It appears that we may soon have an answer about whether two new offshore patrol vessels will be built in Portsmouth – or indeed whether they will be built at all.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock says he has heard rumours that an announcement may be made soon, and has written to the prime minister asking for clarity, while his counterpart in the north of the city Penny Mordaunt counsels caution and points out that the delay in coming to an decision actually bodes well for Portsmouth, as it shows an earlier leaning towards not building them in the city may be disregarded.
Despite their political differences, the MPs are united in stressing how important to Portsmouth this contract could be, and they are right.
Firstly, as has been pointed out before, this contract would fill a gap between the end of the aircraft carriers being finished next year and the start of a frigate contract. By keeping the workload up, the shipyard’s future would look more secure in the face of ongoing talk by BAE that it is carrying out a review of its operations.
It would mean that Portsmouth’s shipbuilders, who are known for being highly skilled, would be kept in employment, and that the city would not drift towards being a centre of just maintenance rather than construction.
Secondly, were these ships to be built they would act as an advert for either companies or other navies to place orders in Portsmouth. Already BAE has built OPVs for the Brazilian navy, and anything that means shipbuilding in the city is not wholly dependent on the cash-strapped Ministry of Defence is to be encouraged.
And there is also a strong case that the Royal Navy needs this sort of craft. The senior service has the Type 45s, and will soon have the supercarriers, but these are not the small, responsive type of vessel provided by the OPV.
So we echo our MPs’ requests for clarity. We believe there is a strong case not just for the OPVs to be built, but for this to happen in our city and we look forward to an announcement from David Cameron confirming this soon.