Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 3:30 pm, 25th June 2020

I congratulate Darren Henry on an excellent maiden speech and on his very powerful story. I add to his tribute to his predecessor, who brought great passion to our debate in this House. I am sure that he will bring many insights from Broxtowe too.

Many businesses across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that they can start trading again. The level of Government support for businesses has been unprecedented, and that is undoubtedly to be welcomed; it has provided a lifeline to swathes of our economy at this incredibly challenging time. However, although the support is extensive, we cannot ignore those who have slipped through the gaps. We also cannot pretend that this is not going to be difficult for months for industries where normality is still a long way off.

Aviation is a key area in which recovery will be slow. Flights may be restarting and discussions on air bridges under way, but the sector does not expect demand to return to pre-crisis levels until at least 2023. The crisis will have a sustained effect on our aviation industry.

Newcastle airport in my constituency is an international and domestic transport hub, a strategic asset for the north-east, and central to our economic growth. It is a large regional employer but also supports many regional jobs, on site, off site and in the supply chain. Our airport supports manufacturing business, exports, and higher education through our world-class universities. It also supports the tourism sector, which was thriving before this crisis.

I have raised support for aviation in the Chamber a number of times, but there is still a concerning lack of appreciation for the special circumstances faced by the industry. There also seems to be a lack of understanding of how this crisis will impact the sector’s transition to being greener and cleaner, and of the longer-term impact on regional economies such as mine. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sustainable aviation, I believe passionately in the importance of a strong and stable aviation sector.

Newcastle airport has ambitious plans to become a net zero emissions airport by 2035. However, demand for new aircraft will take years to recover from its expected drop, which could mean manufacturing job losses and a decline in this strategic industry at a time when we need more investment in cleaner and greener aviation technology, not less.

The industry is asking for greater understanding and support in the difficult months ahead. It needs air bridges to be arranged as soon as possible. Twelve months of business rates relief, as has been provided to airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland, would level the playing field and support businesses through this period. A temporary suspension of air passenger duty is requested while aviation demand recovers, particularly when it comes to regional air connectivity. We urgently need action so that the industry can prepare and protect jobs.

I turn to the many smaller businesses in my constituency that face so much uncertainty about their future. We have a world-leading performing arts sector, which has been brought to its knees by this crisis. We could see devastation of the cultural and entertainment scene in so many communities. One of my constituents who works in the industry said:

“Over the recent period of lockdown I have watched as theatre after theatre has closed down, unable to remain afloat due to the incredible lack of funding already present within the industry and have watched so many of my friends and colleagues being made redundant.”

So many venues do not know when they will be able to reopen and are fighting for survival. I was contacted by a dance school that just wants to know when it might be able to reopen. We have seen what has happened to tourism businesses, self-employed people—I could go on; there are so many.

As Britain cautiously emerges from lockdown and some level of normal returns, we cannot allow those who have lost out most from this crisis to continue to be forgotten. We must do everything we can to make sure that as many as possible get through this crisis and continue to provide their services in the future.