‘Catastrophe’ warning over Portsmouth shipbuilding

A ship builder works on a section of the first of two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers at BAE Systems in Portsmouth.
A ship builder works on a section of the first of two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers at BAE Systems in Portsmouth.
A Merlin helicopter from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has been training with HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth Naval Base as part of her Rotary Wing Trials

Helicopter puts flight deck crew through its paces

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An MP warned today that the loss of shipbuilding would be ‘catastrophic’ for Portsmouth.

Mike Hancock sound his warning as the race began to save up to 1,500 jobs at risk amid growing speculation that BAE Systems could close its shipyard in the city

Nigel Whitehead, chief executive of the defence giant, told a Sunday newspaper that a decision would be made by Christmas about which of its shipbuilding yards will be shut down.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, he said BAE was looking at a ‘reduction in footprint’, adding, ‘Part of that might actually be the cessation of manufacturing at one of the sites’

And the same article suggested that insiders feel Portsmouth is more likely to be at risk than Govan and Scotstoun, on the river Clyde, because it has a greater number of temporary workers.

Portsmouth South MP Mr Hancock described any potential closure of the city’s dockyard as ‘catastrophic’.

He has written to BAE Systems to request an urgent, high-level meeting to discuss the issue.

And he is also pressing the case with business secretary Vince Cable who is due to visit the city soon.

Mr Hancock said: ‘There is probably no smoke without fire and there is this review going on which does not bode well for us.

‘What we have got to do is make a concerted effort to safeguard the interests of shipbuilding in Portsmouth.

‘If it does transpire and does happen it will be catastrophic.

‘Personally tragic for all the people who will lose their jobs and catastrophic for south Hampshire if we lose these jobs on the naval base as well as the engineering jobs at Ford. ‘These are irreplaceable jobs and it poses an enormous problem.

‘The race has been on for some while (to save the shipyard).

‘I was in a meeting with BAE Systems three weeks ago, locally, and they did not seem so pessimistic but things change so quickly.’

There have been doubts over the shipyard’s future for some time, with a gap in the British programme expected once the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are completed but before the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme begins.

Earlier this year, BAE Systems appointed consultants to carry out a review of the business.

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he would fight to save the shipyard but it was even more vital to keep servicing here.

He said: ‘It would be disappointing to see shipbuilding stop in Portsmouth. It’s wrong for Britain because it means all advanced naval ship building will be in Scotland and what happens if Scotland becomes independent?’