HAVE faith that the government’s long-term investments in defence will boost Portsmouth’s future.
That’s the message from prime minister David Cameron at the end of a visit to the city yesterday when he made three major announcements relating to the industry.
Mr Cameron came to Portsmouth to announce the names of two firms which will move into the shipyard left vacant by BAE Systems’ shipbuilding operation, as revealed exclusively in yesterday’s News. He also confirmed the latest stage of work being done to prepare the naval base for the imminent arrival of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
And Vector Aerospace was revealed to have won a £420m contract to service the Royal Air Force’s fleet of Chinook helicopters at its base at Fleetlands in Gosport.
After making the announcement, the prime minister visited the headquarters of The News, for a tour of the newsroom and to answer questions on his vision for Portsmouth.
He said: ‘Since becoming prime minister I’ve known Portsmouth has had some challenges that it needs to overcome.
‘I really feel now that a lot of these elements are coming together.
‘I’ve been to the Ben Ainslie site and seen what’s happening at the dockyard and it’s a pretty positive picture.
‘When you look at the overall number of jobs Portsmouth will be delivering in terms of the servicing of ships, that number is going to go up.
‘When you combine what is happening with the shipbuilding halls with the investment that’s going into skills in the area you can see there is a lot of positive potential for creating value in the future.
‘We have got to stick at it and make sure the people of Portsmouth benefit from this.’
Earlier yesterday, Mr Cameron was taken to Portsmouth Naval Base to see how work was progressing on the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
He toured the jetties where the giant 65,000-tonne ships will be berthed and saw the site of the former shipbuilding halls.
The News revealed yesterday, inset above, that BAE Systems’ ship maintenance division and composite manufacturers Magma Structures will both set up shop in the former shipbuilding sheds at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Magma specialises in building complex structures while BAE wants to use the site to work on servicing and maintenance of the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures vessels.
It comes after Downing Street announced last year that the government would fund a new Centre of Intelligent Maritime Systems on Portsdown Hill.
The base is to research and develop new unmanned maritime technology which can be exported.
Mr Cameron believes the industry could be worth billions in the future.
‘You can’t sit in Whitehall and dictate what jobs there will be,’ he told The News.
‘What you can do is invest in skills, invest in technology, make sure you’ve got a defence budget that’s at the top end, you can do all those things and you can make sure Portsmouth has got a plan, which it has, and all those things will follow.
‘[Portsmouth North MP] Penny Mordaunt was saying the potential future orders for advanced maritime systems including unmanned vehicles runs into the hundreds of billions of pounds.
‘We saw tragically with the Malaysian Airlines flight that there’s going to be a growing demand for these sort of technology and investments.
‘You often find Britain right up there with America and the others with having this technology.’
Mr Cameron also said the imminent arrival of two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy in Portsmouth was a ‘big statement’ about the future of the defence industry.
‘It is an enormous statement not just about Portsmouth but about Britain that we’ve straightened out the defence budget to reinvest in carrier strike capability,’he said.
‘About 85 per cent of the globe you can get to with carriers and aircraft and all of that is going to be based out of Portsmouth.
‘So it’s a big statement about Portsmouth and about the navy in Britain and about our place in the world and I would say you can only do these things with a strong economy. Building and maintaining a strike capability requires a strong economic plan.’
When asked whether the arrival of two new firms in the shipyard would make up for the loss of jobs caused by the closure of shipbuilding, Mr Cameron replied: ‘My answer to that is yes.
‘Already if you look at the area around the shipbuilding halls and you add up what BAE Systems is going to be doing, what Magma is doing, and the ship designers are doing you are already getting back potentially above the number of jobs that were there before.
‘If you take what is happening with HMS Queen Elizabeth and the extra tonnage of the Royal Navy I think you’ll find the total number of jobs will be going up not down.
‘I was asking that question of the naval base commodore and he was confident that is the case.’
Ms Mordaunt said the announcements have given Portsmouth a fresh ambition.
‘The announcements have given us a real opportunity for Portsmouth,’ she said.
‘It provides stability for our workforce and confidence to invest in our skills base.
‘It’s also really given us ambition for what the future will hold for us.
‘I was determined we were going to keep that ship hall and we have done that.’
Rival political leaders in the city have dismissed the announcements as ‘electioneering’ and have called for more details over the firms’ intentions.
There’s a ‘ring of strong women’ coming through
DAVID CAMERON praised the ‘great talent’ being lined up to fight various seats in the upcoming general election.
The Conservative Party is fielding a number of new candidates across the area this year as long-serving politicians including Fareham MP Mark Hoban and Havant MP David Willetts are due to stand down from their seats.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has also set his sights on Portsmouth South as one of his party’s major targets. But the prime minister said the Conservatives are putting up a number of strong candidates – including several ‘strong women’.
‘Obviously I’m sad to lose David Willetts and Mark Hoban who have been very strong ministers in very strong careers but there is a lot of great talent coming through,’ he said.
‘I see this ring of strong women coming through.
‘We’ve got Penny already and Flick Drummond coming through and Mims Davies in Eastleigh and some very talented candidates coming through in Hampshire as a whole and that’s good. We want new talent on those green benches and serving their country and Hampshire is definitely doing its bit.’