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Covid-19: Economic Recovery

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 2 July 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (904120)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (904126)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (904151)

Yesterday, I met the Argyll and Bute climate change group, which is dismayed by the recent report showing that the UK Government have missed almost all their own climate change targets. Given that transport accounts for about a quarter of UK carbon emissions and that there are growing calls to link the economic recovery to meeting emissions targets, does the Secretary of State agree that only by enshrining annual targets in legislation will this Government be able to hope to meet their legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I take issue with his numbers: I think that transport accounts for about a third of greenhouse gases, rather than just a quarter, so he is right about the urgency of the situation. We absolutely believe in tackling this problem. That is why this country has legislated to be zero-carbon by 2050. When it comes to transport, he will be interested to hear that I am setting up the net zero board to push forward with all these important targets.

The Secretary of State will be aware that British Airways continues along its Dickensian path of threatening to fire staff and rehire them on substantially poorer pay and conditions, which affects many of my constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. Does he accept that the conduct of British Airways executives such as Willie Walsh is bringing the industry into disrepute at a time when support for public transport is critical if we want an aviation industry in the future?

I am very concerned about the plight of aviation employees not just at British Airways but at other companies. I urge British Airways and the unions to sit down to talk this through, which I know is not happening—the British Airline Pilots Association has done that, but the other unions have not. Important support has been in place through the furlough scheme, and I want to ensure that people are treated fairly and properly throughout this crisis.

The constituents I met as part of The Time is Now climate lobby on Tuesday want Government at all levels to move further and faster to tackle the climate emergency and build back better from the covid pandemic. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the decision in Glasgow to make the hire of nextbikes free for the coming months, so that people can reduce emissions, keep fit and get about in a safe and socially distant manner, and we can learn lessons across the United Kingdom for the future?

The hon. Gentleman will be familiar, I am sure, with the £2 billion announcement I made at a Downing Street press conference for cycling and walking, of which £250 million was made available immediately in England. Through the Barnett consequentials, that will allow for a massive expansion of cycling across the whole United Kingdom.

Given the restrictions on public transport at the moment, it is vital that we look for alternative forms of transport to boost our economic activity. I welcome the news that e-scooters will be rolled out. The Transport Committee began its inquiry on that yesterday, so the timing is appreciated. There was some confusion as to whether driving licences will be required for e-scooters, which I believe may be due to a technicality. It would be a great shame if e-scooters were available only to those who drive a car.

My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.

I pay tribute to our transport workers and reflect on those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Our economy is experiencing major shock. There is no doubt that the foundations were weakened after a lost decade of austerity and the failure to invest properly in our regions that make up the northern powerhouse. Had the north seen the same per-person investment as London over the past decade, it would have received £66 billion more. Even before the pandemic hit, estimates by the UK2070 Commission recommended investment of £15 billion each year for 20 years. Will the Secretary of State outline how much capital investment has been awarded to the north?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the northern powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, so I take this very seriously indeed. I do not want to disappoint him, but there are so many different elements of funding going into the northern powerhouse right now that it is difficult to provide an immediate figure for the total. I would be happy to undertake to write to him with those precise details, but I can tell them that it is billions.

I am not sure that my pre-prepared response quite expected the Secretary of State not to know the answer to the question about how much money has been allocated, but we can guess: it is a drop in the ocean. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the historic funding gap of £66 billion. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the £15 billion annual allocation, as recommended by the Commission.

We were promised a plan to level up Britain. We were told that we were at war with the virus, yet when it came to a Marshall fund, the nation was failed. The Government failed on ambition; they failed on scale; and in doing so they failed the hard-working people of the north. Let us be generous and accept that what has gone has gone. Today, will the Secretary of State commit, in future allocations, to the north receiving no less than the capital?

That is a lot of rhetoric, but, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will go into some of the money that is being spent. For example, there is the trans-Pennine route, a multi-billion pound upgrade of the route from Manchester to Leeds. Then we have an extra £10 million initially to sort out the Manchester corridor, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. There is the High Speed North project, which runs into multi-billions. I will write to him, and I hope that he will come back to the Dispatch Box surprised and perhaps withdraw his words when he sees the multi-billion pounds that are being spent in the north right now.

Swissport, 321; Rolls-Royce, 700; Menzies Aviation, 160; and hundreds and hundreds more between British Airways, NCP, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Flybe, BA CityFlyer, TUI and SSP. These are not national statistics, but the aviation job losses in my constituency alone. Might this sector finally get some good news in the Chancellor’s statement next week? If the Secretary of State will not comment on specific aviation companies, will he tell us in general whether he personally thinks it fair that employees can be fired and rehired on slashed terms and conditions?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, I think the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned. We need to ensure that there is fair play for employees. Everybody understands that it has been an incredibly tough time. Everyone knows the furlough scheme and many other measures—£330 billion-worth of measures—have been there to support the sector. There has also been an individual process that companies—whether ground handlers, airlines or airports—have been able to go through with the Treasury to access additional money. I would appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible and be reported to the House. I am very keen to get the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, on board so that we can get this thing announced.

Alexander Dennis is a world-leading bus manufacturer, but that sector is also on its knees due to the coronavirus crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s re-announcement on bus investment, but it needs to be brought forward in full now. I ask the Secretary of State not to rule out investing in low-emission Euro 6 diesel buses to replace some of the older high-polluting models, helping to reduce carbon emissions more quickly and saving thousands of highly skilled jobs across the industry to boot.

Absolutely. The £3 billion, which is going into new buses, will help us to produce 4,000 additional buses. We want them to be low and zero-carbon electric buses, of course, but also hydrogen buses, so we will certainly be taking that forward. I will be saying more about that very shortly.