ASSC : New Deal for Business an exercise in futility as job losses loom

14/02/2024
Fiona Campbell (Chief Executive of ASSC)

AN INFLUENTIAL trade body has warned that the Scottish Government’s approach to short-term let regulation will cost jobs and livelihoods as it once again fails to listen to industry and live up to its own commitment to a New Deal for Business.

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) has written to Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee in response to an implementation update provided to MSPs by the Minister for Housing Paul McLennan. In this, the Minister revealed the Scottish Government would soon lay regulations to amend its Licensing Order.

However, in the strongly-worded letter, Fiona Campbell – Chief Executive of the ASSC – highlights that the government has failed to appreciate the interlinked nature of short-term let licensing and planning, nor take on board the balanced and legally sound recommendations made by the ASSC which would address deficiencies in the regulations.

The ASSC maintains that the relationship between planning and licensing is a major contributing factor in the delay in awarding secondary let licences which professional self-catering businesses need to continue operating.

Some councils have adopted unlawful blanket policies requiring planning permission for all properties or flats used as STLs, regardless of whether a material change of use has occurred. The “confused and conflated” process has had the effect of discouraging licensing applications being made, let alone considered or granted. Two recent Judicial Reviews found aspects of Edinburgh Council’s planning and licensing policies unlawful. These judgements were not just specific to Edinburgh and have wider ramifications across Scotland.

In response, the ASSC devised proposals which would tackle the outstanding legal issues, providing reassurance to businesses and local authorities, but these have been casually disregarded by the Scottish Government. The lack of meaningful amendments for small and micro businesses across Scotland was labelled “deeply concerning” by the organisation.

Referencing the New Deal for Business, Ms Campbell said “dismissing or ignoring issues that have been flagged repeatedly, without proper examination, undermines trust and business-government relations”, rendering it “window-dressing”.  The Minister for Housing declined to meet with the ASSC to discuss their proposals in the lead-up to the update. This comes after First Minister Humza Yousaf’s failure to follow through with his promise to meet last year.

The ASSC has offered short-term let policy recommendations as far back as 2019 to strike the right balance in the regulatory framework and protect Scotland’s £1bn self-catering industry and the thousands of jobs it supports in local communities.

Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said:

“Time and time again, the ASSC has proactively supplied fair, evidenced and legally sound policy recommendations to help the Scottish Government effectively regulate short-term lets. Sadly, this latest snub is indicative of an approach which treats small business as an afterthought. 

The frustrating point is that industry wants to be regulated, and policymakers have the tools at their disposal to act, but the Scottish Government isn’t listening. The much vaunted ‘New Deal for Business’ is falling at the first hurdle when a £1bn sector finds its proposals brushed aside. 

Only minor, superficial alterations have been proposed by government which is a missed opportunity to address the remaining challenges, both in light of the two recent Judicial Reviews, but also to safeguard professional self-catering businesses who are so vital to Scottish tourism.

Without meaningful changes to provide legitimate businesses the assurance they desperately need, the economic and cultural consequences loom large. This includes the continued viability of our world-leading Festivals, the possibility of more lost jobs and livelihoods, as well as Scotland’s reputation as a place to visit and do business.”

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