THE NEWS COMMENT: We would like to see more openness over carriers
We thought that by now we would be the proud home of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of the new aircraft carriers that will be based in Portsmouth.
There have been celebrations mooted, with the hope raised that the mighty warship’s arrival would spark a renewed focus on the Royal Navy and, by extension, on Portsmouth.
But sadly the timescale has slipped and while we hope to celebrate her first entry to the harbour just as much, we have been told that that day will be by the end of the year – with further details not forthcoming.
The slippage has led to not-unreasonable fears about the carriers – after all, if a date moves back, then you’re entitled to fear something is not as it should be.
So today’s report by the National Audit Office, despite the fact it flags up some more worries, is paradoxically reassuring.
The bad news is that – as we know – the military has a lack of personnel, currently running at about four per cent. These include warfighting specialists and engineers in the navy – two roles in demand on the carriers.
And it’s not just a human shortage. The carriers’ cost is going up – only by between one and two per cent, but when your budget is £6.212bn, then you are talking about serious money.
However, we’re relieved that the National Audit Office, which is known for not mincing its words, says that despite the strategic and testing challenges ahead, the carriers are making ‘good’ progress.
What we would welcome is a similar transparency from the MoD and the rest of the government over the carriers’ progress. People in Portsmouth – and across the UK – followed closely the building of the blocks and their assembly and we all have a keen interest in learning when the carriers are due to arrive.
So it was disappointing that we only learned there was a delay when it was slipped out in a Commons answer by defence secretary Michael Fallon.
More openness will not give away state secrets, nor prove a security risk – and would nip more pernicious rumours in the bud.