For centuries shipbuilding in Portsmouth has been woven into the history of Britain. It is a tradition of which the whole country is rightly proud – and I completely understand that the intensity of feeling here is stronger still.
We looked at every possible option to keep on building Royal Navy ships at HMNB Portsmouth. But BAE – who build the ships – reluctantly concluded that it was not commercially viable. The cost of paying them to do otherwise would be unaffordable at a time when we have to get the deficit down, deal with our debts, and make sure this country can pay its way.
But I make this pledge to you today: this government will do everything we can to protect the future of the shipyard and the livelihoods of the people who work there. In the months ahead we are going to go all out to make sure that it remains strong, successful, and respected around the world.
We know that on the ship-servicing side of the equation there are a number of reasons to be optimistic: the Royal Navy is currently going through a massive programme of modernisation and much of the surface fleet will be based and maintained here in Portsmouth.
But we also want to retain shipbuilding in the city, for which there is still significant, untapped potential. In the past few weeks alone, a number of commercial shipping firms have already expressed an interest in relocating here. The message now needs to go out clearly and unambiguously that Portsmouth is open for business.
Here, the government has a big role to play. That is why yesterday I appointed Michael Fallon as Minister with special responsibility for the maritime industry in Portsmouth to co-ordinate the efforts. An enormously experienced Minister, Michael’s going to have a very clear brief: to bring people round the table, knock heads together – and go all out to get business coming to Portsmouth and setting up around the shipyard.
Because of the decision that has been taken, I know that the government must do its utmost to support Portsmouth. I am not sugar-coating the challenges ahead but with determination, resolve, and sheer political will – this city can and will come through stronger the other side. I promise you that we will do everything in our power to make sure it does.