Dear Cabinet Secretary,
The First Minister has said at her daily press briefings and in the Chamber that any life lost to Covid-19 is the loss of someone’s loved one and should rightfully be recognised as such.
Protecting public health has rightfully been the focus of the government’s strategy and we have always been clear that we understand the need to do that and have supported that work which is absolutely paramount at any time, not just during a pandemic. Airports and their process have safety at their core.
However, absolutely paramount at any time is also a strong economy, one that allows government to protect livelihoods, improve the lives of people and further Scotland’s ambitions and credentials at home and abroad.
Last night (02/09/20) I listened to your comments on STV and was dismayed to hear you say that although you were concerned about the impact of Covid-19 and quarantine on the aviation industry, “We can bring the economy back to life, we just can’t bring people back to life.”
Cabinet Secretary, I am sorry that you felt that such a comparison was appropriate. No-one in aviation has advocated trading lives for the economy, and it is unhelpful to be using anyone’s loss to make a political point that side-steps or ignores our open request for engagement in seeking better policies.
In all our engagement with your Government, we have agreed that health measures must be what we build policy around. It has never been in question because business aside, we are human beings first and foremost and we know the true cost of Covid-19.
But this isn’t a binary choice as you have seemed to suggest. It is not a choice between public health or the economy. It is not a choice because we need to do both if Scotland is to rebound and recover.
The First Minister’s Programme for Government this week made promises on jobs, especially the jobs guarantee for young people. That is an ambitious policy planning for Scotland’s future and that is to be commended but, and I’m sorry to be so blunt, you can’t guarantee anyone access to jobs that don’t exist. A strong economy will be key to this and is exactly why the Scottish Government needs to support businesses in sustaining and creating jobs if such promises are to come to fruition.
As an airport, we are a facilitator of many things, from business and tourism to education, research and culture, and all these things are drivers of economic activity. But we’re also one business in Scotland’s economy and there are many more who want to help and who want support from the government to get the recovery started.
Yes, rates relief your Government has put in place has of course been welcome, something we have said in public and in private. And yes, we know that it isn’t available in England or Wales. But what is and isn’t available in other parts of the UK is not our concern – saving Scotland’s aviation and travel industry and rebuilding our economy is.
A quarantine policy that is a travel ban in all but name makes this incredibly difficult, if not impossible. It is ineffective and unworkable as your own figures show and it is having a damning impact on a range of industries. If this is the path the Scottish Government is to continue down then there are some incredibly dark days ahead. I only have to look at my own business to see the real impact it is having. Saying goodbye to 250 colleagues through no fault of their own was one of the toughest experiences in my career. I don’t want others to have to do the same.
If we are to live with Covid-19 for months and years to come then this is simply not a sustainable approach. We need a robust testing regime that protects public health and provides confidence and reassurance to those who need and wish to travel.
We have to manage and mitigate the risk in the best way possible, and that simply has to be a dual approach with balanced attention given to health and prosperity.
Decisions taken now will have an enduring impact on the many quality jobs our industry supports up and down the country, and – if those are too cautious and short-sighted decisions, will significantly undermine the county’s future connectivity and competitiveness.
We are ready, willing and able to help design better systems and processes to protect the health of passengers and staff. We and our colleagues at AGS have spoken with the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch to explore how best to partner with the Scottish Government on testing. We’re hopeful that our ideas are being listened to and we have a tentative path forward.
We have great respect for the First Minister’s leadership through this health crisis. However, we urge you to make good her words in recognising that the economic emergency is of equal importance to the health crisis.
The aviation and travel industries are not too big to fail. If the Scottish Government position remains as it stands, you are putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk in aviation the next few months alone. The knock-on risks to our tourism sector are even more profound and we would hope you might reflect carefully on our concerns and respond accordingly.
We urge you to reconsider your approach and work with us to find a way to protect public health and rebuild our economy. It is in Scotland’s best interest to do both.
Chief Executive, Edinburgh Airport