Something had to be done. As soon as BAE Systems refused to rule out speculation that it is looking to move shipbuilding away from Portsmouth, councils in south Hampshire couldn’t sit on their hands. Action was required.
So we’re pleased that the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (Push) has set aside £20,000 of taxpayers’ cash for a consultancy firm to lobby the government and investigate the impact of job losses on the local economy.
Push, made up of leaders from all of south Hampshire’s local authorities, knew it didn’t have the expertise to analyse all the issues surrounding shipbuilding in Portsmouth dockyard and its vital contribution to the local economy.
It was right to turn to consultants who can make a strong case for keeping thousands of jobs in the city, both in the dockyard and in the supply chain.
We realise there will be a shipbuilding slowdown when the Royal Navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers are completed in 2016. The new generation of frigates will not need as many people to build them.
So the danger is that BAE will close down the Portsmouth shipyard. Push chairman and Fareham Borough Council leader Sean Woodward says the suggestion seems to be that BAE is looking to go from three shipyards to one – it has two others at Govan and Scotstoun in Scotland.
That puts Portsmouth at risk. But there is a powerful argument for maintaining a shipbuilding capacity in this city – and in addition we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Scotland is going through a process that may result in it no longer being part of the United Kingdom.
Cllr Woodward is quite right to point out that politicians have an important role to play. It is they who place the orders with firms such as BAE, so they do have influence as the company deliberates over its future.
We urge those in parliament to do all they can to safeguard jobs here in Portsmouth. And in the meantime we have to believe the consultants can build a powerful case that BAE simply cannot ignore.