23 November 2015 | By Paul Drechsler Insight

It's time to get the new runway built

Insight: Paul Drechsler, president, CBI

The clock is ticking for getting a new runway built in the UK. We have to make change happen.

Every day, month and year we delay building a new runway has a price – in lost trade. If the issue of runway capacity has not been addressed by 2030, Britain will lose more than £600,000 in trade every hour to the BRIC countries, let alone other emerging markets.

But the urgency isn’t just about how a runway helps our business men and women close deals in faraway lands. It is about what this does for people and firms right here and right across the United Kingdom.

When I used to work for manufacturing firm ICI, I saw first-hand how increasing sales in Brazil increased demand and led to more jobs at our HQ in Teesside.

And the new markets opened up by a new runway will be essential for companies all across the UK. That’s true for the Bath-based BuroHappold Engineering employing over 1,500 people while exporting its engineering expertise to over 24 countries across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. And it’s true for the Paisley-based Scottish Leather Group, employing 550 people selling their top-quality leather goods to the luxury car market in China, India and Italy.

But businesses across the UK are currently being held back by our indecision. According to our latest CBI/Aecom 2015 Infrastructure Survey, 50 per cent of firms are saying they have been directly impacted – and that’s before we’ve event run out of capacity.

But this isn’t simply a London story, as the figure is not much lower for firms right across the country at 41 per cent. It’s a UK jobs story.

Expanding opportunities

It’s not just exporters who stand to benefit either. We also need to get the runway built to transform the next decade of British construction – creating jobs and opportunity deep into UK-based supply chains, both for now and for the future.

As former chairman of the family-owned construction and property firm Wates Group, I know all too well that construction gives you more bang for your buck.

The Airports Commission estimates that a new runway in the south east could create up to 94,900 manufacturing jobs – and the benefits would be felt right across the UK through supply chains, in businesses small, medium and large.

Take the construction of Heathrow’s recently completed Terminal 2 as an example – structural steelwork for the roof was made by firms in both Lancashire and Yorkshire and more than 5,000 direction signs were made by a company in Exeter.

It’s also estimated that a new runway in the south east would support up to 5,000 additional apprenticeships. That’s 1,500 in the lead-up to construction. A further 1,500 during construction. And then another 2,500 during operation.

So in building a new runway, we wouldn’t just be laying asphalt, we’d be laying the foundations for the skilled workforce of the future. We’d be training tomorrow’s electricians, engineers and mechanics our country will need in the long-term.

And with more than half of employers suffering or expecting soon to suffer a shortage of experienced staff with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, this can’t come soon enough.

Obligation to opportunity

Runway capacity is the classic “not in my generation” issue. Yet as chairman of Teach First, I strongly believe that firms have a duty to give tomorrow’s workforce that first chance to prove themselves and get the skills they need to succeed.

That also holds true I think for our politicians – and the decision to build a new runway has the potential to jumpstart so many careers.

It’s clear that a new runway will bring benefits for firms and families right here in the UK. But these benefits will be nothing but potential until – as a country – we actually make a decision and get it built.

To provide the skilled workers, makers and exporters of tomorrow, we need to push for brave political leadership today.

But our window of opportunity is closing fast. The Airports Commission has come back with its recommendations. And we welcomed the prime minister’s commitment to a decision by Christmas and the creation of a cabinet sub-committee to consider the Airport Commission’s report in greater detail.

Now, we need that sub-committee to step up and show responsible leadership. And that means seeing a clear decision and timetable set by the government. Anything less would be a continuation of the “not in my generation” approach which got us into this mess in the first-place.

We can’t “pass the buck” on Britain’s future any longer. We are the ones who will have to make this change happen.


This is an edited version of a speech Paul Drechsler gave to the Airport Operators’ Association Conference on 23 November 2015