DEFENCE secretary Michael Fallon has admitted the move to get Magma Structures into Portsmouth dockyard ‘has been slow’.
The minister made the statement during a trip to Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday where he revealed a new £13.5m deal for BAE Systems.
Speaking to The News, the former minister for Portsmouth agreed the deal to move Magma into the disused shiphall had taken longer than expected.
The firm, which builds free-standing rigs for large yachts, was named in January as one of three companies, along with BAE and Burgess Marine, to move into the shipyard.
Mr Fallon said: ‘It’s a commercial negotiation and it has been slow but I hope it can be brought to a conclusion soon.’
Critics have said no viable alternatives have been made since the decision to axe shipbuilding from Portsmouth, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs.
But Mr Fallon brushed these criticisms aside, saying the introduction of the new aircraft carrier will boost the city’s prospects.
‘There are more jobs coming; unemployment has fallen here,’ he added.
‘Portsmouth is one of our biggest naval bases and will continue to grow.
‘There will be more opportunities for smaller companies in the repair and maintenance of all these ships.
‘So Portsmouth gains from hosting an expanding navy and I hope the negotiations with Magma over the shiphall can be progressed.’
During his visit, Mr Fallon revealed a fresh £13.5m deal with BAE Systems to build 60 new Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Boats (Ribs), preserving 19 jobs for the next four years.
Les Gregory, product and training services director at BAE, said: ‘We’ve waited for this contract since April.
‘It’s been a long wait so we’re really pleased to have this contract under way.’
Mr Fallon was visiting the base to see how work was progressing on the £100m refurbishment of the site in readiness for the arrival of the UK’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, in 2017.
The defence secretary was given a tour of the harbour and had a chance to meet some staff from BAE who will be building the new Ribs.
And he inspected the machinery which will begin dredging up more than 300m cubic metres of clay, sand and gravel from a two-mile stretch of the harbour.
Naval base commander, Commodore Jeremy Rigby, described the base refurbishment as ‘the biggest in a century’, with work already well under way to strengthen the carrier’s jetty’.
‘We will be ready to receive the carriers in 351 days,’ he said. ‘So this is a huge step in that it guarantees the surface flotilla will be operating from Portsmouth for the rest of the century.’
The dredging work is expected to begin on Thursday.