The government has pledged to look into concerns over whether grants are available to high-street travel agents after they were taken off the list of non-essential shops forced to close in the second England lockdown.
The issue was raised during a scheduled debate in the House of Lords, following questions by Baroness Clark of Kilwinning on whether the government would consider specific support for the travel sector and the need for a dedicated travel trade minister.
Lord Callanan, parliamentary-under-secretary for the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, responded to concerns that agents were no longer listed as eligible for grant aid from local councils, worth up to £3,000.
Baroness Altmann specifically raised the issue of “misleading and contradictory” statements by government on whether high-street agents qualified for Lockdown Restrictions Support Grants.
She told the House of Lords: “When the regulations were published travel agents seem to have been excluded. Please clarify, especially as florists and pubs who can do click-and-collect can qualify for support that seems not to apply to high-street travel agents.”
Responding to the question, Lord Callanan said: “I will certainly have a look at this issue yet I think the guidance has been very clear and those affected in the industry have been vigorously applying it.”
The news follows calls by the industry for the government to rethink a decision to remove agents from the list of non-essential shops forced to shut due to the second lockdown as they are barred from accessing grants. A Cabinet Office spokesperson said last week that agents had not been forced to close as they could continue to operate remotely.
During the debate the plight of travel agents and their survival over the next few months was raised repeatedly, with Lord Bassam of Brighton adding that there was an ‘existential threat to travel agents’.
But Lord Callanan stressed that a “comprehensive range of support”, including grants and loans, had been put in place to help outbound and domestic businesses in the travel sector through these “difficult times”.
In response to specific renewed calls by Lords for a dedicated tourism minister, Lord Callanan said there were no plans for a tourism minister and pointed out that Nigel Huddleston was parliamentary under-secretary of state for sport, heritage and tourism at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
He added that the cross-department Global Travel Taskforce had also been established and was due to announce its recommendations on a Covid-test regime for travellers on Tuesday, November 24.
The House of Lords debate and calls for further action to help the industry, specifically agents, were welcomed by travel trade union TSSA.
But general secretary Manuel Cortes said it was time the government stopped stonewalling “legitimate and pressing questions” on the future of high-street agents.
He said: “It’s long past time they rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in. Too many jobs have gone already and glib words in Westminster won’t save livelihoods. A dedicated minister for travel backed by a comprehensive sector-specific financial support package is the only way forward.
“Ministers in both the Commons and the Lords have been told they must act. Our union will not give up this fight until they do what is right for the many workers in our travel trade who badly need support.”
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