GREEN minister Lorna Slater has finally admitted that only around a third of drinks producers have signed up to the Scottish Government’s flagship recycling scheme.

She also confirmed a new “Gateway Review” on the readiness of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and would carefully consider its recommendations.

The review was supposed to start in February, six months before the DRS goes live on August 16, but will instead take place in the week commencing March 13.

The Scottish Tories said the delay was typical of the "farce" around the scheme.

It also emerged that the Scottish Government’s top official met with the agencies behind the scheme last Friday to discuss the steps they were taking to deliver it.

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However Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks was not sufficiently concerned to demand a written “ministerial direction” ordering him to go ahead despite problems with the DRS.

Ms Slater, the circular economy minister, was lambasted by opponents last week after repeatedly refused to admit a key figure about the DRS, which will add a refundable 20p deposit to drink cans and bottles to encourage recycling and reduce littering.

She told MSPs that drinks producers responsible for generating more than 90 per cent of the volume of cans and bottles sold in Scotland had signed up by a key deadline.

However she repeatedly refused to say what proportion of producers had agreed to take part, which would have revealed how many small producers had snubbed the DRS.

She said 664 producers had signed up, but would not say what the total number was.

In a letter to Holyrood’s Net Zero committee, Ms Slater has now said that she initially expected up to 4,500 producers to take part, but because groups of connected companies would be covered by single registrations, a better estimate was “below 2000”.

She said: “We are therefore very encouraged by the number of businesses registered so far." 

However that means that only around a third of all drink producers and importers have agreed to take part, potentially reducing the brands on sale in Scotland. 

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Hundreds of small brewers and distillers this week signed a letter urging Nicola Sturgeon to pause and rethink the DRS because of the added costs and financial risks for them.

The last full Gateway Review of the DRS, in May 2022, concluded it would not be ready by August this year, as so much remained to be decided.

However a follow-up “assurance of action plan” in October downgraded the warning, partly because the DRS had been tweaked, but said “significant challenges” remained.

It concluded the go-live date of August 16 was “immovable”, and that a further Gateway Review should be scheduled six months in advance  to enable sufficient scope and time for any recommendations to be implemented”.

In her letter to the committee, Ms Slater said: “I can confirm that dates have now been confirmed for a further review to take place week commencing 13 March 2023, in line with the last report’s recommendations for a review to take place in February 2023 or close to that date. 

“The Scottish Government will consider carefully the recommendations from this review, and will share these and its response with the Committee in due course. I will continue to keep Parliament updated as we move towards the launch of our deposit return scheme in August.”

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In a separate letter to MSPs, Mr Marks said he and other senior servants met with Circularity Scotland (CSL) and the environment quango SEPA, the bodies running the DRS.

He said: “The Government is committed to continued assurance of the scheme once live, accepting it will take time (as it has in other countries) to establish and embed DRS in Scotland, and ultimately across the UK too given the stated intent of the UK and Welsh Governments. 

“To support delivery, SEPA has stated that, similar to any other new regulatory requirements, it will take a pragmatic regulatory approach.

“Producers who have not yet agreed with CSL that it should act on their behalf to fulfil their producer obligations can still enter into agreements with CSL. 

"It is important that regular dialogue continues to support further continuous improvement of the scheme where possible.

“Given the above, I can confirm that written authority from the Scottish Ministers (the equivalent of a Ministerial Direction) has not been sought.”

Tory MSP Maurice Golden said: “This is just another completely unsatisfactory development in a scheme that has been mired in farce.

“These reviews are supposed to take place at least six months out, but because of the sheer incompetence at the heart of its implementation, that too has been delayed.

“Businesses now need to know, as a matter of urgency, when this will be concluded and published.

“Firms across Scotland, and beyond, are rubbing their eyes in disbelief at the chaos which has engulfed this scheme.

“That’s on the Scottish Government – and it’s time for ministers to get their finger out and fully address these serious issues.”