Uist’s short-term lease owner says SNP policy is hurting tourism

Frank Fitzpatrick has inherited a croft house in South Uist that has been in his family for generations.

Due to ill health he gave up crofting and moved to the mainland with his wife, where he now rents out the property during the busy tourist season.

He said proposals to double council tax on second homes, energy efficiency targets for rental properties, as well as the short-term rental licensing system and tourism tax plan would force businesses to raise prices and hurt tourism.

Visitors will vote with their hard-earned cash and go elsewhere.

He said the long-running disruption of the Calmac ferry has caused bookings to fall by 30% and that his frustration with SNP policy has led him to give up his party membership.

“These policies will be just as damaging as the permits, and I never thought in my day that I would see SNP permits,” he said.

“The existing short-term rental licensing system is unfair, unreasonable and disproportionate.

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“It doesn’t take into account the fragile nature of our economy and other rural areas. I have no objection to improving security, having invested significant sums in guest safety, but the current system will cause additional damage to our fragile economy.”

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He said plans to double the municipal tax on second homes, which “already pay full municipal tax, provide local employment, support the islands’ construction industry and attract tourists” are unfair.

The Scottish Government hopes the plan will help boost housing supply in tourism hotspots.

Data from the Register of Scotland shows that average prices across Scotland increased by 89% in 2022 compared to the base year 2004, but the increases were 168% in Shetland, 135% in the Western Isles and 107% in the Highlands.

Mr Fitzpatrick maintained that there was no shortage of housing in the Uists.

He said: “I have a friend who works in housing who said they couldn’t give away public housing.”

“I can see that argument in places like Edinburgh.


“Some of the awards I’ve seen for the festival are absolutely amazing.

“Most dwellings in the Western Isles are inherited. Where we live, six out of seven properties belong to the same family and have for about 200 years.”

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“If this is implemented, local businesses will be forced to raise prices, making the Hebrides less competitive, especially during the cost of living crisis.”

“These visitors will vote with their hard-earned cash and go elsewhere.”

“The proposal to impose a tourism tax on small businesses will exacerbate all of the above, also to the detriment of remote areas like the Hebrides.”

“All in all, I can’t think of a more effective way to harm already fragile communities just to serve the political advantage of a minority at the expense of the majority.”

Mr Fitzpatrick, who lives near Glasgow and is retired from the Merchant Marine, said he will not be able to rent the property after 2025 as there will be costs associated with refurbishing the property to meet energy efficiency targets.

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The Scottish Government wants to introduce regulations from 2025, according to which all private rental properties must achieve an energy efficiency class of C.

To achieve this, owners must install floor, roof, wall and attic insulation, an efficient heating system, as well as double glazing and energy efficient lighting.

He said: “To get to Class C we need to spend between £8,000 and £12,000 and that doesn’t guarantee we’ll get a certificate.”

“In fact, the surveyor told us that very few objects he examined achieved this.

“He said even if people had the money to do the necessary work, I’m not sure the resources would be available in the Western Isles to do all the recommended work.”

He said the islands were also being hampered by the lack of affordable broadband and the withdrawal of copper fixed lines “which many older properties rely on if they’re lucky enough to have broadband”.

He said: “The Scottish Government’s voucher scheme is failing as it gives telecoms companies up to £5,000 per taxpayer-paid installation, while the same taxpayers have to be billed an additional £2,500 for the same installation.”

“A great deal for the telcos, but a bad deal for the taxpayer.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting our rural and island communities, who play an important role in our quest for a growing, fairer and greener economy where well-being is at its core.”

“So we will be publishing a Rural Delivery Plan showing how all parts of Scottish Government are taking care of rural Scotland.”

“We fully understand the challenges facing our island communities, such as the disruption to ferry services.”

“Our Reaching 100% (R100) and Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programs have already connected around a million properties across Scotland to faster broadband. We are investing over £600m under R100 contracts, expanding full fiber broadband access to some of Scotland’s most difficult to reach rural communities.

“Last month we published a consultation asking for opinions on increasing the municipal tax burden on second homes and long-term vacant properties in order to align local housing needs with those of tourism businesses and the local economies they support . We encourage people to contribute to the consultation, which runs until July 11.”

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