For 18 months, dockyard workers have been on tenterhooks, waiting for some news on the future of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry.
All indications are they will finally get their answer tomorrow – and it may not be good news.
Night shift workers at BAE Systems will go home early tonight, in order to return tomorrow morning with their colleagues to hear an announcement.
It marks the end of almost two years of campaigning in a bid to protect jobs at the giant sheds within the walls of Portsmouth’s Naval Base.
City leaders fear losing the shipbuilding capability will spell the end of hundreds of skilled engineering jobs in the south.
Nobody knows what the announcement on Thursday will bring, but MPs, union leaders, and dockyard workers are preparing for the worst.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said: ‘It probably means that shipbuilding will go and that is an absolute disaster, but I am only surmising that.
‘They are talking about job losses in shipbuilding and it must be in the hundreds because that was the speculation back in the summer.
‘It’s a massive and grave error on the part of the government if it is going to put more shipbuilding in Scotland.
‘It’s political. It always has been.
‘As soon as this statement is made, I will be arranging a meeting with Philip Hammond and other ministers to find out what they are going to do.
‘This is a really bitter blow to the city and to the workforce.
‘There is no other way to describe this other than a bloody disaster.’
John Ferrett is a Portsmouth Labour councillor and negotiations officer for trade union Prospect, who represents workers such as managers, engineers and specialists for BAE Systems at the Portsmouth base.
He said: ‘There have been rumours for many, many months that there will be a closure or there would be jobs lost and we have just been waiting for that decision to be made.
‘While it’s not a surprise, if it results in jobs being lost in Portsmouth it’s hugely disappointing.
‘The mood has been somewhat pessimistic for the last 18 months.
‘For our members in Portsmouth, given that we are two months away from Christmas, it’s extremely disappointing news and people will have concerns.
‘My role will be to try and mitigate any job losses.
‘We will work with the company to try and make sure as many workers as possible will get jobs within the support sector of the business.’
Unions are set to meet the defence firm to discuss the future of workers.
Hugh Scullion, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary said: ‘We have secured talks with senior BAE Systems executives early next week to examine the business case of the forthcoming announcement.
‘Now is not the time for idle speculation or indeed party political point scoring, this is the future of an industry and we need to know from the company and the government directly what their plans for the future of UK shipbuilding are.
‘The shipbuilding workforce throughout the UK is working flat out to deliver the aircraft carriers for the defence of the UK and they need to know what lies in store for them, their families and their communities.’
Portsmouth City Council and business leaders have said repeatedly that there is a shortage in key skills such as engineering and manufacturing. Depending on tomorrow’s announcement, even more of those jobs could be lost to the area.
Caroline Dinenage, the MP for Gosport, said: ‘For me the key thing is jobs.
‘Portsmouth’s shipbuilding industry has had its peaks and troughs and that has always been the case.
‘It has always been difficult to put an exact figure on the number of workers who are at stake here because some of them are brought in from Scotland but it is still a significant number.
‘We will be waiting and hoping when the news is announced.’
As reported in The News, Royal Navy bosses remain optimistic about the city’s naval future despite the outlook for shipbuilding.
Earlier this year, Commodore Jeremy Rigby said Portsmouth’s naval future had ‘never been so promising’ ahead of the arrival of two new aircraft carriers.
And whatever the outcome of the shipbuilding review, that is not expected to change.
It has previously been suggested that should Portsmouth lose its shipbuilding capabilities, the city should become the home of the Royal Navy’s entire surface fleet.
A government announcement is also due to be made tomorrow in the House of Commons.
Vernon Coaker, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said: ‘These reports of major job losses will cause worry amongst the thousands of BAE employees who could be affected.
‘There will be huge anxiety among the highly skilled workforce, their families and the communities they live in.
‘This has significant consequences for the future of shipbuilding in the UK and has implications for the future defence of our country.
‘The defence secretary needs to urgently clarify what the current position is, and we need full transparency from the government and BAE Systems about where and when these jobs losses will occur.’
HOW THE NAVAL BASE AFFECTS THE REGION
IN June 2012 a report into the impact of ship building leaving Portsmouth was published by the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire.
It said the naval base overall generates annually £1.68bn for the local economy and supports nearly 20,000 jobs across south Hampshire, with 11,900 of those jobs in the base itself.
And it made clear: ‘Any change that impacts directly on the base is likely to have consequences throughout the (local) economy, even for sectors that are not commercially connected to it.’
It highlighted three options for the base, ranging from a best case to a worst case scenario.
n The first has the city retaining shipbuilding resulting in 2,825 more jobs and an extra £240m to the economy each year. The city would become the home of the surface fleet.
n Scenario two, which would become Portsmouth’s best hope in the case of closure, sees job losses of 1,800 and a £190m loss to the local economy.
In this case shipbuilding stops at Portsmouth and the BAE workload is shared by the two Clyde yards. Surface carriers, destroyers and frigates move to become totally based in Portsmouth.
n Option three is almost unthinkable, resulting in a loss of 3,900 jobs and a loss of £370m to the economy.
In this case, the reduction in shipbuilding activity is not offset by additional vessels moving to Portsmouth or by BAE increasing the level of deep maintenance at the base. Shipbuilding will cease at Portsmouth.
It won’t be until tomorrow that the chosen scenario is unveiled to workers.
· 2003 – Vosper Thorneycroft moved its shipbuilding facility from the Woolston shipyard to Portsmouth and wasted no time in securing major orders. The first steel was cut for HMS Daring, the first of Portsmouth’s six new Type 45 destroyers, in October that year. Earlier, the government announced the shipyard would share in building the blocks for two new aircraft carriers.
· June 2010 - MP Penny Mordaunt used her Parliamentary maiden speech to urge the government to support an ‘unappreciated’ Royal Navy. She told the House the senior service is vital to the UK, and calling for ministers not to be ‘sea-blind’ in the forthcoming Strategic Defence Review.
· June 2012 - The government performs another U-turn in the Royal Navy’s £6bn aircraft carrier programme and abandon plans to mothball one of the 65,000-tonne warships.
The move will be confirmed in the next defence review in 2015. It could also secure hundreds of jobs at BAE Systems in Portsmouth due to double the repair and maintenance work.
· June 2012 - City leaders demand action from the government over a leaked report that recommends that shipbuilding in Portsmouth be scrapped.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was told in a report he commissioned into the future of British shipbuilding that BAE operations in the dockyard should be shut down and the supercarrier warship programme delayed.
· December 2012 - The former head of Vosper Thorneycroft, Martin Jay, said BAE Systems would be making a ‘terrible mistake’ if they shut down the city’s shipyard.
· June 2013 - Details of a major transformation to the naval base ahead of it receiving thousands of tonnes of new warships are revealed. Jetties need strengthening, cranes need replacing, and space needs to be arranged to handle the number of warships which will be based in Portsmouth in the future.
· August 2013 - Firms that support Portsmouth Naval Base are being invited to bid for £4.7m worth of investment.
Small and medium-sized companies in the Solent area can each apply for between £10,000 and £300,000.
The projects have to demonstrate they will help safeguard the 20,000 jobs linked to the base or create new ones.