Humza Yousaf: Scottish First Minister makes pledges in first policy address including deposit return pause

Humza Yousaf has set out the priorities of his government in his first policy address as First Minister

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With a backdrop of questions over SNP finances and funding, First Minister Humza Yousaf has set out his priorities for his government following his confirmation as Scotland’s leader. 

In a meeting of parliament, Yousaf set out three distinct “missions” his government would focus on. It came just hours after the arrest of SNP treasurer Colin Beattie as police continue to investigate the finances of the party, specifically the use of around £600,000 which was set aside for a second referendum campaign.

Yousaf attempted to separate his newly-appointed government from the scandal. His list of priorities included the controversial deposit return scheme. The environmental measure was introduced towards the end of Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure as First Minister, but faced criticism from companies and opposition MSPs who said that it would be a “costly failure”. 

Yousaf also made pledges towards rail fares and net-zero measures, as well as speaking about his government’s pledge to tackle poverty in Scotland. Here’s everything you need to know about what the First Minister said in parliament. 

Deposit return scheme

The deposit return scheme will be paused for at least ten months, Yousaf confirmed in his address. The scheme would see a 20p deposit added on to the cost of a drink in a bottle or can which could then be recycled at designated point, with the 20p deposit then returned.

Sturgeon introduced the measure in an attempt to increase recycling, but critics warned that businesses and consumers would be harmed with higher prices and added costs. There were also concerns over the accessibility of the scheme, which only designated return points, and cans or bottles with specific markings, eligible to be used.

Yousaf, prior to being made First Minister, spoke of his trepidation in the scheme - the first of its kind in the UK - going ahead as it currently stands. During his first policy address, he said that the Scottish government would put in place a set of measures to “simply and de-risk” the deposit scheme, with a 10-month delay to the introduction. 

Humza Yousaf has set out the priorities of his government in his first policy address as First Minister. (Credit: Getty Images)Humza Yousaf has set out the priorities of his government in his first policy address as First Minister. (Credit: Getty Images)
Humza Yousaf has set out the priorities of his government in his first policy address as First Minister. (Credit: Getty Images)

He said: “I remain committed to this Scheme as a way to increase recycling, reduce litter and help achieve our net zero ambitions. But we recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK Government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act. We had hoped for that decision this week – but it has not come.

“At the same time, I – and the Circular Economy Minister – have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August. As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to the 1st of March 2024. This provides 10 months for businesses to get ready.

“We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.”

Public transport

In 2022, ScotRail came into public ownership for the first time. Rail fares across the country have continued to increase, with peak fare particularly affected by this increase. 

Yousaf pledged to scrap peak fare on ScotRail services during a six-month trial, to make Scotland’s public transport system “more accessible, available and affordable”. It comes after trade union ASLEF called for peak fares to be removed, calling them a “tax on workers”. 

The First Minister said: “I can confirm today that the six-month pilot to remove peak-time fares from ScotRail services will start in October of this year,” he told MSPs. The evidence from this pilot – and our wider Fair Fares review – will allow us to bring forward further targeted measures, from next year onwards, to ensure that the costs of transport are more fairly shared.”

The former transport minister added that his government will work to develop Scotland’s transport network, saying: “As part of our commitment to active travel, we will also increase our investment to deliver more places where people can walk, wheel and cycle safely for day-to-day journeys. We will double the charge point network for electric vehicles to at least 6,000, and increase the number of zero-emission buses on Scotland’s roads. And we will deliver six new major vessels to serve Scotland’s ferry network.”

Net zero

Throughout his leadership campaign, Yousaf spoke at length about his commitments to reaching net zero targets in Scotland. During his address he promised that his government will “harness the huge potential of the green economy in Scotland”, but insisted that oil workers in the North East would not be left behind.

He said: “We will never do to oil and gas workers in the North East of Scotland, what Thatcher did to our mining and steel communities. We will take the workers of the North East – and indeed the whole of Scotland – with us on our just transition journey. 

“We will harness the huge potential of the green economy in Scotland. The ScotWind programme on its own, for example, offers the potential for £28 billion of supply chain work based in Scotland.

“Our renewable energy resources will also help us to develop a new hydrogen sector – which is why a focus for the next three years is to lay the foundations for a hydrogen supply chain in Scotland. We will also continue to support innovation and entrepreneurship. 

“Through policies such as our investment in new tech scaler hubs, we hope to make Scotland one of the leading nations in Europe for business start-ups. We will also develop centres of excellence for sectors such as green technologies, health & life sciences, digital industries and advanced manufacturing.”