Sunday 24th April 2016
Baroness Jenny Randerson, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, aviation has revolutionised the way in which people travel – it has brought people together and made the world a smaller place. The Liberal Democrats recognise the vital role of aviation in the modern world. As an internationalist party, we recognise the importance of our connections to the wider world, and the benefits this can bring to the entire UK economy.
In the UK, we have been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the developments in aviation technology, witnessing our relationship with the world beyond our borders grow closer as a result of its accessibility. However, we can do more environmentally, and lead the development of greener travel.
The sector itself is booming. There are more than 961,000 UK jobs in the sector, making up 3.3 per cent of all those employed. In fact, the UK has the world’s second largest aviation manufacturing sector, meaning that our products, as well as our population, are travelling far and wide.
Having this industry in our back yard protects growth in this sector, with large companies such as Rolls-Royce heavily involved in crafting engines and investing in our country’s engineering talent. A real indicator of that success is the significant amount that the sector contributes to public finances via taxation, approximately £8.7 billion a year.
The UK economy directly receives £52 billion from aviation – 3.4 per cent of our GDP. Within the context of a difficult decade for the UK’s finances, that is a real indicator of sustainable achievement that we cannot afford to take for granted. We have much to celebrate in the UK. British Airways, for instance, is one of the world’s most respected brands, and remains true to its British heritage, investing heavily in Heathrow Airport.
As a Liberal Democrat, I am passionate that Britain remains in the European Union, and as Monarch airline recently stated, this is key to the sector. Membership facilitates the free operation of airlines owned and controlled by member states – without this, there would be restrictions on pricing, frequency and capacity. Leading airlines EasyJet and Ryanair work under those principles and business would, undoubtedly, suffer with an Out vote this June. Further to that, passengers can expect longer travel times caused by increased passport controls.
We are opposed to airport expansion in the south-east, calling in our network of airports to move their focus away from London and, instead, look to expand economies across the entire UK. Whatever the Government’s decision on Heathrow/Gatwick, it will take decades to deliver. In the meantime, capacity increases can be created elsewhere with the growth of regional airports, rebalancing the economy. A third of the UK’s population live in the south-east, yet it has two-thirds of flights. With improved transport links, we can unlock the potential which somewhere like Birmingham has in abundance, with a runway long enough to fly to anywhere in the world.
The complete economies which exist within airports also create an important environmental opportunity. As self-sufficient hubs that are geographically self-contained, they have the potential to be at the forefront of ultra-low emission technology, leading the way, for instance, with electric vehicles on site.
It is important that airlines themselves recognise their customers and pass on savings where possible, as Virgin Atlantic did last year in their reduction of ticket prices. Danny Alexander made the point last year that lower oil prices should mean cheaper fares. The debate on levels of APD is material for another article but Liberal Democrats have long called for reform.
Our global connectivity is essential to our economic health. We are not just talking about passengers in and out but air-freight has a big part to play, although it is often overlooked in the debate – speed and capacity are the two key issues here.
This is not only about the economy, but also about our internationalism, opening doors to new travellers, so a wider audience can now experience other countries and cultures. As an internationalist party, that benefit, as well as economic benefits, are undeniable. The successes are an indicator of the significant part we can play in the global economy as a key player in the European market.