Coronavirus Debate

Antony contributes to the General Debate on Covid-19 in Parliament, highlighting the importance of the aerospace sector locally. 

Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker.

Can I start by thanking all the staff at Burnley Hospital and our carers, for their incredible dedication. And the volunteers of Burnley Together and other groups, who continue to support those who need it most.

Through this period we have seen the incredible fortitude and generosity of the British people, And businesses up and down the country, including in my constituency, have stepped forward and played their part in manufacturing what we need.

There is one sector which has been particularly impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. The travel sector. Airlines have seen their business model collapse. I warmly welcome the action taken by the Government so far – it has undoubtedly saved millions of businesses, and jobs. But I would ask that it keeps an open mind on additional support for airlines that may be required – and looks at measures provided in the United States as an example.

When travel restrictions are lifted, and the global economy starts to tick over once more, this country will rely on the trade deals currently being negotiated by the International Trade Secretary to bounce back. For that to work we must have the links needed to keep goods, and people, moving.

And I raise the travel sector not only to talk about airlines, but the wider supply chain. As many in this House will know, Burnley is one of the northern towns at the centre of advanced engineering and manufacturing, supplying components needed to build aircraft and the engines that power them.

Sadly, one of the largest local employers in my constituency has announced over 200 job losses, reflecting the deteriorating outlook for the aviation sector over the medium term with airlines holding onto their existing fleets for longer.

These jobs are high-skilled, high-paid, and vital to keeping the UK at the cutting edge of manufacturing and engineering. And they are jobs that Burnley, with a higher claimant count than the national average before this crisis, desperately needs.

My ask to the Government is that policy decisions, which could have unintended consequences, are considered holistically. The 14 day quarantine for international arrivals will definitely have some merit for some countries for a short period of time, and the Government has my support on that, but as a blanked policy it will only kick the aviation sector when it is already down. And the job losses that could follow will ripple through the entire supply chain.

With a clear, sustainable strategy of test, track and trace, measures like this can be limited to dealing with an initial spike or specific hot spot areas and not as a long-term solution.

For test, track and trace to be effective, we need to get testing to a sufficiently significant scale – both in the number of tests available and the number of test centres that exist to deliver them. That is how we will ensure the capacity is always hit.

I would encourage all Members to read South Korea’s Playbook on how it flattened the curve and developed a test, track and trace system. There testing is done not only en masse, but also in small K-WalkThru booths rapidly increasing how many people can get tested because they can get tested closer to home. And this is a model that could be deployed in airports too.

For track and trace, the development and deployment of the NHS app will also be critical and this can easily be mandated at entry ports to the country to help ensure our approach is sustainable in the long-term.

I know the Government is looking at both options for the tracing app – with the current one being trialled reliant on a central database instead of the decentralised approach favoured elsewhere. There are benefits and drawbacks of both. It is vital, however, that whichever method is chosen, it is chosen quickly. Any delay in selecting a model and getting the app out there to people will only delay when we can start to adapt to our own new normal.

And let me finish by paying tribute to the enormous amount of support already put in place by the Government which, as I said at the beginning, has undoubtedly saved thousands of jobs in my constituency which would otherwise have been lost. Our challenge now is ensuring the economy rebounds as quickly as possible so we can secure those jobs in the long term.