Short-term Let Licensing (Impact on Rural Economy)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th March 2023.

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Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the rural affairs secretary has had with ministerial colleagues regarding an assessment of the impact of short-term let licensing on the rural economy. (S6O-01996)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I regularly engage with colleagues on a variety of issues that affect our respective portfolios. In relation to short-term lets, the Scottish Government published seven impact assessments to accompany the licensing legislation, including a business and regulatory impact assessment and an island communities impact assessment.

The licensing scheme offers considerable flexibility to local authorities on how it is implemented. We recognise the challenges that businesses face at this time, which is why we have extended by six months—from 1 April to 1 October this year—the deadline for existing hosts to apply for a licence. We remain committed to monitoring the implementation of the scheme, and we will undertake a review in 2024.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

The Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development has found that 77 per cent of operators feel that their business is threatened by the new licensing scheme. Rural businesses are struggling to keep afloat, and the regulations are making things worse. How is the cabinet secretary supporting owners of rural businesses who fear that they will have to close their business as a result of the legislation?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I thank the member for raising that important point. Obviously, this work is being led by my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government. I will be happy to pick up those issues with her and get back to the member with a response.

We need to try to get the balance right. We should ensure that the scheme is flexible because it is, ultimately, for local authorities to implement the scheme in their own way. Monitoring of the scheme’s implementation is vital, and the review that will take place next year will be critical in that regard.

I am more than happy to raise those issues with my colleague.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

A number of members would like to ask a supplementary question. I would be grateful if the questions could be as brief as possible.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Short-term lets have contributed positively to our tourism industry, but high numbers of them can make it harder for people to find homes to live in. Data indicates that house prices in the Western Isles have risen by 135 per cent over the past 18 years. Given that such increases are likely to price young islanders out of areas that retain large numbers of second homes, does the cabinet secretary share my view that it is crucial to address those concerns?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I do, and I thank the member for raising that issue, which is raised with me whenever I am out and about visiting rural parts of Scotland and our islands.

Local areas need to have the tools and powers to take action to address imbalances between tourism, second homes and residential housing that are causing problems for local communities and economies and affecting the sustainability of public services.

In addition to providing more than £43 million over the current parliamentary session to support the delivery of affordable housing in the Western Isles, we agree that action needs to be taken on second homes. That is why, with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, we are exploring proposals to give local authorities powers to increase council tax on second homes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Hamilton, is this a supplementary question?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

In that case, I call Willie Rennie. I will come back to Rachael Hamilton shortly.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I would welcome seeing the details of the plans on second homes.

I have been critical of the licensing scheme, which has been particularly burdensome, but I am a strong supporter of short-term let control areas. My frustration is that Fife Council says that it has to wait until the licensing scheme is in place, but it wants the local development plan to be developed in tandem with the implementation of control areas. Will the cabinet secretary and her colleagues have a discussion with Fife Council to encourage it to move a little bit faster?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Yes. I am more than happy to raise that issue with colleagues.