Workers ‘in limbo’ as fears grow for Portsmouth dockyard’s future

SKILLS The first section of the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier rolls out of the BAE Systems ship-'building hall in Portsmouth Naval Base onto a barge earlier this year. Picture: Steve Reid 121432-284)
SKILLS The first section of the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier rolls out of the BAE Systems ship-'building hall in Portsmouth Naval Base onto a barge earlier this year. Picture: Steve Reid 121432-284)

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BAE Systems workers have told The News they are ‘in limbo’ as the firm reviews its future in Portsmouth.

The defence giant has stressed a study is ongoing to decide what it will do once construction of two £6bn aircraft carriers ends in 2014.

Meanwhile, as reported yesterday, a leaked report by the Ministry of Defence has advised that BAE’s operation in Portsmouth is ‘vulnerable’ to closure later this decade.

A Whitehall source told a national newspaper that all 3,000 BAE jobs in Portsmouth could be at risk – although this is thought to be unlikely.

The News understands BAE wishes to concentrate its efforts on Portsmouth becoming a ‘specialised centre’ for all of the navy’s fleet repairs.

But this depends on where the navy chooses to base its 13 new Type 26 frigates, which are due to be built by BAE.

Shipbuilders in Portsmouth say they are being kept in the dark over their future.

One worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘We’re not getting any sort of feeling (from BAE).

‘It’s all gone quiet for months and for me that doesn’t feel like a good thing.

‘One day we’ll hear that there will be some redundancies, the next day we’ll read that the dockyard might be shut down completely.’

Another member of BAE staff said: ‘I don’t think they will shut Portsmouth – we’ve got most of the navy’s surface fleet here.

‘But you can never say never and people are worried. No-one is telling us anything concrete, we’re just expected to get on with our jobs while we’re in limbo land.’

BAE said it will consult fully with unions and no decisions have been made on the future of Portsmouth and two yards on the Clyde, Scotland.

But the company is coming under increasing pressure to make a statement about its Portsmouth operations, where it employs 1,300 shipbuilders and a further 1,700 workers in its fleet refit and maintenance division.

The situation also threatens to become a political football in the Scottish independence referendum.

The UK National Defence Association (UKNDA) last night warned that losing shipbuilding in Portsmouth would ‘go down in history as one of the most incredibly short-sighted and foolish political decisions ever taken’.

UKNDA director Andy Smith added: ‘The dockyard has proved its worth time and again. The UKNDA will stand up for Portsmouth.’