Union backs plan for carrier to arrive early

Large hull sections of the  HMS Queen Elizabeth are being built at Portsmouth Naval Base
Large hull sections of the HMS Queen Elizabeth are being built at Portsmouth Naval Base

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SHIPBUILDING union GMB has backed a plan to move the final stages of work for the Royal Navy’s first new aircraft carrier down to Portsmouth.

The trade union, which represents 500 of BAE Systems’ 1,300 shipbuilders in the city, came out in support of a proposal to apply the finishing touches to HMS Queen Elizabeth here rather than in Rosyth, Scotland.

Leading Portsmouth politicians announced the proposal in The News yesterday in a bid to safeguard BAE jobs which are rumoured to be under threat as the defence firm conducts a review of its business. At present the final stages of the work will be done in Rosyth once the ship is launched in 2014. She will then come to Portsmouth in 2016. But BAE is being urged to move the work to the ship’s base port of Portsmouth two years early.

Gary Cook, of the GMB union, said: ‘It makes economic sense to get the ship to her home base as quickly as possible where there is the expertise and the available labour to complete the remainder of the fitting out.’

The navy’s two new carriers are being built in sections across six UK sites, including Portsmouth.

The ships are to be finally assembled in Rosyth – the constituency of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The deal to have the work there was signed under Mr Brown’s leadership.

Mr Cook said: ‘The skilled labour is not indigenous to Rosyth – it’s all brought in with people living in digs while they work up there. It’s an expensive way of doing things while we’ve got the skills here in Portsmouth.’

The plan to bring Queen Elizabeth here in 2014 hinges on whether work to dredge Portsmouth Harbour and reinforce the jetties at the naval base can be done in 2013 – two years earlier than planned.

City leaders are set to lobby the government to bring the infrastructure work forward.