Deposit Return boss tells MSPs he works 80 hours a week as he defends £300k salary
THE boss of Circularity Scotland Ltd (CSL) has defended his bumper pay packet, telling MSPs he is working 80 hours a week.
David Harris, who earns £300,000 as CEO of the firm set up to administer the under-fire Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), was pushed on his sizeable wage as was grilled by Holyrood’s Net Zero committee.
The recycling boss also admitted that there were still a lot of unanswered questions ahead of the DRS, due to go live in August.
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SNP MSP Fergus Ewing challenged Mr Harris over his six-figure remuneration and also over reports of his involvement with other businesses.
He is the chairman of Chase Plastics, a Suffolk firm specialising in the manufacture and supply of recycled polythene pellets and compounds.
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Mr Ewing said: “Plainly, small companies throughout Scotland, whether they're producers, whether they're retailers, whether they're in the waste management sector are now worried that their businesses will be seriously adversely affected. Some will have to close, and some will and are already planning to issue redundancy notices and close depots.
“They've recently read, Mr Harris, that you have a reported salary of £300,000. And this, as you know, is a matter of public concern, as you said at the beginning, so do you recognise that anger and concern?
“And can you just clarify for me is £300,000 the total remuneration, or is there pensions and other benefits above that?
“And is it correct that you're actually working part-time because you have substantial other commercial interests, very substantial other commercial interests to which presumably, you have to devote some time.”
The ex-minister also asked Mr Harris to “give an indication about how many hours per week you devote to the CEO job at a salary of £300,000 of Circularity Scotland.”
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The businessman replied “I can confirm that's my salary. I can confirm that I work full time in the business. I would say at the moment I'm working in the region of 80 hours a week on Circularity Scotland.
“I was asked to do this job. Industry approached me and asked me to take the job on. The board set my pay, they made the offer and I accepted that.
“Partly because I've had to recruit people to run my other one business which I have, so that I can devote the time which is needed to this.
“I was asked by industry to do this, I gave my word I would do the job and deliver what they asked me to do. That's why I'm devoting so much time and allowing people to take care of the business which I own.”
Mr Harris also confirmed that as well as his salary he receives a “pension contribution in the same level as every other employee of the company.”
Over two hours - in which he earned around £288 - Mr Harris and fellow senior executives defended CSL, though they were not always able to give MSPs the answers they were looking for.
The SNP’s Jackie Dunbar asked the firm for more information on how the price of goods affected by the DRS would be displayed when it goes live on August 16.
The Aberdeen Donside MSP - a former grocery stock controller - said she had been contacted by small convenience stores concerned about point-of-sale labels to be displayed on shelves.
“If something costs a pound, do they have to have £1 plus 20p DRS? Or do they have to have £1.20?”
“Now I know the outside world will think that's a simple thing but when you have got systems and programmes and everything behind the scenes, they need this information now, so that they can be ready for the 16th of August. Can you give some clarity today?”
Donald McCalman, CSL’s Programme Director said this was not their responsibility. He said the obligation was with retailers “to ensure that consumers understand when they're in a shop that it’s not a 20 points increase in price, it's a 20p deposit which they get back.
“Those are obligations which the government has laid down on those organisations. We don't have a role. We don't have any control or influence over the retail side of things.
“Those organisations are getting a lot of help from the trade associations. SEPA have also provided some support, they have a very comprehensive website.
“But we don't have the ability to influence control what those shop operations do, because that's a new obligation which the government has said retail, you have to comply with this.”
Mr Harris said this was because Trading Standards and SEPA had “not agreed on what the correct approach is.”
He said the firm did not have “the authority or the power to make that decision.”
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Committee convenor Edward Mountain said the boss’s answer had left him “totally confused as to how the scheme works.”
“Oh, sorry, but hold on, you're running the scheme,” he said. “So you say somebody rings your office as they just been advised to do to get the information that they need to run the scheme, and the answer is, well ring up SEPA or whoever else it was you suggested. That's not advice that's passing the buck. I'm sorry, I'm confused, help me, please.”
Mr McCalman told the Tory MSP: “You said we're running the scheme. It's a short statement, but to be pedantically, clear, we are not running the entire deposit return scheme. We have a responsibility to deliver a large part of it on behalf of the producers who sit with the legal liability.
“The legislation passed by Scottish Government placed additional obligations on the retail sector, for example, to act as a return point. That's not within our scope. That's not what we were set up to deliver.”
The bosses were also asked about possible exemptions for small businesses, as promised during the SNP leadership contest by Humza Yousaf.
Mr Harris said any changes would need to be taken forward quickly.
“Time is not on our side.,” he said. “We've been through a month where the level of political uncertainty has made life difficult because a lot of industries see the narrative that's out there and slow down, but we've kept pushing hard and not sat back on this. “
“The sooner decisions are made, and we can deal with certainty and plan accordingly, the better,” he added.