Fears over the future of shipbuilding in the city

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For far too many years, no warships were built in the home of the Royal Navy.

Those barren years ran from 1968 until 2000 and Portsmouth felt emasculated – a bit like having an aircraft carrier without aircraft.

And then giant new ship halls sprang up on the city’s skyline and the shipbuilding pride, so indelibly ingrained in our manufacturing DNA, returned.

Now, just 12 years after that fresh millennial dawn, there is a strong chance it will all disappear again. How do we know? Because business secretary Vince Cable has revealed he does not believe in the viability of a £150m scheme to keep shipbuilding in Portsmouth.

In 2014 work in the city on the navy’s two new aircraft carriers will end. Two years later the contract – also in the hands of BAE Systems – to build the new Type 26 frigates should start. The problem is what to do with those two fallow years.

The fear is that BAE will use that period as an excuse to pull out of Portsmouth and move all its warship-building north of the border.

Portsmouth North Tory MP Penny Mordaunt has been pushing hard to convince the government that those redundant 24 months should be used for the city’s workforce to build two offshore patrol vessels.

It would keep the people and the hard-acquired skills base in the city in preparation for the work on the new frigates should some of it come our way. And anyway, the government will be paying that money to BAE as part of its 15-year shipbuilding contract.

Ms Mordaunt is right when she says: ‘If you’re going to spend money getting people to twiddle their thumbs for two years, aren’t you better spending money on something for them to do?’

And even if, once built, the Royal Navy does not want the vessels, the government could sell them abroad.

For Vince Cable to declare that the plan to keep shipbuilding in Portsmouth post-2014 is not ‘a runner’ is plain wrong.

Too much blood, sweat and toil went into returning the industry to Portsmouth. We are not prepared to lose it again.