'Height of hypocrisy' as Scottish ministers spend £40,000 on Airbnbs

Ministers have been accused of hypocrisy and for having an “addiction to secrecy” after it emerged the Scottish Government has spent more than £40,000 on Airbnbs in the past four years.

Figures obtained by The Scotsman show the Scottish Government spent £40,065 on accommodation in Airbnb properties since the start of the 2018/19 financial year, including almost £30,000 in 2019/20 alone.

However, Government officials refused to state why the properties were hired or provide links to the listings, claiming they were only booked when there was a “critical business need”.

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The Scottish Government has been criticised for its spend on Airbnbs

The figures were criticised by opposition politicians, who also labelled the SNP’s regulation of the short-term let sector through a licensing scheme passed by Holyrood in January.

The plans will see councils given the power to devise their own licensing scheme for short-term lets like Airbnbs by October, with all operators required to apply for a licence by July 1, 2024.

Airbnb and other short-term lets have been criticised by campaigners for decreasing the available housing stock in tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh, Fife and the Highlands, while pushing up rents and house prices for those trying to find a place to live.

Miles Briggs, the Scottish Conservatives’ housing spokesperson, said the figures would have the public “raising eyebrows”.

He said: “It is also the height of hypocrisy at a time when ministers have ignored concerns from small businesses and ploughed ahead with their new licensing scheme regardless.

“Yet they appear all too happy to spend taxpayers’ money on the properties they want to hit with further regulation.

“Ministers should be upfront as to why these costs were so high, when public money was being used.”

Scottish Labour’s housing spokesperson Mark Griffin echoed the criticism, stating the SNP’s response and regulation of the sector is “shambolic”.

He said: “While the SNP ramp up their rhetoric about regulating Airbnb, they have been handing over thousands of taxpayer pounds.

“Once again the SNP’s response to Airbnb is all over the place, much like their shambolic attempts at regulation.

“At a time when every single penny of public money is being squeezed, the SNP have questions to answer about these eye-watering sums.”

The figure show a sharp increase in spending in 2019/20, with just £2,200 spent in 2018/19, rising to nearly £29,000 in 2019/20.

In the first year of the pandemic, spending with Airbnb hit nearly £7,000, and the Government has spent just over £2,000 in 2021/22, as of the end of January.

However, in its response to the Freedom of Information request, officials claimed they did not hold any information around why the properties were needed.

Officials said “detail of the justification for expenditure” and links to the listings booked were not held.

Scottish Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Paul McGarry criticised the lack of information.

He said: "This Scottish Government has an addiction to secrecy. If you are spending £40k on Airbnbs, you should be telling the public what the pressing need was and explaining why this was the most effective way to accomplish some worthwhile goal.

"Anything else looks like a craven attempt to dodge scrutiny.

"We need a complete rewiring of Scottish Government culture. The presumption should be that information is accessible to the people who ultimately pay these bills, unless there is an extremely good reason for it to be kept secret."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These figures relate to spending of over 100 Scottish public sector bodies, including the Scottish Government.

"Airbnb has been used when there is a critical business need and in exceptional circumstance, for example for self-catered accommodation that was not available through the corporate travel management service.”

The spokesperson said short-term lets had contributed positively to Scotland’s tourism industry, but regulation was needed to manage issues surrounding them more effectively.

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