There is no doubt that these are such uncertain times for many, and as the Chancellor said many weeks ago, we must do whatever it takes during this crisis.
That means supporting one of the most crucial industries in our country, aviation. Aviation matters, and with the Government committed to building a truly global Britain, it is more important than ever that we give the industry a lifeline.
Today we have one of the largest aviation networks in the world, my constituency has Manchester Airport just a few miles to the East and Liverpool John Lennon a few miles to the West and great northern companies manufacture some of the most advanced aviation technology in the world. This is an industry that contributes billions to our economy, supports thousands of jobs, strengthens the union and develops skills.
The economic situation facing the industry is severe for us all to see with air passenger demand down 99% compared to figures last year. Airlines are facing a liquidity crisis which threatens the viability of 25 million jobs directly and indirectly dependent upon aviation, including jobs in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
And we mustn’t forget how important these sub-sectors are, especially as a proud Cheshire MP. The Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review identified that there are around 600,000 jobs (8% of the North’s total) in the accommodation and recreation, and food and beverages sectors. The GVA of these sectors currently stands at nearly £12 billion, which is about 5% of the North’s total GVA. Many of these jobs are linked directly to aviation.
Letting the industry fall will not only have a long-term effect on our global ambitions but sacrifice the hard work that so many are doing on the ground to support the industry right now.
I welcome the Chancellor’s decision to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and British Airways themselves have applauded Mr Sunak’s swift action in dealing with this crisis.
It is clear now however that more will need to be done to save jobs and livelihoods of British Airways staff in the long-term. I represent hundreds of British Airways workers in Warrington South, with many fearing they could lose their jobs by the 15th or be subject to large pay reductions.
I heard recently from a resident who lives Warrington. She is a constituent of mine and has been working for British Airways for 32 years, starting off as ground staff at Manchester Airport. To quote her, “myself and colleagues made BA one of the most successful companies in the world and now when we need them the most in these uncertain times, I am now facing the same threat many faced in 2007 when ground staff were abruptly made redundant”.
Sadly, stories like this are the case for many others across Warrington and the country, but I don’t doubt how tough the conversations have been for BA.
I welcome the Governments “Project Birch” approach as direct financial support is essential to maintain jobs and ensure airlines can remain viable businesses. And when the world is ready to start travelling again, the global economy will need aviation at its best to help restore connectivity, tourism and global supply chains. That will require a harmonized approach with industry, workers and governments working together.
As is often the case with these things however, the devil will be in the detail and choosing who receives investment won’t be straightforward and might require regional independent bodies to make these decisions on their behalf.
If key firms do fail it could have a knock-on impact on businesses throughout the supply chain, so it’s also important for the government to consider plans to support them, based on economic impact. This includes aircraft construction, R&D ground staff, caterers and repair-engineers.
Whilst regional airports vary in both size and scale, Manchester airport is of great importance to the local community and economy in Warrington and the North of England. And whilst emergency funding is required, I’d ask the Treasury to look beyond COVID-19 when making decisions about the future of the aviation industry.
For example, Manchester Airport is an integral part of the Northern Powerhouse Rail network. Serving more than 200 destinations, the connectivity it provides is key to ensuring all parts of the North are as productive and internationally competitive as possible. Tackling the productivity issue in the North will be key to our recovery from Coronavirus in the long-term, and the Government cannot hold back its ambitions towards this programme.
There will be no silver bullet, but a balance between protecting local jobs and maintaining the ambition of our levelling up agenda must be struck. An extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for aviation workers and the supply chain would be welcome, but long-term strategic decisions need to be made about the future of the industry, which will show how serious this Government is about levelling up and being truly a global nation.