Minister warns about shipyard dependence after second city visit

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MINISTER for Portsmouth Michael Fallon says he is still focused on the city’s shipyard but today warns – we must not depend on it again.

It comes after the MP visited the area yesterday on his second trip after being appointed by the prime minister to help Portsmouth through the loss of shipbuilding.

From left, National Museum of the Royal Navy project director Andrew Baines, dockyard chief executive Lincoln Clarke, minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon, and Professor Dominic Tweddle from the National Museum of the Royal Navy

From left, National Museum of the Royal Navy project director Andrew Baines, dockyard chief executive Lincoln Clarke, minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon, and Professor Dominic Tweddle from the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Mr Fallon spent the day meeting with city leaders from the council, naval base, unions, historic dockyard and university.

He says more work needs to be done to bring in businesses and boost the small and medium enterprise (SME) offering in the region, prompting concern from those who want to see shipbuilding retained here.

But the minister revealed a prospectus is being published next week outlining opportunities at the yard.

Mr Fallon told The News: ‘We are aware of interest that has been expressed in the yard by four or five parties.

‘We are following up on these and will see the prospectus come out next week so everyone is aware of what they are taking on.

‘However, the yard would require an awful lot of work to sustain the current number of jobs there.

‘If you look at the main maritime corridor in the world, it’s from Rotterdam to Shanghai, and Portsmouth sits on that.

‘It has the history and expertise and there is a huge opportunity here to get the city to see what more we can do to boost that.

‘But we need SME growth as well, because we can’t depend again on one yard.’

Prime minister David Cameron wrote a letter to The News last month, pledging the government would do all it could to protect the shipyard and the livelihoods of those who work there.

He outlined a specific promise for shipbuilding, saying the government wanted it to remain in the city, and claimed there is ‘significant, untapped potential’.

But one group who is pulling together a plan to form the Portsmouth Shipbuilding Group say they are frustrated by a lack of action and were refused a meeting with Mr Fallon.

Sarah Stanton, one of the members of the group, said: ‘What they don’t understand is we’ve worked in the yard and we’ve worked in there at a high level and we know what needs taking on.

‘We know the facility costs, and we know what is needed. We are not a two-person start-up, we are a group of five companies and it feels like we are ahead of the curve here. That’s our frustration.’

Mr Fallon said government officials would be talking to the shipbuilding group.

Mr Fallon has reiterated his pledge to build more support for small and medium businesses to help mitigate job losses from the BAE shipyard.

As part of his visit to the area yesterday, he went to SC Vital Fitness in Farlington to see what is being done in the area to help small firms.

Sean Cole, a 40-year-old ex-navy physical trainer from Gosport, set up the fitness centre there and received a £30,000 grant from the News-backed Bridging the Gap fund.

He said: ‘I was honoured to have the minister here. Business is going better than expected and I would encourage anyone thinking of doing the same thing to go for it.’

Mr Fallon added: ‘We need to encourage small businesses and we need more of this.

‘(SC Vital Fitness) would not have happened without that extra £30,000. It made a crucial difference.’

As reported in The News, Mr Fallon announced yesterday a new research project looking into the strengths of the Portsmouth area as a centre for maritime excellence.

The project, to be completed in the spring, will be used to highlight the strengths of the region.

‘I hope Portsmouth will come out as the winner,’ Mr Fallon said.

Dockyard officials had the chance to outline their ideas for boosting tourism in the area when minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon paid a visit.

As part of his trip to the city, Mr Fallon went on a harbour tour with the Portsmouth Naval Base Commander, and met with leaders at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

He was also shown the latest work on a £4.5m project called HMS – Hear My Story, an exhibition due to open at the dockyard.

Afterwards, Mr Fallon said: ‘I’ve discussed plans to improve connections between the major tourist attractions here.

‘We need to improve the connection between them and create a proper tourist corridor between the different sites to link them up and they’ve got good plans for that.

‘We need to look at the harbour as a whole and all sides of the harbour, which are split between different councils.’

Later, the minister visited the University of Portsmouth’s Creative and Cultural Industries department.

He added: ‘Portsmouth and the surrounding area have real strengths in creative and cultural industries, with companies like Climax Games making computer games for the world’s biggest publishers from their base in Portsmouth.’