DEFENCE secretary Philip Hammond has said the government will not step in to stop ‘inevitable’ job losses at Portsmouth dockyard.
During a pre-election tour of Portsmouth yesterday, Mr Hammond told The News he would not intervene in a BAE Systems review of its shipbuilding division.
Rumours persist that the axe could swing for 1,300 city shipbuilders once work on the Royal Navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers ends in 2014.
Mr Hammond said: ‘One of the downsides of big programmes like the carriers, which create lots of good news when they start, is that when they come to an end it inevitably means a downsizing of the overall workforce.
‘Now, where that downsizing takes place is an issue for the company and I’m sure BAE are already discussing with their workforce their plans for the future.’
Later this decade, BAE will start building 13 Type 26 frigates for the navy fleet.
The defence giant has not ruled out speculation that it will move all of its warship construction to Scotland.
Mr Hammond said: ‘It’s explicitly not our decision where BAE builds the Type 26s. It’s a commercial decision they will have to make.’
The defence secretary made the comments during a visit to St Jude’s Ward in Southsea, where he posted leaflets backing Tory candidate David Tompkins ahead of Thursday’s local council elections.
Cllr Simon Bosher, leader of Portsmouth’s Tory group, appeared to be cautious about Mr Hammond’s stance on the shipbuilding issue.
He said: ‘BAE are obviously a private company, but from our perspective the dockyard is integral to Portsmouth and we’ll be doing everything in our power to make sure the future of the dockyard and the workers there is secure.’
Portsmouth’s Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, was angered by the defence secretary.
He said: ‘It’s irresponsible and disingenuous. If the government told BAE to keep shipbuilding in Portsmouth they would do it.
‘BAE takes its orders from the government – the minister should not be washing his hands of this decision and saying it is inevitable.
‘With the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014, we could lose the ability to build advanced warships in the UK.’
Cllr Jim Patey, leader of the Labour group in Portsmouth, said: ‘The government has to come out and urge BAE to keep shipbuilding in Portsmouth. The impact of these job losses would be devastating for the city.’