Minister’s refusal does not inspire confidence

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When the closure of BAE’s shipbuilding yard was announced last month, the city was united in shock that hundreds of years of tradition was to be ended.

There was the suspicion that it had been closed, leaving the Clyde open, as a government-orchestrated sop to Scotland to head off a ‘yes’ vote in the forthcoming independence referendum, but wisely all efforts to fight against the decision did not try to accuse anyone of playing politics.

Instead, rightly, the arguments focused on the practical reasons why Portsmouth’s yard should remain open, of which there are many. We’ve stated them before, but in short there are pressing issues – economic, strategic and concerning national sovereignty – why having two functioning yards, both north and south of the Scottish border makes sense.

We’ve always shied away from claiming a stitch-up, as assuming victim status rarely helps in these matters, but now you could be forgiven for thinking that this decision is being made on ideological, not practical grounds.

The refusal of defence minister Philip Dunne to meet members of the Prospect union, as we report today, is an insult.

We understand that the government can say it is BAE which has made the closure decision, and so it cannot change the company’s mind, but to think it has no sway on the firm’s thinking is ludicrous.

And, as Prospect pursues what could be an eminently sensible ‘three-yard solution’ , it is foolhardy for the minister, with his relevant responsibilities, not to listen to what the union suggests.

He may want to discard the idea after having heard it, but wise decisions are not made by ignoring arguments.

Mr Dunne has replied to say that it does not make business sense to build one of the Ocean Patrol Vessels in Portsmouth – one of the requests The News made to the government in its open letter of a month ago.

Fair enough – but we would again feel more confident if the minister was prepared to debate and explain the issues face to face.

We don’t want to feel like the victims of a stitch-up – but sometimes it’s difficult not to.