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by Louise Wilson
13 September 2023
MSPs vote against Tory bid to delay short-term lets scheme

MSPs vote against Tory bid to delay short-term lets scheme

The Scottish Government has seen off a bid by the Scottish Conservatives to delay the introduction of a licensing scheme for short-term lets.

The scheme is set to come into force across Scotland on 1 October, but opponents have warned it could harm the economy without dealing with problems such as anti-social behaviour.

The Conservatives called for a 12-month delay and a review of the regulations, warning the scheme could be “devastating” to the economy and cost jobs.

But Scottish ministers insisted the scheme was developed after consultation with the sector and pointed to the fact that no one who has applied for a licence has yet been turned down.

A total of 65 MSPs backed a government amendment replacing the Conservative motion, while 51 voted against the government - including SNP backbencher Fergus Ewing.

All short-term lets must operate with a license from October. The scheme covers those who let out both entire properties or single rooms within their homes for short periods of time, including B&Bs and other self-catering operators.

To obtain a license, applicants must adhere to a number of legal requirements covering fire safety, appliance testing and insurance, but groups including the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers said the scheme is a “blunt tool” which will have unintended and costly consequences for tourism.

Tory business spokesman Murdo Fraser argued there was no need for a “one-size-fits-all” approach and the government should have instead devolved the power to local councils, who could have tailored responses to local challenges.

Opening the debate on Wednesday, he said: “No one in this debate is opposed to sensible and proportionate legislation. What is being introduced by this Scottish Government is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Even at this late hour, we would call on the Scottish Government to think again. This is a government that claims it wants to reset its relationship with Scottish business. It has a New Deal for Business group established.

“Today is the first test of whether that approach amounts to anything more than empty words.”

Labour MSPs backed the Tories’ call for delay, warning the scheme was “completely unnecessary” for much of the country. Economy spokesperson Daniel Johnson also warned that B&B owners may find themselves operating illegally without knowing it because the scheme had not been well publicised.

He said: “Ultimately the government here has created a cliff edge. It hasn’t done the work that it needed to do, I don’t think it provided the guidance that local authorities needed… If the government had had clear guidance, we wouldn’t have that level of variation and confusion. And likewise, if they had done their job properly and communicated effectively we wouldn’t have B&B owners unaware that they have to apply for a licence.”

But housing minister Paul McLennan highlighted the scheme had already been delayed by six months following concerns from the sector, and he said the scheme would be reviewed in early 2024.

Labelling the Conservatives “out of touch” on the issue, McLennan added: “Our government has taken more than sufficient time to develop our approach. It’s an issue that has been raised by all parties and we have prioritised the short-term lets sector’s voice in its development.

“The scheme has been in place since 2022 and it represents fair regulations. We have listened to the concerns of the sector… We will continue to work with the sector and partners.”

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