They said, when BAE Systems announced it was shutting its navy shipbuilding operation within Portsmouth Naval Base, that shipbuilding would not be lost from Portsmouth forever.
Promises were made, ministerial appointments were made and a prime minister even strolled through the very News editorial department where a letter had been penned to him outlining a city’s very real concerns about its future.
With all that money floating about, it would have been great to see a company in Portsmouth getting a slice of it
There were assurances that the government would do its utmost to keep shipbuilding skills in Portsmouth.
But on Friday the chief operating officer for Wightlink, John Burrows, announced the company had asked 28 companies to bid for work to build a new ferry to serve the Gunwharf Quays to Fishbourne route — and only one of those companies was British.
Of course he won’t say which company that is, but I bet it’s not in Portsmouth.
Wightlink’s ships are maintained in Portsmouth by BAE and Burgess Marine. But as Mr Burrows said last week that he ‘would have loved’ to have placed the order ‘locally’, that implies he had no option but to look elsewhere.
It seems those promises about no loss of shipbuilding skills — not ship maintenance, not ship repair, but shipbuilding — have sunk without a trace.
The new ship, a more eco-friendly ferry, is part of a £45m investment by Wightlink that will also see its flagship, the St Clare, modified and extended, as well as a new double-decker ramp and passenger facilities being installed at Gunwharf.
With all that money floating about, it would have been great to see a company in Portsmouth getting a slice of it, not to mention the contractors and sub-contractors that would also be involved.
We have a brand new government and this news came just a day after the new Minister for Portsmouth, Mark Francois, was appointed.
It will be interesting to see how he reacts to this latest blow to manufacturing and shipbuilding in the city, since the position was created as a direct result of BAE’s redundancies.
Perhaps this is also a clarion call to the rest of us to keep fighting for government investment here.