Self-catering is under threat from licensing plans

Close to a half of all self-catering operations in Scotland – including farmhouse bed and breakfast establishments, holiday cottages, shepherds huts, glamping pods and yurts – could be forced to close their doors if the Scottish government presses ahead with the current proposals for licensing the sector.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC
Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC

Putting the potential costs to the Scottish economy at over £800 million, a survey carried out by the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers (ASSC) has highlighted some of the unintended consequences of the most recent draft of the legislation for licensing short-term let accommodation.

What is now the third consultation on the issue draws to a close on August 13 after the previous plans were pulled at the last minute in February due to the high level of concerns expressed over the issue in the run up to the Scottish election.

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However, Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the ASSC, yesterday said that despite promises to take the concerns of the sector into account, the latest proposals could be even more calamitous for the sector – including the country’s growing agritourism industry – than previous drafts.

She said that the proposal to introduce licensing by local authorities would introduce huge uncertainty into the industry, creating considerable doubt over the return on investment if the continued operation of a business could be jeopardised by issues such as ‘overprovision’:

“Livelihoods are at stake here” said Campbell, “and to introduce such a degree of uncertainty threatens the sector which stands at the core of Scotland’s entire leisure and hospitality infrastructure.”

Campbell also dismissed Scottish government estimates that licences were likely to cost around £230 – believing the proposed ‘cost recovery basis’ would see council set it at £1,000 or more, even for small operations.

She also said that while the legislation was proposed to address health and safety issues and criminal activites in some city areas - where the Scottish government claimed short-term lets were used by criminal gangs to enable prostitution, human trafficking, modern slavery and money laundering - the blanket application across the country would be devastating.

And she added that while it was believed some were viewing the legislation as an indirect method of addressing Scotland’s housing crisis, there were five times as many houses standing unoccupied as were used for self-catering.

“And the really frustrating issue is the fact that the sector has offered a common sense compromise which would see a simple registration scheme with a sector body offer an appropriate level of control at a fraction of the cost.”

Agritourism entrepreneur, Caroline Millar agreed that the threat to the sector was huge - and in direct contrast to the encouragement being offered by other sectors of the Scottish Government:

“For this to be happening when so many businesses are likely to need between five and ten years to recover from the shutdown over the Covid pandemic could lead to a dramatic collapse in both confidence and investment in the sector just as it is beginning to take off.”

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