I make this pledge to you today: this government will do everything we can to protect the future of the shipyard and the livelihoods of the people who work there.
‘In the months ahead we are going to go all out to make sure it remains strong, successful and respected around the world.’
Those were the words of David Cameron in a letter to The News in January this year. It was in response to a letter written by this paper and signed by local MPs, civic leaders and union officials demanding action in the light of BAE’s decision to move its shipbuilding to Scotland.
Back then we were encouraged by Mr Cameron’s letter – both by the fact it was written and the ideas it contained. It came as Michael Fallon was appointed Minister for Portsmouth and it seemed as if we were going to see some action.
But since then we have become less confident and more disillusioned with these promises – either that or we come to the conclusion that ‘everything in the government’s power’ does not actually amount to much.
Under the gown of ‘commercial confidentiality’ – some of which is understandable and some less so – not many details are released to the media about discussions over the shipyard. But this much we know. A deadline was set for the end of June for expressions of interest from companies moving in. As it stands, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is administering the next phase of the shipyard’s life, will only say it is still ‘talking to interested parties’.
This process is proving too slow. Granted, a decision of this kind can’t be rushed, but the case of building the new polar research ship, for which bids need to be in by the middle of next month, shows that dawdling can be counterproductive – and that’s before you factor in skills that will drift away from the area with no prospect of skilled engineering work on the horizon.
Of course, we could see an announcement in the next couple of weeks that would provide good news and allay our worries. But the speed of progress seen so far leads us to fear that this will not be the case.
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