One of the most galling challenges of working in the local retailing industry is that we so often find ourselves in a position where we have to take a stand against proposals that we have no moral issue with but we simply can’t afford to implement. We have to be the bad guy, left dangling in the wind.
The Deposit Return Scheme is only the latest in a long line of proposals that make great tabloid headlines for the government – who’s going to argue against recycling? – but it’s invariably the retailer who ends up footing the bill for a major upheaval implemented off the back of some very, very inconclusive research. Let’s be clear here: our industry can no longer sustain the costs of being the fall guy for every well-meaning but poorly planned initiative the Scottish Government can come up with.
Retailers are rapidly getting to the point where they literally can’t afford to keep footing the bill for socially desirable but commercially unsustainable initiatives. Most retailers I know would have no moral problem with ceasing to sell tobacco. Most retailers I know want to pay their staff good wages. Most retailers I know would be keen to recycle more and have already gone to great lengths with cardboard and food.
So let’s put the moral thing to bed once and for all. The central issue here is a much simpler four-letter word: cost.
Zero Waste Scotland has put a figure of “at least £40.7m” on the start-up costs to the industry of implementing DRS. If the government sees this as an effective way of pushing up recycling rates (which is not at all clear, given the already phenomenally high level of kerbside recycling) then why don’t they reward local retailers for the key role they would play in helping achieve this social policy by footing the £40m bill?
It’s draconian of the government to impose legislation after legislation on retailers to achieve wider societal aims (as well as the government’s own politically-driven aims) but wash its hands of the implications and costs of doing so. It’s time the government made an effort to understand the important role local retailing plays in this country.
Local retailers enjoy a uniquely proactive, positive and social role in the communities they serve which, in my opinion, is more than can be said of Asda or Lidl or the likes – so how about lending a little support to help us to continue to keep Scotland’s communities vibrant? If it wants the bulk of this vital industry to still be around in five or 10 years, then now’s the time to show it.
Antony Begley, Publishing Director