“The war on talent” and its unfortunate victim – carbon budgets: Economy Scrutiny Committee Thursday, 10th March, 2022

The phrase “war on talent” slipped out of the Chief Financial Officer of Manchester Airports Group as they described the recruitment drive to bring on board more staff before the anticipated peak summer holiday season. If it’s anything like the “war on drugs” or the “war on terror” we know there’s likely to be plenty of unintended consequences including “fire and fury” with a side of scorched earth to follow, maybe?

The March 2022 Economy Scrutiny Committee was the swansong of the current committee chair – Councillor Hannah Priest (Charlestown) who started the meeting in jovial fashion skipping through the standing items on the agenda until we got to item 5: Manchester Airport. The councillors seemed to be up for a bit of a scrutiny this month and this was a long overdue topic to finally appear at the committee that has been languishing on the Economy Overview Report since December 2019. A lot has changed since then…

Manchester Airport Group (MAG) appears to be scrutinised by one of its major shareholders in a similar fashion waiting for buses – you wait ages for one and then two come along close together. But rather being a mild annoyance, this actually appeared to help the scrutiny of MAG especially when linking the wider environmental impact of the airport and its economic role in the future of the city. Councillor Shilton Godwin (Chorlton Park) recalled the robust discussions had at December’s Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee (ECCSC) and used her questions to good effect. Who knew regular and persistent scrutiny might actually start to push things in the right direction…

MAG appeared to step up their game up, following December’s ECCSC turkey shoot as well as recent media reports of ghost flights and awful delays in trying to get through security for both arrivals and departures. This time they brought two members of their Executive Committee to the Scrutiny Committee. Tim Hawkins, Chief of Staff responsible for group strategy, public affairs and sustainability as well as Jan Bramall, Chief Finance Officer. These MAG reps started with a public apology for the poor service provided to passengers, essentially because the airport does not have sufficient staff to deal with the number of passengers coming through the airport and they know they have to do better. The weakest reason was traffic causing delays to staff starting their shift.

After a prepared presentation that still didn’t seem to fully take into account the accessibility issues associated with MAG’s house style colour scheme, we received two prepared statements from Councillors representing Woodhouse Park ward (the ward that covers the residential area closest to the airport). These two statements were very similar in echoing the cumulative effects of operating an airport next to a residential area as well as the conflicts between those residents and the users / staff of the airport. The largest difference between Cllrs Rob Nunney and Eddy Newman were that they represented different political parties (Green / Labour) and the 20 years of representation that Cllr Newman had on Cllr Nunney. I think that speaks volumes as to whether the residents or members representing Woodhouse Park have indeed been listened to much over that time. Come local election time in May, Woodhouse Park will be an interesting ward to watch…

Many questions were then asked by all members of an enthused committee including the chair – too many to detail here in a short report and there were a few themes to emerge that were interwoven with environmental and climate issues like chocolate chips in a cookie. Answers from MAG were sometimes scant on details and members should expect a follow up note from MAG in the coming weeks. Some of the themes that were questioned included:

  • Jobs, skills and education: how to transition to greener jobs at the airport and how to make sure MAG is a good employer of better quality jobs that pays the living wage and  moves away from the notion of high or low productivity was something that all members emphasised, including the leader Bev Craig. There was also a concerted effort to note that Mancunians from the north of the city need to have more job opportunities open to them rather than the airport’s recruitment efforts being focussed in Wythenshawe and the surrounding southern wards. Salt in the wounds was that the first jobs fayre held in person was in Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Not easy or cheap for you to get to if you’re in north Manchester without a car…
  • The poor public transport links and provision for staff and passengers especially late at night. This included a first hand account from Cllr John Farrell (Higher Blackley) who used to make the 3 hour trip from Crumpsall to Manchester Airport in the middle of the night for a 3am shift start. There was an admission that staff at Stansted get far more subsidised / discounted fares than staff travelling to Manchester and more needed doing.
  • MAG’s whole-hearted commitment to the rapid decarbonisation of air travel by industry regulating / leading itself “Plan A”. This is to the extent that they can’t event contemplate a “Plan B” i.e. what if it all goes to shit and the technologies they are holding onto hope so dearly will allow them to grow into a 45 million passenger airport – namely sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and magical offsets don’t actually come to fruition. There were glimpses of potentially interesting projects going on behind the scenes looking at electric vehicles both for the airport’s own fleet and for those of users, but there are still some huge gaps still to fill between their hopes and the realities of a rapidly shrinking carbon budget.

This round of scrutiny finished with a suggestion from the outgoing chair that the Airport will become a more regular item for the economy scrutiny committee and I can see why: members did get their teeth more into this topic and it might well be a bit of light relief from COVID dashboards. Lets see if the new chair takes up the mantle come May after the next round of ward level elections.

If you’d like to help holdand join our team of citizen scrutineers to keep the airport and council’s held to account, do get in contact with us via the usual channels.



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