Scotland’s green body ‘in bed’ with whisky trade

23rd January, 2017 by Kristiane Sherry

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has been accused of being “in bed” with the Scotch whisky industry after inviting a Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) representative on to a recruitment panel.

Sepa manages Scotland rivers and waterways – including what effluent can be released into them

According to the Sunday Herald and confirmed by the SWA, the whisky group’s head of sustainability, Morag Garden, sat on the interview panel that hired a senior pollution regulator.

The role involves overseeing pollution permits for companies, which restricts what effluent can be released into rivers by companies, including distilleries.

In addition to issuing permits, Sepa also investigates environmental breaches at distilleries, for example, when Loch Lomond Group suffered a 60,000-litre Scotch leak at its Glen Catrine site in 2016.

The SWA stressed its own environmental credentials when approached by The Spirits Business.

“The Scotch Whisky Association was asked to provide outside expertise on a panel and we were happy to accept that offer, giving a business perspective on issues relevant to the protection of Scotland’s natural environment,” the statement from acting chief executive, Julie Hesketh-Laird, reads.

“It’s vital that regulators understand the industries covered by their remit to allow them to do the most effective job possible. The Scotch Whisky industry is widely recognised as a leader in sustainability and is proud of its award-winning environmental strategy.”

However Labour MSP Neil Findlay told the Sunday Herald it was “completely inappropriate” for Sepa to involve industry representatives in the recruitment process.

“This suggests that Sepa is getting into bed with the multinational corporations it is meant to be protecting us from,” he warned. “If the relationship between Sepa and private companies becomes too cosy, the danger is that pollution will worsen and the environment will suffer.”

When approached by The Spirits Business, Sepa released a statement from Terry A’hearn, the agency’s chief executive.
“As a public agency, we feel we will strengthen our decision-making by seeking input from the stakeholders we serve, whether that comes from community groups, local businesses, NGOs or indeed industries’ representatives.

“In this particular case, Morag Garden was involved in the preliminary process for recruiting our new head of permitting team, whose role will include making our permits a more powerful and effective regulatory tool. It’s important to note that Morag Garden was one of several external interviewers, whose input was purely advisory in nature. No external interviewer took part in the final selection process, which was reserved to senior managers within Sepa.

“We continue to regulate the whisky sector in the same way as we regulate all sectors – impartially and independently in accordance with environmental legislation. In recent years, the full range of regulatory approaches – from partnership working to enforcement action – has been used to help ensure the whisky sector continues to improve its environmental performance.”

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