PRIME Minister David Cameron has given his personal assurance that the government will do everything it can to protect Portsmouth’s shipyard.
Mr Cameron has written exclusively to The News to offer his support to Portsmouth in the wake of the loss of naval shipbuilding.
It comes days after the prime minister took the extraordinary step of appointing senior Tory MP Michael Fallon to become a Minister for Portsmouth.
Mr Cameron was responding to an open letter published on the front page of this newspaper days after the announcement that BAE Systems would be closing its shipbuilding operations in the city.
In his reply, which you can read in full by clicking here, he said the government would ‘go all out’ in the next few months to make sure Portsmouth’s shipyard will remain strong, successful, and respected around the world.
He said there is ‘significant, untapped potential’ for the city’s shipbuilding industry, and revealed a number of commercial shipping firms have already expressed an interest in relocating here.
‘The message now needs to go out clearly and unambiguously that Portsmouth is open for business,’ he said.
Politicians and union leaders have reacted positively to the prime minister’s public commitment.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘For him to actively issue a statement rather than just respond in Prime Minister’s Questions is incredibly important.
‘It helps us commercially, it helps say we are open for business, that the government wants to support the local workforce and that we think it’s important we retain skills for the benefit of the UK.
‘This will help tremendously. I hope it gives businesses the nudge they need to really focus on Portsmouth as the place they either want to relocate to or expand in.
‘It’s been a very difficult couple of months, but the city has so much on offer and all committees now have to rally round and make this an opportunity and get cracking.’
Ms Mordaunt will discuss with Portsmouth City Council the possibility of putting in a Regional Growth Fund bid for companies who need investment in order to relocate to the yard.
It follows on the back of discussions she’s had with Michael Fallon, the new Minister for Portsmouth, and the department for business, innovation and skills, which he works for, about funding.
Mr Fallon himself says he is unsure when he will be able to visit Portsmouth, but that it would be soon.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock added: ‘What we have now is a firm commitment to the people of the area that the government is going to make this happen.
‘The problem he will have if he doesn’t deliver is that people will not forget that pledge.
‘We have to build on this commitment from Cameron.
‘I hope it means the government won’t put obstacles in the way and I hope the Ministry of Defence doesn’t put things in the way which can’t be overcome.
‘I also hope it means the government is prepared to invest.’
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said Mr Cameron’s letter showed a strong commitment to the area.
‘Shipbuilding is the last in a long line of things we have lost in this area,’ she said.
‘There has been decades of neglect by successive governments and if that had happened in a coal mining town in the north-east of England there would have been outrage.
‘This is a strong commitment to our city and the wider region.
‘I am really pleased that the prime minister and the new Minister for Portsmouth, Michael Fallon, have listened to us.
‘We need to keep the pressure up. The News has run a fantastic campaign to keep Portsmouth on the agenda.’
The open letter to David Cameron ran on the front page of The News on November 14, and was again featured on January 2, after no response.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘Michael Fallon and the prime minister will be judged by their actions.
‘It’s good the prime minister has answered the open letter even though it took so long.
‘I hope he is right he is right that we can keep shipbuilding.’
Michael Fallon, the newly-appointed Minister for Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s a challenging situation Portsmouth faces but also a real opportunity to become a centre for maritime industries, and we want to make sure every bit of government is working together to make sure that happens.
‘BAE has taken its decision now about the yard, but that’s not the only maritime industry in Portsmouth.
‘I think it’s unlikely that BAE are going to change their minds now.
‘What we have to do is seize the opportunity.’