A travel agency chief claims businesses in Scotland are at a disadvantage relative to their English counterparts.

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson, in her first speech as president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, launched a broadside at the Scottish Government over business rates and apprenticeships.

She hammered home her view that firms in the sector in Scotland were at a disadvantage because of “the fact that rates relief provided south of the border is denied in Scotland”.

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The hospitality, retail and leisure sectors in Scotland have campaigned unsuccessfully in recent times for the Scottish Government to replicate the business rates relief of up to 75% provided to businesses operating in these industries south of the Border.

Ms Dobson, addressing around 350 guests including senior leaders from across the travel sector and Scottish politicians at a dinner in Glasgow on Thursday night, said: “We are another year down the line where we are at a disadvantage compared with our English counterparts. Business might be doing well for many, but rates and bills are skyrocketing for those who choose to trade on the high street.

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“When the ONS (Office for National Statistics) continues to report downward spending patterns for retail, travel bucks the trend with even more spending than last year. Barclays, for instance, reported spend for travel agents in December grew yet again - at a rate of 12.8% - with growth continuing in January at a rate of 8% year on year.”

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She called for “robust” support packages which “encourage retail travel to thrive and expand on our dwindling high streets in Scotland”.

Ms Dobson meanwhile highlighted “industry frustrations” over what she described as an “unacceptable” lack of support for investment in people and an apprenticeship levy which she claimed was “unfit for purpose”.

She said: “I remain very disappointed that we now no longer have any funding available for Scottish travel apprentices with the courses about to become extinct across colleges.

“To add insult to injury, the vital flexible workforce development fund has been withdrawn due to budget cuts - meaning that there is even less funding available to travel businesses.”

Ms Dobson added: “We are paying into the same levy pot as every other industry across the UK - yet we cannot utilise our own funding for the courses that would make a difference to our businesses.”

She praised the resilience of the travel industry in the face of global challenges and uncertainty.