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House of Commons Hansard
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Covid-19: Aviation Sector Workers
18 May 2020
Volume 676
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What steps the Government are taking to support aviation sector workers during the covid-19 lockdown. [902647]

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We are speaking regularly to companies across the aviation sector to encourage them to draw on the Government’s various different packages of cross-economy financial support.

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With Gatwick on my doorstep, a lot of my constituents work in the aviation sector. Will the Secretary of State outline what support he is giving to airlines to make sure that they are employing people and continuing employment where they can? What support will he give to aviation workers who will need to transition into other forms of employment?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we are making available a huge amount of support, including things such as the coronavirus large-business scheme—in other words, the coronavirus job-retention furloughing scheme—and various other business-interruption schemes, but it is true to say that airlines and the aviation sector in general are facing a particularly hard time. They were first into this crisis and we think there will be quite a long tail to their coming out of it. I am therefore working closely with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions to support workers who lose their jobs as well.

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The Scottish Government have given full business rates relief to the aviation sector; by contrast, the UK Government promised sectoral support for aviation before reneging. Last week, Willie Walsh floundered before the Transport Committee when trying to justify the cull of 12,000 British Airways employees—including many from BA CityFlyer, which is based at Edinburgh—despite having access to €10 billion of liquidity, the vast majority of which was generated by British Airways profits. What are the Government actually doing to prevent tens or even hundreds of thousands of job losses in the sector?

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Not only do we have the Bank of England scheme, which enables companies that would not ordinarily have the ability to raise money through a paper route; we also have the business interruption loan scheme for different-sized businesses, the time to pay flexibility, financial supports to employees and the VAT deferrals. We also have a special process in place, available only to the aviation sector, so that when it runs out of those other options, it can talk to us about it. That request needs to be made formally in writing to me. I then discuss it with the Treasury, and many aviation-oriented businesses are in the process of doing that.

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British aviation is in freefall. BA, Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and now the Emirates are set to lay off tens of thousands of staff. The job retention scheme is becoming the job restructuring scheme. We cannot allow that. With the added difficulty and confusion of the Government’s travel quarantine measures, will the Secretary of State urgently bring forward an aviation support package for the sector, matching Labour’s commitment?

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It is a very welcome change, actually, because ordinarily I stand at this Dispatch Box and from my opposite numbers hear a lot of attacks on the aviation sector. I absolutely will bring forward enormous amounts of support to aviation businesses, including all those schemes I just mentioned. There are 43,500 furloughed staff right now from the airlines alone and another 2,600 from airports. I am acutely aware of the job losses and proposed job losses, about which we are very concerned, which is why we have the additional scheme, the Birch process, with the Treasury. Although I cannot go into details of individual cases, for reasons of confidentiality, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that work is very much ongoing.