Plane lands at Heathrow Image copyright Getty Images

UK airlines have said they are being “ignored” by the government after not being included in a fresh wave of economic stimulus to counter the effects of coronavirus.

Industry body Airlines UK warned of further job losses after tens of thousands of job cuts.

Gyms also said they were ignored, and retailers called for tax breaks.

The government had earlier said it had put in place “one of most comprehensive economic responses in the world”.

Plane dilemma

The UK aviation sector has repeatedly called for more aid from the government as it grapples with the plunge in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The industry has announced many thousands of job losses over the past months. Traffic in April and May fell more than 90% as airlines were hit by global lockdown measures and travel restrictions.

Demand is not expected to pick back up to its previous level for three years, but airlines still face costs, such as leasing aircraft, that they have to pay.

The fresh set of measures Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday to help the UK economy included diners getting 50% off their restaurant bills during Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August to stimulate the hospitality sector, and a reduction in stamp duty to aid the housing sector.

However, Airlines UK reacted angrily to the plans, saying its members had been left out.

“Tens of thousands of jobs lost in aviation and a winter season where we’re likely to see connectivity slashed,” a spokesman said.

“Now the Prime Minister has said the furlough scheme will end in October. Something needs to give and if the government continues to ignore aviation we’re going to see our regional airports with fewer connections and more jobs lost across aviation and aerospace.”

Retail woes

The expectation that the government’s furlough scheme will end in October in part helped to drive the timing of thousands of job cuts last week, many of which fell in the retail sector.

The retail industry said it had hoped for aid like the tax break Mr Sunak announced on Wednesday for the hospitality sector.

The government lowered VAT on hospitality and tourism to 5%. The reduction, from 20%, will be in place for the next six months.

“It was disappointing that the Chancellor did not extend this measure to the retail industry and the three million people it employs,” the British Retail Consortium said.

“It was a missed opportunity and we hope that the government will reconsider this ahead of the autumn Budget.”

However, the BRC said it welcomed the Chancellor’s “huge support” for employment and training, which included a Job Retention Bonus of £1,000 per furloughed employee still employed at the end of January.

No tonic for gyms

Although businesses such as pubs have been allowed to reopen, other firms such as gyms have not.

Pure Gym employs just over 1,500 workers across 265 sites, as well as providing work for 3,500 self-employed personal trainers.

Humphrey Cobbold, the chief executive of PureGym, said that the gym and fitness sector “has been forgotten and ignored.”

“It is all very well opening pubs and restaurants – and now subsidising their trade with massive VAT discounts and unlimited meal vouchers – but to be honest it beggars belief that thousands of hard working gym and fitness operators are being left high and dry with no specific support.”

“And let’s remember, unlike pubs and restaurants, many of whom have been able to earn revenue from off sales and takeaways, gym and fitness operators have had zero revenue for 110 days.”

‘Stand by your workers’

Earlier, Chancellor Rishi Sunak responded to a question in the House of Commons saying he hoped the government could make progress on reopening gyms, and that airlines and aviation “are experiencing a difficult period.”

“I remain in close contact with the industry and with individual companies to understand what is happening, and if there are things that we can and should do, of course we will,” he said.

Later, in a speech laying out the latest government stimulus plans, he said:

“While we can’t protect every job, one of the most important things we can do to prevent unemployment, is to get as many people as possible from furlough back to their jobs.”

He then laid out details of the jobs retention bonus, saying: “Our message to business is clear: if you stand by your workers, we will stand by you.”

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