We’re hardly going to complain about any movement on getting new tenants for the Portsmouth’s shipyard.
It’s now almost 15 months since BAE said it was moving its shipbuilding wing – which employed the best part of 1,000 workers in the city – out of Portsmouth and up to Scotland, leaving its repair arm down here.
Since then we’ve had repeated pledges from the prime minister – occasioned first of all by a letter sent to him by The News – that he would do his utmost to see shipbuilding return to the yard.
So, with the shortlist of three announced today, has David Cameron stood by his word?
Firstly, let it be said that we will cast no aspersions on the companies interested in moving into the yard, and wish them all well. Burgess Marine and Magma are rightly well-renowned for their expertise.
But the scale of what is being proposed, although in its own way welcome, is not a like-for-like exchange for BAE’s shipbuilding.
The number of jobs is one sign – while the departure of BAE took 1,000 jobs out of the city, the plans revealed by the government today show that two of the bids will only ‘secure’ 180 and 200 jobs in the area as they are relocations, while Burgess Marine’s is estimated to create 200 if all goes to plan.
There’s also a debate to be had on whether these bids do represent shipbuilding as promised by the prime minister. There may be rumours locally that BAE will look to build minesweepers here if it is successful in its bid to return to the building it has vacated but the statement released by the MoD about BAE’s intention makes no mention of this, focusing only on the repair side of the work.
And while Magma has expertise in building parts of yachts – as we report about its work on the Maltese Falcon – its well-documented esteem comes from pipe and composite work.
Some people may see this as just quibbling – and as stated, the most important thing is to get a big employer in as soon as possible to anchor the yard. But scrutiny is not the same as a lack of gratitude – and we will not let up in applying pressure to ensure the city gets the best result it can.