THE MP put in charge of helping shipyard workers find new jobs has set out a bold plan for the city– let’s make Portsmouth the maritime capital of Britain.
Former Conservative party deputy chairman Michael Fallon has said he will do everything he can to support the city and will be making a visit as soon as possible.
It comes after the highly unusual creation of a new ministerial post – the Minister for Portsmouth – by Prime Minister David Cameron in response to the city’s loss of shipbuilding jobs. It was one of the requests made in an open letter sent to Mr Cameron in November by The News and signed by local MPs, councillors and union officials.
It is believed to be the first time a minister has been given responsibility for a particular provincial city since Michael Heseltine was made minister for Liverpool in the wake of the Toxteth riots of 1981.
Speaking exclusively to The News, Mr Fallon said: ‘There is a huge opportunity for Portsmouth and we don’t want Portsmouth to miss out.
‘There is already a lot of work being done, but we need to do more than that.
‘We need to help drive Portsmouth forward and ensure it becomes Britain’s maritime capital. I’m very well aware of the scale of opportunity in Portsmouth, and I want to play my part.’
The unprecedented appointment of a Minister for Portsmouth was officially announced yesterday by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
He said: ‘Mr Fallon’s role will be to support jobs and growth in the Portsmouth area, working with local businesses, local representatives and working across government.’
Asked why Portsmouth had been chosen for particular attention, rather than other cities and regions which have suffered economically in the wake of the financial crisis, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘There are very particular circumstances here with regard to Portsmouth and the fact that there have been changes to Royal Navy shipbuilding, an industry that is very closely and directly linked to the government.’
The appointment of the senior MP has been broadly welcomed by politicians and union leaders in Portsmouth, who have urged people not to dismiss the move as an empty gesture.
Mr Fallon’s appointment is seen as the government’s reaction to news BAE Systems is to close its shipbuilding operations in the city, with the loss of more than 900 jobs.
· FALLON: ‘PORTSMOUTH HAS A GREAT FUTURE... AND I WANT TO BE PART OF IT’. Click here to read more from the Minister for Portsmouth, Michael Fallon, and a Q+A answering your questions on the extraordinary appointment.