‘A year on and we have seen nothing tangible to retain shipbuilding in Portsmouth’

Part of the HMS Prince of Wales carrier completed by BAE at Portsmouth Naval Base
Part of the HMS Prince of Wales carrier completed by BAE at Portsmouth Naval Base
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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PROMISES of shipbuilding making a return to Portsmouth have been broken by the prime minister.

That is according to one union leader who represented workers facing redundancy last year after BAE Systems’ announcement that shipbuilding would end in the city.

112317-523_CARRIER_SR_28/6/11'A fitter cutting steel inside the C ring of the carrier.'The structure of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the shipbuilding hall a Portsmouth Dockyard.''Picture:Steve Reid 112317-523 ENGPPP00120141001135016

112317-523_CARRIER_SR_28/6/11'A fitter cutting steel inside the C ring of the carrier.'The structure of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the shipbuilding hall a Portsmouth Dockyard.''Picture:Steve Reid 112317-523 ENGPPP00120141001135016

A year ago, 940 people were told their jobs would no longer exist.

Matthew Hancock, minister for Portsmouth, has defended the government as a chorus of political and union leaders hit out at what they see as a lack of action.

In particular, they are concerned by the length of time being taken to find a new business to take over the shipbuilding yard inside Portsmouth naval base and skilled people leaving the area for good.

And hopes of a polar research ship being built in the city have been dashed as the deadline looms for tender bids to come forward.

Yesterday Mr Hancock responded, saying: ‘Nobody should doubt this government’s commitment to getting the best deal for Portsmouth.’

Gary Cook, regional organise for the GMB union, has been involved in negotiations over the past 12 months.

He said: ‘It has not gone well at all. There was huge disappointment with the announcement but there was some optimism and some significant amount of that was given by the prime minister.

‘The prime minister’s commitment to do everything he could to return shipbuilding to Portsmouth has turned out to be zero.’

Councillor John Ferrett, leader of the Labour group at Portsmouth City Council, and a negotiator for the Prospect union, added to the feeling of discontent, saying: ‘There has been nothing tangible happen that we can see. A year ago we were looking down the barrel of 1,000 jobs being made redundant. Those jobs have gone and nothing has come in to replace it. We can see the loss of skills and capability have gone. The workers who have gone and left the business will find it very difficult to be positive about the past year.

‘Given that the skills are no longer there to redeploy, I don’t see how we can resurrect the shipbuilding sector.’

During a visit to the city last month, the prime minister told The News: ‘We would like to see shipbuilding in Portsmouth continue, and there are a number of potential tenants being looked at for that. We at the government and the minister for Portsmouth will be doing everything we can to encourage that.’

Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said he does not believe the government has done enough.

He said: ‘They have not done enough for the workforce and for the city. I have been asking for a meeting with the minister for Portsmouth and have had no response from him. I have asked Vince Cable to see if he can do anything.

‘The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills need to start talking about what is going to happen to these shipbuilding sheds and the facilities in there.’

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which is responsible for finding a new tenant, said potential new tenants had to express an interest by the end of June.

Today it said it is ‘liaising with interested parties to discuss further details of their proposals’.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who was the leader of Portsmouth City Council when the announcement was made, has said he does not believe shipbuilding will return to the city.

He said: ‘There have been no bids to bring shipbuilding to the site, in contrast with what the prime minister has said, unless he knows something we do not,’ he said.

‘It was a bad decision and a wrong decision and was done to win votes in Scotland.

‘We have had the investment in Ben Ainslie Racing, but that is not shipbuilding.

‘We have had some really good support from government departments but we have had no support from the MoD for anything to happen.’

An MoD spokesman said: ‘The MoD is fully engaged in work to secure the right solution. We have funded an active marketing campaign for the Portsmouth naval base site that has generated expressions of interest that we are taking forward in concert with the DIO. The MoD is committed to finding the right future use for the site.’

MP says final decision on yard will be made soon

CONSERVATIVE politicians have defended the government’s response to the end of shipbuilding in Portsmouth - with the city council’s leader ‘commending’ the prime minister’s efforts.

Councillor Donna Jones said despite the bad news last November, good decisions have been made at government level such as providing £7.5m funding for Ben Ainslie Racing’s America’s Cup headquarters in Old Portsmouth.

She said: ‘Obviously I was disappointed with the announcement. Even with the negative decision we have got many, many positives. I want to commend David Cameron with the decision of appointing a minister for Portsmouth and with commissioning the Rob Stevens report.

‘We have now had the announcement from David Cameron about the UK Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems at Portsdown Technology Park. This means Portsmouth will be moving away from shipbuilding and will be moving towards a very lucrative sector.’

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, who started searching for a business to take over the site shortly after the announcement, said the government and civil service worked as quickly as possible: ‘The city has done an unprecedented amount of work on reinventing itself over the last 12 months,’ she said.

‘For many, many years we have been living a hand-to-mouth existence in terms of shipbuilding.

‘We cut through bureaucracy to get through things really quickly. I think some people don’t understand the complexity of doing this.

‘We are in final stages of negotiation with five firms interested in taking over the shipyard in defence, energy and leisure sectors and there will be a final decision soon.’

Almost 80 per cent of staff cases resolved

ALMOST 80 per cent of the 940 staff facing redundancy last year have already been helped by BAE Systems into new jobs, training or voluntary redundancy packages.

About 230 employees have secured roles elsewhere in BAE Systems, including 160 in Maritime Services, and 11 who are retraining.

And 480 people have taken voluntary redundancy, with 145 people being given compulsory redundancy.

There are still about 60 people working for BAE Systems facing potential redundancy, though the company says it is continuing its efforts to secure mitigation opportunities for these individuals.

A spokeswoman for BAE Systems said: ‘We have made positive progress in supporting employees to retrain or redeploy to alternative positions within BAE Systems and to find roles with external companies.

‘We are committed to continuing our extensive efforts with our trade unions, employees and external stakeholders to explore all potential opportunities for further mitigation to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies.’

The company still has 2,500 members of staff working within the naval base within the maintenance work it does for the Royal Navy.

In total, the company has 3,500 people working in the Solent region in the Portsmouth area and at Broad Oak and Cowes.

Hopes of building ice ship look sunk

HOPES of building a new polar research ship in Portsmouth look unlikely as the deadline for tenders nears.

The government announced in April that it wants to spend £200m funding a scientific survey ship to put Britain at the forefront of research in the Antarctic and Arctic oceans.

City leaders urged the government to do all it can to see the ship built in Portsmouth as a way to offset job losses caused by the closure of the BAE shipyard.

But The News can reveal the deadline for the tenders is on December 17.

With just over a month until the deadline and no new shipbuilding firms set up in the city, many fear the option is now lost.

John Ferrett, Prospect union negotiator, said: ‘Back in April the unions urged BAE to bid for this work in order to sustain shipbuilding in Portsmouth.

‘However given their confirmation of the closure of the facility it is clear they are not interested in bringing this work to Portsmouth.

‘It now appears extremely unlikely that this ship can be built in the city.

‘The facility has been, to all intents and purposes, closed and the skilled workforce has left the site.

‘This exemplifies what the unions have been saying for the past year – that once you remove a capability like shipbuilding it will be almost impossible to bring it back, even when the government has orders to place.’

MP for Portsmouth South Mike Hancock wrote to business secretary Vince Cable and minister for Portsmouth Matthew Hancock last month urging them to explore the options available to Portsmouth in building the ship.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘Once tendering companies are announced we could contact them and promote Portsmouth as a build site.

‘However, I am hopeful that we are likely to have a full order book without this piece of work for the shipyard.’

To view a timeline of the decline of shipbuilding in Portsmouth click here.

To read The News’ view on this click here.