Government must honour its ship hall promise

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When the prime minister says he wants to see shipbuilding return to Portsmouth, you have to prick up your ears.

When the defence secretary then tells The News that he personally will make the announcement next month, antennae really start twitching in anticipation.

We are talking here about the future of that huge shed which so dominates the city centre – the ship hall about to be vacated by BAE Systems as it moves its shipbuilding commitments to Scotland.

It’s a symbolic structure for the people of Portsmouth – an icon which represents our proud industrial heritage of building ships for the finest, if no longer the largest, navy in the world.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon told The News earlier this week that before next month is out he will reveal to what use that enormous space will be put.

Now, it’s obviously not going to be used for building cars or tractors otherwise why would the defence secretary be making the announcement?

Today we report the minister for Portsmouth, Matthew Hancock, says he is ‘very confident’ shipbuilding will be brought back to the city. He says: ‘We are acutely aware of the prime minister’s commitment – when the prime minister makes a commitment like this, it benefits Portsmouth.’

Surely Mr Hancock would not have mentioned the S-word had he not been tipped the wink from his superiors allowing him to pave the way for a pre-election boost to the city containing one of the Tories’ key election targets – the Portsmouth South constituency?

But let’s put cynical political manoeuvring to one side for the moment. To all of this we give a cautious welcome. We shall be keeping a close watch on David Cameron’s government to ensure it keeps its word.

We now have pledges the ship hall’s future will be announced next month, that Michael Fallon will make that announcement and that shipbuilding might be on the cusp of a return.

Let’s ensure the timetable does not slip and, more importantly, that this is no false dawn.

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