Manchester Airport and the Local Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 2nd July 2020.

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Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:38 pm, 2nd July 2020

Obviously, commercial discussions are not for discussion in the Chamber, but I reassure my hon. Friend that I am in regular communication with all the airports in the United Kingdom, and officials in the Department are in weekly contact with them.

The measures put in place include the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility, which provides funding to businesses to pay wages and suppliers; the coronavirus job retention scheme, which helps firms to keep people in employment by allowing businesses to put workers on temporary leave; and the business interruption loan scheme. All those measures have been designed to ensure that companies of any size receive the help they need to get through this difficult time, including airports, airlines and the wider supply chain.

Beyond that package, many firms are getting support from established market mechanisms such as existing shareholders—the hon. Member for Stockport mentioned the support that has been provided by local authorities—and bank lending and commercial finance. We have been looking at other flexibilities to give the sector. The Civil Aviation Authority is working with airlines, airports and ground handlers to provide flexibility within the regulatory framework to help them manage the impacts of covid. We also welcome the response by the European Commission, which relaxed the 80:20 rule on slots, and we continue to engage with organisations across the sector on that issue. Nevertheless, I would not want to underestimate the challenges to the sector and to airports such as Manchester, because despite the measures that we have put in place to protect the economy, there remain serious challenges for the aviation sector.

I want to turn to the announcements of redundancies by a number of companies, which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. As he said, these are distressing announcements for employees and their families. While they are commercial decisions, they are decisions that I profoundly regret as Aviation Minister. Redundancies are not something that should be considered lightly, and if organisations find themselves having to consider these measures, I hope that they will do so sensitively. I hope that they will take into account the dedication and professionalism that their employees have shown, and that they will act within and, where possible, beyond the requirements and the spirit of all relevant legislation.

The hon. Member for Stockport and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned British Airways in particular. I have spoken directly to BA and to the IAG chief executive, Willie Walsh, to discuss the organisation’s plans and its engagement with staff and union representations. I have offered to support these engagement efforts where possible, and where it is appropriate to do so. I am also in regular communication with the unions that are particularly affected by those redundancies. I encourage BA and the unions to engage constructively with each other, and to strive to provide employees with as much certainty as possible during this challenging time.

I would now like to turn to the sector’s restart and the next stage of our plan to help it to recover. We need aviation. It is vital to our future as a global trading nation and plays a critical role in local economies, whether in Manchester or elsewhere. We have established the restart and recovery team, with an expert steering group to ensure a truly collaborative approach between Government and industry. Last month, we published the aviation health guidance for operators, as well as the safer air travel guidance for passengers. This forms a vital first pillar as we seek to ensure that our aviation sector returns to its full strength as soon as possible.