comes in a single-use container. They will get their money back when they return the empty container to one of tens of thousands of return points.

But businesses have raised a host of concerns with the policy including fears over costs, potential price increases and reduced products.

The scheme has received criticism from SNP MSPs including Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, who warned on Monday it would cause “economic carnage” without action.

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Ms Slater suggested that businesses covering more than 90 per cent of the containers sold in Scotland had registered, insisting she was “delighted” with the take-up.

She added: “Producers that are responsible for more than two billion drinks containers have signed up with Circularity Scotland. That represents the full range of drinks producers from global brands to small craft breweries and distilleries.

“That means that more than 90% of the total volume of products annually—that is, 90% of what we see on our shelves—is included in the scheme.

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“The scheme has momentum towards the launch on August 16.”

Ms Slater announced that the registration period is to remain open to enable producers to continue signing up.

But it emerged that the 664 businesses that have signed up make up less than 20% of the estimated 4,000 traders – as it appears many smaller firms have so-far shunned the scheme.

In December, Ms Slater suggested that the scheme would involve contracts with more than 4,000 drinks producers.

Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said: “This scheme has been falling apart for months – even the Finance Secretary says it will cause ‘economic carnage’.

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“Small producers are appalled by the scheme roll-out and have not registered, which is why the Scottish Government have been forced to consider introducing a grace period. It’s too late now to make such fundamental changes to the scheme without creating even more complexity, confusion and costs.

“And now registration is to remain open – so much for the deadline that effectively forced some producers to sign up feeling a gun was at their head because they would be unable to trade otherwise.”

He added :“The bottom line is producer registration has been a disaster. The minister is desperately spinning the sign-up numbers, but the reality is it works out to barely 16% of the total number of producers – 664 out of an estimated 4,000 operating in Scotland.

“And no wonder – the legal advice taken by a number of companies was not to. Why sign a blank cheque to Circularity Scotland at this point?

“The minister needs to accept that more than 80% cent of producers have not signed up to her scheme.”

Labour’s net zero spokesperson, Colin Smyth, accused Ms Slater of “an attempt to spin her own failure” after she refused to answer several questions over what proportion of Scotland's drinks producers have signed up.

He added: "The minister can't even tell us what the final deadline for registrations is or whether there be a delay for small producers.

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“Lorna Slater must step aside so we can fix the mess she has made of this scheme.”

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing, who has previously been heavily-critical of the scheme, pointed to “huge extra costs” that businesses will face over the next six weeks, claiming they “will amount to £15 million for convenience stores and between £10 million and £20 million for hospitality”.

He added: “Will the minister therefore avoid that wasted expense by calling a halt now, saving massive costs by doing so? If not, is she trying to protect the interests of Biffa, a company with a dubious environmental record.

“Is she the great friend of the biggest business and the enemy of Scotland’s small businesses?”

In response, Ms Slater said that “businesses in Scotland have invested about £300 million toward its launch”, adding that they “will get the return on that investment “through return handling fees “when the 20 pences start flowing”.

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Acknowledging the concerns and hesitancy of small producers to sign up to the scheme, Ms Slater said her government has “been systematically working to resolve those real concerns”.

She added: “I pledge today that we will continue to listen, which is why I confirm that my officials will work at pace to explore any further feasible, fair and legal options that are available to support all producers to comply with the scheme, including the potential to have a grace period if needed.

“Introducing any form of grace period raises questions, which must be fully explored, about how it would work operationally, fairly and legally for businesses and communities.

“There are questions about definitions, registration and enforcement, which must all be worked through. While that consideration is being given, it is still essential that all producers register for the scheme, if they have not already done so.”