The news from British Airways concerning future operations at Gatwick is extremely concerning to me as both an MP and a local resident of Mid-Sussex. I have spoken to my colleague, the MP for Crawley Henry Smith about this and we share your deep concerns. We are currently working on a joint letter to the Government from local MPs and councils on this news. I will also be speaking to Kelly Tolhurst, the Minister for Aviation, next week to ask her about what action the Department for Transport will be taking on this and the current discussions taking place with British Airways.
The Transport Select Committee is scheduled to hear from Willie Walsh, CEO of BA’s parent IAG, on Monday 11 May. It had been hoped that Mr Walsh would appear this Wednesday, when the committee is taking evidence in three separate panels on consumer issues, airport challenges (including the CEO of Heathrow Ltd) and airline challenges, but the committee engaged in some back and forth and will now hear from Mr Walsh on the morning of next Monday. I expect to see the points raised by my constituents, including BA’s use of furlough, IAG utilising state-guaranteed finances in Spain and BA’s overall strategy during this crisis, covered in the forthcoming committee session.
I have written a letter to the CEO of British Airways, Alex Cruz, which I supply a copy of below, to raise the concerns of my constituents who have contacted me over the last few days as well as adding my voice to theirs in sharing these concerns. I hope he will be able to share some helpful insights which I can pass on to my constituents. I am also suggesting we organise a group engagement with MPs representing areas affected by any BA changes at Gatwick so that we may hear from him directly and discuss what we can all do to assist with matters.
I recognise this is a hugely concerning time for everyone working in this industry after what has been a difficult time with loss of Thomas Cook and FlyBe. The news from Virgin Atlantic exiting Gatwick Airport is absolutely devastating for constituents, the South East and the aviation industry. I have friends and family who work at Gatwick and in the wider industry, so as a friend, an MP and the Minister for Employment, I personally feel very strongly about the need to protect employees in this industry, during what is a hugely worrying and uncertain time.
Concerning the wider airline industry, there have been extensive and vital conversations and engagements between Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Department for Transport on this matter. I have been feeding into wide ranging issues, concerns and impacts from across all sectors concerning employment and as a Government we are acting as quickly as possible to respond to new developments, including the latest news from British Airways, during this incredibly challenging time.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman has today confirmed the UK Government is ready to help those affected by job cuts at Ryanair and other airlines, including possible “bespoke support” for aviation firms. They went on to state that “We recognise this is a very difficult time for employees and their families. They will all have access to a broad range of support including Universal Credit and Jobseeker's Allowance if they need it. Firms can also draw upon the unprecedented measures we have put in place.
“If airlines find themselves in trouble and have exhausted all the measures already available to them, we have said we are prepared to enter into discussions with individual companies seeking bespoke support as a last resort."
Executives have a duty of care to their staff and as the Employment Minister I believe we need to continue to support and encourage businesses to protect their employees, so they do not have to lay off any of their staff in this challenging time. Whilst the current businesses environment is challenging, it will not be this way forever and businesses making large scale redundancies will likely only have to rehire the staff when the market improves.
The Government has made it clear companies will be supported in keeping staff employed during this difficult time and I provide a copy of the Government’s advice to large businesses here:
“Under the new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies.
This will support your company if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities.
It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.”
I have also written to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to raise this matter directly with the Ministerial Team there on your behalf.
I would urge everyone concerned or directly affected by this news to closely follow the latest information on the Government’s response to the coronavirus, COVID-19: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
I hope this was helpful. Stay safe. I supply a copy of the letter I wrote to BA CEO Alex Cruz below.