THE Prime Minister has pledged he will do everything in his power to deliver on his promise and revive shipbuilding in Portsmouth.
The News can reveal the government is to review eight bids that are on the table for the use of the city’s shipyard by the end of next month.
It comes after the Tory leader wrote to The News in January – as pictured on the front page – pledging he would do everything he could to protect the yard from closure.
Defence giant BAE Systems decided last November to pull its shipbuilding operation out of Portsmouth and transfer it to the Clyde, in Scotland, a decision that put hundreds of skilled jobs at risk.
Mr Cameron told The News yesterday: ‘We would like to see shipbuilding in Portsmouth continue, and there are a number of potential tenants being looked at for that.
‘We at the government and the Minister for Portsmouth will be doing everything we can to encourage that.’
‘If you put everything together, the City Deal, the LEP Growth Deal, the Ben Ainslie Racing development, the servicing of the Royal Navy ships and the potential for new businesses, I think there is a very positive and strong story to tell.’
Centuries of shipbuilding came to an end in August after the final block of HMS Prince of Wales left the city on a barge for Scottish waters.
When asked whether he will keep to the promise he made, Mr Cameron said: ‘I will do everything I can to help bring that about.
‘Obviously now that BAE Systems will not be shipbuilding in Portsmouth, we need others to come in; but there are other companies that have expressed an interest.’
City leaders want a mixed use for the yard so a variety of jobs can be created.
The range of bids include one serving the defence sector and it’s believed a group of four companies is interested in building large-scale structures out of composite materials.
As reported, the city has also been short-listed as a potential site for a satellite location of the National Composites Centre, which composite firms could play a part in.
The project would see large structures such as wind turbines, oil and gas structures and ship superstructures being manufactured.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said the process of finding a new tenant was entering ‘the final stages’.
‘We are at that detailed stage where companies are working out their overheads and the government and the local authority is looking at what it can do to assist,’ she said. ‘We are going towards the final stages now.’
But unions say they remain sceptical over whether the Prime Minister will live up to his word.
John Ferrett, negotiations officer for the Prospect union, said: ‘What we want to see is who these bidders are and what their plans are. We are very sceptical.’
Leader calls for resolution to finally happen
CALLS have been made for the government to make a concrete decision over the yard’s future immediately following a review of bids for its use.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, stressed the importance of swift action being taken to resolve the situation during talks with the Prime Minister.
‘I am calling for a decision to be made as soon as possible, because we have got to get to work on this,’ she said.
‘The Scottish referendum is out of the way, and now that has been dealt with, we need to get to work on the shipbuilding yard, so businesses can get in there and start creating jobs.’
Cllr Jones said Portchester-based firm Magma Structures, which manufactures specialist structures, is one of the firms interested in going to the shipyard.
Other high-profile figures who attended the discussion about the city’s future at Charter Academy included the Minister for Portsmouth, Matthew Hancock MP, Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt and the city council’s chief executive, David Williams.
Ms Mordaunt said she is keen to see a diverse mix of firms occupying the ship hall left vacant by BAE Systems.
‘I am looking to create as much diversity and supply for the workforce as possible,’ she said.
‘The more sustainable the businesses coming in are, the better.’
Meanwhile, David Cameron told The News ‘more needed to be done’ to unlock land in Portsmouth in general for development.
‘They (city leaders) are content with some of the progress being made, what with the new Royal Navy ships coming in, and the Ben Ainslie development progress,’ he said.
‘But more needs to be done with some of the organisations which own buildings and land here, like the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, so we can move quickly and see commercial and residential developments where possible.’
To read The News’ view on this click here.