Unions urge caution in fight to safeguard Portsmouth shipbuilding jobs

FUTURE The BAE Systems ship building yard at Portsmouth Dockyard.
FUTURE The BAE Systems ship building yard at Portsmouth Dockyard.

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UNION officials have warned city leaders against entering into a ‘beauty contest’ with other UK dockyards as they fight to safeguard 1,300 shipbuilding jobs in Portsmouth.

Representatives for dockyard workers have spoken out after Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock revealed an action plan to safeguard jobs as shipbuilding work slows down in the city after 2014.

Most of the proposals were drawn up with the full support of unions, including a bid to move the final stages of work on the first of the navy’s first new aircraft carriers from Rosyth to Portsmouth in 2014.

But Mr Hancock’s call for Portsmouth to become the only place where UK warships are maintained and repaired has not been endorsed by union representatives who fear a backlash from workers in Plymouth and Scotland.

Ian Woodland, a representative for Unite union, said: ‘Our position is clear that we do not want to get into a beauty contest over who has the best shipyard for work to be done.

‘That would be incredibly divisive and not in the best interests of the shipbuilding industry as a whole.’

Gary Cook, of the GMB trade union which represents more than 500 BAE shipbuilding staff in Portsmouth, said: ‘This thing about moving all the servicing work to Portsmouth is nothing to do with us. That’s something Mr Hancock wants, not us.

‘What we are asking for is for the government to look at whether shipbuilding work can be spread out to the benefit of everyone.’

John Ferrett, of Prospect Union, which represents 300 BAE white-collar workers in Portsmouth, said: ‘Pitting different shipyards against each other is not going to be helpful to anyone.’

But Mr Hancock, who wrote to defence secretary Philip Hammond on Monday, stood by his suggestion yesterday.

He said: ‘My position is what we are trying to do is get the best deal for the naval base and keep people employed in Portsmouth. All I’m saying is this is an option the navy seriously has to consider.

‘Devonport (Plymouth) has the nuclear submarines and the amphibious ships there so from their point of view they have got a number of things that safeguard that situation.

‘My idea is to try and safeguard as many jobs in Portsmouth as I can, that’s what we have to do.

‘I’m representing people whose jobs are on the line in the dockyard. That’s my job. I’m sure elected members in Plymouth and elsewhere will be doing the same for their constituents.’

The plan to secure more work for Portsmouth centres on fears defence giant BAE Systems is looking to move its shipbuilding operations away from Portsmouth.

The firm has employed a consultancy firm to help it conduct a review of its UK shipbuilding division.

Around 1,300 BAE workers are currently building large sections of the navy’s two new aircraft carriers in the city.

But the work runs out after 2014 – sparking job fears.

BAE insists its review is ongoing and no decisions have been made.

It’s understood the review will conclude in June.