To consult or not; is that the question?

Almost a year ago I wrote here about a proposed consultation on plastic bags and argued that we should simply get on with it as the arguments have all been rehearsed before. So, today, what has been launched? Yes, consultation on a carrier bag charge, some 9 months after it was expected. The details can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.

It might be another re-run and a re-tread idea, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing, though the arguments may not be as straightforward as sometimes portrayed. So three months to make your views known. I wonder why we didn’t get that when the “health levy/Tesco” tax was proposed – perhaps because this time we know the answer?

As with the health levy/large retail store tax we’ve been here before in the days when the Scottish Parliament was not the home to a majority government. The plastic bag levy was shelved a few years ago, but here we go again with more consultation.

Ireland do it, Wales do it and England (well George O if the papers are to be believed) don’t seem to want to do it, so what’s the hold up in Scotland?

One of the issues might be that this is a measure that directly affects lots of voters (sorry, shoppers). Annoying too many of them time and time again is never a good idea. But perhaps that’s why the appeal this time is both about combating the throw-away society and stopping making the place look untidy, rather than saving the planet.

What else have we learned in the meantime? Well lessons from Wales abound, and indeed the proposals in the consultation are based on the Welsh experience. The charging also covers all retailers (so the large stores don’t feel picked upon – again) and all types of single use bags (to avoid arguments about environmental impact of production and supply etc).

Retailers are of course a little mixed in their positions over the idea. After all, some already charge, whilst others prefer to push bags for life and force consumers to ask for the under the counter plastic ones – the shame of it all. What we do know is that such charging schemes work more thoroughly than voluntary schemes, though who people “blame” for having to change behaviours is a more moot point.

So where’s the opposition? The risible comments from the Conservatives that we must have throw away carrier bags because it is wet in Scotland, does not count as serious debate. So it’s really an issue over personal choice; voluntary changes in behaviour or forcing people by cost increase.

Perhaps there’s some nervousness about unintended consequences? And on that thought there was a piece in the Daily Record this week about how retailers are beginning to react to the “health levy” by removing cigarette sales from some stores and/or switching them elsewhere. At one level this is entirely predictable (and we did point this out in our comments here), but may have come as a surprise to the Government.

And even within Government there may be mixed feelings, as the removal of cigarettes from display can be seen as a triumph for some, though others may rue the ways in which the revenue from the tax will now be less than expected.

And that might also be true in the future of the carrier bag charging,

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues.
This entry was posted in Consumer Change, Government, Plastic Bags, Regulation, Retail Levy, Tax and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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