The Minister for Portsmouth has vowed to stand up for the city in all areas of government as he prepares to take on the newly-created role.
Senior Conservative MP Michael Fallon has been given the job of helping Portsmouth and its workforce recover from the recently-announced loss of Royal Navy shipbuilding.
It is an extraordinary step – giving a city its own minister – but one which was called for by city leaders in the wake of the shipbuilding blow.
Now Mr Fallon says he will keep the city’s best interests at heart, and work to make Portsmouth the maritime capital of Britain.
Mr Fallon told The News: ‘This role is to champion the interests of Portsmouth at Whitehall, to ensure Portsmouth comes through this challenge of losing shipbuilding.
‘We must do everything we can across government to support the creation of new jobs in the maritime sector.
‘It means there will be a single focal point for all developments and when any government policies are likely to affect Portsmouth, I can put Portsmouth’s interests forward.
‘This post has been created because of the challenge the city faces.’
Michael Fallon is a former Conservative party deputy chairman who currently holds two other ministerial posts, in addition to the one he was given yesterday.
He works for both the departments of business and energy, and has now been given special responsibility to support jobs and growth in Portsmouth.
Mr Fallon added: ‘Portsmouth has grown, and has been growing over the last few years and we need to capitalise on that.
‘Portsmouth has a great future, and I want to be part of that.’
The appointment of a Conservative minister to oversee the future of Portsmouth’s industry will be seen by many as a political move in the year before a general election.
But Mr Fallon claims he is keen to work with MPs and councillors from all three major parties, and says there is no room for political squabbles.
He says: ‘There are three political parties in Portsmouth, and I will be working with all three of the parties to make sure we maximise the opportunities going forward.
‘In other areas, the lesson in coping with these things is that the parties have to work together.
‘There is no time to be lost in political squabbling to maximise the opportunity to develop a much stronger marine industry right across Portsmouth.’
Mr Fallon is the MP for Sevenoaks in Kent, and holds two other ministerial posts on top of the newly-created job as Minister for Portsmouth.
Far from those extra responsibilities being a burden, he says the roles complement each other and will help with the task at hand.
‘I’m the industry minister and I’m responsible for the marine industry already,’ he says.
‘So it’s a natural fit for me and a natural fit for Portsmouth.’
It was in November last year that BAE Systems announced it would be putting an end to its shipbuilding operations in Portsmouth, with the loss of more than 900 jobs.
The news was met with outcry from workers, union leaders, and politicians in the area.
The company had been clear for some time that it was reviewing its nationwide shipbuilding role, but the announcement it would be consolidating all its work in Scotland was still a shock to many.
Since the decision, MPs, councillors, unions, businesses, and other interested parties have been working to forge a path for the city once the shipbuilding comes to an end.
City leaders say they were approached immediately in the aftermath of the announcement by several firms wanting to build vessels in Portsmouth.
As reported in The News, one group of businesses, led by Portsmouth-based marine consultants Stanton Burdett, wants to form the Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company, to keep the industry alive in the city.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
THE appointment of a Minister for Portsmouth is a rare step for the government to take.
Here we answer some of your questions on the move.
· What are the benefits of Portsmouth having its own minister?
City leaders called for a minister to help Portsmouth to give us a hotline to somebody in the corridors of power.
The minister can act as a ‘point man’, co-ordinating efforts, exerting influence, and helping interested parties.
· Who is Michael Fallon anyway?
An MP since 1983, Michael Fallon is currently both a business minister and a minister for climate change.
He was previously the deputy chairman of the Conservative party and is the MP for Sevenoaks in Kent.
He has served as a shadow Treasury Minister under William Hague before joining the Treasury Select Committee as deputy chairman from 2001 until 2010.
· Is a Minister for Portsmouth just a political gimmick?
There is no doubt that there is a potential political gain for the Conservatives by providing a helping hand to the city when it needs one most, after all, we are now one year before the next general election.
But so far there has been no political posturing from the man himself. In fact, Mr Fallon has urged all parties to work together in the city and said there is no time to be lost to political squabbling.
· Are there any other cities with their own minister?
No. The decision to appoint a Minister for Portsmouth is highly unusual. In 1981, Margaret Thatcher appointed the then Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine to Liverpool following the Toxteth riots. He was eventually dubbed the ‘Minister for Merseyside’.Under the last Labour government, there was a minister for each region but this was scrapped by the current coalition.
· Does this mean one of the area’s current MPs is being replaced?
No. The Minister for Portsmouth is completely separate from the elected MPs in the city.
MP ‘MUST FIGHT TOOTH AND NAIL’
PORTSMOUTH’S minister must fight ‘tooth and nail’ to find ways to save valuable shipbuilding jobs and skills.
That’s the message from union leaders after the creation of the role of a Minister for Portsmouth.
Unite regional secretary John Rowse said: ‘The end of shipbuilding in Portsmouth will have tragic consequences for shipyard workers, their families and for future generations.
‘As the ultimate owner of the Portsmouth dockyards, the government can generate opportunities to save jobs and skills. We expect the newly-appointed minister to rise to the challenge and give the city some hope.’
Others were more sceptical of the decision.
John Ferrett, negotiations officer for the Prospect Union, said: ‘We are sceptical.
‘We welcome anyone working with us to retain naval shipbuilding in the city, but I know that Michael Fallon is quite often used by the government in order to defend the indefensible.’
OPEN LETTER ASKED FOR MINISTER
THE creation of a Minister for Portsmouth was one of the key ideas raised in an open letter to the Prime Minister last year.
Days after the devastating announcement that BAE Systems would close its shipbuilding operations in the city, MPs, councillors, and union leaders met with journalists at the headquarters of The News.
The result of much discussion was an open letter, published on the front page the next day.
It called for immediate attention from David Cameron and the appointment of a named minister to help the city forge a path forward.
The letter also called for assurances that Ministry of Defence land currently in use for shipbuilding in the city would remain available for that kind of work.
Those who signed the letter urged the government to build at least one of the Royal Navy’s new offshore patrol vessels in the city, and to ensure remaining work on the new aircraft carriers remained in the shipyard.