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Letter to Ministers following Meeting on 21st June 2023

ASSC Chief Executive, Fiona Campbell, alongside Director David Nash, met with the Minister for Tourism Richard Lochhead and Minister for Housing Paul McLennan yesterday. The following letter has been sent as a follow up to the meeting.

Dear All,

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) was grateful for the opportunity to meet yesterday (21st June) to discuss short-term let regulation. We welcomed the comments from both Ministers Richard Lochhead and Paul McLennan on the importance of constructive dialogue between government and industry, and we all wish to keep discussions ongoing in a cordial and productive manner. Furthermore, we appreciated having Ministers covering the Housing and Tourism portfolios present – while short-term let regulation falls within the remit of the former, it is continuing to have a huge impact on Scottish tourist accommodation providers. 

As said during the meeting, the ASSC is not anti-regulation; we want to work with the Scottish Government to get the regulations right. It not only matters to our thousands of members across the country but the prosperity and sustainability of Scotland’s tourism sector as a whole. Self-catering forms a crucial lynchpin of our accommodation offering, boosting the Scottish economy by £876m per annum, and its demise would have a hugely detrimental effect on local communities, related small businesses and Scotland’s reputation as a leading visitor destination.

The self-catering industry has continually demonstrated its eagerness and readiness to engage in regulatory discussions over a number of years – the latest of which being the New Deal for Business sub-groups – and the ASSC has offered up a number of policy recommendations which would help secure the Scottish Government’s policy objectives in this area in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the tourism sector.

With just 71 working days until the October deadline for short-term let licensing applications, the sense of frustration within our membership and beyond is palpable. This is reflected in the findings of our latest survey whose headlines are highlighted below. Of the 1,255 businesses that responded over a 48 hour period:

  • 69% have yet to apply for a short-term let license. Of those that have applied, only 34% have been approved so far, indicating a significant backlog in the approval process;
  • 61% are contemplating leaving the sector. In addition, 93% of those considering leaving the sector attribute short-term let legislation as a factor;
  • In the event that these properties are not offered as short-term lets, 24% plan to sell these properties and almost all (93%) would not be available as affordable housing; and
  • Almost half (46%) report experiencing new mental health issues. Regrettably, that is unsurprising when jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

Contrary to assurances yesterday about the health of the tourism sector, the STA has today published results of it’s latest survey, providing evidence that more than half of tourism and hospitality businesses that responded, (52%) are still in ‘survival mode’ or ‘consolidation’, demonstrating the continued fragility of the sector following COVID-19 and the ongoing financial crisis.

Discussions between government and industry are always good in themselves but engagement only really matters when it is meaningful and action follows suit. It is our view that tinkering with guidance ahead of the deadline will not solve the fact that licensing, in its current form, remains unfit for purpose. 

During our meeting, we mentioned the findings of the judgment of Lord Braid which found that City of Edinburgh Council’s licensing policy was unlawful at common law in respect of: (a) the rebuttable presumption against tenement or shared main door accommodation; (b) the lack of provision for temporary licences; and (c) the requirement to supply floor coverings. Lord Braid also concluded the policy breached The Provision of Services Regulations 2009. We are aware of the statement from the Scottish Government asserting the legal challenge was specific to the Council’s implementation of licensing.

However, it ultimately stems from what we regard as unfair, disproportionate and poor legislation from the Scottish Government. As highlighted, the ASSC has taken legal counsel regarding the potential for overlay to other councils throughout Scotland. To this end, I have attached a letter from Jo Millar from Gilson Gray which summarises the implications for other areas – and we will provide further detail on this matter shortly.

To be clear: this is not a problem solely for Edinburgh. That is why the ASSC argues that a fundamental rethink is required in order to get a credible, balanced, and fair regulatory framework that works for all stakeholders. In the spirit of collaboration and partnership working, the ASSC has already provided legally sound recommendations – for both licensing and planning policy – which we hope you will give careful consideration. We would appreciate some feedback on the points raised in our documents provided and what action the Scottish Government has or intends to take in response.

Given the timeline associated with licensing, we are thankful for the commitment from the Minister for Housing for another follow-up meeting which would take place “relatively quickly”. The ASSC is always willing to meet with Ministers and officials and please let us know at your earliest convenience when would be most appropriate.

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