IT’S a bold move to try to save Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry and provide stability for the future of the Royal Navy’s warship programme.
A new letter sent by a Portsmouth MP hopes to make an ally out of Prime Minister David Cameron in the fight to keep the city’s shipyard.
Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, who also sits on Parliament’s Defence Select Committee, has written a hard-hitting letter to the prime minister urging him to take seven immediate steps to prevent any losses to Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry.
It comes as BAE Systems is in the middle of a review into its shipyard operations across the country.
This month marks a year since the battle began raging over the importance of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry as the defence firm looks into how it will continue warship construction when two major orders come to an end.
Now a letter, sent directly to David Cameron and copied to ministers including the chancellor George Osborne and defence secretary Philip Hammond, offers an alternative future for Portsmouth.
It hinges on building upon the Royal Navy’s worldwide reputation for excellence to boost the city’s naval export industry and encourage more firms to set up shop in the city.
‘This is a new argument I am giving ministers,’ Ms Mordaunt told The News.
‘Let’s not just think about how to move ever-dwindling bits of a programme around the UK but lets think about how we can do more and how we can reduce costs for the Royal Navy.
‘I want us to be doing more work here, not less.
‘So we will carry on the campaign.
‘We’ll keep going and work very hard on this.’
Ms Mordaunt admits it is a hard battle to win, but is hopeful that by bringing it to the attention of the prime minister and other government heads something can be done.
Other city leaders say the points have all been made before but putting them into one comprehensive argument will help with the calls.
In the letter, Ms Mordaunt says: ‘Naturally, I have Portsmouth’s economic future at the forefront of my mind, but I am equally concerned about the national imperative to retain key sovereign capabilities and the ability to afford the future fleet.
‘You are faced with a difficult situation: the deal with BAE Systems has, in effect, left the United Kingdom with only one company with the capacity to build complex warships, and while BAE is keen to undertake work on the Type 26 and other low-risk ventures, it is clear to me that ship services, not shipbuilding, is where it sees its future.
‘In such circumstances, it is natural for BAE to seek to rationalise its shipbuilding facilities.’
The letter states a case for a strong export programme which would not only secure the future of thousands of jobs in Portsmouth, but would also help the Ministry of Defence afford future warships.
BAE Systems is in the middle of providing one of the biggest orders ever made by the Ministry of Defence – the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
And later this decade, the firm will start building 13 Type 26 frigates for the Royal Navy fleet. But there is a gap in production between 2014, when work on the carriers finishes, and 2016 when work on the frigates is expected to begin.
When the orders come to an end, it is expected there will be an inevitable downsize of the shipbuilding workforce.
The worst case scenario for Portsmouth is that BAE decides to close it’s shipbuilding operation in the city and move all of its warship construction to Scotland. A spokesman for BAE Systems would not comment on the letter, but said in a statement: ‘We continue to work closely with the Ministry of Defence to explore all possible options to determine how best to sustain the capability to deliver complex warships in the UK in the future. This work is ongoing and we are committed to keeping our employees and trade unions informed as it progresses.’
Meanwhile, work progresses at a rate of knots to complete the first of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.
Workers in Portsmouth are putting the finishing touches on the forward island before it will be taken by barge up to Rosyth in Scotland, where the carrier is being pieced together.
LIB DEM MP THROWS WEIGHT BEHIND LETTER
PORTSMOUTH South MP Mike Hancock has praised Penny Mordaunt for taking the fight to the prime minister.
The Lib Dem MP says he has campaigned tirelessly to have the first of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers brought to Portsmouth early in the hopes of securing more jobs in the city.
Mr Hancock said: ‘These are all points that we have raised ourselves at some time or other so if Penny is backing these that’s good.
‘I’m sure the whole city is behind anything that will make the case viable.
‘I’m glad she is on board and fully supportive because everything helps.
‘The Ministry of Defence is to blame for most of the problems and bureaucracy is to blame for a lot of it.
‘Getting the carriers to Portsmouth early is a major thing and I have lost count of the number of times I have called for it.’
Mr Hancock said he and Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, had tried to take up many of the points raised in the letter with business secretary Vince Cable when he visited the city last year.
· BUILD TWO OFFSHORE PATROL VESSELS AT PORTSMOUTH CITY leaders have previously called for the construction of two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to help avoid a construction gap at Portsmouth’s shipyard from 2014, when work is due to be completed on the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
Business secretary Vince Cable last year cast doubts over the plan, but Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt believes the reasons for rejecting it are bogus: ‘My belief is ministers are minded to reject the OPV option on three bogus grounds: cost, the fact the navy has not asked for them and because it would simply delay the decision on where to locate future shipbuilding.’
‘‘I would ask the government to ignore the Royal Navy’s timidity, and seize this chance to gain more hull suitable for much of the patrol and anti-piracy work we ask the navy to undertake.’
· BRING THE FIRST CARRIER TO PORTSMOUTH EARLY SHOULD government ministers reject calls for an order of two new offshore patrol vessels, there have been further calls for the Ministry of Defence to bring the first of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers to Portsmouth early.
City leaders believe if BAE Systems does the fitting-out on HMS Queen Elizabeth in the city, rather than in Scotland, it could fill a two-year gap in Portsmouth’s order book which is central to the redundancy fears. But the plan would hinge on dredging work to make Portsmouth Harbour deeper and wider for the 65,000-tonne warships being carried out early.
· DEVELOP PORTSMOUTH AS THE HOME OF THE FULL SURFACE FLEET CURRENTLY the home of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers and destroyers, Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt argues it should also be the home of all frigates and counter-mine ships.
‘The 2008 base review concluded Portsmouth was the most cost-effective place to base the surface fleet,’ she said.
‘Whatever is decided, more clarity about which ships will be in which ports would help Portsmouth plan for the developments which are needed for its future.’
· DEVELOP A FULL PLAN FOR THE PORTSMOUTH YARD BEYOND WARSHIPS THE economic benefits of enabling the Portsmouth shipyard to flourish would be immense, the Prime Minister has been told.
Investment should be provided to enable the city to develop its private sector refit work.
‘It would be a mistake to think this would simply shift work already being done elsewhere in the UK,’ the letter to ministers says.
‘It would make Portsmouth a more attractive destination to make port for many companies.’
· DEVELOP AN EXPORT MARKET AND ENCOURAGE TRADE DEALS THE Royal Navy sets a standard to which others aspire, and part of the plea to the government is that we should take advantage of this reputation and trade on it.
‘As the home of the Royal Navy, and with its research and development pedigree, Portsmouth is the obvious place to base Britain’s export operation, yet measures to date have been lacklustre,’ said Penny Mordaunt.
‘I recognise many countries will want to build ships in their own yards, but if we are competitive on price and the offer is tied into services and training it would make a compelling case.’
· REDUCE THE BURDEN OF HISTORIC SITES IN THE DOCKYARD BUREAUCRACY has hindered progress on the transfer of historic sites within Portsmouth’s historic dockyard for new uses, according to the MP for Portsmouth North.
Penny Mordaunt wants the Ministry of Defence to provide guarantees to speed up the development and transfer of the historic buildings it owns in the naval base.
She believes that doing so would pave the way for them to be put to better use and become less of a drain on resources.
Doing so would help bring in extra money and provide more opportunities for employment.
· BE CLEAR ABOUT HOW WE WILL AFFORD THE FUTURE FLEET THE government has been urged to make a long-term plan for warship replacement and crucially how they will be paid for.
In 2010, the Ministry of Defence published the Strategic Defence and Security Review – the first of its kind since 1998.
But to enable British companies to plan and compete, more information is needed about what the future may hold for shipbuilding in this countr.
That includes the need for clarity on who will build the successor to helicopter carrier HMS Ocean and a permanent replacement for ice patrol ship HMS Protector.