SHIPBUILDING is on the verge of making a return to Portsmouth, The News can reveal.
The government announced today the identities of three firms in the running to take over the shipyard – and all three maritime firms could lure back skilled workers.
It comes as chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne visited Portsmouth today – firing the starting pistol for the General Election campaign in Portsmouth – to make a pledge on behalf of the government to build the ‘most modern navy in the world’.
Both announcements mark a major step forward following more than a year of uncertainty after defence giant BAE Systems decided to pull its shipbuilding division from Portsmouth in November 2013.
Magma Structures, which builds free-standing rigs for large yachts, and Burgess Marine, which specialises in ship repair and construction, are strong contenders for the shiphalls.
And a bid by BAE Systems to transform the site into a centre of excellence for ‘mine warfare’ and repair of minesweeper vessels is also under serious consideration.
Should BAE’s bid be successful, it could lead to the company deciding to build minesweepers under the same roof.
The breakthrough comes after the prime minister gave his assurance this week he was still doing all he can to bring shipbuilding back to Portsmouth.
David Cameron wrote to The News last January outlining the government’s commitment following the demise of shipbuilding.
And city leaders say it is a major victory for the city given the potential to build world-class boats and the fact the prime minister has stuck to his promise.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, pictured, said: ‘I want companies which are ready to go into the yard to get in there as quickly as possible – so it is particularly good to see this shortlist.
‘They are all great companies with a local link which can begin to use the facilities very quickly.
‘Magma Structures and Burgess Marine bring new technologies and will develop a new skills base; they have an affinity with the types of defence craft we will be looking to build in the coming years and their presence in the yard will act as a draw for further orders.’
She added: ‘In all, these developments are nothing but good news – each brings something to complement the others to create welcome synergy in the yard.’
The Ministry of Defence said preferred bidders for the shipyard site would be announced in due course.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said: ‘This is brilliant news for Portsmouth, and it’s terrific the prime minister has stuck to his word.
‘Whatever bid ends up materialising, it’s good. But I am thinking, that because of the amount of space available, two bidders could share what is there and that would be a really good result for the city.’
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, added: ‘Having shipbuilding back in Portsmouth is so important, and having the facility to be able to have shipbuilding companies in there is an absolutely essential requirement.’
Of the almost 1,000 workers who were employed in the BAE shipyard in Portsmouth, around 175 have since been re-employed in other parts of the company. The majority of those jobs were found within the firm’s Maritime Services arm.
A further 585 workers left to take employment elsewhere and there were 160 compulsory redundancies.
The final naval ship block built in the city was for the new aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales.
It left on a barge bound for Scotland in August.
Defence secretary and former minister for Portsmouth Michael Fallon said: ‘The short-listing of three companies is a significant step forward in getting the shiphalls back to work.
‘It offers the opportunity to open up the shipyard to more firms providing high skilled jobs. This is an exciting time of regeneration for Portsmouth Naval Base, with the Ministry of Defence investing £98m over the past year.
‘This will help ensure that Portsmouth retains its maritime engineering expertise and traditions.’