Sir Peter Hendy is carrying out the independent Union connectivity review, which will report later this year.
Following only two days’ notice, this week East Midlands Railway has halved the train services through Stoke-on-Trent on the Crewe-Derby-Newark line to a train only every two hours. The usual hourly service is barely acceptable, so to reduce it further is totally inadequate. Will my hon. Friend work with the Secretary of State to look urgently at what can be done to restore these vital rail services and further improve local rail in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South and all along this important cross-UK east-west rail link?
I thank my hon. Friend for supporting those vital rail links. I know that he is doing a fantastic job of ensuring connectivity to his constituency; I know that he spoke to the Rail Minister about it yesterday. East Midlands Railway has introduced a new timetable, but I understand that a number of challenges arose because of a different fleet, train crew issues and sickness. This has resulted in the need to swiftly implement timetable changes, but it now needs to provide passengers with a robust and reliable service.
Confidence within the aviation industry and among passengers is at an all-time low—it is shattered. The travel industry will take longer than most industries to get back to business and will need further support to survive. Will my hon. Friend speed up the review of air passenger duty and explore extending business rates relief to regional airports to help the industry weather this terrible storm?
I absolutely commend my hon. Friend for being a continued champion for Exeter airport in his constituency, which provides jobs and employment for many of his constituents. He will know that the airport and ground operations support scheme provides eligible commercial airports with support towards their fixed costs. In the March Budget, the Chancellor announced a six-month renewal of that scheme from April. Initial payments will be made towards the end of the summer.
My hon. Friend mentions aviation tax reform. The Treasury is currently reviewing responses and will update on timing in due course.
To follow on from the question asked by the hon. Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), regional airports play a critical role in connecting our regions and our Union. This month, Stobart Air collapsed, and easyJet is to close its bases at Newcastle International, London Stansted and London Southend airports; Teesside and Newquay have previously shut their doors. Without a sector-specific deal, our regional airports, the connectivity that they provide and the jobs and communities that they support are at risk. What assessment has the Department made of the long-term viability of this critical infrastructure to our nation?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we fully recognise and support the importance of the aviation industry to our country. That is why this Government have stood behind the sector and provided up to £7 billion, in the round, of support for jobs through the furlough scheme and support for airports and the airline industry. It is vital that we get the travel industry back on its feet, which is why we are taking a public health approach to restarting travel. The Transport Secretary will say more on that this evening.