A GREENS minister has been accused of “sleekit behaviour” after being lobbied by the retail industry just two days before announcing her government’s flagship deposit return scheme was being delayed.
Lorna Slater, the Scottish Government’s Circular Economy Minister, was lobbied by the Scottish Grocers Federation about the plans 48 hours before telling MSPs that the start date for the scheme was going to be delayed.
Ms Slater, who is also the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, blamed the delays on the impact of Brexit, the pandemic and the UK Government.
The scheme, which is now expected to start in August 2023, will mean people will 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.
The Lothians MSP has previously criticised the influence of lobbying, particularly the fossil fuels industry.
Speaking in Holyrood in June, before she became a minister, Ms Slater said that oil companies have “lobbied relentlessly for subsidies and handouts”.
“Writing on Twitter, Ms Slater said “the oil and gas lobby were among the first people to approach me and ask for a meeting after I was elected”, insisting she “listened to their pitch and set them straight”.
On November 17, Ms Slater told MSPs that the deposit return scheme, which had initially been promised to be rolled out by the summer of 2022, could not be kept to that timescale and was essentially being delayed.
But newly-published records show that just two days earlier on November 15, Ms Slater held a video call with the Scottish Grocers Federation’s head of public affairs, John Lee, and chief executive Pete Cheema, who used the meeting “to advise the minister that, given the challenges facing convenience retailers, the implementation of the scheme should be delayed”.
Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden said: “This is sleekit behaviour from Lorna Slater. Instead of being upfront on her discussions with key industries on the deposit return scheme, she chose to keep this under wraps.
“Instead, all we heard was a failure of this Green minister to take responsibility and a rehash of the same old grievances against the UK Government we hear time and time again.”
He added: “She simply didn’t have any answers over the costs of this scheme and when, if, it will ever get off the ground.
“Lorna Slater has questions to answer over why this meeting that took place so close to this delay being announced is only being uncovered now.”
Speaking in Holyrood when Ms Slater announced a delay to the deposit return scheme, Scottish Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba warned “we know how concerned the minister was about industry lobbying causing delays to the scheme”.
Labour’s net zero spokesperson, Colin Smyth, said: “This is just another example of how quickly the Scottish Green party have thrown away their morals for the crumbs from the SNP’s table.
“The Scottish Government’s flagship waste reduction programme has faced delay after delay – after a naive Scottish Greens bought up to an SNP Government with a culture of over-promising and failing to deliver.
“Previously Lorna Slater has warned of the risks of politicians seeming to bend to behind-the-scenes pressure without explaining it to Parliament. It is hard to see how this is anything else.”
John Mayhew, the director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, said the delays to the scheme could be pinned on “a combination of intense industry lobbying and a lack of political will”.
Ms Slater pointed to “a lack of clarity from the UK Government on the VAT treatment of deposits”, as well as “the challenges around Brexit and the pandemic”, insisting that “there is constant industry engagement”.
The Scottish Greens have been approached for comment.