Further to the ASSC’s letter to Ministers on 21st June, ASSC Director David Nash has sent a letter following last week’s meeting:
I would echo Fiona’s thanks for Wednesday’s meeting. It was particularly encouraging to have Richard Lochhead in attendance, wearing his tourism hat. I understand from Fiona this is the first time she’s met with both ministers together which we have always found surprising: the point being of course that on any reasonable analysis this legislation will have a far greater negative impact on Scottish Tourism than any potential positive impact on housing.
But putting yourselves in our shoes I’m sure you appreciate the depth of frustration and anger across our members at the introduction of licensing, and the reasons for that. For many years, on behalf of the ASSC, Fiona has constructively pushed for sensible and practical regulation of our sector, including a detailed proposal for compulsory registration (rejected out of hand without any reasoned explanation). Yet for most of the time we feel we have been banging our heads against brick walls. We do not feel we have been properly listened to. Nor do we feel that officials and ministers have displayed any real understanding of our sector and the day-to-day practicalities of operating self-catering, many of which are very small businesses.
Unfortunately, from discussions with colleagues in other business sectors, this perception of how SG interact with business is not unique. You don’t need us to tell you that many view the SG over recent years as, at best, failing to understand and support Scottish businesses, and, at worst, being “anti-business”. This may or not be fair, but the point remains that our experiences simply strengthen that perception.
To emphasise what I said at the meeting, and to be clear for the written record, in the ASSC’s considered view the negative effect of the licensing legislation is clear and simple. It is a tale of (we hope) unintended consequences: a classic legislative trap. As a direct consequence of this legislation a very significant percentage of self-catering businesses will be closed from October (and some have closed already). We know this from our own research. We know this from feedback from members. We know this from our personal experience. And it is very easy to work out why: it is simply too onerous, too expensive, too uncertain and too short term for many operators to continue.
We have been saying this to ministers and officials for years. But, inexplicably, we just don’t seem to be believed. Instead we are repeatedly told by officials that the licensing regime is “not onerous”. So please explain to us in what way the following is “not onerous” for all operators, and especially for the many small businesses with net annual profits of + or -£10k:
Do you not think that those of us who work in, and represent, this sector are more likely to be right on this than officials and ministers with no relevant personal experience?
And that is without the added layers of inappropriate and potentially illegal licensing conditions some councils are proposing, such as the frankly bizarre approach being taken by City of Dundee outlined in Gilson Gray’s note that Fiona copied to you. Fiona explained that this and other examples may well lead to yet more legal challenges which we would far rather avoid. I know you will argue that these are issues for licensing authorities not SG, but I’m afraid we simply do not agree. It is SG that is entirely responsible for creating a legislative regime that allows this level of freedom to licensing authorities, irrespective of what SG guidance may or may not say.
As if to counter our concerns, we were told that occupancy levels are now almost at pre-pandemic levels. With respect, that is neither here nor there in predicting the future. Obviously many businesses intending to close will remain open as long as they can to take full advantage of the profitable summer season. In any event, from brief online research my understanding is that occupancy rates quoted at the meeting are for March, so hardly up to date. I also understand that the statistical sample used is self-selecting. I doubt you’ll find those familiar with statistics would consider that to be a robust sample for a meaningful statistical analysis.
Significant business closures will of course have very significant unintended consequences –
Again, we have said this repeatedly to ministers and officials over the years.
Richard mentioned the difficulty in targeting legislation, perhaps intended as a response to our view that the legislation is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Yet we don’t ban driving simply because some people are bad drivers. Instead, we have legislation targeted at specific behaviours. That is what should be done here, with a proper, objective, evidence-based analysis of perceived issues, identification and comparison of policy options, and real involvement of those of us who actually understand the sector to produce workable solutions without unintended consequences.
Lastly, to set the record straight and in response to what came over as clear criticism, Fiona does not tag ministers and officials in social media posts. What we do know is that members and other who read ASSC posts, e.g. on Twitter, may respond or retweet to ministers. As pointed out above, there is very significant and understandable anger and frustration in our sector with many feeling they are facing an existential threat to their businesses and livelihoods. Constituents choosing to tag their elected politicians and/or ministers into responses etc is not the ASSC’s responsibility, it is simply a reaction to events.
David Nash Biography. 2023
I retired as a solicitor a few years ago after 35+ years, split roughly 50:50 between working in the public and private sectors (details below).
For 15 years until 2022 I have helped my wife Marysia run a successful self-catering property in Crail, the context in which I become involved with the ASSC.
Areas of Professional Expertise
Over the years, I have acted for a wide range of (primarily) public sector clients (including central and local government) and private sector clients, with particular emphasis on building projects (schools, hub, health), transport (roads, bridges & ferries), waste management, Ministry of Defence and water & sewage projects. I have also been involved in advising on, and drafting, primary and subordinate legislation.
Professional Rankings (Chambers Legal Directory 2012 – last year in private practice):
Scottish Projects: Senior Statesman (top tier, sole member)
Scottish Local Authority: Second tier