Last week I held a series of calls on the economic effect of Covid on our local economy, among them with our Local Enterprise Partnership and with Job Centre Plus.
Horsham has for a long time enjoyed a terrific record of employment – and conversely one of the lowest rates of people unemployed. There are a whole range of drivers for this – including our closeness to London. However one of our key drivers of economic success across the area is aviation in general and Gatwick in particular.
I know some, faced with the reduction in flights, have focused on the environmental as well as the economic impact.
Aviation is an industry in which we are a world leader. This gives us the clout to push for the development of international solutions to environmental concerns. The forthcoming Aviation 2050 strategy will be an important milestone. This can build on work already being undertaken including the active encouragement of the use of sustainable alternative aviation fuels in the UK, the investment being made in the development of low carbon fuels and the research funded by both Government and industry to support new developments, including the potential future design of electric planes.
A thriving British aviation sector is not only in the local and national interest but I believe wider still and the UK, hosting the next UN Climate Change Conference, will be in a powerful position to advocate how an aviation industry fighting back to full capacity can still play a role in cutting emissions through to 2050.
A vacuum in aviation may be filled by countries far less focused on the need to drive not only economic growth but carbon reduction.
I have been in contact with the Airlines and the medium term impact on their businesses is extremely concerning. The Government is very aware of the issue and the airlines have been making use of the huge package of support which has been make available to help get them through this immediate period.
The industry has a massive knock-on impact across our area across a wide number of SMEs. Similarly elsewhere in our local economy the retail and hospitality sectors have both had to endure a prolonged period of lockdown. The Prime Minister’s outline of the future direction of travel on retail in particular I know will be welcomed.
It is too early to tell the long term implications. However what we all know is that our economic future has to be based on a safe return to work, avoiding a “second wave”. It was good to have the Army Mobile Testing Unit in Horsham last weekend, staffed by local reservists. Testing capacity is now far in excess of 100,000 a day and after some frustrating initial problems the turnaround in results I am assured are now reliable and swift. All of this is vital for when we move into testing and tracing Covid in the community – when we will be able to work on increasingly suppressed rates by to get after the virus and help prevent a resurgence.