Shipbuilding giant refuses to rule out dockyard closure

SKILLED A welder working at BAE Systems
SKILLED A welder working at BAE Systems

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BAE Systems has been urged to come clean over feared plans to stop building ships at Portsmouth Naval Base.

The defence giant has brought in consultants to review its shipbuilding business and speculation is rife this may lead to the closure of its Portsmouth shipyard.

But the firm yesterday refused to quell the rumours that are causing panic among its 3,000 workers in the south.

The Prospect union, which represents more than 300 BAE engineers and senior professionals in Portsmouth, called on BAE Systems Surface Ships and the Ministry of Defence to be open and transparent about the future of shipbuilding in the city.

Negotiations officer John Ferrett said: ‘The company has been less than forthcoming with unions on their future plans for UK shipbuilding.

‘We were told that the company was using LEK consultants in October last year, but at no time were we told that the consultants were reviewing which of the company’s yards should be closed.

‘Clearly, when companies take decisions in this way the employees and their representatives have every right to be suspicious.’

The union said the closure would spell ‘economic disaster’ for Portsmouth at a time when highly-skilled jobs are crucial for economic growth.

Portsmouth City Council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, vowed to lobby the government over the issue and said it didn’t make sense for BAE to keep its two yards open on the Clyde in Scotland and shut down Portsmouth given the prospect of a Scottish referendum in 2014.

He said: ‘I’m calling on the Ministry of Defence to do what it can to make sure that shipbuilding continues in Portsmouth.

‘It’s the only place where we can guarantee that shipbuilding would stay within our own country – there’s no threat of Portsmouth going independent.’

South east MEP Nigel Farage, who is leader of UKIP, also weighed into the row.

He said: ‘Aside from the scandal of ending 800 years of proud shipbuilding here in Portsmouth, for an island nation we need to have a working shipyard here in England.’

BAE refused to comment about whether it’s planning to pull out of Portsmouth.

A BAE spokeswoman said the firm was reviewing ‘how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future’.

She added: ‘This work is ongoing and we will keep our employees and Trade Union representatives fully informed as it progresses.’

Shipyard cuts come after a boom time at company

FEARS over the future of shipbuilding in Portsmouth come during a busy period of work for BAE Systems.

Portsmouth shipbuilders constructed the bows of all six of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 destroyers. The ships cost the taxpayer £1bn each. Large sections of the navy’s new £5bn aircraft carriers are also being built in the city.

Work is almost finished on a large mid-section of the hull and the stern of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and construction is under way on the two flight deck towers to go on top of the 65,000-tonne ship.

Work is due to begin soon on the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, which is due to keep Portsmouth shipbuilders busy until at least 2016.

On the horizon is another big project to build a new fleet of Type 26 navy frigates. BAE is at a final stage of negotiations with the MoD over the price and design of the warships which it hopes to start building later this decade. The plan is for BAE to then export Type 26s to other navies around the world, securing thousands of jobs.