Businesses are “misled, duped and duped” by companies behind recycling programs.

Fergus Ewing told MSPs that Circularity Scotland Ltd (CSL) first told recycling machine operators they would be paid in seven days and then changed it to one month.

The former Secretary for Rural Affairs said the organization changed its position on “handling fees” for the deposit return scheme on March 1 without consultation.

He also slammed Lorna Slater, the Green Minister responsible for the DRS, for refusing to say whether she had been consulted on the move.

Mr Ewing has emerged as one of the harshest critics of the DRS, which is due to go live on August 16 despite calls from small businesses for a delay over additional costs.

A refundable deposit of 20p is charged on all drink cans and bottles sold in Scotland.

Customers get the money back by returning it to retailers without a prescription or disposing of it in so-called “return machines”.

Mr Ewing said Circularity Scotland first told retailers they would be paid within seven days for both manual and machine returns, then changed it to one month for machine returns.

He posed an urgent question in Holyrood, saying: “For the past 18 months, Circularity Scotland has confirmed in all its documents, on its website and in its presentations that payment to retailers using reverse vending machines will be made within seven days.

“Tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested on the basis of these commercial terms.”

READ MORE: Slater admits only a fraction of beverage makers have signed up with DRS

Holding up a document, he said: “Now that the seven-day deadline has been extended to a month, a decision by Circularity Scotland, without consultation with grocery stores, no explanation or press release, is tucked away on page 23 of this document here.

“Firstly, does the Minister agree that this decision was both sneakily and elegantly taken by Circularity Scotland? Second, was it consulted on this decision? And thirdly, will she now instruct Circularity Scotland Limited to reverse that decision?”

Reading from her notes, Ms. Slater explained the return options open to retailers, saying small convenience stores that accept manual returns would have payments for seven days.

“Larger locations, for example large supermarkets, that need these vending machines to have this large capacity of return points have longer payment terms,” ​​she confirmed.

“But it is very unlikely that this will affect the small businesses that the member is so concerned about.

“I will remind the member that this is an industry-led scheme, as agreed across the board, and that the fees associated with the system are therefore an industry matter.”

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In response, a visibly angry Mr Ewing said: “Businesses have been misled, duped and deceived by Circularity Scotland. There is irrefutable evidence of this.

“The minister has completely failed to answer pertinent, pertinent and vital questions for the second week in a row.

“May I ask again, was she consulted by CSL on this unwanted, unannounced and non-advisory change from changing the seven-day payment to a monthly payment, if indeed that was ever achieved under this program? Has she been consulted? Yes or no?”

Reading her notes again, Ms Slater replied: “Circularity Scotland is a private, not-for-profit company and is responsible for running this scheme, including setting processing fees for retailers.

“As set out in DRS regulations, the Scottish Government is not involved in setting retail handling charges.

“The fee was agreed following extensive knowledge-gathering, which included analysis and modeling by PwC, appointed by the program members.”

When asked by Tory MSP Maurice Golden and Labour’s Colin Smyth if she had been consulted on the amendment, Ms Slater still refused to give a straight answer.

Instead, she reiterated the DRS regulations, which said the government was not involved in “setting” handling fees, but did not say if she had been consulted on the matter.

READ MORE: UK Government is considering a ‘formal application’ for a deposit return scheme

After the question ended, Tory MSP Stephen Kerr used a point of order to accuse Ms Slater of showing “disrespect” to Parliament by not providing clear answers.

Leader Alison Johnstone said it was up to ministers to formulate their own replies but it was a matter of “politeness and respect” that replies should address questions asked and there was a requirement to do so in the Scottish Ministerial Code .

Circularity Scotland has been asked to comment. Businesses are “misled, duped and duped” by companies behind recycling programs.

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