Having spoken to businesses across my constituency, where some 11,900 people have been furloughed and 4,300 people have been in receipt of the self-employed income support scheme, it is clear to me that many jobs have been saved —livelihoods, as well as businesses that have been built up with dedication and passion over years and decades. That is all due to the unprecedented support made available by this Government.
However, as the numbers of signatures on the petitions we are debating today show, some sectors do remain in need of particular support. In the time available, I cannot cover all of them, but as someone who has previously been a trustee of a theatre and an arts centre, I know how difficult the current situation is for everyone in the arts, and I very much hope we can find a way to assure the future of British theatre and music.
It would be remiss of me, as a member of the Transport Committee, not to mention aviation. It is imperative for the very survival of our airlines, airports and the businesses that support them, and the thousands of jobs that depend on them, that we are able to get aviation up and running again soon. I will not repeat the findings of the Committee’s recent report, but I will briefly mention freight. With 40% of air freight going in the belly hold of passenger aircraft, if the passenger planes are not flying, the freight is not flying either. As the UK recovery depends, to a large part, on new free trade deals around the globe, we need aviation. I encourage the Government to focus on freight, as well, as part of the recovery plan.
From the perspective of the events sector, I wish to focus particularly on the coach industry.
I have spoken to coach operators in my constituency, such as Masons in Cheddington. The sector at large employs 42,000 people and contributes nearly £7 million to the leisure sector. The drop in income that the coach sector has seen during lockdown, with six-figure losses, is unprecedented. The reduction in social distancing is very positive, but coach companies tell me that with 1 metre-plus, they can only get 25 people on a 53-seater coach and that is not viable. To put it bluntly, with that capacity they will barely cover the fuel to keep the wheels rolling.
Loans have been good news, but with many operators having spent considerable money through debt on ensuring their fleet complies with the regulations on public service vehicle accessibility earlier this year, they are left financially exposed to taking on further debt. If we want to get people back to the tourism locations and museums and to help people who have been isolated for so long get about again, my plea to the Government is that we need support for the coach sector, to help it bounce back.