Government's £4bn shipbuilding strategy comes under fire from Portsmouth maritime firms who are crying out for skilled youngsters

THE government has called on the city to seize a £4bn opportunity to become a world-leader in shipbuilding - but businesses say they sorely need skills and support to make it happen.

Friday, 6th May 2022, 4:55 am

Rear Admiral Rex Cox, the head of the government’s National Shipbuilding Office, visited the city to rally the city’s maritime industry around the government’s latest shipbuilding strategy.

The updated national strategy comes with £4 billion in investment and a plan for 150 new Royal Navy and civilian ships for government by 2052.

But shipbuilders and sector suppliers across the area have said that growth is being stifled because skilled young workers, financing options, and factory floor space are all lacking within the city.

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Pictured:Hull of a hovercraft being made at Griffon Hoverwork factory on Thursday 24th March 2022 Picture: Habibur Rahman

And the government’s shipbuilding office came under fire with the managing director of one firm, Portchester-based Griffon Hoverwork, saying that ‘it is not apparent that there is anyone in the shipbuilding office who understands a shipbuilding export contract’.

Firm director Adrian Went said government departments too often offer a ‘good cocktail party - then nothing else’.

A Portsmouth or Hampshire investment bank and an office dedicated to creating the next generation of skilled workers within Portsmouth could boost the area’s maritime sector, according to Mr Went.

He said: ‘If Portsmouth were to invest in a couple of decent blokes in an office bringing together business and education, you can emulate what they do in the Midlands with the faculty of engineering that is embedded in Jaguar-Land Rover.

Rear Admiral Rex Cox, who is heading up the government's new ship building initiative.

‘There’s lots of stuff going on but it’s all scattered around.

‘I think we could set up a government business bank – or it could be a Portsmouth business bank or a Hampshire business bank.

‘Rather than investing in Icelandic banks or whatever is the flavour of the month, why not issue a guarantee.’

At a Portsmouth Harbour Marine event, Rear Admiral Cox outlined how billions in government investment aims to transform shipyards and suppliers across the UK

At a networking event with National Shipbuilding Office staff in Old Portsmouth, other businesses echoed the call for more work to prepare the next generation with maritime sector skills.

Richard Snow, director of marine electronics firm Electrogear Fareham, said: ‘We have spoken to a lot of people that are bringing work back into the UK. It’s fantastic but we need the skills.

‘Going from experience, the number of CVs you get from young people is incredibly small. Most are from people in the last throes of their career.’

He added: ‘The opportunity for the industry is huge.’

Mark Bowden, CEO of maritime sector support group Portsmouth Harbour Marine, which hosted the Rear Admiral’s visit, said that skills was a key concern for business.

He said: ‘They all want skills – there’s an aging workforce, so we’re trying to connect educators with businesses.

‘You go into a school and talk about the maritime sector – and they know nothing about it. It’s absolutely vital to raise awareness, so children know what GCSEs they might take.’

During a presentation in the BAR Technologies building in Old Portsmouth, Rear Admiral Cox outlined how billions in government investment aims to transform shipyards and suppliers across the UK – and turn Portsmouth into a global leader of next-generation maritime technology.

Rear Admiral Cox, who has over 30 years experience in the Royal Navy, said: ‘There will be a massive, massive opportunity over the next 30 years and it will only increase and we need to be ready for that opportunity.

‘As a Portsmouth native, I think we have a really key part to play in that.

‘Where are the growth sectors? Offshore renewables and how are we supporting them is going to be massively expanding over the next decade. Portsmouth can very much be at the heart of that.’

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But Rear Admiral Cox said: ‘This isn't about government saying how it's going to be.

‘It’s about working with the maritime sector.

‘(The strategy) has evolved to not just be about the Royal Navy shipbuilding – it's about shipbuilding across the whole of the UK.

‘It's about integration. It's about systems. It's about subsistence. It's about leisure. It's about finance. The PM’s focus is bringing shipbuilding home.’

BAE Systems, one of the largest shipbuilders in the UK, moved its ship building production from Portsmouth to the Clyde, in Scotland, in 2013.