Cross-party councillors have joined forces to demand a crackdown on new companies including Airbnb, Deliveroo and Uber having a “severe” impact on Bristol.
A motion introduced by Labour cabinet member Nicola Beech seeking greater local powers to regulate the “gig economy”, especially accommodation rentals by non-owner occupiers and the ability to levy business rates from short-term lets, was passed with Green and Lib Dem backing.
Cllr Beech, who has responsibility for spatial planning and city design, told a recent full council meeting: “We are proud of this youthful city, a playground for new ideas, and it is in this environment that new disruptive industries like Airbnb thrive.
“It is not just the traditional food and beverage, hotelier and taxi industries that are disrupted by newcomers like Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo but the entire context in which they operate.
“Local authority policy-making powers simply do not enable us to have sufficient regulation.
“This springboards these new industries into life, as they are free to operate how they choose with so few controls in place, creating a completely uneven playing field.
“When someone opts to order their Wagamama from Deliveroo rather than go out, our nightlife loses out.
‘Pricing ordinary families out’
“There are 2,000 registered properties for Airbnb and this is rising year on year.
“Meanwhile we have 12,000 people on our housing waiting list, hundreds in temporary accommodation and a generation of people renting.
“We are asking for support of full council to lobby for change and level the playing field.”
Fellow Labour Cllr Estella Tincknell said: “Airbnb has an impact on housing, including pricing ordinary families out and leaving perfectly good premises empty for long periods, but it’s also directly affecting the hotel and hospitality business.
“Its properties are not subject to planning regulations, they’re not registered as hotels, they’re not inspected for safety or pay business rates or VAT.
“Small guesthouses are especially worried because they cannot afford cutting prices to compete.”
Conservative Cllr John Goulandris said the Tories would abstain from voting for the motion’s “veritable smorgasbord of disparate ideas”.
He said most workers liked zero-hour contracts, adding: “We mustn’t assume people are thick or stupid, so let’s not knock them – we must respect their decision.”
But Cllr Gouldandris said: “We agree with you on regulation of Airbnb and the student market which have taken off to an incredible extent and are having a serious market distortion, and at that point we must have regulation.
“We have to look at student accommodation providers like Bristol University and say to them ‘you ought to be paying business rates’.
“The university has 30,000-plus students here. It has become big business and it’s only appropriate that they pay a fair share towards the running of Bristol.”
Green group leader Eleanor Combley said: “The Green Party has been speaking up for the need to regulate the gig economy for years.
“Flexibility that only applies on employers’ terms, at the expense of workers’ rights, leaves people vulnerable to exploitation.
‘Out of control’
“There are some proposals here on short-term lets and I’m happy to work cross-party here to pursue the powers and resources we need.
“The lack of regulation has clearly allowed the sector to get out of control and the consequences for Bristol are severe.”
Lib Dem Cllr Anthony Negus said: “I’m pleased that the two things I recommended the mayor to do after the last cabinet are the two resolutions here.
“We are very much in support of getting more powers here in Bristol, being able to solve our own problems and addressing many of those housing issues.”
Cllr Beech’s motion at the meeting on Tuesday, December 17, said: “Full council resolves: to endorse and support efforts by the administration to lobby for greater powers and resources to regulate the gig economy, particularly accommodation rentals by non-owner occupiers;
“And to endorse and support efforts by the administration to secure the legislation and powers needed to levy business rates on short-term letters and student accommodation (not on students).”
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