Cities facing crisis

Cities reliant on aviation industry will take harder economic hit from Covid-19 crisis

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The economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic continues to be felt right across the UK. But new research has found that certain cities will be harder hit than others.

An analysis from the Centre for Cities has found that cities dependent on the aviation industry in particular will be most affected by the economic crisis precipitated by Covid-19, with cities such as Crawley, Luton and Derby set to lose significant numbers of jobs.

The South East town of Crawley was singled out by the research as being the most vulnerable to the economic shocks caused by Covid-19, with 18 per cent of its workforce employed by the aviation industry in some capacity.

The West Sussex town is a major employment hub for nearby Gatwick Airport and stands to have half of all its jobs lost or furloughed amid the crisis – about 53,000 jobs there were classed as either vulnerable or very vulnerable out of a total of 94,000.

Luton and Derby, two cities also heavily dependent on the aviation industry, are estimated to lose about 40 per cent of jobs.

Unite south east regional secretary Sarah Carpenter said that Crawley is just one example of a community “where the effects of the global pandemic will be felt in so many different ways”.

“On top of fears about the health of family and friends, local people will now also be worried about their jobs and longer term futures,” she said. “In towns, like Crawley, where so many businesses are so dependent on big employers, communities will be demanding to be heard, and Unite will be there to speak up for them.

“We have already consistently spoken up for the aviation industry and the need for a specific package from government.  Government must now deliver on this, and help local people in these desperate times,” Carpenter added.

“Although this report names 62 of our larger towns and cities, it is in all of our communities where people need to know the government is ready to support them, in the days, months and years ahead.”

Meanwhile Aberdeen was identified as another hotspot most vulnerable in Scotland to the economic downturn amid the epidemic. This is because, the Centre for Cities highlighted, the city is heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry, which is expected to take a significant hit amid the coronavirus crisis.

Unite Scotland regional secretary Pat Rafferty highlighted that the impact on many cities in Scotland will be significant, especially those with major airports.

“Unite Scotland was the first organisation calling for government support by the Scottish authorities as we could see the full scale of what was about to be unleashed on the civil aviation transport sector on the back of the collapse of Flybe and the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We welcome the detailed work by The Centre for Cities which highlights the significant impacts which are being felt by our major airports in particular Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow,” he added. “It’s vital that this report provides a basis for what needs to be done when we get over this crisis, and that preparatory work must start now so we can ensure a speedy return to full service when the pandemic fully subsides.”

The Centre for Cities analysis went on to highlight that the speed of economic recovery after the immediate crisis dissipates will vary from city to city. It used the examples of Plymouth and Milton Keynes, which both had a similar number of jobs that it classified as being vulnerable or very vulnerable amid the crisis. But in Plymouth half of its so-called ‘exporting jobs’ – those serving regional, national or international markets – are exposed to the crisis, while in Milton Keynes, 80 per cent of its exporting base is still operating.  

Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter called for tailored economic approaches to different cities and parts of the country.

“While from a public health perspective Covid-19 is affecting every part of the UK, its economic impact will be felt more acutely in some places than others,” he said.

“This effect is linked to the local economy and it appears that places that are particularly reliant on aviation are likely to be hit hardest.

“Because of this, a one-size-fits-all approach to economic recovery will not work. Once the immediate health crisis passes, policymakers will need to tailor their economic interventions to specific cities and regions.”

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland reiterated Unite’s call for a sector-specific package for the aviation industry to save the many cities now on the brink amid the crisis.

“This report by The Centre for Cities pinpointing the threat to those cities and towns heavily reliant on aviation, and the associated aerospace and fuel delivery sectors, makes the case even more strongly that the industry-specific package Unite has consistently called for, and the government has promised, must now be delivered,” she said.

“The UK has world class airline and aerospace companies – highly developed and world leading, but the sector needs support in the period of recovery from this pandemic. Thousands of jobs are dependent on the sector regaining its position. The promised government support will make the difference, and ensure the sector will be able to repay that support in the future.”

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