Abta is continuing to seek clarification on the eligibility of travel agents to receive grants from devolved nations and England after a breakthrough in Scotland.
The association has received confirmation that agents based in Scotland will be entitled to grants from the Strategic Framework Business Fund if they are under at least level 4 restrictions north of the border.
But director of public affairs Luke Petherbridge said it was “frustrating” that Westminster had not confirmed this is the case for agents elsewhere in the UK.
Abta sent letters to Northern Ireland’s minister for finance and the Welsh government seeking clarification as to whether agents are covered in the grants scheme, as well as to the Scottish government.
Scottish business minister Jamie Hepburn responded, saying any retail businesses in Level 4 areas not on the exemption list are required to close.
He added: “I acknowledge that the designation of ‘retail’ and ‘selling goods’ may give some businesses, including travel agents, pause. However I can confirm it is our intention that travel agents would come under the requirement for retail businesses to close at Level 4, and that they should be able to access the relevant Strategic Framework funding, provided they meet the other eligibility criteria.”
A similar letter was sent to the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), which had joined Abta in its lobbying.
Hepburn added that the Scottish Government has made an additional £45 million in funding available to local authorities to support businesses impacted by Covid-19, in addition to the Strategic Framework Business Fund. Of this additional funding, £15 million is directed to newly self-employed people who are not able to access other forms of financial support, he told Abta, adding that the remaining £30 million will be “discretionary funding to enable local authorities to provide additional support for businesses where they consider it to be necessary”. The criteria not been announced.
Of the Scottish clarification, Petherbridge, said: “After so much uncertainty, it is good news. We encourage Members to let us know if they are experiencing difficulties.
He added that, since the Scottish Government currently advises against all non-essential travel, travel businesses across Scotland are “facing restrictions on their trade” and “need support as a matter of urgency”, calling for tailored support from Holyrood in addition to the grants agents are entitled to.
Petherbridge added: “On the existing grants specifically, it is frustrating that the sensible and practical clarification issued by the Scottish government has not been mirrored by ministers in Westminster. Abta will continue to urge an update to guidance to ensure that travel agents across England can access the Local Restrictions Grant Support scheme.
“We know that there are still many travel businesses across the UK struggling to access the much-needed funds to keep them afloat. We will continue to make the case for travel businesses across all the UK with the appropriate administrations.”
SPAA president Joanne Dooey added: “We were relieved to receive confirmation on the subject of grants for those of our members who have had to close under the current Level 4 restrictions from the Scottish government and we are now anxiously awaiting news on the recent proposals we have made to them for additional tailored support to enable our members to survive till March 2021.”
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