Sparks of
a recovered pride start to fly again

COMMENT: Going above and beyond is all in a day’s work at QA

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It’s almost a year since Portsmouth’s collective jaw hit the deck. Shipbuilding to end after seven centuries; almost 1,000 jobs to be lost.

The hammer blow was louder than anything emanating from BAE’s giant ship shed which dominates the city centre.

But out of the ashes of that emasculating announcement, a few sparks of optimism have begun to fly.

As our page 1 picture shows today, work has just started to prepare the enormous Dock 15 in the naval base to maintain warships and make space for the new generation of aircraft carriers, the first to arrive in 2016.

It was, until very recently, used by BAE to build warships. Now that huge hole will garage them while they are serviced, given MOTs and refitted.

Coupled with that came the genuinely good news that BAE has won a £600m contract from the Ministry of Defence to repair and maintain at least half the Royal Navy’s 56-ship-strong surface fleet.

This is a contract, now cast in stone apparently, which will protect 4,000 jobs in and connected to the yard.

Now, cynics among you might sneer and say ‘look at the timing’.

The announcement comes a fortnight after Scotland said ‘no’, with Portsmouth’s shipbuilding jobs sacrificed to the land of the saltire by a government desperate to retain a United Kingdom; it came during the Tory party conference, and it came seven months before the general election.

A pat on the back for BAE from the government for doing its dirty work? Perhaps. But what the deal does for this city and its hinterland is guarantee work for thousands for at least five years.

On top of this, there is a chance Portsmouth might become home for a new National Composite Centre producing ground-breaking materials which might suit ocean-racing yachts or round-the-world power boats. Sir Ben Ainslie and Alan Priddy’s respective work in those fields might just spawn a new boatbuilding industry.

When the shipbuilding axe fell there were those who were mourning the end of Portsmouth. Others saw it as a chance for a new dawn. We did. It might be breaking.