I declare an interest as a proud member of a trade union.
Last week’s decision to slam on the brakes, and in some cases to move into reverse, on the easing of lockdown is a sobering reminder to us all that Covid-19 has not gone away. Bold talk of eradication has been replaced by a realisation that, until we have better treatments and vaccination, restrictions on our everyday lives will be with us for some time to come.
In everything that we do, our thoughts should never stray from the 4,236 lives lost to coronavirus in Scotland—a terrible toll contributing to one of the worst death rates from Covid-19 in the world. The challenge for us all, which we will face for many months to come, is how to battle this pandemic while also dealing with the impact of the actions that we take to do so.
Although Covid-19 is an appalling health crisis, it is, sadly, also becoming an economic crisis and there are few sectors where that is more profound than aviation. It was one of the first to feel the effects of Covid-19 and it is on track to be one of the last to recover. Without intervention, it is at real risk of collapse. It is difficult to overstate the damage that that would do, given the loss of employment, the impact on communities and the cost to Scotland’s wider economy.
Scottish aviation supports more than 20,000 jobs and contributes more than £837 million to the Scottish economy in gross value added. On top of that, aerospace provides close to 8,000 jobs, many of which are in jeopardy as a result of the pandemic and our response to it. Analysis by the Fraser of Allander institute for Unite the union found that the knock-on impact of the 2,700 job losses already proposed in the aviation and aerospace sector in Scotland would mean a total loss of almost 5,000 jobs—5,000 livelihoods—and £320 million to our economy.
The direct loss of jobs alone is devastating enough for the families involved, but the consequences go further. Scotland’s aviation is key to our economy, supporting sectors such as tourism and attracting inward investment across the country. It connects Scotland to the rest of the world and provides vital transport links within the country, particularly for our island communities.
Covid-19 may have halted business as usual, with air traffic down by around 90 per cent, but even during the pandemic aviation has kept going, keeping communities connected, delivering vital medical supplies, personal protective equipment and testing equipment, helping to keep the shelves in our shops full, and bringing people home as lockdown took hold. It will also have a key role to play in rebuilding Scotland’s economy, but without a sustainable sector that rebuilding will take longer and will be more difficult.
There is a view that helping aviation through this pandemic is somehow at odds with our climate change ambitions. Transport continues to be Scotland’s most polluting sector with pollution levels now higher than they were in 1990. Although aviation contributes around 18 per cent of Scotland’s transport emissions, compared with almost 70 per cent from road transport, I agree that there is an urgent need to reduce emissions from aviation, just as there is an urgent need to enforce the use of greener buses, to phase out—not bring in—40-year-old diesel trains and to make electric vehicles affordable for people who have no alternative to using the car.
Reducing emissions across all forms of transport, including public transport, is essential. That requires targeted investment and enforcement and meaningful long-term change in the way that we travel. Singling out aviation in that debate may provide a convenient scapegoat, but whatever size people believe the sector should be in the long term and however much they believe that it should be smaller, allowing a global pandemic to destroy aviation and wipe out thousands of jobs of ordinary workers right now, in the middle of an economic crisis, is not a just transition to a green economy.
I congratulate Colin Smyth on identifying in his motion exactly what the Scottish Government should be doing. Will he comment on the so-called quarantine that we have? In my view, it is totally useless and so dangerous, as we fail to track people arriving at our airports who could have Covid.
Germany tests all arrivals, tests again days later, and keeps track of arrivals. The answer for our aviation industry is not quarantine; it is to test, test and test again.
I thank Mike Rumbles for making that pertinent point. The reality is that the current process is simply not fit for purpose.
I will give details of what I believe the alternatives could be. The reason why the Government has gone down the route that it has gone down, rather than having testing, which is the real public health solution, is that the testing regime is not fit for purpose, and it cannot put in place a fit-for-purpose testing regime at the moment.
I refer to what Mike Rumbles said. Countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Iceland have systems with testing at their heart to tackle that particular problem. The reality is that that is what Scotland’s airports and aviation workers are asking for. Those key workers need our backing now.
That is why Labour is clear that support for our airports and aviation companies and any investment that is made by taxpayers cannot simply be an unconditional bail-out. It should have strings attached to support moves towards a sustainable, greener and more socially responsible sector. Crucially, it must be provided on the basis that jobs, pay and working conditions are protected.
That is why Labour is leading calls for United Kingdom legislation to end the scandal of firing and rehiring on poorer conditions across all sectors. Fire-and-rehire tactics are simply wrong. They punish good employers and hit working people hard, and they need to end.
I was proud to stand side by side recently with members of Unite the union when they came to Dumfries as part of their campaign against the British Airways betrayal. That company was firing all its 42,000 staff and rehiring on inferior terms and conditions of employment those whose jobs have not been axed. I have stood side by side with the Prospect union as it fought for its members at Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd, which is, ironically, based at the Scottish Government-owned Prestwick airport in my region. The company shamefully sacked workers when they refused cuts in wages of 50 per cent.
As Keir Starmer made absolutely clear in his address to the Trades Union Congress, we fully support an end to firing and rehiring. The challenge for the Scottish Government is that there is no point in Scottish National Party members at Westminster saying that they are opposed to firing and rehiring when the Scottish Government happily hands over substantial sums of money—in relation to business rates, for example—through one door and companies hand out redundancy notices through the other door.
I have listened to people who support the ending of firing and rehiring. For example, GMB members were told by Swissport at Glasgow airport in June that their jobs were going. They told me that they warned the Scottish Government in March that that was likely to happen. Today, the Parliament can stand side by side with all those workers, including those in our own constituencies and regions. We can come together and say, “Enough is enough.” We can recognise the urgency of the crisis.
The Scottish Government can commit to working with the aviation sector, the trade unions and all stakeholders to agree a package of targeted support. That action should include making the case for an extension of the job retention scheme—or, rather, a new scheme. Not a day goes by when Labour does not make that particular case. We need a furlough scheme that is not used, as Unite the union has said, as a state-sponsored raid on terms and conditions and a subsidising of the cost of redundancy by abusing the job-retention scheme, reducing members’ payments and despicably pitting worker against worker through an effective fire-and-rehire proposal.
As I have said, that principle goes for any support that the Scottish Government provides. It needs to attach conditions that protect jobs and workers’ conditions. We have seen conditions being attached to support. For example, the Government tells us that the bus sector has a condition that says that routes must be protected. Why cannot we have targeted support for the aviation sector that protects jobs?
The clock is ticking for that support. Although there is much in the SNP’s amendment that we support, it is, like the Scottish Government’s response to the crisis so far, too half-hearted, and it lacks urgency. Back in July, in letters to unions and airports, the cabinet secretary committed to work with airports on a route recovery strategy. He claimed to be establishing a number of targeted group discussions to take forward initiatives in which the Scottish Government can provide such support. Three months later, we have heard nothing.
When Michael Matheson responds, will he give a personal commitment to meet aviation sector trade unions, which he has so far failed to do, to discuss what more can be done to support the sector? Will he tell the Parliament—[
What the cabinet secretary has said is not true. I am sure that he can answer that when he—[
.] The trade unions have made it clear that the cabinet secretary has not met them to discuss a package of targeted support for that sector. He has failed to deliver the targeted support—
I would like to hear the answer to my question: will the cabinet secretary meet the unions to discuss targeted support? Will he also tell the Parliament, and more importantly those workers, when his targeted group discussions will begin? He promised those in July and, so far, we have heard absolutely nothing.
The unions, airports and members want to work with the Government to find solutions, but frankly, we need the cabinet secretary to step up to the mark. The cabinet secretary also says in his amendment, in response to Labour’s call for an urgent review of the existing quarantine system, that the Government will explore alternatives. I welcome that but again the question is when that will happen, because the current quarantine system is simply not fit for purpose.
The current system is a crude attempt at a travel ban that is reliant on deterring people from travelling, but it fails as a public health measure by not picking up whether anyone who enters Scotland has Covid-19. It does not do enough to ensure that those people do not then spread the virus, because it fails to robustly enforce quarantine. The most recent Public Health Scotland statistical report shows that less than 5 per cent of those who are required to quarantine under the existing rules are actually being properly contacted.
A recent UK-wide study highlighted by Professor Linda Bauld at the COVID-19 Committee suggested that only a quarter of those who had been advised to self-isolate were doing so comprehensively, and no wonder as the Government’s approach to quarantine has been half-hearted. The First Minister said at her daily press conference on 10 May:
“We expect confirmation tonight of a period of quarantine for people travelling into the UK. I have made it clear that I believe this is vital to our efforts to contain the virus in the period ahead, and I would encourage the UK Government to introduce it as soon as possible.”
Yet, when I asked the health secretary in a parliamentary question when the Government first began discussions with the Home Office on accessing the information that they would need to check whether someone entering the country was quarantining, the answer eventually came back that that was on 8 June—a month after the First Minister’s comments, and after quarantining had begun. It took a further two weeks until 24 June before that process even began.
We need a new approach that puts public health and a rigorous testing regime at its heart. In Germany, Italy, France, Greece and other countries, testing is part of the process for people who are entering. In Iceland, travellers are tested on arrival and again on day five of their quarantine. That is a system that protects public health by ensuring that each country knows whether someone entering has Covid-19, and it supports the economy by reducing the quarantine period.
Too often, health and supporting our economy during Covid-19 have been treated as if they were two conflicting priorities, but the reality is that our economic recovery relies on keeping the virus under control. Efforts to boost our economy at the expense of public health will be self-defeating. That is why it is important to find measures that support both. If we do not support our economy and do more to prevent thousands of job losses, the health impact on thousands of families will be immeasurable.
Why are we not properly considering airport and follow-up testing as an option in Scotland? Well, Professor Linda Bauld gave the game away when she told the COVID-19 Committee last week that
“The bigger reason why we do not yet have airport testing is to do with infrastructure.”—[
Official Report, COVID-19 Committee
, 9 September 2020; c 14.]
We are compromising public health and putting jobs at risk because of the failure to put in place a robust testing infrastructure.
Now is the time for action. It is time to work with the aviation sector, trade unions and all stakeholders to urgently agree a support package for Scotland’s aviation. It is time to ensure that that package puts protecting jobs, working conditions and support for a just transition to a green economy front and centre. It is time to replace a quarantine system that is not fit for purpose with one that puts protecting public health and testing at its very centre. We have the opportunity to come together as a Parliament and send a united message to Scotland’s workers: we are listening to you and are on your side.
That the Parliament recognises the profound impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on aviation in continuing to deliver its vital role in international transportation and keeping Scotland’s remote and islands communities connected; expresses concern at the risk of further widespread job losses in aviation and in connected sectors such as tourism; notes the importance of government measures such as the job retention scheme to aviation businesses; recognises the need for the Scottish and UK governments to provide direct support to the sector through this period to protect jobs and secure a just transition to a green economy; calls on the Scottish Government to work with the aviation sector and the relevant trade unions in Scotland to agree on a specific package of support for the industry; believes that this support, and any future financial support, must include protections for jobs and working conditions, and assist long-term changes within the sector to tackle the climate emergency and ensure a sustainable future, and calls for an urgent review of the existing quarantine system and for the Scottish Government to bring forward options for a robust regime of airport testing on arrival with follow-up testing at home that places protecting public health at the centre, including supporting evidence and mechanisms for any proposal to safely reduce the quarantine period.
We do not underestimate the international impact that Covid-19 has had on the aviation industry, nor do we underestimate the importance of that sector to our economy and the challenges that are ahead in helping it to recover.
In March, as Covid-19 spread around the world, airlines that provide our global connectivity for business, leisure and tourism experienced a sudden and dramatic collapse in demand. Quite simply, people stopped travelling and people stopped booking travel for future dates. Travel restrictions around the world meant that the number of aircraft that were operating globally was only about one third of the total available. The impact of that rippled through from airlines to airports, ground handling companies, airport retail, fuel suppliers and the many other companies that make up the aviation sector. That has led to significant job losses and more families facing the threat of redundancy as we approach what will be a challenging winter for the industry.
Over the past few months, the Scottish Government has worked with the aviation sector to provide support where it can. However, I want to impress on the Parliament that the single most impactful action to maintain jobs and put the industry in a position where it can support our economic recovery from Covid-19 would be for the UK Government to intervene to offer short-term financial relief through the coming winter months. We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to extent the job retention scheme for the industry, or to deliver a targeted alternative. I wrote again to the chancellor this week, asking him to make that critical intervention. [
.] I will allow an intervention later, but I want to make progress first.
Over the past six months, we have maintained a dialogue with the Scottish aviation sector and the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss short-term measures that we can take with the powers that are available to us, and the long-term support with which we can help the sector return to growth. Those discussions have been very constructive and, by use of the powers available to us, specific actions have been delivered or are under way.
As part of our £2.3 billion package of business support, we have provided business rates relief in 2020-21. That measure, which is not replicated in England and Wales, benefits all Scotland’s airports, ground handling companies and Loganair.
Airports have asked us to engage with them on options for testing passengers arriving from overseas, and we are already doing so. We recognise the effect that quarantine restrictions have, in Scotland and elsewhere, on the propensity to travel and on airlines’ decisions about which routes to operate. However, we are also clear that we have to mitigate the risk of importing Covid-19 cases, and the current 14-day self-isolation requirement is the most effective way to do that.
Does the cabinet secretary not understand that that is not the most effective way to combat Covid-19? The Scottish Government does not know how many people have come in through our airports with Covid-19, if any. It has not a clue. The only way to find that out is to test and track people properly—not to pretend that we are testing or to say that everyone who is coming in is under quarantine, so it is okay. Covid is coming into this country—
When it comes to these matters, we take very clear clinical advice. I must confess that I am much more minded to listen to the clinical advice that we receive than what is directed by Mr Rumbles.
Notwithstanding that, I can say to him that we are already engaged with airports on options for testing passengers that could be piloted to help us better understand the risk around transmission. I am sure that members will fully recognise that it is not a straightforward subject, but we have agreed to assess the options that airports will submit, and our respective clinical advisers are working together on developing those options. That work is on-going, and on-going discussions are taking place between the clinical advisers on that matter.
My understanding is that, in the past day or so, they have submitted some data to the clinical advisers in the Scottish Government, which is presently being reviewed. Once we have had an opportunity to consider it, we will be in a position to have further discussion with the airports and look at the issues.
Alongside that, we are also taking forward at pace our route development and recovery work. We have successfully been able to help airports to improve connectivity in recent years, securing new routes to Chicago, Boston, Washington, Doha, Dubai and many European countries. That work is continuing with a renewed focus on helping airports to rebuild our connectivity, with specific cases being progressed for summer 2021.
That work benefits from a strong and well-established partnership, with airports and officials continuing to have regular discussions on emerging challenges, priorities and opportunities. Part of that will involve assessing the changes that airlines are making to their fleets, and aspects of airlines’ changes to their strategies—which, in turn, have a bearing on the likelihood of some routes resuming in the near future.
The objective is to help to ensure that the most important routes come back quickly, focusing on our connectivity to global hubs such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dubai; to the USA and Canada, which are so important for tourism and exports; and to the rest of Europe, with a particular focus on business centres and our inbound tourism market. Now more than ever, it is essential that Scotland remains open and easily accessible to our friends in Europe, and that our businesses can easily access important European markets.
I am confident that that work will deliver positive results. Although we are ambitious, we are also realistic. [
.] I am sorry; I have to make progress. I have given way a number of times.
The impact of Covid-19 on airlines globally means that that work is more challenging than it has ever been, We have strong competition from peer countries across Europe, in a changed environment, with fewer aircraft operating as airlines downsize their fleets.
In helping the sector to restore connectivity and to rebuild, we will ensure that environmental impacts are mitigated, and we will incentivise or encourage airlines to use the newest, most efficient aircraft on Scottish routes. That is an important stepping stone on the path towards lower emissions and zero-emission aircraft. We want not only to restore connectivity, but to reduce the environmental impact in doing so. We have an opportunity to help the sector showcase what it has done and what it can do in the future.
The importance of connectivity between the mainland and the Highlands and Islands is mentioned in the motion. During the lockdown period, we provided direct support to Loganair to operate a skeleton service, ensuring that all island airports had at least one flight per day to the mainland, for essential travel and medical supplies. Recent months have shown yet again the essential role played by Loganair and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, and their staff, in that important part of our transport infrastructure.
Does the cabinet secretary support my and the Caithness Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to ensure that we have a public service obligation for Wick to Edinburgh and Wick to Aberdeen? There are currently no flights at all from Wick airport. It needs a PSO, and Government support to get that up and running.
The member will be aware that we are presently evaluating the business case that has been put forward by the Caithness Chamber of Commerce. My good colleague Gail Ross has been pressing the issue for a number of months, and I can assure the member that we will give it fair consideration.
Presiding Officer, I am conscious of time.
Given the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had across the world on the aviation sector and all those employed in it, I hope that all members will support our on-going efforts to help its long-term recovery, and support our calls for the UK Government to introduce specific measures to help to prevent further failures and job losses throughout the winter months.
We do not have a window into the future of the aviation sector. We cannot with any certainty say how quickly it will recover. However, we will do all that we can to help rebuild a sustainable industry that supports business, tourism and the economy as a whole.
I move amendment S5M-22711.3, to leave out from “government measures” to end and insert:
“the aviation sector to Scotland’s wider economic recovery; further notes the importance of government measures, such as the job retention scheme, to aviation businesses and calls for it to be extended; welcomes the inclusion of airports and ground handling companies in the Scottish Government’s package of rates relief measures; recognises the need for the Scottish and UK governments to provide direct support to the sector through this period to protect jobs and secure a just transition to a green economy; calls on the Scottish Government to continue to work with the aviation sector and the relevant trade unions in Scotland to explore immediate support measures for industry; welcomes the support provided by the Scottish Government to rebuilding Scotland’s long-term international connectivity and associated employment opportunities; believes that support should include appropriate protections for jobs and fair working conditions; welcomes the steps being taken by the Scottish Government to support recovery in the sector, which balances the need for sustainable economic growth and the need to tackle the climate emergency, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that measures are in place to protect public health by suppressing transmission by minimising the importation of new cases leading to community transmission, while exploring the potential for alternative measures including testing.”
I thank the Labour Party for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I raised the matter of the crisis in our aviation sector with the First Minister last week, and, although she offered warm words, little action has been taken so far. However, Parliament can unite around the motion, which we will support. I hope that that will spur the Government into doing much more.
Government action, and then inaction, has caused the crisis. Lockdown was a policy choice with severe knock-on consequences, both immediate and potentially long-term if we do not act soon. In Scotland, we rely on our airports to get us there if we want to connect to the world, but foreign travel has all but stopped.
Across the UK, the aviation industry has lost 95 per cent of its flights during lockdown. Passenger numbers at both Aberdeen and Glasgow airports are down 80 per cent on the previous year and were down as much as 99 per cent during the first months of the pandemic. The reduction in traffic and passengers means that Aberdeen and Glasgow airports have lost their main source of revenue—their costs are the same, however.
Passenger numbers at Edinburgh airport are down 79 per cent over the past year. Airlines have cancelled routes, many of which will not return, and they are making widespread redundancies and reducing their fleets. Virgin Atlantic has announced cuts of more than 1,150 jobs; Loganair plans to cut 68 jobs; the easyJet workforce has seen a 30 per cent cut, and BA has moved to axe 12,000 roles. Scotland’s connectivity, its aviation industry and the jobs that it supports are at serious risk.
During the first four months of the pandemic, UK airports lost just under £2 billion—the equivalent of more than £15 million each day—and they are projected to lose at least £4 billion by the end of 2020. Lockdown has cost Edinburgh airport £3.5 million despite furlough. That situation cannot continue.
Last week, I warned that Scotland’s airports face a tsunami of job losses. With little to no trade, thousands of people who are employed in our aviation sector face a bleak future. I said then that Scotland could end up no longer connected to the world, and that is not alarmist.
Quarantine—even the threat thereof—puts people off flying. Last week, figures showed that no one is tested on arrival at our airports and less than 5 per cent of those who are asked to quarantine get a follow-up phone call. However, 30 other countries are doing what our airports are asking to be allowed to do, which is to test all passengers from outside the UK on arrival.
From testing no one to testing everyone, we could then follow up anyone who tested negative and do a second test a few days later.
The plain fact is that we have absolutely no idea whether anyone who is asked to quarantine actually does it—the system is hopeless. I call on the Scottish Government to beef things up and agree to a trial of airport testing. It can be done: in Italy, a negative coronavirus test is obligatory before a flight. Passengers check in an hour early and are not allowed to board if they test positive. We should at least aim to cut the quarantine period from 14 days to seven, as France has just done. If we do not act, we will lose a sector that we cannot afford to let go of.
The wider Scottish travel industry is fighting for survival, which matters to our economy. Why would we want to turn our backs on £11 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish supply chain that tourists bring us? Without outbound tourism, we lose inbound tourism—the two are co-dependent. Outbound travel from the UK is worth £1.7 billion a year and 25,000 people are employed in that sector in Scotland.
In August, the Scottish Passenger Agents Association undertook a survey that concluded that 70 per cent of travel agents have experienced a drop in business of more than 75 per cent. We are losing many travel brands on a daily basis—Flybe, STA Travel, Flight Centres, Shearings and Cruise and Maritime Voyages—and, without urgent intervention, more will join that list.
The entire travel sector is at risk, so Governments must use all the levers at their disposal to help. That is why the amendment in my name says that they should review air passenger duty. Some people have called for a temporary suspension of the duty, which might help. Difficult times call for tough decisions, and both our Governments should get their heads together on that.
I think that all parties in this chamber—bar the Greens, who have not bothered to turn up—get the seriousness of that.
I apologise to Mr Harvie.
To summarise, we want a trial of airport testing, with follow-up testing if people test negative. We want a review of air passenger duty, with Governments working together. There should also be tailored support for the travel sector.
Health is of paramount importance, but our response to one virus should not be at the expense of all else.
Scotland needs air travel to connect to the world. Let us make sure that, when we are through the crisis, we have a sector left that is able to get us to that wider world.
I move amendment S5M-22711.1, to leave out from “at home” to end and insert:
“that places protecting public health at the centre, including supporting evidence and mechanisms for any proposal to safely reduce the quarantine period, and urges government to review Air Passenger Duty in order to stimulate demand.”
Thank you, Presiding Officer; I am happy to accept any apology for that comment. I also thank you for your recognition that working from home, where we can do so, remains the default. I am happy to take part in the debate on those terms. I am grateful to Colin Smyth for bringing the debate before Parliament.
The impact of job losses to date has been significant and devastating for many people, and many more people live with uncertainty about what lies ahead. Economic change is always disruptive, whatever the cause, and we want to minimise the harm that results. We need to plan properly and use the powerful role of the state to support people and communities, instead of abandoning them to market forces. The urgent need for a just transition plan for aviation should be clear, and that need existed before Covid. There is a tragically long track record of talk about transition, but without action.
The Greens have made the case for a just transition in relation to open-cast coal, Longannet, Grangemouth, Hunterston, Mossmorran and the whole fossil fuel industry. Transition is needed where current economic or industrial patterns are unsustainable and have to change, but it is also important to be clear about what transition means and what we are transitioning to. What does “Sustainable Aviation Beyond COVID”, which is the title of the motion, mean? Fundamentally, it must involve a recognition that, before Covid, aviation growth went too far. I draw members’ attention to the Aviation Environment Federation and Transform Scotland briefing, which sets out clearly that
“Transport is the biggest problem for tackling climate change, and aviation is the most polluting form of transport.”
It says that
“Transport is now Scotland’s largest source of climate emissions ... and one where there has been no progress since 1990” and that, although the aviation industry has set itself a theoretical target of net zero,
“there is ... no policy mechanism for holding it to account to deliver this.”
There is no rational basis for having confidence that the target can be met with pre-Covid aviation levels. Put simply, if we want to cut aviation emissions—which we must—we need fewer flights than the pre-Covid norm.
The Scottish Government has had long-standing support for new routes; regular motions come from Government back benchers to celebrate growing flight numbers at airports; and, when the airport passenger duty commitment was shelved on the grounds of climate change, the Scottish Government continued with other policies that were designed to achieve aviation growth. Then came the 2019 election and the Channel 4 climate debate, in which the First Minister made a personal acknowledgment of the need to fly less. That was a first. It clearly did not mean the collapse in aviation that Covid brought about—no one predicted that back in November last year—but it was a recognition that the pre-Covid level of aviation needed to be reduced.
For unexpected reasons, we find ourselves once again seeing immense harm being caused because we had no transition plan in place for an industry that needed to contract. Such a plan would clearly have struggled to cope with the events of this year, but it would have given us a stronger starting point. Colin Smyth is absolutely right that what we have seen in recent months is very far from a just transition, but we should not aim to rebuild aviation without such a transition plan.
We do not yet have any policies in place to support investment in new sustainable jobs in communities that have relied on aviation, or to limit the regrowth of aviation to a sustainable level below pre-Covid levels. We do not even have a sense from the Scottish Government of what that safe level should be, and we cannot afford to let that question drift.
Jet fuel consumption in Europe crashed to 5 per cent of 2019 levels by April. Now, it is back to more than 30 per cent. In China, it has returned to more than 60 per cent. It is not only reasonable but urgent to ask how far that figure should go. The latest research suggests that, due to radiative forcing, the climate impact of aviation is about three times that of the emissions alone. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 recognised that and called for an appropriate multiplier to be set, but the Scottish Government set that multiplier at 1—in other words, parity.
On Covid testing at airports, I am happy for the quarantine system to be kept under continual review. Testing might well have a role to play, but we must focus on the need to control the virus and aim to achieve the greatest public health benefit.
Other aviation issues, such as flight path reviews, have also been impacted by Covid. A clear plan from Government and the industry to manage demand would take the threat of flight path expansion off the table for hundreds of thousands of people who live around Edinburgh airport and others. It would also allow a proper consultation to take place to accommodate any technical changes that are needed for flight paths, instead of using modernisation as an excuse to push through increased capacity.
None of the other parties is yet willing to acknowledge in the debate the fundamental reality that there must be limits to aviation. A return to business as usual and pre-Covid aviation levels would be unacceptable. That is why I cannot support the motion or the Government and Conservative amendments.
I move amendment S5M-22711.2, to leave out from “in continuing” to end and insert:
“and on the industry’s workforce; recognises the role of aviation, and in particular its importance to Scotland’s remote and islands’ communities, but accepts that pre-COVID aviation levels are unsustainable; notes that, after previously supporting policies designed to increase aviation growth, the First Minister publicly stated in November 2019 that flying less is part of her personal response to the climate emergency; expresses concern at the risk of further widespread job losses in aviation and in connected sectors in the absence of a just transition plan for the industry; believes that such a plan must include measures to ensure that the regrowth of aviation is kept below pre-COVID levels, and to invest in new sustainable jobs with a focus on communities, which have been heavily reliant on the aviation industry; calls on the Scottish Government to work with the environment movement to establish safe and sustainable levels of aviation that are consistent with the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; believes that the quarantine system for international travel must be designed around public health objectives, and urges the Scottish Government to examine the approach to quarantine being used by countries showing the greatest success at controlling COVID infection rates.”
I am very grateful to Colin Smyth of the Labour Party for securing the debate. As a representative for what would normally be Scotland’s busiest airport, I know the immense toll that the virus has had on the sector. Edinburgh airport is the gateway for millions of people who visit our country every year, and it supports tourism across the nation, but it has been a shadow of its normal self for months. Thankfully, it remained open for critical repatriation and medical and freight flights. I am immensely grateful to all the hard-working staff for all that they did to keep those flights going.
However, in the long term, it is impossible for Edinburgh airport to balance the books when 80 per cent of airport costs, which cover security to air traffic control, cannot budge. One third of staff have already been made redundant—2,000 out of the 7,000 jobs across the campus are gone. That is devastating for the individuals personally and a blow for my Edinburgh Western constituency, where so many of them live.
Sectors such as aviation will take much longer to bounce back once we get out of the crisis, so we should be smoothing out the cliff edges. We should extend support such as the furlough scheme, as Germany, France and Austria have already done. Taking the scheme into the middle of next year could avert 1.2 million UK redundancies.
The pandemic sparked job losses, but Edinburgh airport is clear that Scottish Government decisions in response to the crisis have further fuelled them. It says that quarantine has “exacerbated” the number of job losses at the airport.
The Scottish Government’s amendment fails to even acknowledge that there are problems, but the list is very long. There was no quarantine system until six months into the global pandemic, and the Spanish quarantine was turned off on a Monday so that it could be switched back on by the following Saturday—air bridges come with a degree of uncertainty and we all know that the decisions are based on watching the rates in other countries, but that was total chaos.
The justice secretary said that 20 per cent of people were being spot-checked in June, when the actual figure at that time was zero. Contact tracers have been unable to find more than 800 people. That number is rising and the Government has not even been measuring how many of those in quarantine become ill. Therefore, we do not know which air bridges are working to stop the spread of the virus. Edinburgh airport described the current system as a
“travel ban in all but name”.
Badly implemented, poorly policed and sapping confidence—those are its words, Presiding Officer. I know that that was not the intention of ministers, so this mess needs sorting out. A robust system would help the sector find its feet and boost consumer confidence and, critically, I am convinced that it could achieve so much more in the protection of public health and the prevention of the further importation of the virus.
In response to questions from Willie Rennie last week, Professor Linda Bauld told a committee that airport testing would be required. Airport testing with follow-up testing at home could have twin benefits. Professor Bauld argued that it could improve quarantine compliance and pointed to one study that suggested that only 25 per cent of people who were advised to self-isolate were doing so comprehensively.
Public health could be better protected if there was knowledge that either tests or testers would turn up during quarantine. Compromising safety is not an option, but quarantine testing could allow people returning from abroad or visiting to get on with their lives sooner. That possibility is so important to the viability of airports such as Edinburgh. The Scottish Government needs to do the work on that. It needs to acquire and share the science, and to look at what France, Estonia and Germany have all been doing.
Professor Bauld also told us last week that the bigger reason why we do not have airport testing is infrastructure. Since then, the testing system has plunged deeper into chaos. The test half of the test and protect system is falling down. If the Scottish and UK Governments cannot get that right, it is not just our aviation industry that will be in big trouble; so too will our schools, the NHS and our care homes.
During the debate, I am very mindful that the pandemic is not the only pressing threat that faces humanity right now. The climate emergency cannot wait, and aviation needs to play its part. That is why we successfully opposed the Scottish National Party’s plan to slash air passenger duty and it is why I cannot fathom the SNP’s support for a third runway at Heathrow, which will bring 600,000 tonnes of new emissions to Scotland by 2040.
Edinburgh, like the rest of Scotland, needs aviation for tourism and its economy, but we need it to be greener too. Grounded flights, people working from home, far fewer tourists buzzing up and down the Royal Mile—that all feels huge, but for the climate it is not. Experts are already telling us that the changes from Covid will barely register as a blip in humanity’s continued contribution to climate change. However, the route map to making aviation sustainable is not to let the economic impact of coronavirus do its worst and shred through livelihoods; it requires systems change, and Governments need to reach for that—including in their discussions with airlines and airports. Edinburgh airport knows that too. It says that it is important that the Government sets a price for its interventions. It is possible to get those transition plans, accelerate decarbonisation, attach green strings and support jobs.
We are still firmly in the clutches of this virus. Lives and livelihoods are under threat. I believe that the changes that we have outlined today and those that are outlined in Colin Smyth’s excellent motion, which we will support at decision time, can protect both of those. Thousands upon thousands of workers in my constituency are crying out for this Parliament and this Government to do something to step in to help with testing and quarantining and to give more support as part of the picture.
Airports have ground to a halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The industry is collapsing, and some think that there might be no return if no help is offered. That is the reality today.
The reality is that the unions and some political parties are very concerned about the short, medium and long-term prospects for our aviation industry. Job losses are expected to be on the scale of the collapse of the mining industry in the 1980s, and I do not think that that is an exaggeration.
The impact on the wider economy is acute. Airline capacity is already shrinking; some airlines have already permanently scrapped their planes. We must understand that to understand the potential devastation and the prospect of any real recovery.
The Scottish Government does not so far seem to recognise the scale of the impending disaster. Michael Matheson and other ministers are too quiet while it unfolds. I heard the cabinet secretary promise three months ago that there was a long-term recovery plan. We must hear more about that. We need the cabinet secretary’s assurance that some of the powers that are within his gift are being used and that he recognises the scale of the problem.
Unite the union has warned for months about the depths of the crisis and the horrendous attack on terms and conditions that Colin Smyth talked about. If that is allowed to happen without conditionality attached to any Government funding, it will spread across the country and to other sectors, unless we get a grip. As the Labour motion makes clear, we demand a specific package of support for the aviation industry, which should include protections for jobs and for working conditions.
However, it must be understood that this is about the wider economy and not just airports. As other speakers have said, the policy of self-regulated quarantine on return from an at-risk country is not working. Although my evidence is anecdotal, I have been counting the number of times that I have heard about people not adhering to quarantine: the number of cases that I have counted is in double figures. If it was adhered to, and if people were observing 14 days’ quarantine, it might be accurate for the Government to say that that is the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus, but most ordinary people do not think that it is the most effective way.
I hope that we are at one on the issue. We are not arguing for a policy change that could create a public health risk. We support the Government in seeking a policy that protects public health. However, the policy is killing the industry, and there is another way to achieve those same aims.
In Germany, the financial sector has returned to some normality and workers have returned to their offices. The reason for that is simple: mass testing. On landing at Frankfurt airport Channel 4’s Paul McNamara reported last night that there is no 14-day quarantine in Germany. It is not perfect, but he said that it is the best way without locking everything down.
I ask Government ministers: is it the lack of capacity that ties them to their current policy, or is it that they do not think that testing could solve the problem? Airports have called for a pilot of testing. I am pleased that the First Minister seems to have left the door to that idea open.
The current clinical advice on moving to an airport testing regime is that it carries a greater risk than that of the existing quarantine arrangements. I respect and understand the points that the member has made about the challenges of the existing quarantine arrangements, but the clinical advice is that the risk of importing the virus increases after any move to an airport testing regime.
We are undertaking some analysis, in partnership with the clinical advisers from the airports, to understand that risk in greater detail. Different countries will deal with the risk in different ways.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
That is the heart of the matter, but I have to ask the cabinet secretary why 30 countries are using some form of airport testing. Why are Ireland, Iceland and Germany using it if we are not? The Government must answer that question.
We must take clinical advice seriously. People write to me about quarantine. Some people are adhering to it. Some people cannot, or do not want to, because they have jobs in which they do not get sick pay. Most people I talk to say that, if everybody adhered to the quarantine policy, that would be all right. We have to weigh up what the most effective policy would be.
I believe that the First Minister has left the door open, and she is right to do that. The airports are telling her that, if she does not change the policy and is not satisfied that what is proposed will still protect public health, we will see mass job losses. In Glasgow, the city that I represent, the figure is predicted to be about 5,000. That is a big number and it is a big issue for us in Parliament.
I turn to the issue of the just transition to a greener system, which Colin Smyth began to address. We all signed up to the idea that people would take fewer flights and that there would be a just transition. However, it needs to be done in a planned way and should not be done on the back of an economic crisis, with the industry spiralling into disaster. I cannot agree with the Greens’ approach to the issue. There is no chance that Glasgow airport will return to last year’s levels. In fact, the current thinking is that recovery will take five or six years or even longer without Government support. It is unfortunate that the Greens could not at least join with Labour on our motion today, with the caveats and positions that they want to take on a just transition, because first and foremost the issue is about jobs and our economy right now.
There are only two flights from Glasgow to London now and there used to eight. We might not want to go back to eight, but two will not be enough to sustain the business that Glasgow businesses need, and for many businesses, the train is not an alternative. Perhaps on another day we can discuss with the cabinet secretary the failings of the rail network.
We should recognise that passengers are nervous about travelling. However, those who do travel do not have confidence in travelling under the current policy. The position of the Scottish and UK Governments appears to be that a negative test on arrival does not mean that a person does not have Covid, so that point has to be acknowledged. However, Graham Simpson has spoken twice in the chamber on what I believe is the airports’ position on testing, which I ask the cabinet secretary to acknowledge. The fact is that many countries have a double test—
This debate comes at a difficult time for everyone. It is a time like no other—a time of great challenge and a time of unknown futures, which is the part of the issue that I will talk about.
I speak in the debate for two important reasons. First, as everyone knows, Glasgow International Airport is actually in Paisley. Secondly, I want to highlight the importance of the airport to the economy of both Paisley and Renfrewshire. The second point is the main focus of my speech. Glasgow airport supports in excess of 10,000 jobs, but that is not the only reason why it is important. Its geographical position is vital in connecting business and Scotland to the world, and in connecting people to Scotland’s many islands.
Aviation is threatened by not just Covid-19 but the loss of consumer trust in aviation, as has been mentioned. I can honestly understand why people would not want to spend two to three hours packed together in a metal tube, breathing recirculated air during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the challenge that we face is that an important sector of our economy is struggling. How do we deal with that? I believe that we need to protect what we have, which means ensuring that we still have our aviation infrastructure if—or when—we come out the other end of this. That means protecting jobs and ensuring that Glasgow airport can rebuild in the future.
Glasgow airport is responsible for how it deals with its staff, but in order to help the airport, it is important that the job retention scheme continues. As we live through the scary times of a worldwide pandemic, there will obviously be challenges for aviation, and the UK Government should follow the lead of nations such as Germany, which has continued its furlough scheme for another year. If a sector in our economy is affected to the extent that aviation is affected, it is only logical to continue the furlough scheme. As long as consumer confidence is at its current low level, there will be no mad dash to the skies and beaches of Europe, so if an industry such as aviation continues to struggle, the UK Government must continue the job retention scheme.
I would go as far as to say that the continuation of the scheme is our starting point in the debate, and I find it strange that the Labour Party has not said the same. Why has Labour left that point out of its motion? Colin Smyth mentioned it during his speech, but it is not in the motion. That is ironic because, in his letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, Len McCluskey said:
“Winter and Christmas are fast approaching and the recent rise in the ... infection rate is very concerning, as your recent ‘rule of six’ ruling underscores, but it also indicates that any ... ‘normal’ consumer behaviour and economic activity will not return for some time.
It is therefore vital that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is extended and that there is a comprehensive plan drawn up for sector specific support.”
We have to ask ourselves why the Labour Party is not today supporting that call by Len McCluskey and Unite.
The job retention scheme extension is the most important issue in the debate. We are 45 days away from the UK Government pulling away that support mechanism, which is vital to families in Scotland. [
The member accuses me of not supporting Unite the union, but he may want to look at some of the representations that it has made to the Scottish Government, which it has called on to take action to support sector. Labour is clear: we support a new furlough scheme that has conditionality attached to it to stop jobs being lost. Why does Mr Adam not support conditionality?
Before Mr Adam responds, I hope that people listening remotely heard you, Mr Smyth. I know that it is polite to look at the member you are addressing, but try to speak to your microphone.
One answer to Mr Smyth is that, if he believes in that so much—if he thinks that it is such an important part of the debate and he wants to protect jobs—he should not try to talk the Tories into supporting his motion, just because he wants to beat the Government today. This is about real people, real lives and real jobs.
We are all responsible for ensuring that Covid-19 does not spread, and the problem with airports and any increase in traffic is the potential importation of the virus from elsewhere. We need to be careful.
As Paisley’s MSP, it is difficult for me to say that at the same time as worrying about the jobs in the industry. That is why I say that the UK Government must continue the job retention scheme, because that is what will make a difference to the industry and ensure that the jobs are still there if and when we come out of this.
We are living in a very difficult time. All of us, regardless of which party or Parliament we belong to, need to look for solutions. There is no point in any of us making petty points in the debate. We are literally dealing with life and death. Today, let us all keep the heid and ensure that we are all part of the solution and not engaging in some pointless academic debate. I ask members to always remember, please, that the people we are discussing are the people whose jobs are at stake. There are far more important than any of us in the chamber.
There are not many sectors that have been as deeply affected by the pandemic as the aviation industry has been.
The significant decrease in air passenger numbers is having a severe impact. In the UK, the aviation industry is facing a potential loss of more £20 billion this year. It is a worrying time for those who are employed directly by airlines and airports and for those whose livelihoods rely on a functioning aviation sector.
Clearly, the size and scale of the UK Government’s interventions have saved tens of thousands of jobs. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been paid to the industry through the job retention scheme. British Airways alone furloughed 22,000 employees—more than half its workforce. British Airways, EasyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair have accessed an additional £1.8 billion through the Covid-19 corporate financing facility.
Unfortunately, despite the unprecedented size of the UK Government’s interventions, we have seen redundancies on a wide scale, with tens of thousands of jobs either lost or at risk across some of the biggest operators in the aviation sector. Every week, we hear of more redundancies and more jobs being at risk. The scale is staggering. Last week, another 1,150 jobs were lost at Virgin Atlantic, and 68 jobs went at Loganair—an airline that is a lifeline for Scotland’s remote and island communities. Unfortunately, with the industry being on its knees, the magnitude of those losses will not come as a shock to anyone.
The impact on the industry has already filtered through to its supply chains. In my region, that was brought home by the news that 700 jobs would be lost at Rolls-Royce’s civil aerospace facility at Inchinnan, brought about by a drop in orders as a result of the pandemic. Those redundancies will have a devastating impact on the people and communities affected by them.
More and more job losses in the aviation sector are likely over the weeks and months ahead. We need action, and we need it now. I urge the Scottish Government to work closely with the UK Government as it develops and implements its aviation recovery plan, and to consider all available interventions at its disposal in order to support the sector and its employees at this time.
I will come on to that. However, in general, I would not support the practice of firing employees and then trying to rehire them on reduced terms and conditions. I do not believe that responsible companies would go down that particular route.
As my colleague Graham Simpson said, the Scottish Government should look again at introducing coronavirus testing at Scottish airports. Industry leaders have made it clear that such a move could be vital to the survival of the industry and would ultimately protect jobs. The Scottish Government should also undertake a review of air passenger duty and explore the impact that a reduction in current rates would have on airlines during these desperate times.
Furthermore, the aviation industry workforce is highly skilled and highly trained. It is therefore vital that it is not dismantled before the industry has had a chance to recover. I call on the Scottish Government to explore further how it might support skills retention in the industry and if, that is not possible, how it might support individuals who have lost their jobs to find new employment.
Mr Golden has raised an important point about skills retention in the sector. A critical element of that is the certification process, which enables airside staff to hold their certificates for extended periods of time. Given that aviation is a completely reserved area, does he agree that the UK Government should proactively consider relaxing the existing timescales for applications for airside operatives’ certificates? It should also explore how it might flex those to support people currently working in the sector in getting back into it when opportunities arise. The Scottish Government has raised that issue with the UK Government but, to date, it has not addressed it.
I have been quite clear that I agree that both the UK and Scottish Governments have roles in retaining aviation staff, including looking at the specific issue that Mr Matheson raised on certification and ensuring that, if skills cannot be kept within the industry, they are redeployed for the benefit of the wider Scottish economy. Retaining staff and skills will be critical as we look forward towards recovery.
Although airlines need to act with a commercial focus at this time, I urge all operators not to use the pandemic as an opportunity to rewrite staff terms and conditions unfairly or to impose unjust restructuring measures.
It is clear that this is a difficult time for the aviation sector and that there will be more challenging times ahead, but the industry is far too important to Scotland for us to allow it to be decimated. In my own region, the importance of Glasgow airport to the local community is massive. It employs thousands of individuals and contributes more than £1 billion to the Scottish economy each year, and similar comments could be made about Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and Prestwick airports.
I call on the Scottish and UK Governments to do all that they can to support the industry, including our baggage handlers, cabin crew, airport logistical staff and the tens of thousands of other individuals employed directly and indirectly in the sector. These are desperate times, and they need all the help that they can get.
We need an urgent plan, strategy and package of support from the Scottish Government to save aviation jobs. That should include sector-specific support with conditionality on jobs, and it should be agreed in conjunction with the trade unions GMB and Unite, as well as with Scotland’s airports. It is also vital that we have a robust testing regime for air passengers.
It is clear from the debate so far that most people understand the need for sustainable travel options. However, most people also recognise that air travel is still a necessity for many of us. Air travel has opened up Scotland to the world as well as having opened up the world to Scots. It is a hugely valuable part of our economy. Like other members, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to my area. In the West Scotland region, Glasgow airport is a key driver of growth and is quite simply the backbone of the Renfrewshire economy.
In 2018, it was estimated that Glasgow airport contributed £1.4 billion to the Scottish economy. It supports over 30,000 jobs throughout Scotland. Many thousands of those jobs are available to my constituents, and are jobs that cannot be easily replaced.
“when Glasgow Airport succeeds Scotland shares the benefit”.
However, far from succeeding in the face of the pandemic, our airports, our aviation industry and our world-leading aerospace sector are in crisis. In Renfrewshire and the west, we know only too well the costs of deindustrialisation. We are still living with the scars of industrial decline from the 1980s, which was symbolised in Renfrewshire by the closure of the car plant in Linwood. I am sorry to say that we risk this happening all over again with the decline of the key sectors of the Renfrewshire economy in 2020—aerospace and aviation.
Unemployment in Scotland is rising at twice the rate of unemployment in the UK as a whole. According to the latest labour market statistics, the claimant count in Renfrewshire has nearly trebled. As we have heard from Colin Smyth, the Fraser of Allander institute is forecasting a loss of up to 5,000 jobs in civil aviation and aerospace, which are pivotal sectors for my community.
Yesterday, we read that the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland has signed a lease on premises in Renfrew to develop with Boeing an £11.8 million project that will look into manufacturing processes and technology that are related to metallic components. That project depends on there being a future for aviation and aerospace in Scotland.
Rolls-Royce, with its state-of-the-art facility at Inchinnan, is the jewel in the crown of Scottish aerospace. It, too, depends on a healthy world economy in which aviation is thriving. In the era of environmental awareness, Rolls-Royce is a key player in designing and developing aero engines that are more efficient and less environmentally damaging. Without healthy aviation and aerospace industries, my West Scotland region will be devastated; 700 workers at Rolls-Royce are already losing their jobs, and many have been made redundant in the past few weeks.
The measures that have been announced by the Government to protect jobs in the sectors clearly have not worked. Not one of the jobs at Rolls-Royce in Inchinnan has been saved. Thousands of Scots in the sectors have already lost their jobs, with thousands more set to lose theirs with the premature ending of the furlough scheme. This is an unprecedented crisis that requires an equally unprecedented Government response.
It is right to recognise that certain sectors need special help: surely, special help is justified for the aviation and aerospace industries. How can our economy recover and prosper if Glasgow airport cannot survive? How can we provide the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow without Rolls-Royce jobs? If we are to preserve a successful future for ordinary Scots, we need action such as we have never seen before. We need not merely to extend the job retention scheme, important though it is; we need to build the industries back up. We need not to appease companies that fire and rehire and companies that turn their backs on us such as Rolls-Royce, but to push back against offshoring and redundancies with a plan for urgent action.
The current crisis demands that the Scottish Government use its full range of powers and every penny that it has to work in partnership with councils, companies and organisations that have stakes in aviation and aerospace. We need imagination and a will to succeed. We need economic leadership—which has, to be honest, been lacking for a decade. We need to be big enough to set aside differences and work for the common good.
The crisis demands a Scottish response, but it also requires a concerted and joined-up UK approach, particularly in the perilous Brexit world in which we live. It is not either/or; we need both. The Scottish Government, the UK Government and other devolved Administrations should come up with an emergency programme for aviation and aerospace jobs.
If our aviation and aerospace industries collapse, we will be at a permanent disadvantage in the world economy. That is why my Labour colleagues and I are calling on the Scottish Government to promise that it will use its powers and resources, and work with trade unions, the airports, the other devolved Administrations and the UK Government to develop a plan of action that is equal to the scale of the challenge that confronts us, and which starts with the objectives in Colin Smyth’s motion.
We need a plan and strategy because, despite the warm words from the First Minister and the cabinet secretary and in the Government amendment, there is no meaningful plan to save the airport jobs of my constituents and there is no plan or strategy to replace those jobs. That needs to be changed urgently.
The thousands of my constituents whose jobs rely on aviation and aerospace, along with their families, will not forgive us if we allow our political differences to hinder an effective fightback for jobs. If the Scottish Government carries out that fightback, it will have our support.
Mr Bibby talked about manufacturing job losses in the 1980s. He will no doubt therefore wish to condemn the record of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, who from 1997 to 2007 presided over the loss of 37 per cent of all Scotland’s manufacturing employment, including 55 per cent of such employment in Ayrshire.
I appreciate the fact that Labour MSPs are using their debating slot to discuss the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry, but I grow weary of their continued failure to recognise that neither aviation nor employment law is devolved. They ask the Scottish Government to support the aviation sector, knowing fine well that fiscal constraints mean that the Scottish Government cannot replicate a furlough scheme in Scotland, which is a constitutional situation that Labour wishes to continue. [
I will let the member in soon.
Our focus has to be on urging the UK Government to step up and to support the aviation sector through the appalling situation that we are in. It would be better if Labour were to join us in calling for the return of all powers and responsibilities to Scotland, so that we no longer have to urge the UK Government to do anything, given that so much of that urging often falls on wilfully deaf Tory ears.
On 17 March, the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to put together a tailored support package for the aviation industry. That was exactly one week before he told the aviation industry that it should just make do with what it had. In a report that was commissioned by Unite, the Fraser of Allander institute estimates that there will be 2,330 direct and indirect job losses in civil aviation, with an overall economic loss of around £140 million to Scotland. The Scottish Government recognises the enormous impact on the industry and on supply chains and it is doing all that it can, with its limited powers. It is providing business rates relief for aviation, airports and ground-handling providers, which is not available in England under the Tories or in Labour-run Wales.
The Scottish Government’s PACE—partnership action for continuing employment—initiative has also sprung into action, and has been working with many people who have sadly lost their jobs due to the crisis. As an Ayrshire MSP, I am very much aware that the aviation and aerospace industries consist of much more than airports. They involve manufacturing, research and development and so on, and their supply chains reach far and wide. Our airports provide jobs for thousands—from high-tech engineering jobs to retail, baggage-handling and security people, with a huge range of skills, aptitudes and interests.
The Scottish Government has long since recognised the specific needs of the industries and their potential for Scotland and Ayrshire’s economies. When Prestwick airport was struggling in 2013, the Scottish Government stepped in to purchase it for £1, thereby saving 300 direct and 1,400 indirect jobs. I am delighted that, last year, Prestwick airport made a £3 million profit, having increased its revenue by 46 per cent year-on-year to £36 million. It is therefore disappointing that Councillor Tom Marshall, the Tory leader of North Ayrshire Council, has called for Prestwick airport to be closed and all its flights moved to Glasgow, regardless of the impact on Ayrshire’s economy.
Prestwick airport is well placed to become a spaceport, due to its existing facilities, infrastructure, meteorological conditions and transport linkages. That would create potential spin-off opportunities for local employment and tourism across Ayrshire.
The International Air Transport Association predicts that passenger air travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, which is a year later than was initially thought. However, there is a focus on and enormous potential in international freight and aviation services. At the beginning of the pandemic, before we had a chance to manufacture personal protective equipment here in Scotland, Prestwick airport was instrumental in taking receipt of PPE. Who does not remember footage of the first flight arriving from China carrying supplies, including intensive care unit equipment and testing kits.
During the lockdown, the Scottish Government established the aerospace response group to help to preserve the industry and jobs during the pandemic, to formulate a response to Covid-19 and to explore opportunities. The economy secretary, Fiona Hyslop, and her counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland have called on the UK Government to establish an aerospace task force to help to preserve engineering and other skills, of which there is a wealth in the supply chain. Many of those skills could also benefit other industries.
In chairing that group, the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills liaises closely with union representatives, as he does on a host of other matters. That is vital, because British Airways and others have chosen to use the coronavirus pandemic to fire employees and to seek to rehire some of them on contracts with inferior terms and conditions, including pay cuts of up to 43 per cent. BA has fired about 12,000 of the 42,000 staff that it had at the start of the pandemic and has—as it says—“renegotiated” contracts.
This morning, while giving evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee, BA’s chief executive, Álex Cruz, insisted that it was absolutely appropriate to use fire and rehire threats against his staff. He also said that BA had reached an agreement in principle with unions that would result in amendments to existing contracts rather than firing and rehiring. I was in the Education and Skills Committee all morning, so I have not had a chance to see how meaningful an exchange that actually was.
SNP member of the UK Parliament Gavin Newlands’s Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill 2019-21, also known as the fire and rehire bill, seeks to ban that behaviour, which is aimed at commercially exploiting the pandemic. If the bill is passed, it will amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to
“Prohibit employers dismissing employees and subsequently re-employing them for the purpose of diminishing the terms and conditions of employment; and for connected purposes.”
By the addition of firing and rehiring practices to a list of actions that constitute unfair dismissal, workers across Scotland and the UK could be protected from having to choose between the two evils of losing salary and losing their job. The bill has achieved cross-party support and the backing of key unions, and would protect many more workers than just those in the aviation industry. I would like to see whether the UK Tory Government will back it.
The perceived ruthlessness of BA and other airlines reinforces the message that aviation continues to be hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic and merits a tailored support package. Scottish ministers are doing their utmost, but aviation and employment remain reserved to Westminster. We must unite as a Parliament to demand that UK ministers deliver a support package that is tailored to aviation and aerospace, in order that we can preserve employment and skills in those sectors and their supply chains.
No one doubts the importance of aviation as an industry, and the debate is welcome, given the number of emails that I have received from very worried employees. Because of our geographic position as an island, we cannot just dismiss aviation; we need to cross the seas, and we need to cross them fast in many cases. John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, was right to note that the aviation industry impacts not only on visible issues such as tourism but on the manufacturing industry through the necessity of long-haul flights, with many businesses relying on those flights for their just-in-time supply chains. He notes:
“Unless you get those flights moving again ... we will not be able to get the UK economy rebooted.”
In my opinion, he is quite right. Not only do 80 per cent of inbound visitors reach the UK by air, but air freight accounts for 40 per cent of trade by value.
It is essential for the economy that the aviation industry gets back on its feet, and the best way to achieve that is for planes to cross our skies again. That would not only protect cabin crews; it would help to retain airport staff as well as those in industries that are dependent on air travel. Airports need customers, otherwise they are left paying expensive overheads with little or no income. By June of this year, Heathrow airport reported that it was losing £200 million a month, and Edinburgh airport has advised that 80 per cent of its costs are fixed overheads—costs that accrue no matter how many flights take to the air. I have no doubt that the Scottish Government must also be concerned about the fixed costs of running airports without passengers, given the fact that the Scottish ministers own and operate 11 airports that are not even paying business rates. That makes increasing traffic in airports not simply desirable but a necessity.
“dual approach with balanced attention given to health and prosperity” is the only way forward, citing the need for a robust testing regime and calling the Scottish Government’s quarantine policy
“a travel ban in all but name”.
As he says, that is simply not a sustainable approach, and I believe that he is quite correct.
Airports and airlines need customers, and commerce is the best remedy that we have available. However, we need an effective testing regime if we are going to tackle Covid continuously. Quarantine does not work, because, for most people, 14 days in one place requires 14 days’ supply of food, and several people have informed me that the places that they have gone to quarantine have told them that they are not supplying meals and that they will have to go out to get them. I leave members to consider what that means for people.
For the sustainability of the sector and for the sake of the taxpayer, simply bailing out aviation companies does not present a long-term solution. We have seen that with firms such as Flybe. Propping up failing businesses is not the way forward; sometimes, market forces should be allowed to take their course. However, financial support is necessary at present, and measures such as the Scottish Government’s moves to waive business rates for airports are welcome. As the Covid-19 pandemic develops, it looks very much like the possibility of aviation returning to a state of normalcy by spring next year is highly unlikely. Accordingly, I ask the Scottish Government to conduct a study into the feasibility of waiving business rates for airports for another six months, if necessary.
As in countless sectors across Britain, the UK Government’s job retention scheme has sought to protect jobs in aviation, and other helpful measures—including waiving air traffic control charges for 14 months, VAT deferrals, the Covid-19 corporate financing facility, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and the introduction of a payment plan facility for the Civil Aviation Authority to cover the payment of annual charges—have been generous. As some members have said, companies such as Ryanair and easyJet have accessed £600 million each, while BA and Wizz Air have received £300 million apiece. Sadly, though, that does not appear to be enough. I suggest that both Governments consider introducing holistic measures such as offering tailored financial support to tourism and travel businesses that are reliant on air travel for their customers. That trade is worth £11 billion to Scotland’s economy.
The member says that she does not agree with bail-outs, but she has just given us a long list of bail-outs. Which is it? Either the aviation industry is in trouble and needs assistance or it does not.
I do not agree with bail-outs when there is no future for the company. However, as I acknowledged just then, assistance is required at the moment, and I have listed some of the assistance that is being given. What we must bear in mind is that we need the arrival of visitors and we need safeguards, and effective testing is the most effective way to make that happen.
Trade is what we need in the aviation industry, as in all areas of our economy, and we have to be careful with large-scale bail-outs and financial support. I have heard calls today for continuing the job retention scheme. I would say that, although the UK’s shoulders are broad, they are not broad enough to continue paying everyone’s wages for ever. We need to understand what aviation is going to look like after Covid, and we need to have a tailored plan that ensures that the money that we are putting in is about sustaining the industry going forward, not just delaying an inevitable—[
In conclusion, we need a balanced approach that takes safety and sustainability into account while addressing the fundamental economic realities. The months ahead do not present a menu of easy choices, but it is important that we stimulate the aviation sector through the ebb and flow of business. That is the lifeblood of the industry, and that is where we must focus.
I am grateful to the Labour Party for bringing this important debate to the chamber. The constituency that I represent takes in a large portion of west and southern Renfrewshire as well as the Leven valley area of east Renfrewshire. Where I live, in Johnstone, the airport is a big presence not just in terms of employment but because of the sound of aircraft regularly roaring over my head. The undercarriages do not quite clip the chimney of my house, but they are not far off.
One of the most disconcerting and surreal experiences that I had during lockdown was the all-pervasive silence across Johnstone and seeing the rows of aircraft on the runway when I was driving through to Parliament. Every day that those aircraft were on the runway increased the threat to jobs at Glasgow airport as well as in aerospace and wider aviation. That highly skilled workforce deserves full support from both our Governments working together. I appreciate that there is a great deal of distrust and mutual antagonism between the UK and Scottish Governments at the moment, for understandable reasons, but this issue is too important to be lost in that particular debate.
I recognise the work that the Scottish Government has already undertaken, particularly through the provision of business rates relief for aviation that benefits airports and ground-handling providers. I note that that has not been offered elsewhere in the UK. The UK Government has chosen not to extend that relief, so that resource has come out of our money in this Parliament.
The impact on the aerospace industry in Renfrewshire as a consequence of reduced demand across the supply chain has been particularly marked at the Rolls-Royce site at Inchinnan, where 700 jobs are going—half of the workforce. By any measure, that is a huge blow to the local economy. In these difficult circumstances, I welcome the work that is being undertaken by the Scottish Government to support staff through PACE and the involvement of the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, particularly through the establishment of the aerospace response group.
I see Mr Hepburn in the chamber and understand that he will be summing up for the Government. I ask him to give an update on the work of the aerospace response group if he is able to, but to write to me if he is not. A wide range of stakeholders is involved in that group, and I very much welcome the involvement of the unions, noting that the STUC, Unite, Prospect and the GMB attended the last meeting for which minutes are available. I also welcome the attendance of Renfrewshire Council and the inclusion of representation from Rolls-Royce.
One of the key areas of interest for the group is people and skills—particularly apprenticeships and job-loss mitigation, which were identified as immediate priorities. The group is looking to establish a sub-group to have further discussions on aircraft decommissioning, and it sees this as a good opportunity to maintain the skills and capacity for that. The minutes note that it was highlighted that aircraft decommissioning is not about creating a scrapyard for planes but remanufacturing and reusing components.
There was optimism that there is the further potential to create a global centre of expertise, and work is now required to develop a full business case to progress that opportunity at pace. I am sure that all members will want to see that work undertaken expeditiously so that we can retain the talent and skills of those people, which will be vital for our economy going forward, particularly if we want to effect a truly just transition to net zero for the aviation sector.
I pay tribute to the work of my colleague Gavin Newlands MP, who is a constituency neighbour, taking in the northern part of my constituency in Linwood, Craigends and Brookfield. He has been a tireless champion for the aerospace sector and for Glasgow airport. His engagement with the aviation and aerospace industries has been very welcome, and he has pushed for targeted support for the sector in the House of Commons.
I thank Gavin Newlands; as others have done, I want to ensure that he is credited for the private members’ bill that he has introduced to end the exploitative and disgraceful fire-and-rehire policy. I welcome the announcement on Monday that Mr Starmer is now supporting the bill, which was introduced by Gavin Newlands on 22 July, having been presented to Parliament on 9 June, three months ago. It is not about whose name is on the bill, but it is important to recognise that a hard-working constituency MP has addressed the issue in order to represent his constituents.
It would be remiss of me not to recognise and welcome yesterday’s announcement of the partnership between the University of Strathclyde and Boeing. That is the latest venture to be set up with the advanced manufacturing innovation district Scotland, which is a few miles north of my constituency. It has been forecast that that partnership can potentially create as many as 200 high-skilled and high-value jobs at the cutting edge of design and technology. That has been made possible in part through £3.5 million of Scottish Enterprise funding. That is exactly the kind of intervention that we need, and it is very welcome to see the Scottish Government engaging with that.
There is much more that I would like to say, but I will make a final point. The UK Government needs to provide targeted support for the aviation sector. That is not a cop-out; we simply do not have the borrowing powers under the fiscal framework to effect the necessary quantum to give that support, so the UK Government needs to do that. The situation is impacting on aviation throughout the UK, and aviation is a reserved matter. The UK Government needs to give targeted support and, most important, it must extend the furlough scheme.
I am very glad that Labour’s motion has been able to get a real debate going that is focused on what a sustainable future for the aviation industry looks like and how we can deliver it.
I thank Unite the union for its campaign work alerting us to the crisis in the industry, and Edinburgh airport, which is in my area, for its briefing and the work that it has put in to make us aware of the solutions that it thinks are needed, which we can debate.
As colleagues have said, there are currently hundreds of jobs at risk. Many of those jobs are in companies that operate at multiple airports. That shows how interconnected the businesses that make up the industry are. However, it is not just about those jobs; it is also about tourism and hospitality jobs and the wider regional economy.
“This has been an effective mechanism to provide immediate, broadly based support to business. But it is a blunt instrument. Over the coming months, it will be necessary to deploy more targeted, continuing support in specific areas, and to specific sectors, as part of recovery plans.”
Our motion focuses on what can be done by the Scottish Government now. On the points that a couple of SNP back benchers made, the motion refers to the job-retention scheme at the UK level. However, we need more.
This debate has to generate change. The response to the challenges that the aviation sector faces needs to be forward looking. That is why the motion is about sustainable aviation. Aviation has to look beyond Covid-19. With the industry at risk of collapse and services reduced by an estimated 98 to 99 per cent, according to the Airport Operators Association, now is the time to deliver changes to keep the industry going and to transform it for the future.
The aviation sector has a skilled workforce and provides good-quality jobs for people throughout Scotland, and it connects our communities—particularly our island communities. Those benefits have to be protected. Any recovery plan must be tied to maintaining and improving the pay and conditions of the workforce and meeting environmental targets.
The Scottish Government needs to use its powers and learn from other countries across the world to leverage change from business and support that change. Surely saving and transforming the aviation industry for the better means ensuring that dividends are not paid to shareholders until the company is financially viable, and ensuring that any company that is in receipt of Scottish Government support is tax-domiciled in the UK, uses UK suppliers and the most ecologically friendly technologies and fuels, and looks at local investment and development.
I know that the Scottish Government agrees with that sentiment—that was clear in the cabinet secretary’s opening remarks—but we have to see action. We need boldness from the Scottish Government. We need leadership, not just headline announcements. Our transport sector more widely needs support to make the transition that we need.
I refer to Transform Scotland’s comments. It is right to say that we need to look at the environmental impact across the transport sector. That means investment in green, low-carbon buses, not seeing contracts cancelled at a time when we need to reduce damaging emissions. It means that there must be not just low-carbon trains but affordable train travel so that people are able to choose trains rather than driving or flying because of the cost of certain journeys. With any Government expenditure or tax reduction, we need to see multiple benefits right across our economy.
Finally, I want to comment on testing. Surely testing is fundamental to the recovery of our economy and our people. What is the point of quarantining without testing? How can anyone plan ahead given that, on average, the advice on travelling is changed every 3.6 days? I listened carefully to the cabinet secretary’s intervention in response to Pauline McNeill’s passionate speech. He did not address the fundamental issue in Labour’s motion, which calls for:
“an urgent review of the existing quarantine system and for the Scottish Government to bring forward options for a robust regime of airport testing on arrival with follow-up testing at home that places protecting public health at the centre, including supporting evidence and mechanisms for any proposal to safely reduce the quarantine period.”
The motion does not tell the cabinet secretary exactly what to do; it says what needs to be delivered.
The UK and Scottish Governments need to be ahead of the game and not way behind—not way behind the rest of Europe, including Iceland, Germany, Greece, France and Italy, as others have mentioned. We need action now.
We need to look at the scientific advice. We cannot dismiss the concerns of our constituents who have been through the airports and know that the quarantine system is not working. We have to align the points about the impact of testing and the need for a reliable testing system. It cannot be right that the only testing in our airports is done for people who are sent there to drive in and get tested before going back home, and not for anyone who is using the airport to travel. We need to get that fixed and that needs to happen now.
We need a sustainable aviation industry with decent jobs and a transition to low-carbon infrastructure. We need confidence in the industry to enable that change to take place and to keep the industry going through what has been an unthinkable experience for our economy. However, it will get worse if those jobs are not protected. A tsunami of job losses is coming soon if we do not get the job-retention scheme in place and we do not get the targeted investment from the Scottish Government that it has at hand to put in place now.
I hope that this debate is not just a series of speeches but that it will lead to urgent action from both the Scottish and UK Governments and that it will have meant something. Our constituents and those who work in the industry need change now.
A good place to start in a debate on aviation is surely with some good news. I welcome the news that Prestwick airport, which was saved by this Government in 2013—saving 300 direct jobs and 1,400 indirect jobs—is back in profit, as of last year, with a £3 million operating profit. That point was made by my colleague Kenny Gibson, but it is worth repeating.
The swift action that was taken by our Government secured the airport’s future and gave it a fighting chance to recover and prosper. Prestwick airport is crucial for the aerospace sector and the Ayrshire economy as a whole, as we hope to capitalise on the growth deal and the spaceport, if that comes our way. Prestwick airport is a strategic asset for Ayrshire and the Scottish Government is rightly doing all that it can to nurture it and secure its future.
Now, of course, we are facing a different battle. We need to try our best to stick together locally and internationally to help the aviation sector get through this crisis. The impact on the sector is wide and varied and affects us in Ayrshire in particular.
Global aircraft manufacturers’ decisions have an impact on the supply chain, from Boeing in Seattle to the wing makers in Ayrshire. At the end of July, Boeing had reduced its deliveries of aircraft from 240 in the first half of last year to only 70 this year and only 20 from April to June. Airbus is in a similar position, with orders being delayed. Those two giant supply lines stretch across the Atlantic into the Scottish aerospace sector; the leading edges for wings for Boeing and Airbus are made in Ayrshire.
Jobs have already been lost. Around 270 jobs have been lost at GE Caledonian and about 180 at Spirit AeroSystems. Rolls-Royce and Wyman-Gordon have shed nearly 800 jobs. The consequent impact on our economy is substantial, with a loss of anything between £90 million and £140 million when the knock-on effects are considered. I note that some aspects of Airlines UK’s recent letter to the Prime Minister calling for him to intervene chimes with some of our views about what needs to be done on job retention, for example. It also asks for things such as air passenger duty waivers, regional air corridors and Covid testing trials with five-day quarantine arrangements. Perhaps I can leave that with the minister to offer a view on later.
I am not sure whether those asks will work, but the industry does not expect a recovery to pre-2019 levels for at least four years. As a result, it is consulting on around 30,000 job losses, and many more jobs in the supply chain are affected. The letter further claims that other jurisdictions put in place support packages for their industries some time ago, which I hope to mention before I close.
Last week I met, online, colleagues from East Ayrshire Council, from the SNP, Labour and Tory groups. They were united in their calls for help from wherever it may come. They, too, are particularly keen to protect Prestwick at this vital time in its recovery. The three Ayrshire councils are working to put together local schemes that might help sustain jobs and provide opportunities to help the industry get through this period.
It is really encouraging that the aerospace response group has been set up by the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn. There is good representation from the council sector lead officers, and I think that the group has met two or three times already. We literally have high hopes, but we cannot do all this alone. No doubt, the action plan that the group will come up with will ask both Governments to use whatever leverage they can to sustain the industry until it is certain that the virus is no longer a threat to public health. It is time for creative minds to come together with creative thinking, or the consequences will be dire.
Other jurisdictions are doing what they can, by extending their furlough arrangements or providing cash and loans, in one form or another, to the sector to tide it over. America announced $50 billion in bail-outs for airlines and $10 billion for airports. Italy has spent $650 million
buying Alitalia in order to save the company. The Dutch Government is spending €3.4 billion in loans, Lufthansa is getting €9 billion, Air France is getting €7 billion
and the list goes on.
I do not envy the task of ministers in all the Governments that are trying to navigate their way through this. Being open-minded enough to try new ideas and new solutions is probably a good place to start. Listening to the industry and the workers who make it a success is more important than it has ever been. I sincerely hope that we can find a way that allows the industry to survive and to flourish safely in the years ahead.
I also thank Labour for bringing the debate to the chamber, as the impact of coronavirus on our aviation industry is one that rightly deserves attention. As my colleagues and other members have noted, communities across the country are dependent on the sector remaining reliable for both personal and business reasons, and therefore we have a duty to protect it in Scotland.
Jobs are at risk at airports across Scotland, but it is not just the aviation workforce that could face redundancy if the industry does not receive adequate support through this crisis. Several other industries will be affected, such as fuel suppliers, construction companies, manufacturers and businesses that sell goods in airports—the list goes on. Furthermore, our tourism industry is heavily reliant on our aviation industry. Once we reach a stage where we can welcome residents from more countries around the world back into Scotland, it will be vitally important that our aviation industry is ready and waiting for their arrival, while we keep Scotland safe from the threat of coronavirus.
That is why it is important that we get testing right as soon as possible. We need to see urgent action on airport testing. At First Minister’s question time last week, Ruth Davidson highlighted the need for airport testing, after recent figures showed that only 5 per cent of people who are coming into our airports are being contacted by the national contact tracing centre. Airport bosses are warning that thousands of job losses are on the cards if there is no mandatory testing at airports, and the firm AGS Airports, which operates the airports in Glasgow and Aberdeen, stated that it
“cannot operate in such an unpredictable environment.”
My local airport in Aberdeen knows the importance of testing: Dyce airport is being used by the UK Government to provide additional testing facilities. As Aberdeen is the busiest helicopter terminal in the world, I know that it will be keen to get on top of the testing regime so that it can help to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The aviation industry is willing for this change, and the Scottish Government needs to help it to achieve it—and soon. Although Nicola Sturgeon stated last week that work on airport testing regimes is on-going, I, like many, remain sceptical. The aviation industry is no stranger to broken promises from the SNP. The SNP promised to cut air departure tax by 50 per cent, but it broke that promise. Considering that pre-coronavirus research showed that Scotland could get up to 20 new connections if that tax was abolished, it seems even more counterproductive now to continue with a stance of not cutting ADT, when we should be finding ways to boost our aviation industry.
Perhaps it is time for Labour members to join Scottish Conservative members in our calls for a reduction in air departure tax. I know that the SNP rejected on climate change grounds the reduction of ADT, but, given the reduction in flights during the pandemic, perhaps that should be reassessed. Our policy is for a cut for long-haul flights, which would avoid undermining surface travel alternatives such as cars and trains. We are not suggesting a reduction in the domestic rate. We continue to promote green alternatives for travel within the UK, such as hydrogen technology and the electrification of rail lines.
In addition, the UK Government is to publish a strategy to 2025 that will address aspects such as the return of growth to the sector, workforce skills, regional connectivity and freight, consumer issues, climate change, decarbonisation, health, safety, security and the role of UK aviation in retaining the nation’s global reach.
I note that the airports could take small steps in assisting the industry, for example on parking charges. At a time when we want to reduce barriers to encouraging people back into businesses, I believe that a review of airport parking charges could entice users to airports once more. For example, a user of Dyce airport can come from as far afield as Dundee, Braemar or Keith—all of which involve a longer travelling time than some flights to Aberdeen. That means that those who travel to pick up family or friends may face expensive parking charges if they find out that a flight has been delayed. I know that that is an issue at airports across the country, and I hope that members will join me in asking for airports to reconsider their parking charges, to help those who are doing all that they can to save money during a time when we face another recession.
Much can be done to help the aviation industry get back on its feet again, and our Scottish Government must do what it can. It can start by cutting ADT and sorting out a proper airport testing regime.
I am very grateful to be able to take part in the debate. Aviation impacts hugely on the Scottish economy and has a major influence on all our major statistics, such as those on tourism and unemployment. It is also a local and individual issue, and I have had constituents contact me in recent months about their jobs and terms and conditions with employers such as airports, airlines and airport service businesses.
I believe that aviation has a strong future in Scotland. The pandemic is not going to last forever. We surely do not want to go back to doing exactly what we did previously—aviation has an environmental impact, which I will discuss later. However, flying is a big factor in the lives of many of us, whether that is because of work commitments, visiting family in distant locations or perhaps going for an annual holiday overseas.
We want tourists to come to Scotland to benefit from our scenery and history, and to boost our economy and create jobs.
The member rightly points to issues about the environment and the economy. Will he also acknowledge that lifeline flights, in the islands of Scotland, are exactly what the name suggests—that they make the difference between local economies being viable or not?
Yes, absolutely. I was going to mention Loganair later, as an example—perhaps one of the better ones—of an airline having continued to operate during the pandemic.
I know that some of the trips that we have mentioned could be done without flying. I personally have done Hong Kong to Glasgow by rail. [
.] I am glad that that got a reaction—thank you. However, realistically, we cannot all do that regularly.
I will do a separate speech on that story.
Flying is necessary and the industry will recover.
I agree with a lot of the detail of the Labour motion. I agree that job retention through the furlough scheme has been hugely important. I am pleased that Westminster introduced it and kept it going even longer than was first expected. The scheme has had gaps from day 1, but it has, on the whole, prevented the kind of instant mass unemployment that many of us feared.
It is true that some sectors of the economy are getting back to something closer to normal. However, that is not true of all sectors, and aviation definitely is among those. As members have said, we really need a continuation of the furlough scheme, albeit probably in a more targeted way than before.
The motion mentions the direct support from the Scottish Government and the UK Government to the sector. That is not contentious in broad terms, but we have to be realistic about the actual money and resources for that support. Virtually all business support so far has come from UK borrowing, and that level of borrowing clearly cannot continue indefinitely. However, given the low interests rate at present, I have no problem with shorter-term borrowing in order to target more support at sectors such as aviation and to give the economy in general a boost.
As things stand, that support has to come from Westminster. The Scottish Government can, and has, tweaked the funding that was received, to make it more suitable for the Scottish context—it has also been able to add a bit more money here and there—but more borrowing has to be talked about at a Westminster level.
A just transition to a green economy is mentioned in the Labour motion—Patrick Harvie spent quite a lot of time on that part—and I am, again, fully supportive of that. Many of us felt that the level of flying that we, as a western society, did before the pandemic was unjustifiably high. Planes are quieter and more fuel efficient than they used to be, but, as we seek to pull more people out of poverty in this country and around the world, I do not believe that the environment can afford to have ever-increasing numbers of flights, whether for business or leisure.
I understand that 4.5 billion scheduled passengers flew throughout the world in 2019. That is slightly more than one flight for every two people, so it looks as if some of us need to cut back.
We believe that the industry is collapsing. I spoke to many business people in Glasgow who fear that Glasgow airport might not have a future if we do not act. Is that a concern to the member? Will he address the matter of double testing? Will cutting back on flying really help us to plan our way out of a disaster?
I have concentrated today on the finance and economy aspects—that is my background. The Scottish Government has given a pretty clear answer. The Government is sympathetic to what Pauline McNeill asks for, if double testing is indeed possible and a safer system.
It appears at the moment, however, that the quarantine system is the safest one.
It looks as though we all need to cut back on flying in order to give others more of a chance and prevent an increase in the overall number of flights. When constituents who work in the aviation sector contact me, I take up their cases, but I always point out that the sector needs to reduce in size in the longer term. However, there absolutely must be a just transition for all those who are affected.
The part in the motion about working with the sector and the trade unions seems fine to me. To be fair to both unions and employees with whom I have been in touch, they have all been open to temporary measures such as reduced hours or job sharing to minimise redundancies, which is welcome.
I fully agree, however, that some employers have unfairly tried to use the situation to reduce costs, terms and conditions.
When we received an online briefing from Unite the union, it seemed clear that some employers in the sector behaved better than others. I realise that I have to cut out a little bit of my speech—I was going to mention Loganair—
I begin with some points of agreement. The furlough scheme has had a critical role in protecting jobs, and even if it is ended in general—which I do not welcome—specific sectors need continued support. I hope that even the strongest critic of the aviation industry wants that support for its workforce and for people whose livelihoods are being lost or remain at risk. Michael Matheson and Colin Smyth both made that point, as did many other members.
Another point of agreement is that our remote, rural and, in particular, island communities have a special need for aviation in order to stay connected with the rest of Scotland, let alone the wider world. Sarah Boyack and Alasdair Allan were among the members who mentioned that.
In addition, I agree with the point made by Pauline McNeill, among others, that both the response to the immediate crisis and the development of a just transition plan must be the result of dialogue and co-operation with the unions that represent the people whose jobs are at stake.
There are also shared concerns, both old and new. There are wider knock-on impacts from reduced aviation activity, including on Scotland’s tourism and hospitality businesses. Greens have made the case for years that Government policy and the work of agencies such as VisitScotland need to support positive change by placing a much higher priority on domestic tourism and surface travel routes.
Whether because of strikes, terrorism, volcanoes or, now, a global pandemic, we know that aviation is subject to unpredictable changes. It is also clear and, I hope, becoming more widely understood that climate change—the environmental damage that the aviation industry has helped to cause—is closely connected to the risk of new pandemic diseases. We are probably entering a time when such disruptions will increase, and when fewer people around the world will treat aviation as casually as some have done in recent years.
That is the common ground, but there are also differences. In his opening speech, I do not think that Michael Matheson made any reference to the need for a just transition plan for aviation. He did not reflect on the First Minister’s view that we need to fly less; instead, he spent part of his speech talking with enthusiasm about new routes. I ask him to confirm in his closing speech whether he agrees with Nicola Sturgeon’s comments in Channel 4’s climate debate, when she acknowledged that aviation levels at that time were too high.
The cabinet secretary argued for achieving aviation growth in a way that ensures that the environmental impact is mitigated. Other members, such as Alex Cole-Hamilton, talked about greener aviation. It appears that some people take at face value the empty promises of the industry, which has never offered a coherent or convincing plan for cutting emissions while increasing the number of flights.
Pauline McNeill said that we all sign up to the idea that we should take fewer flights. I hope that she was right—I wish that she was—but I am not sure that we all sign up to that. Certainly, those who are trying to revive the absurd plan of cutting aviation tax do not agree. I do not think that Graham Simpson does either, as he told us that, if Scotland wants to connect to the world, we must rely on aviation.
I am not going to compete with John Mason’s rail trip from Glasgow to Hong Kong—although my transatlantic trip by cargo freighter came as close as I have managed—but most of Europe is easily accessible by rail. This Parliament, which is proud of its climate change targets, still treats aviation as the default option.
How much do we rely on aviation? Even before Covid, the Greens have never argued for grounding all the planes or digging up the runways, but we have said that overreliance on aviation, and the assumption that aviation could keep going for ever, was unsustainable. Far from signing up to the idea of flying less, we have, as a society, been flying ever more and we have come to treat aviation as an entirely casual thing, as though it does no harm at all.
Therefore, in this context, we now have a responsibility to ask how immediate support for people whose jobs are at risk and any recovery plan for the industry can happen in a way that is consistent and within environmental limits. That responsibility falls to all of us, because it simply will not happen with assumptions about technologies that do not even make sense on the drawing board yet.
It also will not happen without a change in our social attitudes to aviation. Much of the public already acknowledge that. The citizens assembly on climate change, which was set up by six Westminster committees, published its report last week. It showed 80 per cent support for a frequent-flyer levy to reduce the environmental impact and to recognise the economic inequality of access to aviation.
If I heard right, Pauline McNeill made a special case for short-haul flights from Glasgow to London and called for a jobs-first approach. We should not be willing to abandon the people or communities whose livelihoods are being lost, but we would be failing them more if we pretended that business as usual will return or that recovery means going back to the way things were.
Those of us who have argued for an end to humanity’s systematic destruction of the world around us have been told year after year, decade after decade and generation after generation that economic growth must come first. It seems from the debate that it is still only the Greens who are willing to challenge that fatal ideology.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing this debate to the chamber. It has been quite a constructive debate. Given everything that has been happening in the Labour Party this week, I am sure that Labour members welcome the chance to unite around an issue for once—long may that continue.
The scale of the problem that aviation faces was outlined by a number of members. At the start of the debate, Colin Smyth talked about 5,000 jobs being at risk. Graham Simpson talked about job cuts at Virgin Atlantic, Loganair, easyJet and BA. We know that passenger numbers are down an estimated 80 per cent at Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, and they are down at Edinburgh airport, to which Alex Cole-Hamilton referred, by almost the same amount—79 per cent.
The economic impact of that is huge. Direct employment at airports is affected, but there is also a huge knock-on effect on the wider economy. Maurice Golden and Neil Bibby referred to the job losses at Rolls-Royce in their area. There is a knock-on effect on ancillary services for aviation—on people who produce the food that people eat on planes; on people who clean the planes; on people who service the airports; on people who work in airport shops, bars and restaurants; on taxi drivers and other transport providers; and on travel agents. There is a huge knock-on effect on the wider economy. Michelle Ballantyne and others talked about the impact on tourism. We need people flying into Scotland to support our tourism economy. The scale of the challenge is enormous.
Three key potential solutions were raised in the debate. The first is direct Government support. We have talked about UK Government support through the furlough scheme, which we will discuss in more detail tomorrow. The UK furlough scheme is among the most generous in the world and supports more than half a million jobs in the Scottish economy. We have to accept that the furlough scheme cannot go on for ever. Nevertheless, businesses will need support after the end of October; the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already acknowledged that point.
There is also a role for the Scottish Government. It is not good enough for SNP members to stand up and say, as they have done in the debate, that it is only ever up to the UK Government to take action. The UK Government has given the Scottish Government a guaranteed £6.5 billion of additional money in this financial year. Has all that money been spent? We do not know.
Ms Forbes has still not answered the question that I asked her three weeks ago. Has all of the £6.5 billion been spent? Where has it gone? I hope that we will get an answer very soon.
The second area that needs to be addressed is air passenger duty, or the air departure tax, which our amendment touches on. Alex Burnett referred to that in his speech. A number of organisations, including the Scottish Passenger Agents Association and Edinburgh airport, have called for a six-month suspension of APD. APD is, of course, still reserved, despite being devolved under the Scotland Act 2016. Indeed, this Parliament passed the Air Departure Tax (Scotland) Bill in 2017, but the Scottish Government has still not taken up that power. That is a real irony. The Scottish Government is always demanding more economic levers, but when the UK Government gives it an economic lever it does not want to take it on. [
] I will not take an intervention now; I need to make some progress.
I remember sitting on panels with Fergus Ewing for years while he demanded that APD be cut. He would say that it needed to be cut to help the tourism industry, and that the UK Government needed to stop dragging its feet and devolve APD to the Scottish Government so that it could cut it. Now the Government does not even want responsibility for APD to be passed to it.
Graham Simpson said that it is a fact that quarantine is putting people off flying because nobody wants to have to quarantine for 14 days when they come home. The uncertainty is also putting people off of flying, given that the regulations change day by day and week by week. People do not want to commit to flying if they do not know how they will be affected.
We could mitigate the quarantine issue with better testing. At present, we are not delivering testing on arrival, and fewer than 5 per cent of those in quarantine get a follow-up call. Therefore, I absolutely agree with those who call for better airport testing. Such testing is done in more than 30 other countries around the world and it could be done here if we put our minds to it. I welcome what the cabinet secretary had to say about that, and the initial steps that have been taken to try to address the issue, because I think that, above all the other interventions, that could make a real difference to restoring the confidence of people who actually want to travel. However, it must be linked to proper follow-up of those in quarantine.
I am conscious of the time, so I will briefly sum up the key issues. Financial support from both the UK and the Scottish Governments is needed; we need to look at reviewing APD and the tax burden; and we need better airport testing. If we can agree on things, which need to be done, this will have been a very constructive and useful debate.
As others have done, I thank Colin Smyth for lodging the motion for today’s debate. I want to start from a point of consensus. The debate this afternoon has shown that, as a Parliament, we have a broad recognition of the scale and impact that Covid-19 has had on the global aviation industry.
At the outset, I want to be clear with members—especially those who represent the areas in Scotland in which its airports are located—and, in particular, those who work in the aviation sector that the Scottish Government recognises the depth of the challenge that the aviation sector faces. That is why we have said in our amendment that we recognise the need for the Scottish and UK Governments to provide direct support to the sector through this period to protect jobs. Picking up on the point that was made by a number of members, particularly those on the Labour benches, about the necessity for us to look at conditionality, I note that our amendment goes on to say that support should include appropriate protections for jobs and fair working conditions. It builds on the fair work first agenda that we already have at play.
It should be recognised that there are no quick fixes for the sector. I thought that Graham Simpson said something interesting in his opening remarks: he said that lockdown was a political choice. I am unclear whether he recognises the necessity for that choice. I suppose that in some sense he is correct because a choice had to be made to save people’s lives. There is no greater responsibility for any Government than that. However, even if we had not made the political decision to have a lockdown, the idea that there would have been no impact on the aviation sector is wishful thinking, because this is an international and global challenge. There are travel restrictions around the world, and until they are lifted there will be some difficulties. Therefore, the question is how we can respond best.
We must look at the actions that we can take, both here as the Scottish Government and with the UK Government. I am pleased that many members agree with our representations to the UK Government to extend the job retention scheme. That is important not only for Scotland’s airports but for our economy as a whole. The Scottish Government’s chief economist today published research that shows that extending the furlough scheme for just eight months could reduce unemployment in Scotland by 61,000 through the first half of next year. I say to Michelle Ballantyne that that is why it is necessary to consider the extension of the furlough scheme.
I congratulate the member on getting the issue of the public service obligation on the record once again. The point has already been made that Caithness Chamber of Commerce has made a business case and it is being considered.
There is an opportunity for Parliament to show today that we believe that the furlough scheme should be extended. That is laid out in our amendment.
I do not have time; otherwise I would.
The issue of quarantine was mentioned by a number of members. Our decision on that has been informed by clinical and scientific advice. In our estimation, it is the best measure by which we can respond to the threat of the spread of Covid-19. We keep measures under constant review as changes occur here and in other countries. That will always be done on the basis of advice. A number of members asked us to look at these matters in conjunction with testing, and of course we commit to do that. I refer members to our amendment, in which we conclude that we will explore the potential for alternative measures, including testing, and also to the point that Michael Matheson made in his opening remarks about the proposition that will be considered in conjunction with Scotland’s airports.
It is unfortunate that I do not have time to update members on the considerable range of work that is under way as we respond to the challenge that is faced by the aerospace sector. If members want to contact me directly, I will be happy to update them on the work that the group has undertaken—the group has not met only two or three times, as Willie Coffey suggested; it has met six times. I am happy to update any member who has an interest in that.
I hope that Parliament will unite around the amendment that we have presented, which takes on board the fundamental points made in Colin Smyth’s motion and makes the point that the
UK Government must extend the furlough scheme that is so important for aviation here in Scotland and for our entire economy.
I welcome the contributions to the debate. A number of key themes have been discussed: the importance of the aviation sector to employment and to our economy, and how we protect both passengers and jobs.
Colin Smyth was right to remind us that Covid-19 has not gone away and that, until we have a vaccination, restrictions on our everyday lives will remain with us. In that context, we must take continued action to deal with the pandemic and urgent action now to deal with an impending economic crisis.
The aviation sector is synonymous with travel and tourism. When we think of that sector, we think of holidays and sunshine as we visit the rest of the world. The many visitors who come from abroad to visit Scotland contribute substantially to our economy. The sector is also about cargo, delivering important supplies such as PPE and keeping our shelves fully stocked. It is concerning that the aviation industry will continue to suffer until people feel comfortable to travel abroad again, for business and for pleasure.
Employees at every level of the aviation industry, from pilots to baggage handlers, face widespread uncertainty, with new redundancies announced almost every day. It is not just the airlines and airports that are struggling; off-site support services that provide catering and cleaning are affected, too, as is the maintenance of aircraft. As Neil Bibby said, 700 redundancies have already been announced at Rolls-Royce and Inchinnan. We also know about the impact on tourism businesses. The cancellation of the Edinburgh International Festival alone has cost the economy £1 billion, never mind the impact of that on travel agents and hotels.
As a number of members have mentioned, analysis by the Fraser of Allander institute for Unite the union has predicted that proposed job losses in the Scottish civil aviation and aerospace engineering sectors might cause the loss of up to 5,000 jobs in Scotland alone, with an associated £750 million loss in economic output and £320 million lost in gross value added. The impact on our economy as a whole is likely to be much greater than that, because there is £11 billion in inbound tourism and almost £1.7 billion in outbound tourism—all of that will have an impact.
The aviation industry needs urgent sector-specific support. We need the Scottish and UK Governments to work together alongside trade unions, employees and representatives from the industry, because only by doing that will we ensure that the support being provided is effective and targeted. It is simply not enough for the cabinet secretary to call on the UK Government or simply to write to the UK Government; he needs to roll up his sleeves and do something now. Any future financial support should include protection for jobs and working conditions. Of course, long-term changes are needed to tackle the climate emergency to ensure a sustainable future, but the immediate focus must be on saving jobs, because the industry is facing collapse.
I return to the issue of the protection of jobs and working conditions. The no-more-firing-and-rehiring bill proposal by Gavin Newlands is to be welcomed, and Keir Starmer has made clear the Labour Party’s support for that bill. What a shame that that is not matched by action here by the Scottish Government. The SNP has a real opportunity to ensure that the support that it provides for the industry is conditional on fair employment. Will the cabinet secretary tell us now whether he will do that?
Jackie Baillie will recognise that the key areas of law that relate to fire and rehire are reserved to the UK Government. I can assure her that we will do everything that we can to ensure that workers’ rights are respected, and we have pursued that already with the aviation sector. However, I hope that she will support us in getting employment law devolved to this Parliament.
That is an abject excuse for not doing anything now and not taking the opportunity to provide support but to make it conditional. The cabinet secretary can do that and should get on with it.
The scale of the redundancies to come is breathtaking; tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and it will be like nothing that we have seen before. If the Scottish Government needs any more convincing about that, it can look at the Airport Operators Association figures that show that passenger traffic is down 98 to 99 per cent on this time last year. In addition, ABTA–The Travel Association, which represents travel agents and tour operators, estimates that up to the end of May about 3.5 million Air Travel Organiser’s Licence-protected bookings worth some £7 billion were impacted.
Understanding the scale of the impending crisis is one thing, but where is that sense of urgency? Pauline McNeill was right to talk about the real urgency for the Scottish Government to intervene fast because it is becoming too late. I suggest that the cabinet secretary call an urgent meeting with the aviation sector trade unions—GMB and Unite the union—to discuss targeted support for the industry, because that has not been done so far.
I turn to the issue of quarantine, which has been mentioned by many members across the chamber. We need an urgent review of the existing quarantine system. The Scottish Government needs to introduce options for a robust regime of airport testing. Testing travellers as they arrive in Scotland, backed up by follow-up testing at home, would provide a degree of reassurance. That is not the only option available. The Government can consider what happens in 30 countries across the world, including Iceland, Ireland and Germany. Let us learn from their approach, and let us put something in place now.
The Scottish Government has, in fact, changed its guidance on quarantining a total of 19 times, which is, on average, once every 3.6 days. It should do that again—put in a testing regime that allows the economy to reopen and keeps passengers safe.
Let me say again that there is much that the Scottish Government can do. Do not just make calls on or write to the UK Government. We need the two Governments to work together, not engage in megaphone diplomacy. They need to roll up their sleeves, get on with it and deliver a package of support with conditions attached to protect jobs and a robust testing regime.
We have heard about the tens of thousands of jobs at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and beyond and the billions of pounds that they contribute to the Scottish economy. I finish by expressing my real anger at the comments of the SNP MSP who represents Glasgow airport. It is disgraceful that he described this as a “pointless academic debate”. Shame on him, because this debate is about an impending economic crisis. This is a debate about saving the aviation sector; this is about saving jobs and livelihoods. His comments were ill considered and he should apologise to the many constituents of his who might lose their job at Glasgow airport.
I am well aware that that was not a point of order, thank you, Mr Mountain. However, the member has put it on the record, as he wished to do. Ms Baillie and Mr Adam can decide how to progress from here.