PORTSMOUTH’S dockyard workforce faces a fresh blow after a bid to keep all future warship maintenance work in the city was thrown into doubt.
Trade unions and politicians wanted BAE Systems’ city base to be awarded the contract for the upkeep of Type 23 Frigates and six Type 45 destroyers.
But Philip Dunne, the government’s minister for defence equipment, has told Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock that the ‘majority’ of major frigate repair work will be done at Plymouth’s Devonport Royal Dockyard.
He said the allocation of work is based on ‘what’s best for the maritime enterprise as a whole’ and agreed by the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems and Babcock Marine, which runs the Plymouth base.
Mr Dunne said Portsmouth would be guaranteed contracts for three of the Type 45s, but didn’t mention what would happen to the others.
Though a Ministry of Defence spokesman said the whole programme hadn’t been worked out yet, city leaders fear this is yet another setback.
Mr Hancock, who asked Mr Dunne parliamentary questions about the future of the city’s yard, said: ‘It looks like we will only get three of the Type 45s. Once again, the MoD is not playing fair by the workforce in Portsmouth. We need jobs safeguarded.
‘We have to dig in and say: “No, this is a ship too far, as far as Portsmouth is concerned.” We need some assurances that there will be enough work coming into Portsmouth to ensure that the yard remains viable.’
It comes after BAE Systems announced it will move its shipbuilding operation away from Portsmouth to the Clyde, in Scotland, a move which has put nearly 1,000 shipbuilding jobs at risk.
John Ferrett, a negotiations officer for trade union Prospect, which represents managers, engineers and specialists for BAE Systems’ Portsmouth base, said there needs to be a steady flow of work before the arrival of the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers in 2017 to ensure other jobs are protected.
‘We were pushing to get all of the work for the Type 45s,’ he said.
‘BAE Systems and Babcock don’t want to end up in a winner takes all situation.
‘Whilst we could get all the work, we could end up losing it all. In the service side of the business, there are troughs in the next couple of years in terms of the workload.’
A BAE Systems’ spokeswoman said: ‘BAE Systems is dedicated to supporting the surface fleet from Portsmouth Naval Base. The allocation of maintenance work to each UK naval base is determined by the MoD and the company remains committed to working with our UK customer to ensure capabilities are maintained to meet this allocation and the needs of the navy at Portsmouth.’
HERE are the key responses to some of the parliamentary questions Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock asked Philip Dunne.
Mr Hancock: ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his policy is towards the two properties leased to BAE Systems in Portsmouth Dockyard once their contract expires in September 2014, and ask how his department plans to use the shipbuilding shed once BAE Systems finishes its current work, and how this department intends to use other buildings no longer required for shipbuilding work.’
Mr Dunne: ‘BAE Systems has confirmed that complex warship building in Portsmouth will cease in the second half of 2014... the current assumption is the facilities used for this activity will be returned to the department. (Manufacture and repair) activities will continue at the naval base and negotiations regarding extensions to the relevant leases (which expire next year) are at an advanced stage.
‘We are looking at options to support employment-generating activity both in the dockyard and on adjoining MoD-owned land.’
Asked whether Portsmouth was considered as the preferred location for the construction of all or any of new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) Mr Dunne said: ‘Building OVPs in Portsmouth was among the options considered initially. As discussions with BAE progressed, it became evident that there would be clear business benefits consolidating shipbuilding capabilities on the Clyde.’
PORTSMOUTH South MP Mike Hancock has renewed calls for BAE Systems to secure commercial ship repair contracts at its city base.
Though the defence firm has signed a new deal to continue its maintenance and repair work with two Solent ferry firms – Wightlink and Red Funnel ferries – Mr Hancock said new work needs to be brought in.
‘It’s important BAE does that,’ he said.
‘It needs to try and find more, because it’s no good for the company to just sit back and wait for the work to come along.
‘BAE has signed new contracts with the ferry companies but it was already doing their work.
‘It needs to find out where the businessmen who have got large yachts are going, because some of them are as big as warships.’
The Wightlink programme will see all seven Portsmouth and Lymington-based ferries undergo up to two-week periods in dock and will include annual inspections, engine, and propulsion unit overhauls and painting.
As previously reported, David Williams, Portsmouth City Council’s chief executive, said in the week to delegates at a networking session in London that the future of the city’s dockyard was ‘safe’.
He said shipbuilding was a small part of the business and there were other areas of it which make money.