COUNCIL leaders are due to hire a crack team of business experts in a bid to save Portsmouth’s 500-year-old shipbuilding industry.
As fears grow for 1,500 BAE Systems workers at its historic Portsmouth shipyard, the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (Push) has set aside £20,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a consultancy firm to lobby the government and investigate the impact of job losses on the local economy.
Push, which is made up of political leaders from 11 of south Hampshire’s local authorities, decided to take action after BAE refused to rule out speculation that it’s going to stop building ships in Portsmouth.
It comes as the city faces a shipbuilding slowdown once work is completed on sections of the navy’s £6bn aircraft carriers in 2016.
Fareham Borough Council leader Cllr Sean Woodward, chairman of Push, said: ‘We realise we don’t have the sufficient expertise in-house within our councils to look into these issues, so we have to use external people firstly as consultants and secondly as lobbyists to make the best case for keeping jobs at Portsmouth dockyard.’
The experts, which have not yet been hired, will be tasked to produce a study of Portsmouth shipyard and its supply chain. They will also target top BAE executives and politicians to lobby the case for Portsmouth shipbuilding.
The study will update research from 2007 – the last time doubts hung over the city’s shipbuilding future – which found the dockyard supports 32,000 local jobs.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘I fear that this is the greatest threat the dockyard has faced at any time in the past five years. The impact would be massive and the ripples spread much wider than people might think.
‘The suggestion seems to be BAE are looking to go from three shipyards to one. The last time it was three down to two.
‘We need to understand exactly what BAE is planning because it is being very tight-lipped and we need to find out what political influence from parliament can be brought to bear. BAE is only as successful as its order book, and for British shipbuilding it’s politicians that fill that order book. Politicians can play a big part in this.’
It’s been reported that taxpayers would face a £600m bill should BAE Systems move shipbuilding out of Portsmouth. But despite intense speculation, the defence giant has not moved to stop the rumours.
A BAE spokeswoman said: ‘We are reviewing how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future.’