Mr McArthur reminded parliament that earlier government proposals for licensing the sector had to be abandoned at the eleventh hour as they were widely condemned as being “unfit for purpose”.
He went on to press the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Shona Robison MSP, to look again at supporting mandatory registration, proposed by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, which would be less onerous but deliver many of the objectives behind the government’s proposed licensing scheme.
Responding to Mr McArthur, Ms Robison rejected the ASSC proposal and confirmed that an updated set of regulations would be published “shortly”.
In February, the Scottish Government withdrew draft legislation aimed at regulating short-term lets after a backlash from the tourism sector over the disproportionate effect it would have on smaller businesses. At the time, Orkney’s MSP welcomed the withdrawal of the proposals and called for “better and proper consultation with rural and island businesses” on the revised guidance.
The planned licensing scheme came in response to concerns from residents in some popular tourist destinations that the growth of short-term lets, such as AirBnBs, was pushing up rent levels for other properties. It was also seen as a way of dealing with alleged ‘anti-social behaviour’ in certain urban areas. However, concerns were raised over the practicalities of the legislation and the impact it would have to local self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodation businesses.
Commenting after the exchange in parliament, Mr McArthur said:
“It is disappointing to hear that SNP Ministers remain wedded to idea of introducing a licensing scheme. This has been described by some in the local tourism sector as using a ‘hammer to crack a nut’.
“Ministers insist that licensing is needed for safety reasons, but health and safety regulation is already in place to deal with this.
“Meanwhile, few in the tourism sector believe that the government’s scheme can be delivered at minimal cost, as was suggested again today by the Cabinet Secretary.
“Even were this the case, given what the tourism sector has been through over the last year or so, adding further costs and burdens to these small businesses is the last thing government should be doing right now. That is particularly true when the measures are unlikely to deliver any actual benefits.
“Even at this late stage, I would urge the government to look again at the proposals put forward by the sector for mandatory registration of short term lets. This could help deliver many of the same objectives as licensing in a more proportionate way.
“Given the potential impact these measures could have on businesses within Orkney’s key tourism sector, Ministers need to continue to consult with those most directly affected”.
Mr McArthur took the opportunity during a session of Portfolio Questions on Social Justice, Housing and Local Government. You can watch the proceedings here.