Cross party calls for intervention on short term lets regulation

31/08/2023

37 parliamentarians call on FM to pause legislation 

MSPs from Scotland’s main political parties have come together to sign a letter calling on First Minister, Humza Yousaf, to urgently intervene and pause the rollout of Scotland’s short term lets scheme. 

The calls come as new data shows that only 2.2% of operators who have applied for planning permission from City of Edinburgh Council – the first step of obtaining a license – have been approved, leaving almost all operators in the city facing an “effective ban” on short term lets. 

In a letter to the First Minister the 37 signatories urge a pause in the legislation stating: 

We understand this flawed legislation is the legacy of a previous administration, so you have every right to pause it until a workable solution can be found. We are not asking you to scrap the principles, instead we are asking for your help to protect countless Scottish businesses – and the people and families that depend on them -from entirely avoidable hardship. 

Ministers must pause the introduction of the legislation and urgently reassess its effects on not only the tourism sector, but the wider economy and people’s lives. Scotland is rightly proud of its global standing as a tourism destination, but this should never be taken for granted…. 

…As you will be aware, as of 7 August 2023, local authority licensing registers indicates that 84% of all types of short term lets have not yet applied. In Edinburgh, this figure is 97%. This is not a sustainable position, and it will put small businesses, individuals, and councils across Scotland in invidious positions if allowed to continue.  

The letter is signed by [1] the SNP’s Fergus Ewing, Labour’s Jackie Bailie, Mark Griffin, Daniel Johnson, and Willie Rennie and Liam McArthur of the Liberal Democrats. 

Thirty-one Scottish Conservatives, including Douglas Ross, signed the letter. 

The controversial legislation, which is due to come into force on 1 October, requires all short term let operators, including B&Bs, guest houses and those who let a room in their home, to obtain a license from their local authority.  

A leaked City of Edinburgh Council report last week caused major concern among tourism bodies and self-catering operators after it revealed that the council assumed there would be an 80% reduction in the number of short term lets in the city after the legislation is introduced. 

Costs for applying for a license, which campaigners say are a major obstacle to obtaining a licence, range from £250 – £5,869. Even if an application is refused, the fees are non-refundable. 

Each local authority in Scotland is responsible for running its own scheme, which opponents say is adding to confusion and a “postcode lottery.” 

Edinburgh’s scheme has already been found to be unlawful [2], after campaigners sought judicial review of the council’s policy. Similar action is expected for other authorities implementing potentially unlawful legislation.  

The First Minister has already rejected calls for a delay, made by Scotland’s Bed & Breakfast Association (SBBA). This, say tourism bosses, demonstrated the Scottish government’s lack of engagement on the issue, or willingness to listen to genuine concerns by small businesses. The SBBA has not had this confirmation formally from the Scottish Government, but from the press. 

Fergus Ewing, MSP, said: “As Scotland’s longest serving tourism minister, I know just how critical short term lets are to the whole industry, whether B&Bs, self-catering, guest houses or Airbnbs. 

“If this misconceived, costly, and bureaucratic licensing system is not halted now, it will cause irreparable damage to a sector with thousands of businesses impacted – some of whom may well simply give up. I know some who already have and have been inundated in my constituency with small businesses pleading for the system to be suspended or scrapped.    

“The costs of compliance, in some cases are ten times greater than the Scottish Government estimated. That’s outrageous.  The whole scheme is collapsing under its own weight of complex bureaucracy. It won’t work.  

“A licensing system is not even required for tackling anti-social behaviour, because local authorities already have, since 2011, fairly swingeing powers to deal with that through Statutory Instrument. Nor will it tackle affordable housing shortages. Most properties are just not in the affordable bracket – and will simply be sold off. Small accommodation providers have already had to meet high safety standards.  

“This scheme will in addition penalise thousands of hard working, law abiding small businesses for no purpose or gain. A registration system is a simple alternative already in place in other countries and gaining favour in the EU.   

“Lack of STL accommodation by restricting supply has already forced up some hotel prices and will do so even further. The inevitable result will be that Scottish tourism, akin to what it was like half a century ago, will be affordable only to the better off, with those families on average incomes priced out of Scottish holidays. The picture varies, but I regularly hear reports of £300 or more a night for a middle range hotel bed night. And it will simply drive others to holiday abroad instead of in Scotland.     

“There has never been any proper attempt by the Scottish Government to even try to measure the damage these regulations will have on small business and the wider tourism economy. If they don’t suspend the regulations now, they will find out the hard way just what a huge blunder these regulations are and forfeit the trust and confidence of many former supporters.”

Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie MSP said “The SNP’s botched regulations will cause chaos for short-term lets and will fail to address the housing crisis. 

“Their centralised one-size-fits-all approach rides roughshod over local needs and risks undermining Scottish tourism. They must reconsider these plans and develop an alternative that will empower local communities to regulate short-term lets themselves in line with their own needs.” 

Douglas Ross MP MSP, said: “The SNP need to stop acting like they know best and urgently pause their completely unworkable licencing scheme.  

“The industry has repeatedly warned about the devastating effects it will have for many small business owners, but SNP-Green ministers have shamefully refused to address their concerns. 

“This refusal to listen makes a mockery of Humza Yousaf’s promise to reset his relationship with Scotland’s businesses. 

“Rather than adding to the pressures they are facing during a global cost-of-living crisis, he should recognise that this scheme could ultimately send many of them out of business.” 

Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said: “We are grateful that there is cross party support for our calls for a delay. What the government and local councils are about to introduce will destroy Scotland’s tourism sector, and the many small businesses, including B&Bs, pubs, restaurants, cafes, and taxis that make up the tourism ecosystem. 

“We are pro-regulation and have said so many times. Sadly, and despite voicing our concern for years, flawed legislation is about to come into force and make Scotland a laughingstock. 

“The government has learned nothing from the DRS fiasco, from the UNCRC fiasco, from the alcohol marketing fiasco. How many failed policies will it take before they listen to businesses on the ground? 

“Scotland is about to repeat its mistakes unless there is a delay. We urge the First Minister to intervene and delay this draconian inherited legislation. If he won’t listen to us, perhaps he will take note of his parliamentary colleagues who rightly share our dire concerns, and the tens of thousands of honest, hardworking people this policy is about to destroy.”  

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