New ships could save jobs in Portsmouth

HMS Clyde
HMS Clyde
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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THE government could order two new Royal Navy ships as a way to safeguard hundreds of Portsmouth shipbuilding jobs.

The News understands defence ministers are considering a proposal to build a pair of Offshore Patrol Vessels in 2014 and 2015.

The project, estimated to cost £150m, is being promoted as a way of securing the future of Portsmouth shipbuilding after work on the navy’s new aircraft carriers comes to an end in 2014.

There is currently a two-year gap in work before the programme to build a new fleet of Type 26 frigates for the navy begins in 2016.

This has led to fears that BAE Systems will sack all of its 1,300 Portsmouth shipbuilders and move future warship construction to its two yards in Glasgow.

A study by the Partnership of Urban South Hampshire last month warned this could lead to a total loss of 4,000 local jobs at a cost of £370m to the economy.

But a new MoD report – said to be on defence secretary Philip Hammond’s desk – offers fresh hope by recommending that two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) be built in the city.

Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘I’m happy to say this is an option that’s been looked at and I’m pushing hard for this to happen. The fact that this document is being discussed between the department and the Treasury is a good indication that it’s a sensible document.’

Portsmouth’s BAE workers already have the know-how, having built the OPV HMS Clyde in 2005 and three similar ships which have been sold to Brazil.

Clyde, which weighs 1,850 tonnes and has a 30mm gun, as well as a deck strengthened for aircraft operations, is on permanent station guarding the Falklands.

Ms Mordaunt, who sits on the Commons Defence Select Committee, said: ‘OPVs are very flexible ships and can patrol all over the world. They obviously can’t do the work of the more sophisticated ships or massive amphibious landings, but they are incredibly useful for close-quarter counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations.

‘The navy is desperately short of hulls so it makes sense to order a couple extra, very inexpensive ships which will provide a great deal of flex in the system and probably save us money in the long run.

‘We’ve got a two-year gap between the carrier work finishing and work on the Type 26s starting and you don’t want that – you want to retain the skills and keep people busy.

‘It costs a fortune to lay people off so we need this work in those two years.’

An MoD spokesman said he was unable to confirm or deny whether ministers are discussing the OPV option.