HUMZA Yousaf is facing an immediate row with the Scottish Greens over changes to the government’s troubled drinks container recycling scheme.
Mr Yousaf promised to “exclude” small businesses from the first year of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) if elected as leader of the SNP and First Minister.
However the Green minister in charge today said she wanted small business to “fully participate” and warned any changes had to be “right and legal and fair”.
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Lorna Slater flagged potential problems over defining what counted as a small business, and queried what would happen to the small firms already involved in the DRS.
Ms Yousaf said later that he intended to have "an early conversation" with Ms Slater about the scheme.
The boss of the company administering the DRS today told MSPs that any changes would have to happen fast.
Circularity Scotland Ltd's £300,000-a-year CEO David Harris told Holyrood's Net Zero Committee: “Time is not on our side. The sooner decisions are made, and we can deal with certainty and plan accordingly, the better."
The DRS will see a refundable 20p deposit added to all drink cans and bottles sold in Scotland from August 16 in a bid to boost recycling and reduce litter.
Many small drink producers and importers have warned the costs to them will be prohibitive and have refused to sign up to it, meaning they will exit the Scottish market.
Mr Yousaf pledged to help them adjust to it on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on February 26.
He said: “I've listened to business and I've heard from small businesses in particular.
“If I'm elected First Minister then I will exclude small businesses for the first year of operation of that scheme.
“Because it's not the craft breweries, or craft gin makers, that are the ones causing the issues. It’s the big producers that are the ones that we should be targeting.”
But despite Ms Yousaf’s vow, Ms Slater today insisted she wanted small businesses to be part of the scheme, and raised possible problems over their exclusion.
Asked on BBC Radio Scotland what she was doing to prepare to deliver on Mr Yousaf’s exclusion plan, she said: “We want to work to support small businesses to participate in the scheme. That is an active area of work.
“We need to make sure we understand exactly what the challenges are of small business so we can appropriately deal with those.
“So we're actively looking at everything on the table that we can do to support all businesses in Scotland.”
Pressed on Mr Yousaf’s plan to exclude small businesses from year one of the DRS, Ms Slater said: “We need to make sure we're delivering the right mechanism for supporting small businesses.”
Asked if a year-long exclusion would happen, she said: “That is it is something that's on the table that we're discussing.
“But we need to make sure this is right and legal and fair.
“If you exclude small businesses, what does that mean for medium sized businesses?
“What does that mean for businesses that have already signed up?
“Hundreds of small businesses have already signed up for the scheme.
“So any solution we put in place to support business has to be legal and fair for all the businesses involved.”
Asked if she was therefore opposing one of Mr Yousaf’s campaign pledges, Ms Slater replied: “Humza Yousaf and I will work closely together to make sure that the deposit return scheme works for Scotland.
“Humza Yousaf is as committed as I am to the deposit return scheme working and for it working for small businesses.
“So we will absolutely be figuring out the best way to make sure that small producers, small retailers, medium sized producers, are all able to fully participate in this game and it can deliver on the environmental benefits which are the point of the scheme.
“That reduction of our carbon emissions, reduction of litter and waste and broken glass in our streets.
“Deposit return schemes are a fairly straightforward and well understood means to tackle the climate crisis and to improve recycling. They are in place all over the world.
“Implementing one in Scotland is a reasonably straightforward proposition.”
Tory MSP Maurice Golden said: “After Lorna Slater’s refusal to confirm she would support the pledge Humza Yousaf gave during the SNP leadership campaign, which would exclude all small producers from her shambolic Deposit Return Scheme, the incoming First Minister is going to have to choose whose side he’s on.
“This scheme has been dogged by uncertainty and inconsistency from the start. No one can expect it to be introduced as it is without getting clarity on the most basic points.
"Humza Yousaf and Lorna Slater need to pause its introduction until they can get on the same page, and see whether its problems can be fixed.”
The Scottish Greens yesterday agreed to continue in the Bute House joint government deal with the SNP, something only Mr Yousaf was wedded to in his party leadership race, with Kate Forbes and Ash Regan indifferent at best.
Some in the SNP believe Mr Yousaf has given the Greens influence over the Government out of all proportion to the party's seven MSPs, compared to the SNP's 64.
Asked about Ms Slater's comments, Mr Yousaf said: “Lorna and I have spoken. We're going to speak again.
"Of course, you know my views on the deposit return scheme.
"We’ve also heard comments of course from those big producers, those largest producers, saying that there shouldn't be a pause, and of course urging us to move forward.
"So there's an early discussion to be had about the deposit return scheme.”