Tour operator frustrated with lack of pandemic support

Simon Maxwell

Simon Maxwell who runs the tour operator Harrison Maxwell - Credit: Supplied by Simon Maxwell

A tour operator has shared his frustrations with being among the 3m people excluded from any government financial support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Simon Maxwell runs Harrison Maxwell and organises customised holidays across the UK and Europe mainly for American and Canadian tourists.

Business plummeted overnight when the pandemic hit and Simon estimates that he lost around 40 group and individual tours.

Some have postponed their trips, but even those are unlikely to take place this year due to the current situation.

And he fails to qualify for any of the government schemes, grants or universal credit.

Mr Maxwell said: “We've been completely abandoned and I just don’t understand why. Ireland, Croatia, Germany – they've all supported their tour operators.

“I find it unfathomable as to why a Conservative government that prides itself on entrepreneurship has left so many people out to dry during an unprecedented pandemic.”

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He added: “It has offered some form of support to tourist offices and tourist attractions – but travel agents and tour operators haven’t been able to receive anything.

“This has been going on for pretty much a year now, and after all this time the government will not even try to find a way to help.”

To make ends meet over the last year, he has worked five different temporary jobs ranging from decorating to delivery driving.

Another reason why Mr Maxwell missed out on coronavirus financial support packages is because he is a sole director of a limited company.

Those who pay themselves via dividends have also been excluded, even though this is the standard accounting structure of 2m small limited companies in the UK.

Mr Maxwell has been in touch with Lucy Frazer, his MP, but has been disappointed with the response.

He was also particularly offended when she appeared on the Politics Live television show in October.

During the interview, she said: “I speak to my constituents regularly and I understand the challenges people are under and the issues that are facing them.

“But there is no point in keeping people in jobs that are not going to exist.”

Mr Maxwell added: “Her government has been telling us we’re deadweight, admin difficult, unviable, resource intensive, to go and retrain...

“Complication should not absolve the government of its responsibility to the 3m UK tax payers missing out on support.

“I’ve contacted Ms Frazer five times about her comment on Politics Live – and I have yet to receive a response.

“When I first contacted her office about my situation, it took six months to get a response from the Treasury and I was advised how much the government has assisted everyone else.

"It was a real smack in the face.”

Excluded UK is a campaign group fighting for those who have not qualified for any of the government schemes during the pandemic.

Chris Kemp runs The K9 project in Ely, and is another South East Cambridgeshire constituent who is among the 3m missing out.

In January, she told this newspaper how she was caring for her dying mother when Covid initially arrived and was unable to work.

To calculate whether she qualified for help, one of the years where her income was reduced to look after her mum was taken into account.

And this was enough to be excluded from any of the support schemes because she didn’t earn enough during that one year.

“I now find myself in considerable debt which is something I had never imagined,” she said.

Chris Kent and Billy

Chris Kent, runs The K9 Project, pictured with one of her dogs Billy. - Credit: Chris Kent / The K9 Project

When approached to respond, Ms Frazer refrained from clarifying her statement during the Politics Live interview.

Her office acknowledged liaising with Mr Maxwell about his concerns.

Ms Frazer said: “The government has put in place extensive support for those who have been impacted by the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This includes the furlough scheme to help those in PAYE employment, and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

“Approximately 95% of individuals who are mainly self-employed are eligible to benefit from the scheme – around 3.4 million individuals – making the Government’s scheme one of the most generous in the world.”

In South East Cambridgeshire, £21m was spent on supporting self-employed people and there were 7,600 successful claims during the first two SEISS application rounds.

Lucy Frazer

Lucy Frazer, MP for South East Cambridgeshire. - Credit: Archant

She added: “It is the case that some of the rules, criteria and conditions - which are vital to ensuring that these schemes work for the vast majority - mean that some people do not qualify for these schemes.

“In light of this, the Government has put in place a £280 billion package of general support to help people manage in these difficult times.”

“This includes an £8 billion increase to the welfare system, mortgage holidays, help with council tax payments, direct loans to businesses, business grants, a business rates holiday, and tax deferrals.”