12:40PM, Tuesday 16 June 2020
There aren’t many councils across the UK that are fortunate enough to have the country’s largest single site employer on their doorstep.
Yet that is exactly what we have here in Slough – in the shape of Heathrow.
If we were to rewind just a few months, over 76,000 people worked at Heathrow, including nearly 5,000 in Slough. Add to this the 320 young people from Slough alone who have benefited from Heathrow’s Academy in the last five years.
Generations of families have worked at the airport over the last 80 years.
However, all of that is now at risk. COVID-19 has created the biggest crisis the aviation sector has ever experienced. Thousands of workers have been laid off, furloughed or taken pay cuts.
Yet, if anything, this has all served to highlight just how important the aviation industry is to the UK and Heathrow is to Slough – providing jobs, enabling trade, generating growth.
Heathrow is more than just an airport and that is why the Government needs to get the industry off the ground and moving again as quickly as possible.
We have seen first-hand here in Slough the benefits aviation delivers. The proximity of the airport has meant many multinational companies have based themselves here.
And it’s not just large corporations that benefit – in the last two years alone, Heathrow has spent nearly £19million with SMEs in the borough.
A thriving Heathrow is therefore essential for Slough. People’s livelihoods depend on it. But without a clear plan to get the industry going again, untold damage could be inflicted on our local communities.
That is why imposing a blanket quarantine on those arriving into the UK puts the industry at further risk. While there is a critical need to protect public health and prevent a second wave of infection, this doesn’t need to come at the detriment of our local economy.
The Government needs to lay out a clear exit plan from these quarantine measures, which stifle trade and tourism and in turn put jobs in Slough at risk. As a first step, it should move towards ‘air bridges’ with countries with a low infection rate.
Common International Standards for testing at our airports are also essential. Heathrow has led the way in calling for this to happen, trialling innovations such as thermal screening.
It is easy to think of aviation as simply providing the means to jet off for a summer holiday by the sea. However, the sector is about so much more than this.
It connects people across the world and gives access to global markets for businesses large and small. It enables our next-day deliveries and moves vital supplies around the country.
It provides jobs and livelihoods for thousands of workers.
But without a clear plan, what is currently a global health crisis could easily become an unprecedented social and economic crisis. Now we are urging the Government to protect this critical sector and the livelihoods of so many in Slough who depend on it.
Cllr JAMES SWINDLEHURST
Leader of Slough Borough Council