THINK again – that’s the united message from city leaders today in a defiant letter to the Prime Minister over Portsmouth’s shipyard closure.
Unions, MPs and council leaders have joined forces to demand the attention of David Cameron in the fight to safeguard shipbuilding, jobs and vital skills.
The wording of the open letter - published on the front page of The News today - was agreed at talks organised by the newspaper yesterday in response to last week’s shock announcement on the yard’s closure.
Representatives at the meeting said the decision poses an immediate risk to national defence and the UK’s sovereign capability.
They have also called on the Prime Minister to commission a Cabinet Office review of the options available and suspend the decision to end shipbuilding.
Councillor Donna Jones, the leader of Portsmouth City Council’s Conservative group, said: ‘As the city leaders, we have decided sensibly to put our political differences aside.
‘We must be united on the way forward and send one clear message from the city.
‘If we work individually, it will detract from what we all want – a thriving dockyard with a full order book to build ships and protect the sovereignty of the UK.’
The letter also calls on David Cameron to visit Portsmouth as soon as possible, along with defence secretary Philip Hammond.
Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North, said: ‘Everyone is coming together to put forward a very strong argument as to why we need to keep shipbuilding here.
‘We’ve also got to be looking at what other things we can do to support the workforce. Coming up to Christmas, they don’t know what their future is a few months beyond that so we’ve really got to be looking at what support we can give.’
Ms Mordaunt added that she and the other city leaders have been meeting with companies who have expressed an interest in setting up commercial shipbuilding industry in the city.
Mark Waldron, the editor of The News, said: ‘There has been a lot of shock, anger and passion around the city over how the decision is the wrong decision – not just for the city, but also for the nation.
‘So what we’ve tried to do is to instil our readers’ passion and married it up with the good work the unions have been doing, and tied that in with the work our MPs and councillors have been doing to pave the way forward.
‘We’ve tried to bring all of that together and capture it on our front page today. I think it’s important we’ve got a united front on the idea of what we do in the future.’
Cllr John Ferrett, the Labour group leader in Portsmouth, said: ‘Trade unions in the naval base are working flat out to mobilise as much support as they can to keep shipbuilding in Portsmouth. Today we have been discussing with politicians from Portsmouth and Southampton how we can put maximum political pressure on the government to reverse the decision to close the shipbuilding facility.’
Meanwhile, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, was in London lobbying business secretary Vince Cable.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I talked to Dr Cable about the shipyard issue and what we can do to try to protect jobs.
‘One idea I want the government to consider is that one of the Royal Navy’s three new offshore patrol vessels could be built in Portsmouth.’
People are being urged to protest outside Portsmouth Guildhall tonight as the BBC’s Question Time is held in the city.
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