Portsmouth council leader must pile pressure on PM over shipbuilding

David Cameron on his visit to Portsmouth last month
David Cameron on his visit to Portsmouth last month
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth            Picture: PA

RICK JACKSON: The patriotism inspired by HMS Queen Elizabeth is wonderful

  • Party groups vote for council leader to keep up pressure on David Cameron over shipbuilding
  • Labour says Portsmouth was ‘better option’ for building ships
  • But warnings come over next strategic defence review
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THE leader of Portsmouth City Council is being forced to write to David Cameron and demand an answer over when shipbuilding will return.

The prime minister has been criticised since making announcements over the city’s shiphall as it appears ship construction will not happen – despite promising he would bring the work back.

And last night, the Lib Dem, Labour and Ukip council groups voted for Tory council leader Donna Jones to pile pressure on Mr Cameron and ask him to come clean if he can’t deliver.

Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who put the proposal forward, said: ‘It’s absolutely right and proper that we record our disappointment that the prime minister made an undertaking to the people of this city to give us back shipbuilding, and he has not.

‘And that is absolutely not good enough.’

Last month, Mr Cameron said Magma Structures and BAE Systems would come and service minehunter vessels and build rigs for yachts and their work would involve shipbuilding.

Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones

Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones

BAE Systems decided in October 2013 to move its shipbuilding division to the Clyde in Scotland – a move that put 1,000 jobs at risk in Portsmouth.

Cllr Jones argued it was no use ‘condemning’ the prime minister, and if there was an extra £2bn in the defence budget then the situation would be different.

She said there was the potential for the city to service all 13 of the navy’s minehunter vessels, which would bring in new jobs.

But critics said the £2bn figure was plucked out of the air and the prime minister let the city down.

It’s absolutely right and proper that we record our disappointment that the prime minister made an undertaking to the people of this city to give us back shipbuilding, and he has not.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem group leader

Lib Dem councillor Hugh Mason said: ‘This motion is not condemnation – this is a motion about an undertaking the prime minister made to the people of this city.’

Cllr John Ferrett, Labour leader, said: ‘I firmly believe, and I will believe to my grave, that Portsmouth was the better option for building ships.’

He added: ‘There were 41 scenarios that BAE outlined to the government, such as building in Portsmouth, building in Portsmouth and Scotland, which would have given greater capability, and just Scotland.’

Ukip councillor Julie Swan said shipbuilding could have been retained in the city for at least a few years if the decision had been made to build parts of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tankers in the UK.

Instead a contract was awarded to a South Korean firm.

But Tory councillor Alistair Thompson said the Lib Dem motion sent a ‘terrible message’.

‘It is saying we don’t want future investment, go away, we are only interested in big government contracts,’ he said.

‘But the reality is, after the next strategic defence review, there probably won’t be any big government contracts.’

Cllr Jones must write her letter by the end of the week and circulate a copy and any reply she may get to all members.