The view from Gatwick

London enjoys world-class air links. With 134 million passengers flying in and out each year, it’s the best-connected city in the world. Yet with a future capacity problem it begs the question: for how long?

Much is already changing in air travel. Low cost carriers continue to gain market share, orders for new long distance, hub-busting aircraft are increasing, and new hubs in the Middle East and Far East are growing rapidly – all of which reduce the relative importance of traditional transfer traffic through London. We have also seen a transformation within London itself. The three largest airports are now separately owned and have begun to compete. This is a real game-changer. 
Despite this, we are still told that it is only growth at our largest airport that matters. But London is a world city and destination in its own right: 87 per cent of passengers begin or end their journey here. It’s not a city people pass through. Only 13 per cent of passengers make up the transfer journeys we hear so much about. This proportion is likely to increase in the coming years, which means that despite what the proponents of creating a ‘mega hub’ at Heathrow or in the Thames Estuary might say, the importance of hub passengers in London is exaggerated. 
Policy should be framed around the travel needs of all passengers and not dictated solely by those who only want to change planes in London. Transfer passengers are important but they are in the minority. As the Airports Commission looks at  the options, it will need to ensure that any recommended solution is deliverable, environmentally sustainable, and has a strong business case behind it. A degree of political consensus is also key, as is the  need to deliver certainty to airlines, businesses and communities. 
Our vision for a two runway Gatwick, as part of a constellation of three major airports surrounding London, is affordable, deliverable, sustainable and promotes competition for the benefit of passengers. 
We believe a constellation model provides a better strategic fit for London and for the UK. It could be delivered at a fraction of the cost of a new airport in the Thames Estuary and would generate significantly less noise than a third runway at Heathrow. It will also be the most beneficial option for passengers, allowing competition between airports, better connections and affordability. Twenty two of the world’s 40 busiest cities for air travel successfully employ this model and have more than one airport serving their needs. 
Building the next runway at Gatwick would not only solve the capacity issue for a generation but allow us to collectively offer a greater selection of destinations to passengers. We have already invested over £1bn since the change of ownership in 2009. We’ve opened new direct routes to some of the fastest growing economies such as China, Russia and Vietnam. More competition will deliver the enhanced connectivity the UK economy needs. Where there is passenger demand, the market should be able to respond.
So far, the needs of passengers have been largely lost in the aviation debate. I believe they should be able to choose where to fly, when to fly, and who to fly with. In the longer term, capacity has to be matched to the passenger need. They want better value fares, new destinations, higher quality airports and more convenient door-to-door journeys every time they travel. Our option will deliver these benefits by creating multiple layers of choice for passengers.
Crucially though, noise impacts will be substantially lower than for Heathrow’s plans. A two runway Gatwick will affect fewer than 5 per cent of the people Heathrow impacts today. And unlike Heathrow, we will not breach European and national air quality standards.  
The Airports Commission has provided us with a unique opportunity to look to the future and develop a strategy which will benefit the UK for decades to come. Gatwick expansion will cost between £5bn and £9bn – a fraction of the cost of expansion at Heathrow – and a second runway can be open by 2025. Our runway plans are currently backed by local authorities and business groups. With the right political will, our vision is not only possible but the best. 
Stewart Wingate is chief executive of Gatwick Airport 
Gatwick's South Terminal. Photograph: Getty
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Industrial Strategy: Ensuring digital skills are included

The opportunities for efficiency, adaptability and growth offered by digital skills have never been so important to British businesses. The New Statesman asked a panel of experts, including Digital Minister Matt Hancock, Tinder Foundation CEO Helen Milner, Tech City CEO Gerard Grech and Google Policy Manager Katie O’Donovan, to pinpoint the weak spots and the opportunities for a smarter digital skills strategy.

British people spend more per capita online than any other country in the developed world. With 82 per cent of adults using the internet on a daily basis and more than 20 per cent of retail sales taking place online, it would appear that most British businesses are digitally capable. A closer look, however, reveals a significant digital skills gap between larger companies and the small businesses that make up 60 per cent of the private sector – comprising a workforce of over 15 million people, with a turnover in excess of £1.6trillion. Of these small enterprises, a third don’t have a website and more than half are unable to sell goods online. So, are digital skills taking priority in the government’s industrial strategy?

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, said digital education from an early age will be a cross-party objective for years to come: “We’re making some progress on this, and one of the most exciting things we did in the last parliament was to put coding into the curriculum from age eight. We’ve recognised that there are down-the-track requirements for digital skills, as much as with English and Maths, and we’ve got a huge array of initiatives to corral the enthusiasm for digital and make sure that it is best used.”

Hancock added that participation in the digital economy is important at every level of business and society: “I can group the facts and figures; 23 per cent of people currently lack basic digital skills, and about 90 per cent of new jobs now need some form of them. I think that what we’ve learnt following the Brexit vote is that the need to engage everybody is more demonstrable than ever before. This is a very important part of the Prime Minister’s agenda, and wider digital engagement is a key part of the broader issue to make an economy that works for everyone.” 

It is this wider opportunity to access and education that forms the bedrock of a new partnership between Google and the Tinder Foundation, aiming to deliver digital skills training to those in society who are most in need. Cue the Digital Garage. The project sees community organisations across the country provide skills support to small businesses, sole traders and indviduals, helping them to make the most of their resources.

Katie O’Donovan, Policy Manager at Google, explained: “Google has a longstanding commitment to train 250,000 people across the UK in digital skills. Since launching the Digital Garage in 2015 we’ve provided mentoring and digital skills training in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow.  But as the UK faces a new chapter we want to ensure, whether you’re a student looking for your first job, a small business looking to attract new customers or a musician looking to promote your music, the right digital skills are freely available in your local community.

Tinder Foundation CEO Helen Milner recognised that a wider proliferation of digital skills would release a surprising amount of value into the economy. “Some of our research showed that every £1 invested in growing people’s basic digital skills put £10 back into the economy. But it’s not enough to save money - you’ve got to show how you can make money out of it as well.”    

The Labour MP for Aberavon, Stephen Kinnock, has seen at first hand the benefits of support for digital skills, and welcomes opportunities for partnership in his constituency. The shift from manufacturing, he accepts, needs direction and following the depletion of his local steel works he views digitisation as “the only way forward.” Kinnock added that exciting projects such as the Swansea bay region or ‘internet coast’ becoming a testbed for 5G could serve to re-energise communities which are in many ways in a state of decline. Kinnock said: “I’m absolutely delighted that we’re going to have pop-up versions of the Digital Garage in Port Talbot.”

CEO for TeenTech Maggie Philbin, meanwhile, stressed that digital education at school level must be taught through the lens of practical application. She warned: “Many young people aren’t greeted by any coherent messaging in school, so they don’t see why they’d need digital skills in the workplace. We’ve got to start getting a better message across and improve the opportunities for actual work experience that harnesses these skills.”

Karen Price, CEO at The Tech Partnership shares this view. For Price, adapting apprenticeships to incorporate digital skills will help to inspire a culture of innovation. She suggested that “if that's part of an apprenticeship that could be polished to use in a business environment, you'd have a digitally capable young person who could probably move that business on in a different way.”

Nick Williams, Consumer Digital Director for Lloyds Banking Group, views improving people’s digital skills as a matter of urgency and brought up research conducted by the company’s new Business Digital Index for 2016 which found that 38 per cent of small businesses and 49 per cent of charities are currently lacking digital maturity. “It’s no longer a matter of choice,” Williams said, “for organisations to survive, we must focus on a digital message.  Technology’s moved on and people just haven’t kept up. We have to show how these new skills can translate to greater productivity. Ability and access are the two variables to address. We are on the brink of going down the route of a digital divide – those who are capable and those who aren’t – and we’ve got to stop that.”

Rachel Neaman, Director of Skills and Partnerships at Doteveryone, was quick to pick up on this point. She warned that any digital training must not simply be for future generations’ benefit, but also be afforded to those already in work. “What are we doing for the people who currently lack these skills? How do we stop people from being left behind?” Neaman called for an “equal emphasis” on updating and upgrading the existing workforce. Julian David, the CEO at Tech UK, was also keen to highlight that digitisation is “an ongoing process” and therefore “retraining” at regular intervals is needed to cope with a continually evolving demand.

While Hancock spoke of a “unit-based standard learning system”, similar to that used in American schools, to help apply digital skills training where it is most appropriate, IPPR North researcher Jack Hunter said there were real opportunities to be grasped in the coming devolution agenda: “The new mayors that are coming in next year to drive the agenda and economic growth are going to be getting a lot more funding around a variety of different skills streams that feed directly into the digital programme.”

The panel agreed that the digital divide will only grow wider if action is not taken. Director of the Action and Research Centre at the RSA Anthony Painter said that society is being split into two camps: “the confident and creative, and those who feel held back.” Painter recommended that the latter group are given a fresh chance at being empowered digitally. He said: “They don’t tend to use the internet for professional development, whereas the others do. We’ve been having a look at this locally by creating a ‘City of Learning’ which combines a digital platform built around open badges which have micro-accreditations for learning; things that if you get someone’s passionate interest and then start feeding into more formal learning opportunities then you wrap around that a sort of city-led campaign which lets them identify with a common cause – we’re a learning city.”

Tech City UK CEO Gerard Grech concurred and went to explore the link between a strong web presence and business expansion or improvement. The problem identified is that many businesses may not realise the extent of their digital capabilities and thus run the risk of missing out. Grech said: “If you ask a window cleaner if they are a digital business, they might say no, but if you ask how they might go about quoting someone, they could find the address on Google Maps or get the Street View. That’s the idea, to show how digital can be used for them.”

Ultimately, the panel concluded, that the enthusiasm to add a digital depth to Britain’s talent pool was validated by its potential advantages. “A lot of the major challenges facing the economy,” Painter summed up, “are actually rooted in skills. Whether it’s the challenges of Brexit or the challenges of broadband, I think if you fix the skills, everything else falls into place.” The panel agreed that any government has a responsibility to champion digital strategy throughout society, regardless of location or economic standing, and equip businesses with the digital skills required to perform at their best.  

The round-table discussion was chaired by Kirsty Styles.

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