Travel agency groups have called on the chancellor to “go further” than his update to the Job Support Scheme to support agents “with noting to sell and bills to pay”.
Rishi Sunak made the announcement earlier today alongside specific help for hospitality and leisure businesses.
When the JSS replaces furlough from November 1, employers will now have to pay for a minimum of 20% of usual hours worked, and 5% of hours not worked instead of a minimum requirement of paying 55% of wages for a third of hours, announced last month.
Agency groups and trade associations welcomed the update but said the chancellor must do more to help the specific case of the travel industry.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, whose members collectively sell £4.5 billion in travel a year, said members “will benefit, particularly from the step to reduce the employer contribution for unworked hours to 5%”.
But she said the consortium was “seeking clarity” on whether the monthly cash grants allocated for businesses in hospitality, accommodation and leisure are also applicable to the travel industry, adding that it “has been adversely affected since the onset of the pandemic by quarantine regulations and a stonewalling by government on testing at airports to reduce quarantine”.
Lo Bue-Said said: “50% of jobs from our members have been lost since March and 80% will run out of cash by May.
“Travel agents are on their knees with nothing to sell and bills to pay. Whilst these new measures are indeed welcome, the chancellor needs to go further to help our sector survive if we are to continue trading next year.”
She suggested: “An extension of the provision of government underwritten loans to businesses of all sizes and an HMRC holiday for six months could mean the make or break for many travel agents up and down the country.”
Writing in his blog today, Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “While we need to take a closer look at the details, it does appear that Job Support Scheme for ‘open’ businesses, in particular, has been enhanced, with the minimum employer contribution falling from 55% to 24%, which is only 4% higher than the current tapered furlough scheme.
“Nonetheless, that remains a significant drop in terms of the support offered by the original [furlough] scheme introduced in March, and I recognise that, even at that level, many travel businesses are facing difficult decisions in the coming weeks with trading conditions difficult and deteriorating.
“What is more, travel companies that are not open remain excluded at present from the Job Support Scheme for closed businesses, as the government does not consider this to be the result of legal restriction. We will continue to fight hard to change that assessment.
“Abta will continue to make the case for tailored financial support, with the measures taken by government to control the virus directly responsible for the difficulties facing our industry.”
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