A HOST of leading Scottish tourism groups have quit the SNP’s working group helping to draw up plans to license Airbnb-style short-term lets.

The organisations - Airbnb, the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), the Scottish B&B Association and the UK Short Term Accommodation Association – have all resigned from the Scottish Government group, labelling it "a sham” and accusing the SNP of having “continually shifted the goalposts”.

The Scottish Government has made clear its intention to introduce a licensing system for short-term lets since January 2020 – with a spokesperson stressing the Government is "surprised" at the "disappointing" decision to quit.

The licensing plans were drawn up in response to concerns, particularly in Edinburgh and parts of the Highlands, that an unregulated rise in the use of short-term let properties is contributing to a housing crisis and causing anti-social behaviour.

Plans to require all short-term lets operators to obtain a licence were withdrawn before the Holyrood election for issues raised by the industry and opposition MSPs to be ironed out.

But many of the concerns, including traditional B&Bs being swept up in the regulation, have not been resolved – leading to the decision to walk away from discussions.

The tourism bodies have highlighted the lack of significant changes in the legislation impacting traditional self-catering and B&Bs, as well as home-sharers – claiming that additional provisions have been added to the legislation, with some guest houses now being caught up in the plans.

Industry leaders have also accused the Scottish Government, which is now on its third consultation on short-term lets regulation in the space of four years, of acting with “cavalier disregard and indifference” towards the sector’s concerns.

The sector has also been left disappointed by the Scottish Government's decision to ignore registration plans proposed by the ASSC and continue with plans for a licensing regime.

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ASSC chief executive, Fiona Campbell, said: “Despite our best efforts, and those of our colleagues across Scottish tourism, this working group has been revealed as nothing but a sham and therefore we have decided to leave it.

“Throughout the entire process, while we have acted in good faith, this Government has continually shifted the goalposts and acted with cavalier disregard and indifference towards our sincere concerns and innovative ideas.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and long-before that, the Scottish tourism industry has been an example for others to follow – it is therefore extremely disappointing that our government has not held itself to the same standards and failed to back small business at this crucial time.”

Chairman of the Bed & Breakfast Association, David Weston, added: “Leaving the working group is not a decision that my colleagues and I have taken lightly but there seems little point in remaining.

“We have been frustrated at every turn and it will be Scottish B&Bs that suffer if we continue to take part in what has become nothing but a charade.

“Our members expect us to act in their best interests, and in the interests of the broader tourism sector, and it has been made abundantly clear that neither the working group nor the Scottish Government are interested in that type of dialogue.”

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Before the summer recess, Social Justice, Housing and Local Government Secretary, Shona Robison, told MSPs “the purpose of the licensing scheme is to ensure short-term lets are safe and address issues faced by neighbours, to facilitate licensing authorities in knowing and understanding what is happening in their area; and to assist with handling complaints effectively”.

Ms Robison said following the final round of consultation, the licensing order will be lay at Holyrood in September.

She added: “Licensing authorities will now have until October 1 2022 to establish a licensing scheme, giving them one year from sight of the instrument as laid to do so. “However, the later deadlines set out in the legislation including, in particular, the final deadline of 1 April 2024 for all short-term lets to be licensed, are unchanged.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government considers regulation of short term lets to be vital in balancing the needs and concerns of residents and communities with wider economic and tourism interests.

“We have been clear since January 2020 that regulation of short-term lets would include a licensing scheme and the focus of the working group has always been on refining and implementing that plan.

“It is therefore surprising these organisations - who we invited to be part of the working group to express their views - have chosen to leave at this stage on the grounds we are progressing with licensing, rather than registration, which has been the case since January 2020.

“We are disappointed they have decided not to continue with their participation in the working group and thank them for the contribution to shaping the short-term lets legislation and guidance to this point.”

The Scottish Conservatives have warned SNP ministers should have done more to take the concerns of industry leaders on board.

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The party’s business and enterprise spokesperson, Jamie Halcro Johnston , said: "It is utterly shocking how the SNP Government has managed to leave these representatives feeling ignored and disregarded following talks that were set up with the sole purpose of addressing their concerns.

"The Scottish tourism industry has every right to be frustrated, as they have suffered greatly during the pandemic, and the SNP's suggestions to increase regulation would be a further impediment to their recovery.

"The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for business in the sector against these measures. Instead of adding red tape, SNP Ministers should do more to support these businesses."