IT’s time to move away from the hope shipbuilding will return to Portsmouth.
That’s the controversial message from city MP Flick Drummond, who has vowed to focus her attentions at a special summit called over the shipyard on seeing what other lucrative industries can be attracted to set up and create jobs.
Mrs Drummond believes the city has to leave behind once and for all the effort to pull back shipbuilding – which collapsed with the loss of around 1,000 BAE jobs in November, 2013.
And the Portsmouth South MP does not think it was ‘David Cameron’s fault’ that the deal to bring Portchester composite-structure builder Magma Structures into the shipyard collapsed last month – despite the prime minister’s letter to The News in October, 2014, promising he would go ‘all out’ to keep shipbuilding in the city.
Mrs Drummond also said politicians sometimes make promises ‘which they can’t keep’ – a claim which has sparked an outcry from critics who say it’s a disgrace city leaders are giving up hope.
The MP’s call to move on comes despite the minister for Portsmouth, Mark Francois, declaring he will continue to fight the case for shipbuilding at the London summit, scheduled to take place on April 19 with defence minister Mark Lancaster and Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt.
Can you honestly believe it that no-one is singing from the same sheet? It’s bizarre. These people are fronting it up and they aren’t even kicking in the same direction.GMB regional organiser Gary Cook
GMB regional organiser Gary Cook, who represents dockyard workers, said: ‘So we have got a shipbuilding summit that won’t be about shipbuilding.
‘Can you honestly believe it that no-one is singing from the same sheet? It’s bizarre. These people are fronting it up and they aren’t even kicking in the same direction.
‘This is of paramount concern. Portsmouth won’t forgive the Tories if the prime minister doesn’t deliver on what he promised. They will be held to account at the ballot box.
‘The shiphall is a state-of-the-art facility, yet frigates will be built out in the open in Scotland. It’s industrial vandalism and neglect.’
Mrs Drummond said: ‘As long as we get some form of investment in there – great. If that’s shipbuilding, fine. But really, we need to move away from that.
‘It all comes down to comparative advantage.
‘If other places can build ships better than we can, we need to look at areas where we can do better than them.
‘We need to find our own niche and there will be lots of other things we can do. We are becoming a centre of excellence for maritime engineering.
‘That’s something where we have a comparative advantage over somewhere else.
‘We shouldn’t be looking backwards all of the time. We should be looking forward to making Portsmouth a centre of excellence in other things.
Asked if she will be pushing for a move away from shipbuilding at the shipbuilding summit, Mrs Drummond said: ‘Yes, that’s right. If it is shipbuilding that we get, that would be fine. But it’s got to be something that’s sustainable and which will make us a centre of excellence.’
On the collapse of the Magma deal, Mrs Drummond said: ‘It wasn’t David Cameron’s fault that the oil and gas industry has gone down.
‘This is what happens. Do you not make promises as politicians? We do make some promises, some of which you achieve, and some you won’t.
‘But we will get something in the shiphall that’s of benefit to Portsmouth.’
Portsmouth Lib Dem leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson was dismayed by Mrs Drummond’s comments. He said: ‘I’m sorry, but if the prime minister comes down to Portsmouth to say to people, “please vote Conservative at the election, and I make this promise to you that we will bring shipbuilding back”, then I think people in Portsmouth have a perfect right to expect him and his representatives – Flick being one of them – to deliver on that promise.’