It has been a week, at time of writing, since the First Minister released the much-anticipated Route map out of our current lockdown restrictions. Evergreen Property staff members have been working from home since mid-March and we are itching, like many small businesses, to get back out there.
So, Phase 1 is starts today.
This will not change our day-to-day business life as house moves (both rental and sales) are still very much restricted. As for the self-catering properties we manage, the options for these are even more limited. At the moment, they are scheduled to re-open as part of Stage 3 – when that will come is anyone’s guess, but it will depend on a number of factors.
What I don’t understand is the fact that Self-catering properties – which are self-contained and often with main door and are available without human contact, have been categorised to be open along with gyms, cinemas, theatres and hotels. Clearly this is ill-thought out – at best – or potentially a political and ideological decision depriving the self-catering sector of much needed potential income.
I understand the need for social/physical distancing and I understand that we are trying to prevent people from being in close proximity of other people from another household; however, with self-catering properties, families and households can travel together, go to the shops, walk in the hills and generally do all they would do at home, without coming into unnecessary contact with any one from another household – if they want that from a holiday!
We have a 3-day family trip planned to a self-catering cottage miles from anywhere in the middle of the Cairngorms at the end of June – this will needlessly be cancelled. We are all ready for a change of scene , as a family, and as a population, and this would have been a wonderful trip on which we could have remained physically distant from people and helped the local economy to get going; we would have shopped as normal, walked and fished during the day and hunkered down (yes, I am using our PM’s words) in the evening playing games and chatting with our teenage children. We would have tried to support local businesses if they were open (as more will in Phase 2). But, unless Self-catering gets moved to Phase 2, I fear we will lose this holiday and the sector will lose the entire summer.
As restrictions are gradually lifted, more people will inevitably travel (and travel further) for work reasons. Construction (Covid 19 pre-start site preparation) can start in Phase 1, a soft start with physical distancing in Phase 2 and steady state in Phase 3. Traditionally, many of the properties we manage further out of the city centre have been used by construction workers. Where will they stay unless they are re-categorised as Key Workers?
How will the Scottish economy benefit from the gradual re-opening if no-one can travel, stay (safely) in a self-catering unit and go to work. The UK Government has recognised the essential difference between Self-catering and hotels, with different categories – Self-catering is part of the Amber Phase and Hotels are Red.
The Scottish Government’s position makes no sense to me, and clearly to others as I have just been alerted to an article where Rachael Hamilton MSP and other Conservative MSP suggest that self-catering properties should be opened before hotels.
And like Rachael Hamilton, I find myself questioning the Government’s motives.
There seems to be a pattern emerging – and I am not normally part of the tinfoil hat wearing brigade – and it is one of a deliberate and sustained attack on the sector.
- The proposed introduction of the transient visitor levy (TVL)
- The introduction of legislation to allow Councils to create a licensing scheme that may include the requirement to include planning.
- The deliberate omission of self-catering properties for the Covid 19 Business Grants.
- As you will know, after powerful lobbying by the ASSC and other bodies, they were made eligible but…unlike all other sectors, self-catering properties had to jump through income, and occupancy hoops, whilst being told that they cannot accept guest or operate!
- And finally, being placed in Phase 3 with the inside of pubs, cinemas and gyms.
There is a definite trend of activity which has been detrimental to sector. The self-catering sector (and the hotels too for that matter) arrived in Spring with filling calendars and confidence, but empty coffers. On March 23rd, when Lockdown began, extenuating circumstances and Force Majeure came into play forcing hosts to refund guests, even those who booked on non-refundable rates. I do understand that the contract has been frustrated so refunds are due but…it has been devasting for our sector. If the sector is to survive into 2021, it needs to be able to help the effort to rebuild the economy; we need to be able to open. And soon.
We need to welcome our friends from South of the border for “Staycations”; we need to welcome our fellow Scots and we need to be able to welcome those coming to work in Scotland, for a few days, a few weeks or a few months.
I absolutely understand that many will feel that is still too early to lift more restrictions – this piece is not about that; it is about the placement of self-catering in Phase 3. I think this is wrong and that our sector can offer a safe and sustainable way to accommodate people and start reviving our battered economy.
By Barry Burton
29th May 2020