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Missing Links – The Budget

The UK usually has a Budget from the Chancellor of the Exchequer annually and early in the year, supported from time to time by a mini-budget midway. They are always anticipated (although rarely with eagerness) as people wait, mostly with anxiety, to see what the inexorable rise in the cost of everything will be.

Tobacco products and alcohol always go up, one way or another and sometimes very subtly and unnoticed, as does the cost of transport, in all its forms. Tobacco has long been an easy target and cigarette smokers pay a huge amount to the Treasury in taxes – far more than a fair share. There is an inevitable endgame to the continual beating dished out to smokers; eventually there won’t be any of them. This will be heaven for the anti-smoking brigade but the tax loss will be immense. The hole left in the nation’s finances will be so staggering that the cost of everything else will rise beyond the means of increasingly growing numbers of people, to the point where merely staying alive will become impossible.

Alcohol comes next, closely followed by cars. There is of course, ‘some’ merit in reducing the costs to life itself of smoking, drinking and the pollutant effects of road use. However, how many people do not do at least one of these three things – smoking, drinking or driving? The three are actually somewhat incompatible, particularly drinking and driving but there are few who do not do both, and given the justifiable social abhorrence (from most) and the consequences of combining the two, few will do so. But many, many people will consume alcohol and, separately, drive. If not, they need transport.

Ah, yes - transport. Cars are the most obvious but if not, there are taxis; more cars; buses, trucks and other delivery vehicles; still road users. Trains are greener than they used to be with more of them being electric these days but they are still energy-intensive. Then of course, there are aircraft.

Whether those who enthuse over all things green like it or not, cars, trains, boats and planes are here to stay. As are so many other things so many people are fond of, including smoking and drinking. The task is not to ban any of them but to make use of them in better ways than previously.

That can only happen however if they are there to be used and commercial aviation has been brought not too far from the point of extinction, along with so much else, by government response worldwide to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been said before on KJM Today but it is also worth repeating; aviation plays a crucial role in the day-to-day life of the UK. If it was not present, ordinary people (never mind those with money) would find life damaged beyond their worst nightmare. Yet the budget contained nothing to help keep the industry alive and stable through a period that has been led by government action. And this applies to London’s Heathrow more than anywhere else. The value of the UK’s regional airports is huge, both to the areas they serve and to the UK as a whole but Heathrow dwarfs them all. It is the conduit through which much of the UK’s trade and contact within the country and throughout the world travels.

Geographically and in terms of land area, the UK is far from being the smallest nation globally but it has never had the spread to warrant more than one major hub airport. Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast all serve – or did – growing numbers of destinations but only Heathrow truly connects the world to the UK. Yet there was nothing in the Budget statement on aviation. Not even a mention.

Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye made his views on the statement very clear. He said:

‘The Chancellor talks about protecting jobs and livelihoods, fixing the public finances and laying the foundations for the future economy, and yet he continues to ignore the UK's aviation sector. He clearly doesn’t understand that all three depend on a strong aviation sector delivering the trade, tourism and investment that power vast parts of the British economy. Failing to even mention aviation, let alone provide full business rates relief for airports in today’s Budget, is a missed opportunity to ensure the sector can play a key role in the country’s economic recovery. The absence of any meaningful support from the Government in the face of tough restrictions which have ground travel to a halt will weaken the sector and limit UK growth at the time it is needed most.’

Parmjit Dhanda, of support group Back Heathrow said:

‘The budget was a real opportunity for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to bring some much-needed relief to struggling aviation communities – not least our own, in the communities around Heathrow.

To the astonishment of experts and leaders from the aviation sector, there was not a single mention of aviation in the budget speech. With so many jobs dependent on our airports, airlines and supply chain, we found that shocking.

We are pleased that the furlough scheme has been extended to September, but what we really needed was the kind of boost for the sector that we [have] called for’.

One can only speculate in the absence of any direct comment but Boris Johnson is on public record as an opponent of Heathrow’s proposed expansion (an expansion that should have happened years ago), so one can’t help wondering – is the COVID-19 situation being used to stunt growth - and in an underhand, deliberate and thus dishonest way? The question has to be asked but it is unlikely there will be an answer.

Let us remind ourselves that, apart from that manufactured here, the extra essential supplies of PPE, medicine and currently vaccine, are flown into the UK (along with huge amounts of other supplies). Without a strong, viable and vibrant aviation industry and without Heathrow in particular, the UK really will be an isolated nation.

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