It goes without saying that we applaud and welcome any investment to Portsmouth Naval Base – the navy’s value to this city is unparalleled, and it’s not just a symbolic source of pride, as now about 19,000 people are employed inside it.
Today’s news is especially welcome as it shows there are long-term plans to keep the base open, and in recent months it seems that the serious doubt has been thrown on what the next few years could bring.
We have heard about BAE’s internal review about where shipbuilding should be concentrated within its estate, with a significant faction supporting a total move to Scotland, with just maintenance being left down south.
But there have also been some mutterings from Parliament – which, fortunately, have quietened down recently – over whether the base should remain open at all, with some mooting Devonport should take over as the navy’s main home.
So the plan revealed today to refashion the base to incorporate not just the new Type 45s but also the carriers shows real confidence in Portsmouth and, what is also to be noted, is that it appears not just to be a temporary reorganisation. Talk of power plants being built to keep the ships afloat – and fuel the city when possible suggests long-term thinking.
We are not under any illusions about the general direction of travel for the navy, and the military in general, though.
Last year Philip Hammond announced that the £38bn deficit – the so-called military black hole – had been plugged after the brutal spending review of 2010 but that does not mean more money will be forthcoming as austerity stretches ever onwards.
Defence chiefs may hope for the good old days of ‘Falklands capability’ to return but that looks like it is a thing of the past. However, while we have fewer ships here, in tonnage, by 2020, we are set to have the highest amount since the 1950s.
As witnessed by the scrapping of Ark Royal, the navy has suffered cuts, but it’s not all bad news. We hope this base refit shows the way forward to keep the senior service where it belongs – in Portsmouth.