Tory bid to delay short-term let scheme fails amid warnings of an 'existential threat' to Scottish tourism
A bid attempting to force the Scottish Government to further delay the deadline for short-term let operators to apply for a license has failed after it was defeated in Holyrood.
Scottish Conservative MSPs warned of an “existential threat” to Scotland’s tourism industry caused by the plans, which requires those running Airbnbs and similar accommodation to meet safety standards to continue operating.
The motion to delay the deadline for a further year, following a previous six-month extension before proposing changes to it after a review of the legislation, was also backed by Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs.
However, SNP and Scottish Green votes defeated the motion, backing a Government amended version 62 votes to 54. The victory margin was narrower than expected after two Cabinet secretaries, education secretary Jenny Gilruth and justice secretary Angela Constance, as well as backbenchers Christine Grahame and Clare Adamson voted against the motion by mistake.
Rebel SNP MSP Fergus Ewing – an outspoken critic of the short-term lets scheme – also voted against the Government motion. Deputy leader of Scottish Labour, Jackie Baillie, accidentally voted for the amended motion.
Murdo Fraser, who brought forward the original motion, told MSPs that many within the sector would stop operating if the plans go ahead. He said many short-term lets would simply move to being second homes, lying empty and economically inactive for the majority of the year.
“Rather than dealing with the problem of party flats, which could easily have been handled at local level, the SNP Government has expanded the rules to apply to traditional B&Bs, house swaps, and people who let out their spare rooms," he said.
“As a result, many small businesses are leaving the sector, leading to a shrinkage in available accommodation, which will devastate the tourist sector. This ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will affect numerous small operators who have never presented a problem and who boost the economy. It will do nothing to expand affordable housing provision.
“The First Minister promised a reset of the SNP Government’s relationship with business. If they are serious, they should pause this legislation to allow for a comprehensive review of its effects.”
Scottish Labour MSPs raised concerns the legislation as it stands did not “strike the right balance”.
Daniel Johnson, Edinburgh Southern MSP and Scottish Labour’s economy spokesperson, said there had been a lack of communications to those running B&B accommodation who are also captured by the legislation.
“There is a real issue with the way the Government has approached this,” he said. “You cannot treat all businesses as though they are large, multinational corporations.”
He said following a meeting with those within the sector, he believed the impact on those running short-term let businesses was “harrowing”.
“There were tears shed, people who have invested their life savings, whose pensions are the businesses that they run – and that’s the reality,” he said. "The Government here has created a cliff-edge.”
Economy spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, said his party also backed a delay.
He said: “The burden is too high for many. The signs are that this could lead to a major hole in our tourism ... threatening jobs and our offer to visitors.”
The Government is required to bring forward a review of the legislation early next year, something that could see changes to the scheme.
Housing minister Paul McLennan said in a letter to MSPs that he would update them on potential changes in due course.
Responding to the motion, he added: “We are a Government that believes in fair regulation and we do not believe that asking short-term let operators to comply with mandatory conditions and complete a licensing application is too much to ask.
"Quality and safety are at the heart of our scheme, whether the accommodation is being offered as an additional B&B, other home sharing arrangement, or stand-alone self-catering accommodation. There are no caps, there is no cliff edge, and there have been no licence refusals to date.”
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