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Short-Term Lets Working Group a Sham

The ASSC submitted the following statement to the Short-Term Let Working Group today. Unfortunately the More Homes Division, who chair the Working Group, do not propose to append this to the minutes as requested. 

Short-Term Lets Working Group Meeting 4

4th August 2021

The ASSC believes the Working Group (WG) to be a sham.

To suggest to Ministers that the WG has delivered anything meaningful to the guidance, legislation or indeed BRIA is disingenuous at best and duplicitous at worse. The WG and tourist bodies have been treated with utter contempt.

The Licensing Order was withdrawn in February because it was not fit for purpose, with cross party support. It is still not fit for purpose. Indeed it is worse than the original.

The main issue behind this legislation is arguably the question of available housing stock in specific areas of Edinburgh. That has already been addressed by the Planning Act 2019, and associated legislation already passed by the Planning Control Zone legislation.

The ASSC proposed registration with mandatory health and safety for all short-term lets in October 2017. The ASSC clearly stated at the same time that it would fully support a licensing scheme in any localised and identified pressure zones. For any civil servant, or indeed Minister to suggest otherwise is not an accurate representation of the facts.

The More Homes Division, via the STL Delivery Group and its predecessors, has unilaterally ignored and supressed all proportionate and targeted policy recommendation suggestions put forward by the ASSC since 2017, to the detriment of good policy making and responsible governance.

To suggest that this is about basic health and safety is a smokescreen.

If it is indeed about H&S, and about a level playing field, as UKH has asked for, then all accommodation providers including hotels and guest houses covered by Licensing Act 2005 should be licenced by this new legislation, for they are currently ‘unregulated’ just as the More Homes Division claims our sector is.

ASSC’s questions to policy makers are:

  1. Do you believe that the WG fulfilled its remit to respond to industry concerns?
  2. Do you believe that mandatory registration has been properly considered?
  3. Do you believe that the ‘revised’ Licensing Order is fit for purpose?
  4. Do you believe this legislation is proportionate?
  5. Do you believe that the BRIA is robust?
  6. Do you believe that the costs are proportionate?
  7. Does it meet with the SG commitment to Better Regulation?
  8. Is now the best time to burden small and micro businesses with licensing during the pandemic? 

The tourism industry:

  • Supports the ASSC’s position on mandatory registration;
  • Believes the regulations are flawed, disproportionate and would be bad law if enacted;
  • That the timing of the regulations is completely wrong;
  • The regulations will hamper the recovery of the industry from Covid-19;
  • The Working Group has not fulfilled its remit and have not listened to industry; and
  • That it is wrong to use tourism accommodation as a means to solve wider housing issues.

I would be grateful if colleagues would look at the detail of the proposals in light of this, and support our registration plans with mandatory H&S, and back small tourism businesses for a sustainable recovery.

Key points for operators, and the Scottish Government, to fully appreciate are that, after 18 months of chaos and grief, the licensing and planning proposals make it impossible to plan effectively due to the massive uncertainties:

  • Uncertainty as to operators’ legal position
  • Uncertainty as to the administrative burden
  • Uncertainty as to the costs of the licence
  • Uncertainty as to ability to access and afford qualified contractors to ensure compliance
  • Uncertainty as to whether they will get a license or require and gain planning permission and consequent impact on their business
  • Uncertainty as to taking bookings
  • Uncertainty as to refund policy
  • Uncertainty as to inspection methodology
  • Uncertainty as to impact on mortgage and insurance liabilities
  • And on and on.

Little assistance, if any, is given by the Guidance. In fact it makes it worse because, as our legal support has identified, the tone is such that we are all considered potential criminals and non-compliance experts!

This policy has NOT looked at the detail and the unintended consequences.

This legislation is built on an Airbnb problem in Edinburgh. It is not reflective of an ASSC problem in Scotland. Professional operators are flagrantly and disgracefully being used as collateral damage in all of this. Ministers and MSPs are being misled, misinformed and dishonestly advised and the result will materially damage tourism in Scotland.

Has the More Homes division contemplated the legal implications? Advice that the ASSC has received suggests that these proposals are legally precarious.

SG talks of honesty and truthfulness. The ASSC believes that this process is diametrically opposed to that ambition.

In responses to constituents MSPs have mentioned scaremongering, misinformation, and misrepresentation. The SG talks about the need for facts, truth and honesty and transparency. The SG, and my colleagues here should know that the ASSC deals with only facts, truth and honesty. The ASSC is, as colleagues here should know, fully committed to sustainable tourism in Scotland. Our organisation is more than 40 years old; we’ve been providing quality tourist accommodation for decades but this regulation threatens the lives and livelihoods of our members.

We do not have to proceed with such badly conceived and ill-judged regulation. We have an opportunity to reconsider and re-advise Ministers and the SG to deliver a targeted, proportionate and deliverable scheme. As the ASSC have argued for years, we want smart and effective regulation – just not bad regulation which will damage Scotland’s tourist economy.

Unless we have assurances that this will change, the ASSC will publicly resign from the WG.

Further, any further constructive involvement with the More Homes division will become impossible.

Time is of the essence as these regulations are expected to go before MSPs following recess. Can I ask the More Homes Division whether these matters will be addressed?

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