Plea to build new navy ships now in Portsmouth to save jobs

SHIP AHOY! Artist's impression of the new Type 26 frigate
SHIP AHOY! Artist's impression of the new Type 26 frigate
HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth for the last time
Picture: Shaun Roster

RETRO: Watch the last voyage of HMS Illustrious from Portsmouth

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THE government has been urged to bring forward orders for a new generation of Royal Navy frigates to help bridge a production gap that could threaten the future of shipbuilding in Portsmouth.

The Unite union said work should start sooner on the navy’s new fleet of Type 26 ships amid speculation BAE Systems will close its yard in Portsmouth later this decade.

City shipbuilders are building large sections of the navy’s two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers.

The work will be completed by 2016 – two years before construction of the frigates is expected to begin.

Unite’s national officer for aerospace and shipbuilding Ian Waddell said: ‘The government can’t expect a private company to keep thousands of people sweeping the floor or painting its workshops waiting for the work to come in.

‘It should bring the contract forward to span the gap.’

BAE Systems has confirmed it is conducting a review of its shipbuilding business, but refused to publicly rule out rumours it is looking to move out of its Portsmouth shipyard where 3,000 people work.

BAE executives have privately told local MPs that this is unlikely to happen.

But it is likely that BAE will have to make redundacies because the Type 26 programme will not need as much manpower as the carriers, said Unite.

Business expert Howard Wheeldon, a senior strategist at BGC Partners in London, warned accelerating Type 26 production may not actually be possible because of the program’s complexity.

He added: ‘There’s supposed to be a commitment to providing sufficient work, but that’s going to be very difficult.’

BAE Systems is in talks with the MoD about the ships’ design but no contract decisions are due to be made until 2014. An MoD spokesman said: ‘The main investment decision is expected to be made after the completion of the assessment phase in 2014. We anticipate taking the design forward to manufacture at this stage.’