A OPEN LETTER TO SHONA ROBISON

From former MSP Mike Mackenzie.

Dear Shona,

I am writing to you in your capacity as Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government with regard to the Short-term let licensing regulations. (Short-term Let Control Areas) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2022 ).

Some friends who are involved in the short term letting sector have recently got in touch to ask my advice about these regulations which are causing them great concern. I therefore felt obliged to do some research and I have to confess I was appalled at what I read about these regulations and I am greatly concerned that they could have a devastating effect across the Highlands and Islands.

I am sure you are aware that the economy of Argyll and of the Highlands and Islands is dependent on tourism to a much greater extent than the rest of Scotland and as a consequence was and continues to be damaged much more by the Covid pandemic than other parts of the country. As such our tourism accommodation sector will have to bear the effect of these regulations at a time when it is on its knees as a result of the pandemic. Island businesses, and I am thinking particularly in Argyll of islands like Islay, Mull, Tiree and many others, have had the further challenge of trying to deal with a period of catastrophically unreliable ferry services. The timing of the imposition of these regulations is therefore particularly unfortunate.I understand that these regulations are not directed at alleviating the shortage of affordable housing, that issue having been dealt with by separate planning regulation, and that these regulations are concerned only with safety. I am not aware of particular and urgent safety issues which affect this sector and the statistics I have looked at involving accidental death and injury seem to suggest a long term trend of accident reduction. I would be much obliged if you could direct me to any statistics which suggest the urgent need for this regulation.

I note also the view from within the short term letting sector that safety concerns could be largely dealt with by a registration scheme rather than a licensing scheme which would be much less onerous for both the regulators and the regulated. The landlord registration scheme for long term letting, for example, costs under £100 per property and involves a minimum of bureaucracy. I should also say that I share all of the concerns articulated by my former colleague, Fergus Ewing MSP, especially his suggestion that the regulations may not be legally competent and that because they may result in the closure of businesses on various unspecified grounds that the effect could be ‘draconian’. ‘Draconian’ is a strong term and I am sure that Fergus Ewing, whose loyalty to SNP and to the Scottish Government is beyond question, has only used it after considerable thought and to express a legitimate and deep concern.

Having for a number of years in the past operated a small business in the short term letting sector I know how onerous the burden of dealing with such regulations is and I can well understand the uncertainty that will now be gripping the whole sector. I can sympathise too with their fears about the costs of licensing which have been estimated to be between £1500-£2000 and that is before the separate cost of the required planning consent is taken into account. I understand too that this will not be a ‘one off’ cost and that re-licensing will be required every three years.

I am sympathetic also to local authorities, like Argyll and Bute Council, who will have to set up and administer this licensing scheme at a time when their resources have been stretched by Covid and when they have now also been stretched for many years due to cuts to their budgets. They would be entitled to look at the very least towards full cost recovery and it would not surprise me that licensing fees are therefore at the top end of the suggested estimates and may even exceed these. You will appreciate I am sure, that Argyll has short term letting premises in some very remote and far flung places and that licensing and enforcement of licensing conditions offers particular challenges in rural areas.

There appears to be a widespread belief that these regulations are an attempt to deal with the shortage of housing ‘by the back door’ and that therefore they may have some justification. I recall the 2008 SNP policy document , Firm Foundations’ , in which the then Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, stated that the reason for the shortage of affordable housing was that new housing completions (all tenures) amounted then to around 25,000 per annum when the acknowledged need was for 35,000 house per annum. You will know that since 2008 we have failed by a very large margin to build the required number of houses and that this is the real reason for the shortage of affordable housing. For example the most recent statistics show that we have built less than 15,000 in the last year. Surely you would agree with me that when there is a very significant shortage of houses prices will increase and that the real solution for the housing crisis is to build more houses

.The Covid pandemic is the biggest crisis we have faced since the last war. Just as we built our way out of the economic crisis that might have engulfed us after that war, in building ‘homes for heroes’, so we could build our way out of the Covid crisis by addressing our appalling shortage of houses. Surely you would agree with me that this is a much more positive way of addressing our manifest problems than by heaping unnecessary bureaucratic and cost burdens on our already hard pressed small businesses

.I look forward to your reply and would welcome any reassurances you can give to my friends in the short term letting sector.

Best Regards
Mike MacKenzie

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18 thoughts on “A OPEN LETTER TO SHONA ROBISON

  1. Beaurauracy, authoritarianism and incompetence. Ever the hall mark of the SNP these last years.

    Education, health, the promise to keep us in Europe, the promise to hold another referendum, the promise to set up a state owned electricity company…..all failed promises.

    Vote em out in May. Send them a message.

    Liked by 19 people

  2. Mike Mackenzie makes a compelling case for the tourist sector in the H&I region and has made a reasoned request for some strategic thinking, planning and action from the Scottish Government.

    I wish him well in his quest but, given the governmental experience of the last few years of, however, that’s a tough ask.

    Liked by 15 people

  3. Forcing properties onto the market means that the houses would go to the highest bidder. if this is the plan or part of the thinking, as opposed to increasing revenues for strapped councils then how will it solve the shortage of housing for people currently living in rural areas? it would lead to the replacement of people living in rural areas by folk with more money than them. This has been happening for decades but is accelerating. The number of houses built for sale dwarfs the number of houses built for rent. People unable to get a house at a price they can afford leave to survive, somewhere else.

    it is indeed typical of a government that is feckin useless and can’t plan and execute even if it had an idea of what it wanted to achieve. That is the moderate conclusion I have come to. Sometimes I like to term it the ghettoisation of the Scottish people.

    Liked by 14 people

  4. Ask the people of Nairn and surrounding area about Fergus Ewing. He is more Tory than the Tories in that he always favours businesses over the rights of local people. You lost me when you referred to him.

    Liked by 9 people

  5. For anyone wondering what this is all about, try https://www.gov.scot/publications/short-term-lets-business-regulatory-impact-assessment/pages/2/ It’s a bit long and there’s a lot of detail. If you’re impatient skip to the last point #59 and that will give you a slightly vague “overview for executives” on what this is all about but you’ll get the gist of it.

    For anyone in the know. Is this just more over-reach and incompetence by people who simply are not equipped to be in government, i.e. more idealistic than practical? For example, the opening sentence on the above link:

    “Since short-term lets as a category have not previously been subject to regulation, …”

    does not give much grounds for optimism.

    Liked by 9 people

  6. This proposed legislation is not at all designed to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing in the Highlands and Islands, and as Mike points out that shortage has other causes. The legislation is designed to solve the problem of a high proportion of holiday let properties in tourism hotspots, specifically Edinburgh, and mostly urban. I’d certainly recognise the problem of over-concentration of “Air BnB” flats which has changed the character of many areas and many individual tenement closes. But this licensing scheme is a great example of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and creating totally unnecessary collateral damage in tourism areas where the problem simply doesn’t exist. The Scottish Government has simply got this wrong – very bad legislation.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Aye Iain , gotta laugh at how they always make a reference to the size of ALBA membership ( absolutely no double-entendre intended there folks ) while simultaneously accusing it being a WMD to the SNP’s ( non-existent ) * plan * to achieve Independence . That’ll be the plan that’s written in invisible ink on a single sheet of toilet paper .

        Liked by 9 people

  7. I’m sure there have been many real stories of folk in the Highlands having to leave the Highlands because rich people from England coming to Scotland and buying up all the available properties, meanwhile the local authorities and the SNP Scottish government don’t do enough on the housing front to keep young Scots in the Highlands.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Anyone who can bid the price and retire there. Brexit has obviously had an impact with the option of retiring abroad less simple now. That said how about this. Instead of building 50 houses for sale and 5 for rent why not build say 35 for rent, genuinely affordable rent, and 20 for sale?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. We are supposed to be providing for a local housing shortage. ‘Local sales’ do take place for those that can buy and the rented accommodation for those that can’t afford to be saddled with a 180-200grand mortgage for a two bedroom ex-council house. There is no such thing as society Thatcher said. She knew what she was doing.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Ecomic disparity allowing incomes from the south of England to come an colonise rural areas is accelerating. Look at the Scottish islands.

      And is the SNP government doing anything about it. Of course not. And as this piece by Mike MacKenzie illustrates this new legislation will fuel more colonial purchases in rural – highland Scotland.

      Liked by 4 people

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