Last week at Gatwick Airport I welcomed a new Covid-19 test centre about to open for passenger, employees and general public. Also in Parliament last week I spoke in a timely debate on the future of aviation. As chair of the cross-party group on this very issue, it was an important opportunity to highlight directly with the Aviation Minister the importance of this sector to the wider Crawley as well as UK economy.
For my part, of course, the most salient issue is that affecting Gatwick Airport. Business there has reduced by more than 61 per cent since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In August, of course usually peak time, when it would normally have more than 5 million throughput passengers, it had fewer than 1 million this year in that month.
We need to move on from quarantine and get on with introducing a wider Covid testing regime to support this sector’s recovery and public health confidence. The Aviation Minister confirmed during the debate that the Prime Minister’s Global Travel Taskforce is looking into how a domestic testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from Britain, and to allow UK residents to travel with confidence.
This is about more than flights alone. What must also be taken into consideration is the impact on the range of workers at and beyond the airport. Airline employees, security staff and baggage handlers must be remembered as well as workers at the shops and restaurants no longer operating.
Indeed, it is with this in mind that I continue to call on HM Treasury to reconsider their decision that tax-free sales to air passengers bound for international destinations are to end in 2021. This measure would cause further damage to our airports and international tourism and comes as they are tackling the biggest challenge ever faced by the industry from coronavirus.
Further last week I welcomed a number of Government investments to build our country back better, including a plan for over 250,000 green industrial revolution jobs and confirmation of over £24 billion of funding for our country’s defence; the largest such investment since the Cold War ended.
These commitments will help Government invest in cutting-edge technology, ensure the UK is a global leader as we come back stronger for Covid’s challenges.
Henry Smith MP