Covid-19: Support for UK Industries

Rachel Hopkins Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I thank the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for their remarkable support for businesses in the UK, and specifically in Kensington. The Treasury put together a remarkable series of measures—really extraordinary when one thinks of the size, scale and speed of their delivery. However, I would say never let a good crisis go to waste. It is incumbent on us to learn the lessons of the crisis, and to use them to formulate a new business and industrial strategy post Brexit.

One of the key takeaways from the crisis is that we need more high-tech manufacturing and engineering capacity in the UK. We had a remarkable response to the call to action on ventilators, and I am delighted to hear that 7,500 ventilators have been provided to the NHS by UK industry. However, manufacturing capacity should already have been in place. The same issue exists with our supply chains. There is no point in having high-tech capacity in the UK if we are dependent on imports for basic components from Asia. We need an industrial strategy that focuses on our high-tech industries, whether that be telecommunications, artificial intelligence and technology, or energy.

These issues are not going to go away. I hear all the time from constituents who are concerned about Huawei’s involvement, for instance, in 5G. I hear their concerns about the involvement of China General Nuclear Power in Hinkley Point C. We also need a strategy that defends our companies from hostile foreign takeovers if they endanger our national security. I am delighted with the Government’s response, but let us see this as an opportunity to develop a strong post-Brexit industrial strategy for the UK.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

London Luton airport is the fifth busiest airport in the UK, and its operation plays a central role in both Luton’s economy and the regional economy. Last year, it delivered £160 million in air passenger duty to Her Majesty’s Treasury. It was therefore no surprise to me, and probably will not be to the Minister, that the petition on support for the aviation industry had the highest number of Luton South signatories. I have also received many emails from cabin crew and pilots, from those working in security, retail, and hospitality, and from those in the wider holiday and tourism sector who work at companies such as TUI. The whole aviation ecosystem has been impacted by the crisis and they are all worried about their livelihoods.

Luton airport is not only a key jobs provider; because the airport is owned by Luton Council, each year an annual dividend is paid directly to the council to fund local council services. Covid-19 has caused passenger numbers at Luton airport to plummet by 98% and, as the airport dividend is based on a per-passenger basis, that dividend has all but disappeared too. The loss of such a vital commercial income stream into Luton Council means that it is being forced into making £22 million of in-year cuts to balance the budget. That will be devastating for services in our town and is likely to cause nearly 400 job losses at the council.

I have spoken to a number of employers and organisations linked to Luton airport’s operations and supply chain, and the common theme is that the Government’s decision not to introduce a sector-specific financial support package for aviation has deepened the sector’s economic crisis. The sector is interdependent: if one part falters, they all suffer.

We know for sure that the number of flights will not return to 2019 levels for the foreseeable future, that public health regulations will restrict day-to-day business for a long time, and that the economic implications will hamper aviation’s development towards net zero. A failure to introduce a tailored package that supports the industry in respect of each of these long-term problems will devastate the whole sector. The removal of the job retention scheme before the sector has returned to business as usual and passenger confidence has returned will lead to rising unemployment, slashed wages and, in some cases, attacks on workers’ rights. In Luton South, nearly 20% of our workforce has been furloughed, and because of the aviation sector’s uncertain future, jobs at easyJet, Swissport and Luton airport are already at risk of being cut.

There is a clear option for the way forward: a new package should include the protection of jobs and salaries, with a commitment to workers’ rights, and a clear commitment to tackling climate change for the industry, using cleaner fuels and low or zero-emission technologies. Companies in receipt of money must ensure that their tax base is in the UK; no dividends should be paid until the company has been proven to be commercially viable; and a commitment to pay UK-based suppliers must be a priority. There must be an aviation-wide bail-out package and it must be tied to social and environmental expectations.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

There is no doubt that the period that we are living through has been one of the most unusual that we will ever have. It has been a tremendous challenge for us all, filled with fear and the unknown. These unprecedented times have been met with unprecedented actions when it comes to this Government: 11,200 people in my constituency have benefited from the job retention scheme and 3,100 people have benefited from the self-employment scheme. These are families and individuals who have felt more secure and safer during these incredibly challenging times.

The Government have not stopped there: from the small business grant fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grant, and the business interruption loan scheme, through to the bounce-back loans and the deferral of VAT payments and self-assessment payments—I fear I could spend my entire three minutes outlining the amazing actions that the Government have taken over the past three months. What I will say is that I am incredibly proud to support a Government who have put ordinary workers and families first.

As we enter a new stage, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in saying that it is vital that we put green concerns at the heart of our strategy. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) that we need to unleash our private sector and continue to support it, because it will be at the heart of everything that is good. It has had a very difficult time, and we need to support it.

My constituency is beautiful—it is, as I have previously mentioned, the most beautiful constituency in the entire country—and has tremendous tourism potential. We have talked about those who have unfortunately slipped through the cracks in the Government’s various schemes. One example is Creswell Crags in my constituency, which is a wonderful tourism destination. The Minister is almost certainly rolling his eyes, because he is bored of me mentioning this, but I will once again put on record that we need to continue to support that wonderful attraction and the many others in Bolsover, because our tourism potential is unlimited.

I conclude by saying once again that I am incredibly proud of everything we have done. We have a long way to go to get out of this crisis, but I believe that we are showing the leadership to get through it.