Defence Secretary views under-threat Portsmouth dockyard

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Defence Secretary Philip Hammond today visited a major shipbuilding yard which is under threat of closure.

BAE is considering the future of its dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and it is feared a shutdown could lead to ‘economic disaster’ for the region.

Mr Hammond travelled to the historic dockyard to show his visiting counterpart from Australia, Stephen Smith, work on the next generation of aircraft carriers which are being constructed at the site.

Speaking at a news conference in London, Mr Hammond said: ‘Today Stephen and I are going to visit some of our defence industry partners on the south coast and we will see sections of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier taking shape and look at the innovative construction technique.

‘The carrier is being constructed in different sections in different yards around the UK and will then be taken by barge to Rosyth where it will finally be assembled.’

Mr Smith added: “Later today, he and I will go to Portsmouth to look at some capability issues.”

BAE is undergoing a review of its UK business to reduce costs in anticipation of future orders and to ensure efficiency and effectiveness so it can compete in growing export markets where there is a commitment to defence procurement.

The review of the warship business has raised fears of job losses at sites including the Portsmouth dockyard once the aircraft carrier contract is completed.

BAE has said in a statement: ‘As part of our business planning activity, we are reviewing how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future, in line with our commitments under the terms of business agreement signed in 2009.

‘This work is ongoing and we will keep our employees and trade union representatives fully informed as it progresses.’

The Prospect union said it feared the company has already taken the decision to close its shipbuilding facility in Portsmouth.

Negotiations officer John Ferrett said: ‘The company have been less than forthcoming with unions on their future plans for UK shipbuilding. We were told that the company was using LEK consultants in October last year, but at no time were we told that the consultants were reviewing which of the company’s yards should be closed.

‘Clearly, when companies take decisions in this way the employees and their representatives have every right to be suspicious.’

Prospect said closure would spell ‘economic disaster’ for the local community at a time when highly skilled jobs were crucial for economic growth.