SNP ministers have been threatened with legal action to challenge a proposed crackdown on Airbnb-style short-term lets – after industry bosses warned the updated plans will cause “significant damage to Scotland’s tourist industry”.
The Scottish Government was forced to update its plans to regulate short-term lets after withdrawing the initial proposals at the last minute for issues to be ironed out. Concerns were raised that traditional B&Bs were set to be caught up in the plans.
But the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC) has told ministers that there has been a “total lack of meaningful industry engagement”.
In a scathing submission to MSPs scrutinising the updated plans, the ASSC has warned that the plans are now the “biggest threat” to businesses – stressing that “bad regulation that will fundamentally damage tourism in Scotland and the thousands of small businesses which form the backbone of our industry”.
The ASSC, along with other tourism groups, quit the Scottish Government’s working group helping to draw up the updated plans after what the ASSC said was a failure “to listen to and address our concerns and those of other stakeholders”.
The organisation had tabled alternative plans for short-term let businesses to sign up to a registration scheme, which the group claims were “casually dismissed” by SNP ministers “out of hand without discussion or even any proper explanation”.
The submission also highlights a quote attributed to Housing Secretary Shona Robison in a Government impact assessment, in which the minister claimed the “business impact has been assessed with the support of businesses in Scotland”.
But the ASSC has insisted “this is simply not correct” adding that the impact assessment “is not supported by businesses or tourism bodies in Scotland”.
The submission adds that tourism groups “are now left with having to consider our legal options”, warning that “preliminary legal advice has already identified potential areas of challenge under the Provision of Services Regulations, the European Convention on Human Rights and as a consequence of the lack of proper consultation”.
It adds: “In addition, we have identified, and will be seeking counsel’s opinion on the order in its present form being ultra vires of the powers under which it purports to be made.”
ASSC chief executive, Fiona Campbell, said: “The Scottish Government’s licensing proposals continue to represent a real threat to Scottish self-catering and are comprehensively and demonstratively unfit for purpose.
“Rather than this blunderbuss approach, the Government should listen to our concerns and evidence-based insight, and seriously consider the industry’s mandatory registration scheme.
“While up until now this process has been a string of disappointments and let-downs, it is not too late for the Government to change its course, stay to true to its pre-election promises to the industry, and back small business for a sustainable recovery from Covid-19.”
The ASSC has also claimed that “the policy has been driven significantly by anecdote and by statistically insignificant but vociferous campaigners in one or two localised areas”.
The submission adds: “In particular, it is an indisputable fact that the Scottish Government has not been able to produce any data or robust evidence to show the correlation between the lack of availability of affordable housing and the link with short-term lets.
“The proposed licensing order is a blunt tool to fix a perceived and localised problem of amateur operators in, primarily, Edinburgh, rather than being a solution that is appropriate for the whole of the Scotland.”
But research by Edinburgh City Council has shown that of more than 60,000 private rented homes in the capital, “there is an estimated loss of 10%…attributed” to short term lets with “the loss of stock running at up to 30% in some northern parts of Edinburgh”.
The study added that “research also indicates a displacement of demand, with rents rising significantly above average (between 20-27% over the period 2014-17) in areas bordering a high concentration of short term lets”.
Scottish Conservative tourism spokesperson, Jamie Halcro Johnston, said: “It is hardly surprising that self-caterers have delivered this damning verdict on the SNP’s plans for short-term lets.
“At every turn, SNP ministers have ignored their concerns, and now we see further accusations against ministers of making false claims of business sector support.
“In what was an embarrassing blow to their plans, other tourism organisations have already quit the SNP Government’s working group as a direct result of this policy.
“If that wasn’t already a wake-up call, then this stark correspondence must be for SNP ministers.
“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for the interests of small businesses.
“As they look to recover from the pandemic, the last thing they need is being burdened with even more SNP regulation.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Regulation of short-term lets is needed to balance the needs and concerns residents and communities have raised with wider economic and tourism interests.
“Our licensing proposals were developed through extensive stakeholder engagement and careful consideration of evidence, including on the impact of short-term lets on communities.
“The third public consultation on our proposals closed last week and we are now carefully reviewing the responses with a view to making any further necessary revisions. We are committed to monitoring and evaluating the impact of our proposals to ensure they remain effective and targeted.”