Defence report says Portsmouth dockyard ‘vulnerable’ to closure

FUTURE A shipbuilder at BAE Systems in Portsmouth
FUTURE A shipbuilder at BAE Systems in Portsmouth
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth            Picture: PA

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CITY leaders have demanded action from the government over a leaked report that recommends that Portsmouth dockyard be closed, putting thousands of shipbuilding jobs at risk.

According to a national newspaper, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been told in a report he commissioned into the future of British shipbuilding that BAE operations in the dockyard should be shut down and the supercarrier warship programme delayed.

If this happened, it could leave 3,000 jobs at risk across the city. And it would see the second of the 65,000-tonne £5bn supercarriers delivered at least two years later than planned to sustain the workload at defence giant BAE Systems’ other dockyards.

Now, the government is being asked for answers.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘We keep trying to meet BAE and it’s very difficult getting a meeting with them. We want to know from ministers what’s going on.

‘This is about the strategic ability of the UK to build warships. If yards close, then the UK won’t have the ability to build advanced warships.

‘It’s about making sure that the ships are maintained in Portsmouth, serviced in Portsmouth and supported in Portsmouth.

‘It’s keeping that long-term service going to make sure that there are jobs over the next 25 to 30 years.’

John Ferrett, negotiations officer for the Prospect Union and a city councillor, said: ‘This is extremely worrying because it’s a government review that looks at the future of the shipyard.

‘The government needs to intervene here.

‘It’s the future of the UK in terms of being able to build its own ships and having its sovereign defence capability.

‘We’d encourage them to intervene and talk to the unions and to the city council.’

But local Conservative MPs have said they feel it’s unlikely the dockyard will close.

Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport, said: ‘I’d be surprised if that ever was the case. There is still going to be a need for shipbuilding.

‘Every time I have asked the question, I’ve been assured that the government doesn’t envisage a future without Portsmouth dockyard in it.

‘It’s not just the thousands of jobs but it’s the wider implications of the economy.’

Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North, said: ‘I’d say to any minister or anyone producing such reports we have got to stop what we have been doing for so long which is slowing down programmes.

‘We should be exporting more ships, we should be building more ships.

‘Portsmouth should feel confident going forward.

‘I and many others will be making that case robustly. I think the report will be dismissed by the secretary of state and his team.’

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: ‘The current government asked the new Chief of Defence Materiel to review all of our major projects to assess progress and value for money. Sir Robert Walmsley’s report is part of this process and the Department will consider its findings in detail.’

Referring to the LEK report, a BAE Systems spokesperson said: ‘As part of our business planning activity, we are reviewing how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future.’

The fears relate only to the BAE yard and not the naval base.

CONSULTANCY PLAN

In January it was revealed that BAE had hired LEK Consulting to examine the future of Portsmouth and two dockyards on the River Clyde.

The shipbuilding giant is concerned that work would dry up once the second supercarrier, the Prince of Wales, was launched in 2018, with the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme not starting until 2020. BAE employs 1,500 ship builders in Portsmouth and a further 1,500 people working on the maintenance and repair work BAE does for the navy’s surface fleet.