Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
The aviation industry was one of the first to face the negative impact of the covid-19 pandemic 15 months ago. Sadly, because of the overly cautious restrictions and the confusion coming from the Government, it will be one of the slowest to recover.
I see this daily as the representative of an aviation community. It is timely for us to remember that we are not just talking about two weeks on the beach in the sun; this is about people’s livelihoods, their wellbeing and their jobs. It is also important for our UK economy. Outbound international travel accounts, in normal times, for a contribution of approximately £37 billion to the UK economy, and inbound international travel accounts for about £28 billion, at 2019 levels.
More than 1.5 million people were employed in the aviation and travel sectors. Sadly, many of those have lost their jobs and about half are on furlough. The furlough is coming to an end in September and will need to be extended if the aviation and travel sectors are not able to regenerate themselves by being able to operate at least to some meaningful degree in the coming summer months. This lost summer, which I fear it will be, will cost the UK economy some £19 billion. I am encouraged to hear news from Cornwall today that there will be a UK-US travel taskforce. The fact that we do not have transatlantic travel at the moment is costing our UK economy about £32 million a day, and that puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared with many other countries.
I pay tribute to the Government for the world successful vaccination programme. More than 70 million doses have been delivered, but we are squandering that advantage by being overly cautious and not being able to open up. This is about global Britain. This is about international trade. This is about people’s jobs. I urge the Government to allow aviation to safely reopen, which it can do with vaccination and testing. I also urge them to reduce the cost of testing and to remove the VAT on testing to allow greater freedom of movement. If they do not do that, the industry, rather than making money for the UK economy, will be asking for further bail-outs, which will cost every taxpayer much more.