We must stand up for Portsmouth shipyard, says union

END OF AN ERA  BAE Systems at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth

END OF AN ERA BAE Systems at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth

Whitehall watchdog hits out at ‘unaffordable’ defence plan

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TRADE unionists will protest outside the recording of Question Time in Portsmouth next week – and people are being urged to join them.

The GMB union is holding a mass picket on Thursday outside Portsmouth Guildhall.

The venue is the setting for the filming of the BBC show in the wake of the closure of Portsmouth’s shipbuilding operations.

More than 67,000 people have signed up to a Facebook group called Save Portsmouth Shipyard.

And the union is hoping to capture the emotions of those who registered to support them on the night.

Gary Cook is the regional organiser with responsibility for shipbuilding at GMB.

He told The News: ‘We are calling on any person who cares about shipbuilding to come along.

‘It’s great that 67,000 people signed the Facebook page, but let’s see 67,000 come out and support it in person.

‘Let’s give the shipyard a voice.

‘We have got one shot at this while the issue is still current, and now is the time to do it.’

‘There has to be a big turn out.

‘Let’s see you in person, down there on Thursday.

‘If you have never demonstrated before, now is the time to do it and for very good reason.’

GMB’s regional organisers are also supporting the protest.

They will be joining the mass picket on behalf of workers who may lose their jobs at Southampton manufacturing firm Polimeri.

The protest is the latest development since Wednesday’s shock announcement that BAE Systems would close its shipyard in Portsmouth.

As reported in The News, dockyard workers, politicians, and union leaders have been meeting to assemble a plan for the future of the city.

Some have issued a rallying cry for Portsmouth to set its sights on commercial shipbuilding as a way to keep a maritime industry here.

Others say the closure should not yet be treated as a done deal.

Mr Cook added: ‘We have had a constructive meeting with our shop stewards and they will be forming an action committee to stand up for the workers.

‘We have had a heart-to-heart and there is a lot of anger and resentment at the way they have been so improperly treated.

‘The job of the shop stewards will now be to channel those emotions in a constructive way.’

Elsewhere, the Prospect union says its members have been left feeling appalled at the way the announcement was made.

John Ferrett, a Labour councillor for the city and Prospect negotiator, said: ‘News management seems to have come above the needs of employees undertaking vital work at the base.

‘We had expected that any run-down on the shipbuilding side would have been synchronised with the upcoming service and maintenance requirements for the new aircraft carriers.

‘As it stands, the company faces huge costs in closing the facility as well as similar costs in recruitment and training of new workers to support the carriers.’

BAE Systems says it will be meeting with unions on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the way forward for workers.

Meanwhile, city leaders continue to ask questions of ministers in a bid to carve out a path for the city.

Portsmouth’s two MPs, Penny Mordaunt and Mike Hancock, are calling for the shipbuilding firm to build at least one of the Royal Navy’s three new Offshore Patrol Vessels in the city.

They say it will buy more time for Portsmouth to get an alternative industry on its feet.

Questions are also being asked about what can be done with the giant sheds within Portsmouth Naval Base once they are surplus to requirements.

The University of Portsmouth has stepped forward to offer support to workers who may need to learn a new trade.

And the city council is looking to government to provide better mitigation to soften the blow of the shipyard closure.

Along with the closure announcement on Wednesday, defence secretary Philip Hammond also announced £100m of investment for the naval base. There is also a City Deal in the pipeline, which would bring a huge package designed to boost economic growth in the area.

But the leaders of Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council, Hampshire County Council, and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, say the cash is not new money to help redundant shipbuilders and should not be treated as such.

The £100m investment is to help prepare Portsmouth Naval Base for the arrival of the Royal Navy’s two giant new aircraft carriers, including the cost of dredging Portsmouth Harbour and preparing its infrastructure.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth’s council, said: ‘We need a separate deal, and we’re telling the government we want action.’

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