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Scaremongering: The Duplicitous Approach to Short-Term Let Licensing

The ASSC is saddened to report a range of quotes from the Scottish Government which illustrates the extremely duplicitous nature of their approach, as well as just some of the absurd points mentioned in the Business Regulatory Impact Assessment.

Scottish Government Quotes

The Cabinet Secretary for Housing Shona Robison MSP on the Working Group, June 2021:

“The stakeholder working group was also tasked with considering any necessary changes to the legislation, ahead of laying the revised Licensing Order, alongside draft guidance, in June.

The stakeholder working group met in February, March and May and has provided significant input into shaping the guidance, and suggesting changes to the legislation. I am grateful to all working group members for sharing their time, knowledge and expertise with my officials, in order to help us get the legislation and guidance right.

We have made a number of changes to the legislation based on suggestions made by members of the stakeholder working group…This government has always stressed striking the balance between the needs of local communities and wider economic and tourism interests. I believe our proposals, having been refined and improved following feedback from the working group, do this.”[1]

  • The Working Group has made no substantive changes to the legislation for the main groups affected – self-catering and B&Bs – and some guest houses will now be captured by the regulations.
  • Moreover, the Scottish Government have added provisions which will make the revised legislation worse for professional operators, having a negative impact on their livelihoods.
  • The Working Group merely paid lip service to the industry stakeholder concerns and made cosmetic changes to the regulations.

Shona Robison MSP, Portfolio Question Time, 16th June 2021:

“Local authorities have been involved in the discussions and will set the fees to cover their costs in establishing and administering the scheme. I reassure the member that we do not expect the fees to be onerous. The business and regulatory impact assessment contains an estimated range of between £223 and £377 to cover a three-year licence, which I do not regard as overly onerous.”[2]

  • A representative from SOLAR (Society of Local Authority Lawyers & Administrators in Scotland) on the Working Group suggested that the scheme would have to run on a cost recovery basis and could cost in the region of £1,500-£2,000 per licence.
  • Local Authorities are encouraged to increase fees for larger properties and different styles of short-term let.

Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy on the withdrawal of the Scottish Government’s licensing plans, February 2021:

“I recognise that concerns have been raised by many B&Bs and self-catering properties in the Highlands about the impact of this legislation.

I have listened to those concerns, relayed them to the Housing Minister and I’m pleased that he has acted in this way.

The stakeholder working group will continue to explore the issues and considering solutions. It’s important that work continues.

The purpose was to ensure standardised health and safety measures across Scotland which would not have been onerous as most tourism operators already meet such standards.

However, I recognise that it has been a very difficult year for tourism, and it’s important that we listen to the industry…”[3]

  • Back in February 2021, and prior to the election, the Cabinet Secretary welcomed the withdrawal of the licensing regulations, noting that she had relayed concerns from tourist accommodation providers to the Housing Minister, and stressed the importance of listening to industry.

Kate Forbes MSP, July 2021:

  • However, by July 2021, the Cabinet Secretary took a somewhat different stance, implying that some were propagating “unfounded fears”.

“Whilst it [short-term let regulation] is a complex and multi-faceted problem with no easy answers, I hope that the debate centres around facts rather unfounded fears.

Furthermore, if we are serious about tackling the Highlands housing crisis, then I believe that this needs to be a much broader discussion than previously…

The Scottish Government has been clear that a very basic health and safety scheme will be established, as is the case for nearly every other business and sector in Scotland. and this will be the last opportunity for the various stakeholder groups – be it tourism accommodation providers or those who can’t find a place to stay in their home area – to comment and help shape the final proposal.”[4]

  • The Scottish Government have stated that the consultation focuses on the health and safety of short-term lets yet the debate is being widened out to include housing, an issue already covered by the planning control zone regulations in the Planning Act.
  • The ASSC and others are not promulgating “unfounded fears” but are conveying genuine concern at the provisions of these disproportionate licensing plans which will be materially damaging to Scottish tourism.
  • In 2017, the ASSC pro-actively suggested a mandatory registration scheme with health & safety, accompanied by a licensing scheme in areas where there is a demonstrable link between short-term letting and loss of housing stock (underpinned by real time data from the registration scheme). This could have been delivered via the Development of Tourism Act 1969 with no additional legislation. This recommendation was ignored.

“How can the negative impact of Licensing on the short-term let sector be mitigated or avoided?”

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) held its first ever hustings ahead of the 2021 Holyrood elections, on 7th April. Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, representing the SNP said:

“I do think they need to be mitigated. This has caused a lot of concern. The regulations were intended largely to deal with problems that exist regarding anti-social behaviour of party flats in Edinburgh, and there is a feeling that the knock-on unintended consequences are affecting self-catering, B&B and guest houses throughout the country.

I believe that we were right to withdraw the regulations from Parliament and that Kevin Stewart was correct to say that there needs to be a reappraisal. I am determined that if I continue to be a Minister, that I will make sure that these regulations are not imposed in a way that is overly burdensome and disproportionate and I also do think that there is a case for looking at your proposal of a registrations scheme which could be an alternative.

I think much more talking needs to be done, in an open and straightforward way and I do think that the Working Group which is set up contains an awful lot of the right people.

But I think we need to make sure that self-catering, B&B and guest houses which quite frankly have not caused any anti-social behaviour to anybody. As an MSP for 22 years, I have not received a single complaint against a B&B or guest house. The only self-catering issues that arrive, I think, are from party flats for groups of 20 – 30 people.

There is a lot of discussion to be done across party to make sure that we do not create something that causes financial burden and regulatory burden and also uncertainties with regard to things such as future planning permission. We need to eliminate all of these negatives and focus on positives, which is simply ensuring that guests are properly and safely protected and I think frankly, in respect of self-catering, they already are.”

Find out what all the candidates had to say on the subject: ASSC Hustings – Short-Term Let Position

Watch the Hustings. This is covered from 20:30 mins in.

  • To suggest to Ministers, or indeed the electorate, that the Working Group has delivered anything meaningful to the legislation, guidance, or indeed BRIA is disingenuous at best and duplicitous at worse.
  • 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.

Scottish Government 2021 Business Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA)

The BRIA makes a number of astonishing claims about the “social costs” of short-term lets, including:

“use of short-term let accommodation for criminal enterprises (such drug dealing, sex trafficking etc.), with or without the collusion of the host.” [5]

  • There is no empirical data to suggest criminal use within short-term lets and this is simply anecdote. It is also insulting to professional self-caterers to even suggest such nonsense.
  • The BRIA also appears to favour other forms of accommodation, such as hotels (which are not licensed in terms of health & safety), over the self-catering sector and ludicrously claims that those displaced by a reduction in STLs could use hotels and hostels:

“Some visitors displaced by a reduction in short-term let capacity may use other forms of accommodation, such as hotels and hostels. This may also encourage the further provision of these types of accommodation.”[6]

  • It is not logical or practical to suggest that hotels or hostels could replace the accommodation provided by short-term lets and self-catering in rural and remote parts of Scotland.
  • The danger is that this displacement will increase the prevalence of motorhomes on our rural roads, bringing little local economic value, negatively impacting infrastructure and increasing our carbon footprint.

The Scottish Government has no robust data on the scale of short-term letting in Scotland. It will therefore be impossible to monitor and evaluate the success of licensing with no baseline data.[7]

Watch the ASSC / Gilson Gray webinar to find out the reality of this legislation.


[1] Consultation foreword, https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/consultation-paper/2021/06/short-term-lets-consultation-draft-licensing-order-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria/documents/short-term-lets-consultation-draft-licensing-order-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria/short-term-lets-consultation-draft-licensing-order-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria/govscot%3Adocument/short-term-lets-consultation-draft-licensing-order-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria.pdf

[2] https://www.parliament.scot/chamber-and-committees/what-was-said-and-official-reports/what-was-said-in-parliament/meeting-of-parliament-16-06-2021?meeting=13238&iob=119984

[3] https://www.strathspey-herald.co.uk/news/short-term-lets-legislation-withdrawn-by-scottish-government-228610/

[4] https://www.ross-shirejournal.co.uk/news/highland-holiday-rentals-in-spotlight-as-public-urged-to-hav-243710/

[5] https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/impact-assessment/2021/06/short-term-lets-licensing-scheme-planning-control-area-legislation-draft-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria/documents/short-term-lets-licensing-scheme-planning-control-area-legislation-draft-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria-consultation/short-term-lets-licensing-scheme-planning-control-area-legislation-draft-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria-consultation/govscot%3Adocument/short-term-lets-licensing-scheme-planning-control-area-legislation-draft-business-regulatory-impact-assessment-bria-consultation.pdf

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

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