Union boss says ‘now is the time for shipbuilding to return home’

HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth

HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth

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PORTSMOUTH needs to act urgently and seize the chance to once again become one of the UK’s shipbuilding powerhouses, a union boss has said.

A review into the nation’s shipbuilding industry said a ‘vicious cycle’ of old warships being kept beyond their sell-by date was depleting the Royal Navy’s stretched fleet.

Sir John Parker, chairman of the National Shipbuilding Strategy

Sir John Parker, chairman of the National Shipbuilding Strategy

The report, headed by Sir John Parker, found the procurement of naval ships takes too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

He concluded that fewer ships than planned are ordered too late, saying: ‘Old ships are retained in service well beyond their sell-by date with all the attendant high costs of so doing.

‘This vicious cycle is depleting the RN fleet and unnecessarily costing the taxpayer. It needs to be broken.’

Sir John, chairman of mining giant Anglo American, called for a ‘sea change’, with ‘pace and grip’ from the government so that shipyards across the UK can win work and create jobs.

He said the government must drive cultural change in defence to inject ‘genuine pace’ into the procurement process and get a clear grip over cost and time.

As part of this, Sir John’s report recommended that the MoD lays out plans for naval ships for the next 30 years.

And it suggested that work on warships should be shared among companies and shipyards across the land, with new ships being built in large chunks across the UK and then assembled at a central hub.

This has ignited fresh hopes of naval shipbuilding coming back to Portsmouth.

Gary Cook is the former GMB regional organiser for Portsmouth and was based in the area when the city lost its shipbuilding in 2013.

He said Portsmouth now has a vital opportunity to bring shipbuilding back to the dockyard and that it is urgent the city seizes this chance.

He claimed there were lucrative new contracts up for grabs to build state-of-the-art Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels, which Portsmouth could bid for.

‘Every shipbuilding and ex-shipbuilding community should now have a red light on and saying “we have got to get building and got to get a move on”,’ he told The News.

‘Portsmouth’s MPs better get their heads together and kick the door down to get the new RFAs built in Portsmouth.

‘There’s 120,000 tonnes of steel potentially up for grabs which would be a great opportunity for Portsmouth.

‘There is a real urgency now.

‘We have got the facilities and got the power – let’s get shipbuilding back in Portsmouth.’

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt welcomed Sir John’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.

The former armed forces minister claimed the report helped to strengthen a business case to bring shipbuilding back into the city’s dockyard, which she described as a ‘national asset’.

And she added discussions were already underway with two major companies keen to begin work at the site.

Speaking to The News, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘The shipbuilding strategy is good for the industry which is good for the navy and for Portsmouth.

‘We need to provide certainty and reassurance to those companies in the UK’s shipbuilding industry and this is a good step towards that.

‘We will be looking for opportunities for Portsmouth but I am very clear that we need to look wider than defence to really give Portsmouth the long-term stability that we need.’

Shipbuilding was axed in Portsmouth in 2013.

Former prime minister David Cameron had pledged to bring the industry back to the city, announcing in 2015 that Magma Structures would be taking over the vacant shiphall. But this deal collapsed in March.

Sir John’s report said BAE Systems should build the Type 26 series, describing the defence giant as having the breadth of technical and engineering talent and the most recent experience of building sophisticated warships.

But he added a new fleet of Type 31 naval frigates was urgently needed to maintain the Royal Navy’s fleet numbers and to establish a UK exportable light frigate.

He also urged the government to open up the shipbuilding contracts, which have been dominated by defence giant BAE Systems, to other firms.

Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond said the report set out ‘a clear path for the MoD to carry on with the modernisation’ of the navy.

She added she was pleased the report urged the government to build the new Type 31 and Type 26 in tandem, and push for more export opportunities.

‘We have the skilled workforce here to offer the maritime industry a real centre of excellence, which is also one of the recommendations in Sir John’s report,’ she said.

The MoD said the report will inform the government’s shipbuilding strategy, to be published next spring.

An MoD spokesman welcomed the report’s call to spread out work across shipyards in the UK – which mirrored the approach used to build the navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

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