Challenges face dock workers as Portsmouth shipyard’s focus shifts

NO MORE Shipbuilding will cease to exist in Portsmouth from next year, although maintenance will continue in the city
NO MORE Shipbuilding will cease to exist in Portsmouth from next year, although maintenance will continue in the city
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THE managing director of BAE Systems’ navy ships business says the company will ‘fight hard’ for future frigates to be based in Portsmouth.

Mick Ord spoke to The News shortly after delivering yesterday’s announcement to more than 1,000 assembled staff – 940 of which face redundancy between the end of 2013 and the latter part of 2014.

He said the company still has a prosperous future in Portsmouth, but admitted the job losses would be keenly felt in the local community and the local economy.

Mr Ord said: ‘I fully understand the impact and emotion people will be feeling today.

‘My primary focus and that of all my colleagues today is to work tirelessly to reduce to an absolute minimum the impact of today’s announcement.

‘We have got a good reputation of being able to mitigate as much as possible and we do have a best practice approach to doing that.

‘We will absolutely work closely with all of our affected employees and reps. I’ve made that personal commitment to them today.

‘What is not in anyone’s interest is speculation on what the outcome will be.’

Mr Ord said two days of negotiations over redundancy terms will begin on Monday, with both national and regional trades union representatives invited to discuss options and ways to reduce its impact.

But he said: ‘It is very important to realise today’s announcements are only focused on the shipbuilding business and it in no way impacts on the very large maritime services business we have here.

‘Even with today’s announced job losses we would have in excess of 3,000 people in Portsmouth – the majority of which are engineering, supply chain management etc.

‘That’s very important because the naval base does have a strong future. The Type 45 destroyers are here, and they are the most modern warships in the Royal Navy.

‘Half the frigates are based here and in 2017 the aircraft carrier arrives.’

As reported in The News today, a campaign for the Ministry of Defence to commission three Offshore Patrol Vessels was launched when the hole in BAE Systems’ shipbuilding order book was revealed.

However, despite the announcement those OPVs will be built, seemingly providing enough work for Portsmouth as well as the two shipbuilding yards in Scotland, the city’s shipbuilding capability will nevertheless be lost.

Mr Ord said: ‘I recognise and understand people feel passionately about Portsmouth and people would have expected to explore all options to have been able to bring work to Portsmouth.

However today’s announcements are a culmination of many, many months of work. Glasgow was the most effective placement.

‘Portsmouth will still be involved in the design and manufacture of the Type 26 frigates. They are a way to maintain that core workforce in the long run.’

It is still not yet known where in the UK those frigates will be based.

But Mr Ord pledged: ‘‘As the 13 Type 26s come into service, BAE will be fighting hard to have as many based here in Portsmouth as possible.’

Mr Ord said the arrival of the nation’s two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will present both ‘a huge challenge for the naval base and also a massive opportunity’ in terms of its infrastructure and its workforce.

In the meantime, consultations will begin on the three huge blocks of the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, that are yet to be built.

They should have been built and joined in Portsmouth, before being floated to Rosyth in Scotland for assembly.

However, that might not now be the case – they could be built in Glasgow and assembled up there.

Mr Ord said: ‘What is essential is that as we come off this unprecedented peak – and it is unprecedented – of orders is that we protect the skills for the Type 26 frigates.

‘We have end, high technology and systems, and we will still be developing radar systems – very, very high-tech systems – to put on board the new Type 26s, our torpedo base is concentrated here in the naval base, and we also have a team concerned in the design and manufacture of smaller boats.’

That work, he said, will also sustain some of the supply chain companies which rely on BAE Systems’ contracts.