The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 8th July 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 5:16 pm, 8th July 2020

In the last few weeks alone, my constituency has seen Rolls-Royce announce 700 redundancies, Menzies Aviation 160 and Swissport 321, all adding to the toll of expected job losses at British Airways, NCP, easyJet, Jet2, Flybe, BA CityFlyer, TUI, North Air and SSP. I would have included Ryanair in that list, but I am pleased to say that it has just reached an agreement with Unite on temporary pay cuts to stop the job cuts that had previously been announced. Well done to them and let that be a lesson to other airlines. Combined, Renfrewshire will see thousands of households employed in aviation and aerospace thrown into financial turmoil. Across Scotland and these islands, the total will very likely be into six figures. If it is not clear to the Government that aviation and its supply chain is in the middle of its biggest crisis ever, it should be now.

By May, the claimant count in my constituency had doubled in the space of two months and those newly unemployed people had the added stress of looking for a job in an employment market in its worst state since the second world war. I mentioned that I have no doubt the total will rise further. I say that because I see no urgency on the Treasury Benches to save the aviation and aerospace industries. In my Adjournment debate on Rolls-Royce redundancies, the Minister winding up, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Nadhim Zahawi, lauded the company for offering voluntary rather than compulsory redundancies. If that is the strategy, then God help us all. There are many constituencies like mine where airports play a pivotal role in the local economy, yet there has not been a cheep from Government about what support such areas will get to address the particular challenges our economies face. I hope the Chancellor and his colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy can begin work urgently on a plan tailored to communities hardest hit by the devastation to the aviation sector.

I hope they will also take a hard look at the reaction of aviation companies to their employees. We have seen British Airways threaten one third of their workers with the sack, while the other two thirds have been told that they too will face the sack if they do not sign up for lower wages and lesser terms and conditions. I hear that easyJet and other companies, such as Menzies Aviation, are now trying the same bullying tactics. Unlike in most of Europe, these practices are despicable but not illegal. Those workers deserve the same protections as their fellow workers elsewhere. I urge the Government to back my Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill to make such practices illegal and make sure the law has their back.

It is not just in aviation where coronavirus has wreaked havoc. Alexander Dennis, the biggest bus and coach manufacturer in the country, is a huge success story, but nobody is buying buses just now. Without action, hundreds of jobs are under threat across the industry—another disaster for the local and national economy. The changes in road infrastructure and support for active travel that we have seen in recent weeks mean that there is a window of opportunity for the UK Government to take the bold action required and kill two birds with one stone, accelerating the transition from older, more polluting vehicles to Euro 6-compliant diesels and electric and hydrogen buses, and at the same time guaranteeing a future for manufacturers such as Alexander Dennis.

The Transport Secretary spoke last week about 4,000 buses. This is welcome, but completely lacking in the kind of ambition that we need now. A firm commitment from the Government to order at least 10,000 low and zero-emission buses would be a transformational policy, with the potential to be the biggest boost to public transport in generations, and it will help keep skilled jobs in this country in the long term. I urge the Chancellor to sit down with his colleagues in the Department for Transport to make that programme happen and support not just those jobs, but the accelerated transition to a net zero economy. The aviation sector, the bus industry, coach firms, aerospace and engineering—collectively, the UK transport industry is facing an unprecedented and catastrophic future if action is not taken, and taken soon.