Time for action

The announcement that over 12,000 redundancies are being made by UK firms in two days are the first shockwaves from an unstable economy as we look to rebuild following the Covid outbreak. 

Of particular concern in Bristol are the announcements by Airbus that 15,000 of its workers will be laid off, 1,700 in the UK. This will put the livelihoods of many of the 3,000 people currently employed at their site in Filton at risk.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the immediate prospects for the whole aerospace/aviation industry – a sector of strategic importance to the UK economy. Alarmingly, the New Economic Foundation has warned that 70,000 jobs in the wider aviation industry are at immediate risk. Without government intervention, there are potentially devastating consequences for aircraft manufacturers and regional airports (both major employers in our area), the people who work there, their facilities and the communities in which they live. 

This is why I have written, along with other Core City leaders, to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, asking him to consider implementing a financial support package to secure the long-term viability of the industry, to protect thousands of jobs across the country.

In the South West, 20,000 people are directly employed in this sector, meaning this region accounts for almost a quarter of all aerospace employment across the UK.  As the proud home of Concorde and still as our biggest employment sector, aerospace and the Filton site are a treasured part of Bristol’s industrial heritage. We have always protected and defended our manufacturing base and it is crucial that Airbus continues to manufacture here, as a key part of its European supply chain, making it part of our future too. Bristol Airport is also a significant employer in south Bristol and faces challenges as works to survive and recover from the economic crisis. International seat capacity has dropped almost 80% from a year ago and half the world’s airplanes are in storage. 

Bristol’s local economy will be severely hit by large unemployment figures in Filton. We must remember that these are people with families to feed, homes and bills to pay. For anyone experiencing wage insecurity, there is no more worrying time. That’s why, along with my city colleagues elsewhere across the UK, I have asked the government for a job retention scheme. Keeping people in work is a crucial challenge while the sector recovers and will lessen the economic impact as well as protecting families. When the industry recovers, it will be the same skilled people the companies will go looking for, so the best thing the government can do to bring effective support is finance the retention of those jobs now. 

I am also asking for an airplane replacement programme. This brings the biggest opportunity to the sector to both continue and grow jobs while supporting the transition to more efficient and greener travel operations as part the country’s recovery plans. This should be accompanied by a commitment to accelerate research and development and publication of a clear programme of transition to more efficient and greener travel operations. This is why we are calling for measures now to secure local employment in this industry, and investment in its efforts to meet our net-zero obligations. Again, this protects and creates jobs while supporting a rapid transition to lower carbon industry.  

Simplistic, zero-sum, binary positioning won’t help us. We must take on the world as it is – a balance of risks. We know that actions and conversations are taking place across the sector about the need to reduce its environmental impact and this is encouraging. There is no going back – we simply cannot turn our back on a huge employer and so many jobs and nor can we the future return of flights bring with them the level of pollution they brought before. The German and American governments are protecting their aerospace industries with strategic support so the manufacturing of aircraft won’t stop. If we don’t protect ours, and infuse it with our values, it will go elsewhere, take the jobs with it, and may not carry the commitment to greening we would require.

The Climate and Transport Working Group of Cutting Carbon Now and The Climate Coalition (representing Aviation Environment Federation, Possible, Greenpeace, Transport and Environment and Friends of the Earth) argue that this is a chance to build back better by including aviation in the drive to net emission, harnessing the technological expertise of the sector to further reduce emissions and change taxes.

Unite the Union has written an ambitious and radical blueprint to allow the sector to continue to operate and meet new demands in the wake of coronavirus and the transition to a green economy. Unite’s blueprint highlights how the early retirements of older aircraft should be accelerated, and that additional government support and investment for research and development is also needed, so that new technologies can be brought to market more quickly. This includes the wings of tomorrow, new engines and electrification.

Recently the government announced a ‘Jet Zero’ project to work with the industry to produce a zero-carbon transatlantic flight. While we might be sceptical of exactly what this will do, it shows that technology will be an important part of reaching our climate goals.

We are committed to jobs and to a green economic recovery. We need strategic government investment now.  

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