An extraordinary article appeared the other day in the Manchester Evening News. By Baron Frankel from the New Economy (i.e. the City Region’s economy ‘think-tank’), it sings the praises of the airport and its acquisition of Stanstead in leading economic growth. And then he goes further, calling for a reduction in passenger duty which is harming the expansion of flights in and out of Manchester International Airport and hence economic growth. Mark Burton from SSM responded and we reprint it below (with the typos corrected). We follow this with a little more analysis.
“I missed this when it came out. I can’t quite believe that this complacent stuff can still be written and then published. The argument is that the airport helps economic growth in the region and that passenger duty constrains this. Well on the first, economic growth does not bring prosperity but concentrates wealth and increases inequality. It also does not bring well-being. But it does bring something, an increase in the emissions that are carrying the ecosystem to destruction. The reason is simple, economic growth means more economic activity, that is more material throughput, meaning exhaustion of raw materials (and increased risk of conflict over them – remember Iraq?) and increased emissions. Most immediately this means the very slim likelihood of avoiding a (probably unsafe) 2 degree rise in global temperature reduces ever further. Put simply, economic growth = destruction of the very basis for human life, socially, ecologically and yes economically. These things Baron should know as he recently acknowledged receipt of Steady State Manchester’s report In Place of Growth which explains these realities while setting out some of the key practical steps for a Manchester that did not rely on 3% economic growth for ever.
But more than this, it is aviation that disproportionately accounts for the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And in Manchester some 16% of our total carbon footprint is already caused by personal aviation (not to mention the impact of air freight. Yet aviation already enjoys the benefit of its fuel being virtually untaxed. And Baron now wants to subsidise it yet further by cutting passenger duty.
I think it unlikely that Baron is unaware of the damage aviation does. I don’t know if he has children. But they won’t thank him for the ‘advice’ the New Economy is giving to our leaders when they have to try and live in a world with a broken climate, broken ecosystem. It’s time that New Economy started work on a realistic economic strategy for the city and region, one based on the understanding that the economy cannot carry on growing for ever (not that it is) and even if it did, it would not be desirable. That means constructing a true new economy to replace the bizarre economy we see here today with its overdeveloped finance, retail and aviation sectors.” Mark Burton, 27 January, 2013.
Here are some more interesting figures. As we noted in our In Place of Growth report: “[Total carbon footprint due to] ‘personal flights’ accounts for 11.19% of Greater Manchester’s emissions (and 15.18% of Manchester’s), the aviation sector only accounts for 1.3% of the economy (measured by GVA, a local variant of GDP) and this is growing rapidly (3% in 2011)”. Heavily disproportionate then: a big ecological cost with relatively little benefit. Indeed, Manchester City Council’s budget papers reveal that the city only gets £4.5M per year income from the airport. A lot of money to you and me, but it’s less than one per cent of the city’s budgetary requirement, and we don’t know what hidden subsidies there might in terms of infrastructure costs, not to mention the social costs from noise and congestion. (We will of course soon be posting an analysis of the council’s budgetary proposals with its mantra of growth.) Yes the airport employs people, and the ‘airport city’ (something out of a bad science fiction novel?) will employ more. So we will come back to this issue again with practical ideas for transforming the current investment into a hub for the regeneration of a re-localised productive economy, rather than a node for our wealth to pour out of.