City rallies in bid to protect yard

Construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Babcock's, Rosyth shipyard, Scotland. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (123920-114)
Construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Babcock's, Rosyth shipyard, Scotland. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (123920-114)
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WITH hundreds of jobs hanging in the balance, a rallying cry has gone out to save Portsmouth’s shipyard.

Politicians are uniting to oppose any plans by BAE Systems to shut its yard at Portsmouth Naval Base.

An ongoing review into its shipbuilding operations is nearing an end and could see the city lose its work.

But MPs and councillors are battling to convince BAE to keep the base open, pointing to the success in part-building the navy’s new aircraft carriers as a major reason why shipbuilding should continue in the city.

Portsmouth City Council is today preparing to hear a motion from the Labour councillor for Cosham, Aiden Gray, who is calling on the authority to write to the Defence Secretary to explain the devastating impact a shipyard closure would have on workers and their families.

Under the motion, the council would also set-up a cross-party group to work with trade unions to campaign for the workforce’s future.

Cllr Gray said: ‘It is a massive issue for the city because of the employment it brings. It’s not a party political thing; we’re fighting for our city and that’s what we’re elected to do.

‘We should be very proud to support that.

‘A lot of people and their families rely on this for work.’

The Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, said he would not give up the fight for the city’s shipbuilders.

He said: ‘There is a lot of goodwill to fight this battle.

‘I’m not giving up and I’m sure nobody else is. If we can do anything to persuade BAE Systems to keep shipbuilding we will. I think the government is under an obligation to protect shipbuilding in Portsmouth.’

The Ministry of Defence yesterday announced it would pay BAE Systems £1.2bn to build the Royal Navy’s new hunter-killer submarine, HMS Audacious. The move has safeguarded 3,000 skilled jobs at Barrow in Cumbria.

Mr Hancock said: ‘They’re about to spend £1.2bn to protect jobs in Barrow by building a submarine so why not here?’

The campaign to save shipbuilding comes as The News today reveals never-before-seen images of the under-construction HMS Queen Elizabeth. It currently sits in a dry dock in Rosyth, Scotland, while hundreds of workers piece her together at a rate of knots.

Contractors working at the Scottish assembly yard are building the ship on the inside and out ahead of her planned launch date in 2014.

The enormous carrier is expected to arrive in Portsmouth in 2017.

Retired Captain Tony Holberry, who works with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance to build the two aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, said: ‘We are making history here.

‘She is a working air base with an air traffic control centre capable of day and night operation, combined with a place of work for 1,600 people. It’s not been built before in this country and probably never will again.

‘When she comes through Portsmouth you won’t be able to see anything like it again.

‘It will be a day to tell your grandchildren about.’

While the first carrier’s shape looms ever larger, the work back in Portsmouth isn’t over yet.

The city’s shipyard is still in the middle of putting together the forward island section of the aircraft carrier.

It will be carried out of Portsmouth, delivered to Rosyth and lifted into place next year. Immediately after the first carrier launches in 2014, work will begin on HMS Prince of Wales, the second of the Queen Elizabeth-class warships.

When plans were first formed for the carriers it was decided no single shipyard would take on construction because the project was too big.

Programme director Ian Booth said: ‘These ships demonstrate the very best of British skills, manufacturing and ingenuity.

‘The first of class entering Portsmouth in 2017 will be a proud day not only for the city but for the entire nation.’

Regarding the review, BAE said: ‘We continue to work closely with the Ministry of Defence to explore all possible options to determine how best to sustain the capability to deliver complex warships in the UK in the future. This work is ongoing and we are committed to keeping our employees and trade unions informed as it progresses.’