PM is called to fulfil his promise to the city to bring back shipbuilding

THE government has been accused of abandoning Portsmouth after ministers failed to answer what action it would take to bring shipbuilding to the city.

Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 7:57 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 8:06 am

Yesterday saw the collapse of a crucial deal between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Magma Structures that could have brought shipbuilding back to the giant shiphall of the naval base.

However, despite calls by The News to Downing Street no-one was able to confirm what proposals were in the pipeline to fulfil Mr Cameron’s promise to the city – made two years ago.

Likewise, the minister for Portsmouth, Mark Francois, failed to answer the questions sent to him yesterday, instead hailing the move to convert the shiphall into an engineering centre of excellence as ‘exciting’.

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Now one of the nation’s biggest trade unions has urged the Tory chief to listen to the city and lay out his plans for the future.

Gary Cook, GMB regional organiser said: ‘It’s absolutely appalling. He (David Cameron) should be ashamed of himself.

‘Mr Cameron needs a reality check; he needs to be taken to task and held to account.

‘We can’t just poke him with a stick, we need to pin him against a wall and ask: “What are you really going to do to bring shipbuilding back to Portsmouth?”.

‘Because action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. Mr Cameron needs to show us exactly what he has planned to fulfil his promises of bringing shipbuilding back to Portsmouth.

‘Otherwise Portsmouth will end up with an economy of flipping burgers and hiring deck chairs.

‘We have a fantastic manufacturing industry and the Tories are just watching it spiral down the plug hole.

It comes as a poll by The News of hundreds of Portsmouth residents showed nine in 10 felt betrayed by yesterday’s revelations.

The city’s Lib Dem leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson has also criticised the lack of concrete response by the government.

Speaking yesterday evening, the former city council leader said: ‘They should be ashamed of themselves.

‘They had the cheek to come down here and promise that there would be shipbuilding here in the city and at the end of the day that hasn’t happened.’

Defending the government, Mr Francois said: ‘As one of the original bidders for the ship halls, it’s exciting to see BAE Systems reinvigorate their engineering and maintenance work in a centre of excellence on the site.

‘Alongside our £100m investment that will make Portsmouth the home of the carriers, this long-term commitment by BAE Systems and the Royal Navy to maintain more than half our minehunter fleet in Portsmouth will ensure these iconic facilities remain a hive of activity and show the absolute commitment of both the Royal Navy and BAE to Portsmouth.’

The minister added: ‘While it is obviously disappointing that Magma Structures have decided not to occupy the other shiphall this was a commercial decision on their part, and we are pleased that we will still be able to support Magma’s business in Portsmouth as they establish a new office on the naval base.’

Yesterday afternoon saw Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt hosting urgent talks with the government’s defence infrastructure organisation (DIO) to discuss what steps were next.

It comes as the shiphall today prepares to welcome navy minehunter HMS Brocklesby to begin her set of extensive refits.

Ms Mordaunt insisted the PM was focused on retaining shipbuilding in England.

‘Although Magma is still going into the dockyard, due to the issues facing the oil industry at present they don’t feel able to commit to composite orders on the scale they did a year ago,’ she said.

‘This is extremely disappointing.

‘Although it means that BAE is able to expand navy work across two shiphalls, and a new engineering centre is going into the dockyard it is not the commercial order book I would like to see established.

‘The plan was always three-fold: steady navy work, a centre of excellence and commercial work.’

She stressed the PM was ‘sold on the strategic merits to the nation of retaining such skills and facilities’

Ms Mordaunt added: ‘He will be disappointed too that Magma can’t deliver the orders they expected when they thought, and I expect he will be pushing for the DIO to look at other options.’

Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond stressed the global downturn of oil prices which hit Magma was something that ‘could not have been foreseen’.

‘The government worked hard to get the deal sorted but no-one can force a company to do something if it isn’t economically viable at the moment and Magma has every right to change its mind,’ she said.

She said there would be lots of work once the new aircraft carriers arrive, with plenty of opportunities for employment.

She added: ‘I will do everything I can to ensure that the city continues to look for future investment.’

The centre of engineering excellence is being run by BAE Systems, which pulled the plug on shipbuilding in the city in 2014.

It will centralise all repairs for the navy’s minehunter fleet, with BAE saying it will boost maintenance efficiency.

‘We need to secure shipbuilding in England’

ACTION needs to be taken to secure Royal Navy shipbuilding in England amid fears Scotland could leave the UK, a former First Sea Lord has said.

Lord Alan West made the comments after it was revealed a deal to bring shipbuilding back to Portsmouth had collapsed.

The Labour peer said that currently the only shipbuilding facility for the Royal Navy is in Scotland – something which he is concerned about if the UK voted to leave the EU.

‘It’s part of the slow erosion of our maritime capability in this country,’ he said.

‘The reality is we need a second ability to build ships somewhere else other than Scotland.

‘Let’s say if we left the EU and then Scotland decides to have another vote and leaves the UK where would that leave us?

‘We need to have a greater capacity – that’s hard and we will need to pay for it.

‘But I think it’s too important, in this very dangerous world we now live in, to let this ability drift away.’

He said navy shipbuilding could have been split between Scotland and Portsmouth, with the city constructing offshore patrol vessels, while frigates were built on the Clyde.