Devolved leaders demand 'urgent intervention' from Westminster to save aerospace sector

19 September 2020, 00:05 | Updated: 19 September 2020, 00:11

Political leaders are calling on the UK Government to support the aerospace sector
Political leaders are calling on the UK Government to support the aerospace sector. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Nicola Sturgeon has joined forces with the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland to demand "urgent intervention" from the UK Government to help the struggling aerospace sector.

The Scottish First Minister, her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford as well as Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill from Northern Ireland have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to step in.

The letter asks him to set up a specialist task force to help the industry - which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic - or risk significant damages to the UK economy.

It comes as the leaders of the Unite trade union claimed tens of thousands of jobs in the sector and associated industries are on the "brink of being lost forever".

Read more: Pressure on Boris Johnson to hold emergency meeting as Covid fears deepen

But the creation of an aerospace task force "would be a positive signal to the sector", the four political leaders told Mr Johnson.

The letter stated that such a move would show "all our governments remain committed to working together in order to preserve this sector that is hugely important to the whole of the UK."

They stressed the need to act quickly, telling the Prime Minister: "Urgent intervention is now required to preserve capability and avert further damaging losses."

The task force First Ministers are proposing would include "active participation" from the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as unions and companies working in the sector.

The letter comes after major job losses at companies such as Rolls Royce, which announced 9,000 redundancies in May to strengthen its finances after losses due to Covid-19.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "As we approach the closure of the furlough scheme at the end of October, there is a real possibility of significant job losses across the UK.

"We have repeatedly called for the UK Government to reconsider its position and to extend the scheme, especially for sectors that have been particularly hard-hit like aerospace.

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"Recognising where key economic powers lie, we need to see sector-specific approaches for these parts of the economy from the UK Government or the long-term impact will be severe."

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government has set up an aerospace response group to help the industry "address the significant challenges the sector is facing as a result of Covid-19".

She added: "We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other governments as part of a UK-wide aerospace task force and I call in the UK Government to recognise the scale of the problem and to establish this without further delay."

Rolls-Royce announced 9,000 job losses in May due to Covid-19
Rolls-Royce announced 9,000 job losses in May due to Covid-19. Picture: PA Images

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of Unite, said: "Tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs and those supported by the aerospace sector in the supply-chain are on the brink of being lost forever.

"It's clear that many of the measures required to support the sector reside with the UK Government, which is why we are collectively asking the Prime Minister to immediately establish a UK aerospace task force to coordinate support."

Read more: Unemployment rises with more than 695,000 jobs lost since March

He added: "In Scotland, we have an unfolding crisis in the sector following a spate of redundancies which risks a £185 million blow to the economy.

"We hope the Prime Minister responds positively to this initiative and that every possible tool will be used alongside measures being enacted by the devolved administrations in order to preserve jobs, and to sustain the aerospace sector throughout and beyond the Covid-19 crisis."