SNP must pause “catastrophic” short-term lets scheme for a year, say Tories

By Bill Heaney

The SNP have been warned that Scotland’s struggling tourism industry faces destruction unless ministers finally listen to businesses and pause the introduction of a “catastrophic” new licensing system.

The Scottish Conservatives will use their parliamentary business slot tomorrow (Wednesday) to debate the regulation of short-term lets and call for a 12-month delay to allow for proper engagement with operators pending changes to the scheme.

Operators have warned that the new rules will lead to a dramatic reduction in the availability of accommodation, with a huge knock-on effect for the whole Scottish economy.

Estimates suggest that nearly two-thirds of providers, face with registration fees of almost £500, could give up, while one report found some 80 per cent of short-term rentals could disappear from the market in Edinburgh alone.

This led accommodation providers to protest with List MSP Pam Gosal and Murdo Fraser MSP outside parliament last week, urging a rethink.

Shadow business and tourism secretary Murdo Fraser is urging SNP back-benchers and members of other parties to listen to the concerns of business and back the Scottish Conservative calls.

He warns that ministers risk repeating the mistakes of the Deposit Return Scheme, where the views of those directly affected by the plans were ignored with disastrous consequences.

Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for business, economic growth and tourism Murdo Fraser MSP said: “Ministers must see sense, listen to businesses and pause these destructive plans before it’s too late.

“This scheme – however well-intentioned some of its provisions are – is going to have huge and catastrophic unintended consequences if it goes ahead next month.

“It was designed to tackle problem city-centre units, but B&Bs, guest-houses and those seeking house-swap arrangements will now be hit with crippling additional costs and bureaucracy.

“There is a real danger this will destroy small businesses and have a huge knock-on impact on the wider Scottish economy.

“Ministers risk repeating the mistakes of the shambolic Deposit Return Scheme by ignoring the stark warnings of businesses and stubbornly ploughing ahead with a fatally flawed policy.”

Due to SNP STL plans, 66% of businesses are thinking of leaving the sector (The Cost of Short-Term Let Licensing and Planning – Survey Winter 2022, ASSC, November 2022, link)

A study for Airbnb last year found that the new licensing laws risk costing the Scottish economy as much as £133 million, and could put more than 7,000 jobs at risk. (New licensing system for short term lets could cost the Scottish economy £133m, Biggar Economics, 9 June 2022, link) 

A report for Edinburgh Council forecast that up to 80% of Short Term Lets may have to close as a result of the SNP’s proposed legislation (A Visitor Levy for Edinburgh: Progress Update and Draft Proposal, Policy and Sustainability Committee, Edinburgh Council22 August 2023, link)

Industry leaders have spoken out against the proposals, claiming that the Bill threatens to destroy the sector. Karen Dirollo, of the short term let management firm Property Shapers, has said the proposals would be “devastating” for the industry, adding: “We understand what is expected but we just think it has been hammered through without any thought for us or for the economy or any thought for what’s going to happen to the festival next year.” Anne Morris from the holiday let marketing firm The Edinburgh Address, has said that the bill threatens to drive tourists away and that “it’s deeply unfair and unjust.” (Sky News, 5 September 2023, link).

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