Shapps faces travel trade backlash as he joins Tory leadership race

Some in the industry have questioned the record of transport secretary Grant Shapps as he threw his hat into the ring to become the next Conservative prime minister.

Doubts surround his lack of support for the travel industry during the pandemic and overseeing airport disruption and rail strikes subsequently.

Shapps announced his decision to join multiple runners to become the next PM on Saturday night following Boris Johnson’s resignation, confirming speculation that emerged last week.

He declared himself as “a problem solver with a proven record of delivery” as up to a dozen MPs declared themselves as leadership candidates, with former chancellor Rishi Sunak seen as the frontrunner .

However, Shapps’ stance brought a critical response from the trade.

Mark Swords, from Swords Travel, responded on Twitter:” Deliver? What exactly. Our entire transport system is a mess due to massive neglect and mess you left us in during Covid. Let’s hope you don’t get in, otherwise there will be nothing left of this country.”

Henbury Travel’s Richard Slater agreed, tweeting: “I bet any Tory member connected to airlines, tour operators or travel agents won’t be voting for you. You gave no support what so ever during the pandemic, you shut us down first and we were the last to open up, so I hope Tory members do the same to you.”

Kuoni chief executive Derek Jones said on Twitter: “I think he should have recognised the unique challenges faced by the travel sector during Covid and his failure to respond appropriately are to blame for the current issues.”

Separately, the head of one of the country’s leading airline services companies said prime ministerial hopefuls Sunak and Shapps should share the blame for the delays and cancellations at airports this summer.

Philipp Joeinig, chief executive of Menzies Aviation, which provides check-in services, baggage handling and refuelling for carriers such as easyJet, American Airlines and Delta, argued that the staff shortages affecting the industry were “predictable and preventable”.

Brexit had a big negative impact by cutting the available pool of employees and was exacerbated by the government’s decision to refuse to intervene to stop huge job losses in the industry after the end of the furlough support programme, Joeinig wrote in The Times.

Sunak, as chancellor, declined to treat the aviation industry as a special case and Shapps refused requests from the sector.

Tens of thousands of flights from the UK are being cancelled this summer after months of disruption at UK airports because of staff shortages as the country emerges from pandemic travel restrictions.

Airlines, airports and ground handling companies have all complained of not being able to bring staffing back to previous levels as the pandemic subsided, compounded by delays in getting security clearance for new workers.

Joeinig urged action to solve staff shortages at airports and said: “We call on the UK government to recognise aviation as a special case, allowing the sector during this unique time to recruit from a wider pool of candidates beyond the UK, by adding aviation workers to the shortage occupation list.

“The present travel disruption is not because of a single point of failure, with staffing issues affecting the whole market. Not only was this predictable, it was also preventable.

“Brexit had a big negative impact, reducing the available pool of employees. This was compounded during the pandemic, with the British aviation sector suffering huge job losses once furlough schemes ended before the easing of travel restrictions, and with many of these people lost to the industry.”

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