New visa call

Rural housing crisis hitting jobs and landlords

Kate Forbes at Prosper
Kate Forbes has proposed a rural workers’ visa (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

Solutions are being demanded to a growing housing problem in rural areas, with concern over landlords leaving the rented sector and a broad range of industries worrying that it will impact on their ability to hire workers.

It comes as Kate Forbes, the Economy Secretary has again called for a Scottish approach to immigration and specific measures to help rural workers.

Salmon Scotland, the trade body for Scottish salmon has today said salmon farmers want to see a more enlightened approach to the movement of labour into the UK.

It says this includes a change to key worker definitions and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people coming here to work.

The trade body wants the Scottish and UK governments to work together to address Scotland’s housing emergency, to ensure that people can live close to where they work – particularly in rural and coastal communities where there is a shortage of available, affordable accommodation.

Renewables industry leaders are also concerned that a shortage of homes is creating a problem for the recruitment of thousands of workers expected to fill new jobs being created at new projects in the highlands.

Scottish government ministers are under further pressure to ease rent controls from one of their own economic development agencies.

South of Scotland Enterprise says that landlords have left the sector because of growing regulation and uncertainty over future policy. That is said to be causing particular problems in rural parts of the south and leaving people with fewer options to find accommodation.

The Housing (Scotland) Bill was published in March and paves the way for the creation of rent control zones. It comes after rent freezes and no-eviction policies were introduced in 2022 as the Greens and SNP coalition tried to address the cost of living.

The new legislation could involve councils setting out geographic areas where increases in rent are not allowed for up to five years. Several industry bodies, investors and housebuilders have already spoken out against the plans.

“In our engagement we have heard that increased uncertainty, greater regulation — both rent freezes/controls and energy efficiency requirements — and higher interest rates are causing landlords to leave the sector,” SOSE said.

“The vast majority of landlords in our region have fewer than five properties and, at this scale, their rental business is often a key part of their income rather than just a long-term investment.

“This means that changes in the sector and economy can significantly affect their appetite and ability to remain as landlords and have a disproportionate effect on the stability of the sector in the region.

“The impact is particularly stark in our largely rural region where settlements are smaller and more dispersed, leaving people with few or no options to find alternative nearby accommodation.”

The agency said the declining number of landlords and properties had driven higher demand for homes as well as leading to greater need for social housing and more people going to council homelessness services.

Tavish Scott: housing emergency

It added: “We are very concerned about the fragility of the private rental sector in the South of Scotland and the risk that more landlords will sell their properties, further reducing supply of much needed private rental properties.”

At the CBI lunch in Edinburgh on Friday, Ms Forbes highlighted the large number of jobs being created by companies such as Sumitomo in the highlands but said de-population and the lack of housing was a “serious problem”.

She said there was a need for a Scottish approach to immigration and called for a rural workers’ visa. The Scottish Government made such a proposal to the Home Office in 2022.

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives’ business spokesman, told guests at the CBI lunch that rent controls “don’t work” and were not helping ease the housing crisis.

In its paper today, Salmond Scotland said it also wants to see an improvement in the UK’s relationship with the EU, with a clear focus on the nation’s export businesses and less red tape for the supply chains on both sides of the English channel.

Salmon Scotland is urging the next UK government to implement electronic export health certificates (EHCs) to remove the unnecessary paperwork associated with exporting salmon to Europe which is costing salmon farmers an estimated £3 million every year since Brexit.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “The Scottish salmon sector is a global success story. By growing salmon we’re growing Scotland, employing thousands of people in Scotland and generating vital wealth for our country in the form of well-paid jobs in our coastal communities and millions in taxes to fund public services.

“With the election campaign well underway, we want all parties to get behind the country’s top food export – Scottish salmon – and deliver the policies to help us grow responsibly. The policy recommendations we outline in our manifesto do just that.”

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