While the debate in Scottish parliament continues regarding the contentious deposit return scheme, and whether to grant small business an additional year to comply or not, the result for Scottish customers will remain the same in the end, believes Richard Davis from Bristol’s DBM Wines.
The Scottish Deposit Return Scheme is set to create a barrier that will exclude wine buyers north of the border from accessing arguably the most comprehensive range of wines from around the world from independent English retailers. Large retailers of commercial wine brands have no choice other than to register and comply with the new rules to maintain market share, but this is not such a simple choice for smaller English suppliers.
As a wine merchant, we are used to changes in UK tax and rules regarding the sale of alcohol but until now, we have all been in the same boat, applying the same rules. That is about to change. England does not plan to include glass bottles in its proposed deposit return scheme, whereas Scotland has.
According to the rules as I understand them, as an English company that supplies customers in Scotland, we need to register as a supplier, pay a fee, then register and barcode each product that we might sell. From August 16, we must charge customers in Scotland an additional 20p on each bottle plus a fee to the scheme operator.
As an online retailer I am required to offer a collection service for empty bottles and refund the deposit. With over 500 wines on our list, many imported from small producers, the administration required to register and barcode everything is practically impossible. Should I choose to make a selection available to Scottish customers, I will have to find a way of segregating them on our website, restricting access and adding in extra fees, just for those customers. The admin and costs involved are just eye-watering.
Our customers in Scotland, many and valued as they are, account for less than 2% of our turnover, and much as it pains me to say this, I have to consider refusing to accept orders for delivery into Scotland, if doing so puts us on the wrong side of the law.
I’m sure we will not be alone.
I think about Mrs Vine – a lovely lady based near Elgin, now in her 80s who calls up, chats at length about wines and buys a different interesting case for delivery to her door every couple of months and has done so for over 10 years. I’m dreading that call to her!
The independent shops in Scotland will do well, if they can navigate the system, and good luck to them. Sadly, I think that the Scottish public will continue to enjoy big wine brands but find it increasingly difficult to access interesting, independent wines and will also have the indignity of being excluded from many independent wine companies down south.
Of course, canny Caledonians could start booze cruises down south, or engage in bootlegging. But that’s a whole other dilemma of unintended consequences…