SHIPBUILDING has a future in Portsmouth, according to a new partnership of businesses who have launched a plan to continue work at the dockyard.
A group of individuals in the city, including marine and defence consultants Stanton Burdett Ltd, plan to create the Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company.
They want to take on the facilities and staff left behind in the wake of BAE Systems’ recent announcement that it was calling time on its shipbuilding operations in the city.
The group says they have already received requests to tender for the construction of a number of vessels and believe they could create a sustainable shipbuilding company building small and medium-sized vessels for the domestic and export markets.
It is currently formed of Portsmouth-based marine and defence consultants Sarah Stanton and Vince Burdett, and Paul Gonella, the director of cultural collective Strong Island.
Vince Burdett told The News: ‘We accept BAE’s decision because it is right for them, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for building ships.
‘These guys in Portsmouth have built some of the best.
‘The staff here have some of the best skills and they should be given the opportunity to keep using those skills, which the government has paid for.’
Sarah Stanton added: ‘It’s not just the 940 jobs that are affected inside the dockyard, it’s the families of those people, and the community in this area as a whole which is affected.
‘We have had a lot of interest from people who would like to keep these people employed and who would like to see a sustainable shipbuilding company remain in Portsmouth.
‘We are not trying to get into competition with BAE, in fact we would like to work with them. We believe there is a viable option for the build and export of ships in the commercial market.’
Their plan hinges on the Ministry of Defence building a new Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPVs) here in the city.
They would also need to be able to take over the facilities left vacant by BAE Systems.
This would buy the city enough time to establish a shipbuilding alternative to BAE Systems, and set up an order book.
As reported in The News, defence minister Philip Dunne recently dealt a blow to Portsmouth’s hopes by ruling out the option of building a new navy warship in the city.
There had been calls for at least one of the Royal Navy’s three new OPVs to be built in the city to help safeguard dockyard jobs while an alternative industry could be set up.
But the minister said in a letter to Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock that it would not be possible.
Mr Hancock says the plan by Portsmouth Shipbuilding could work if the Ministry of Defence can be persuaded to build another small vessel.
He said: ‘I think they have got some really brilliant ideas and they have completely got my backing.
‘Now they are going to need a lot of assistance, from BAE Systems, and from the Ministry of Defence.
‘The government is saying there is no chance of one of the three OPVs being built here in Portsmouth, but perhaps we could put a bid together and make a case for another one to be built.
‘If this can be put together in the right way then it could work, but the only way this could happen is if the Ministry of Defence is prepared to build another ship.
‘This idea needs to build up in pace and then it could go somewhere.’
Mr Hancock also praised the people behind the idea.
‘These people have got the right backgrounds to pull this off,’ he added.
‘They are as qualified in this area as you could hope for.’
BAE Systems announced last month the results of a review into its shipbuilding operations nationwide.
The firm decided to end shipbuilding operations in Portsmouth, with the loss of almost 1,000 jobs in the city.
Repairs and maintenance work on the Royal Navy’s ships will continue.
For more information about what is being proposed by Portsmouth Shipbuilding, you can visit portsmouthshipbuilding.org.
COMMENT: New shipbuilding plan seems a fair deal for all involved
IT SEEMS like a reasonable solution to Portsmouth’s shipbuilding problems – but there is a long way to go yet.
Last month’s announcement by BAE Systems that it would be ending its shipbuilding operations in the city was met with an outpouring of grief from the city’s community.
It is therefore laudable that one group of people has decided to leap into action and set about building a plan to salvage the shipyard.
Nobody is pretending this is a simple solution to a very complex problem, and it relies heavily on getting certain assurances from the government.
That is why it is even more important for ministers to visit Portsmouth as soon as possible to see the situation for themselves.
It is now 30 days – and believe me we are counting – since The News published an open letter to David Cameron on our front page.
Signed by city leaders from all three major parties and union representatives, it called on the Prime Minister to come to Portsmouth.
So far the city is still waiting for a reply, and the silence is doing nothing to help those affected by the decision plan for what comes next.
It certainly seems as if nobody involved could lose out from what is being proposed by the future Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company.
The government retains a sovereign shipbuilding capability, the Royal Navy gets a ship, the nation benefits from exports, and BAE Systems end shipbuilding with its head held high.
If those in power don’t believe this plan, or any other alternative plan for Portsmouth, can work, then so be it.
But they should tell us quickly and clearly, so contingencies can be made, and the effects on workers minimised.
BENEFITS OF KEEPING SHIPBUILDING
THOSE behind the plan to start up a new Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company say there are six main reasons to keep operations in the city.
The partnership of businesses says they have a viable option for the build of small and medium-sized ships in the commercial market.
They say the continuation of shipbuilding would retain the skill set required for the future work on maintaining the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
It provides a contingency facility for the build of any commercial structures, and also for the Ministry of Defence.
The Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company says they would be a collaborative business, supporting not only shipuilding but also the local community.
And they want to ensure the continuance of 500 years of shipbuilding heritage in the home of the Royal Navy.
HUNDREDS EXPECTED TO PROTEST
PROTESTERS are preparing to gather in the city tomorrow for another demonstration against the shipyard closure decision.
Several trade unions will put on a united front with a rally in Portsmouth tomorrow afternoon.
They are urging people who have an opinion about the decision to turn up and show their support.
Workers will meet at Victory Gate at 11am and march to Guildhall Square an hour later before holding a rally there.
Unions say that the Ministry of Defence should work with them and the defence giant to find ways of generating opportunities that would save jobs and skills.
Speakers at the rally will include: Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, John Denham MP, Hugh Scullion, the CSEU general secretary, Dave Hulse, GMB national officer and John Ferrett, negotiations officer for Prospect.
THE partnership behind the plan to create a Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company have answered several questions on the potential for success.
· Do you have the expertise to do this?
The core workforce were VT Shipbuilding, with a high standard of delivery in the export and home markets. The management team are experts in shipbuilding and business who would be overseen by the Ministry of Defence to ensure standards were achieved as demonstrated in all other builds.
· How would this benefit the government?
It provides a solution for the government to retain shipbuilding (national sovereignty) in Portsmouth, and an overflow facility mitigating naval shipbuilding in Scotland.
· How would building an OPV in Portsmouth support the navy?
A parallel build, which mitigates Type 26 delivery, provides an OPV in service early, or an additional OPV.
· How would this support ship repair and the naval base?
It provides an opportunity to retain and develop the skills required by Portsmouth Naval Base in the future to support the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers when in service in 2018.
· How would this benefit UK shipbuilding?
It promotes collaborative working across UK shipbuilding, retaining an overflow capability for building complex warships, and allowing flexibility and best cost for the taxpayer.
· How would this benefit the city?
Portsmouth Shipbuilding Company will benefit the city, Southampton, and the local area utilising local businesses and skills investing back into the area.
· How does this support future businesses?
It supports everything the government promotes – positive enterprise, engineering, and employment. Less impact to the local economy and surrounding area if skills are utilised and revenue is generated through an independent shipbuilder.
· Would there be an additional cost to build an OPV in Portsmouth?
There is no additional cost for the Ministry of Defence to contract one OPV to Portsmouth and then to Scotland as the material and labour costs are comparable.
· Aren’t we running out of time?
The immediate challenge is to gain one OPV to enable the shipyard to continue from mid 2014 and also to engage in dialogue with momentum before any irreversible decisions are made that would preclude either the availability of resource or the facility.
· Is there interest in building ships here?
To date interest has been received for approximately £25m, proving the market. A 36-month contract or funding is required to buy time to create an order book.