‘Future should lie in commercial shipbuilding’

SOMBRE BAE workers leave Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday after being told that their jobs are under threat
SOMBRE BAE workers leave Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday after being told that their jobs are under threat

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RENEWED calls have now been made for Portsmouth to build its future as a shipbuilder in the commercial maritime industry.

Even before yesterday’s announcement on the closure of the BAE Systems shipyard, city leaders had called for more commercial ships to be built here.

FRESH CALL Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt is keen for commercial ships to be built in the city

FRESH CALL Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt is keen for commercial ships to be built in the city

Now it could be Portsmouth’s only hope for retaining historic shipbuilding skills.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt says her office has already received enquiries from firms wanting to build new vessels in the city, including ferries, super yachts, and vessels for the tidal industry.

Millions of pounds could soon be unlocked through a City Deal between Portsmouth, Southampton, and the government, which could be used to boost a commercial maritime industry in the area.

Ms Mordaunt said: ‘If there aren’t enough defence orders, we have got to think of something else to do.

‘We don’t want there to be job losses in Portsmouth and we have got to create jobs on that site.

‘The workforce in Portsmouth has been through uncertainty and the last 24 hours for them has been dreadful.’

Meanwhile dockyard workers and city leaders say Portsmouth has been sold down the river as centuries of shipbuilding is put to an end.

BAE Systems said 940 jobs will be lost in Portsmouth, bringing hundreds of years of history to a close, and moving the firm’s shipbuilding operation to the River Clyde in Scotland.

The government says Portsmouth has fallen victim to a gap in warship orders.

But politicians, union leaders and shipyard employees have united to accuse the government of sacrificing Portsmouth jobs for Scottish votes ahead of next year’s referendum on independence.

Gosport’s Tory MP, Caroline Dinenage, said: ‘The fact Scottish jobs have been protected at the expense of those on the south coast, which is an area of equal economic need, for us is devastating and very upsetting.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the Lib Dem leader of Portsmouth City Council, added: ‘We have lost three things this year to Scotland.

‘We wanted to be UK armed forces city, and the UK city of culture, and both were given to Scotland.

‘Now shipbuilding jobs are being protected in Scotland and not in Portsmouth.

‘That looks like a pattern of decision-making by ministers.’

He added the council will work hard to protect remaining jobs.

Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock called the decision to axe the jobs a ‘tragedy.’

Redundancies will be made before the end of next year.

Workers were told yesterday at the BAE Systems shipyard in Portsmouth’s Naval Base.

One shipbuilder, James Jackson, 45, told The News: ‘I think it’s absolutely disgusting. They have kept us in the dark for so long.

‘They haven’t given us a closing date for when the consultation is going to finish. It’s all up in the air.

‘I think it’s political. I think most of the Scottish workers are going to be fine. They didn’t want to take any questions.

‘They don’t want to tell us what’s going on.’

BAE Systems announced 18 months ago it was conducting a review into its shipbuilding operations.

The problem lies with a gap in orders between the completion of work on the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers and an expected order for new frigates later this decade.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond told the House of Commons that every effort would be made to redeploy workers, and that compulsory redundancies would be kept to a minimum.

He said: ‘The loss of a shipmaking capability will be a harsh blow to Portsmouth. The loss of such a significant number of jobs is of course regrettable, but it was always going to be inevitable as the workload on carrier build came to an end.’

City leaders have also criticised a number of other announcements yesterday intended to soften the blow of the shipyard closure.

Mr Hammond said £100m would be invested in Portsmouth’s Naval Base to expand the dockyard in preparation for the arrival of the Royal Navy’s two huge new aircraft carriers.

But the city’s council leader says the city was due to receive this anyway.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The £100m does not look as if it includes any new money. It’s all money that has been announced before to support the carriers coming to Portsmouth. Therefore, we want proper support in terms of lessening the impact of this decision.

‘Portsmouth remains the home of the Royal Navy, with more than 10,000 jobs remaining in the dockyard.’

The decision to close the BAE Systems shipyard in Portsmouth does not affect around 1,100 dockyard-related jobs in the city, including those employed by the firm to carry out maintenance on Royal Navy ships.

It is also unrelated to the navy’s presence in Portsmouth.

A Facebook group titled ‘Save Portsmouth Shipyard’ gathered tens of thousands of signatures in a matter of hours yesterday.

And former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West said the decision was ‘madness.’

Historically, there have been several gaps in the city’s shipbuilding heritage, which can be traced back to the Mary Rose in 1509.