Portsmouth '˜betrayed' as shipbuilding hopes for city crumble despite David Cameron's promise
HOPES of shipbuilding ever coming back to Portsmouth have been dashed today, The News can reveal.
For months, Magma Structures has been in negotiation with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to agree a plan to move its new headquarters into the yard’s shiphall.
However, the composite structure giant’s talks have repeatedly stalled during the talks..
Now, after repeated pressure from The News about the status of the negotiations, the MoD has finally caved in and admitted the deal has collapsed altogether.
Instead, it said it would transform the empty facility into ‘a centre of engineering excellence’ to fix minehunter-class ships – work which already happens in the naval base.
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The revelation has infuriated former city council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who branded today’s news as a ‘betrayal of the worst kind’ for the people of Portsmouth.
‘This sort of work already takes place in the dockyard,’ said the Lib Dem boss.
‘All this says is that they’re putting a different badge on something that already happens. It is a betrayal of the worst kind for the city of Portsmouth.
‘When the prime minister and other Conservatives visited the city they promised us shipbuilding would return; they trumpeted the fact. Now the election has been and gone we are beginning to see the reality that not one single new job has been created in the dockyard.
‘They have shuffled things like the deck chairs on the Titanic but there have been no new jobs at all – they have lied to the people of Portsmouth.’
The new centre has been created by BAE Systems – which pulled the plug on shipbuilding in Portsmouth when it moved the operation to Scotland in 2014.
It will now work as the focal point of the navy’s minehunter maintenance programme, centralising activities previously carried out across the naval base.
On Wednesday, HMS Brocklesby will be moved into the facility for a comprehensive maintenance programme.
The news comes as Magma Structures today confirmed it would be making 10 people redundant from its base.
Explaining the job losses, the firm’s managing director Clive Johnston said: ‘As Magma Structures’ existing projects mature, the type of skill set required has changed and we have therefore, reluctantly, had to make a few redundancies.’
He added Magma was currently quoting and tendering on a ‘number of new and exciting’ opportunities which he hoped to announce soon.
Speaking of the engineering centre, Mark Lancaster, minister for defence personnel and veterans, said it would provide a ‘vital and unique capability’ for the navy.
‘The upgraded facilities will allow the work to be completed more efficiently and see the ships returned to the operational fleet more quickly,’ he said.
The minister explained Magma would not be using the site after a ‘review of its business needs’.
‘It has confirmed its intention to lease office space within the naval base in order to develop a centre of excellence for composites on site and to develop a broad range of composite projects within the defence and other sectors,’ he added.
Mike Howarth, managing director, BAE Systems Maritime Services, said the indoor facility would make repair works easier, adding: ‘This will help BAE Systems drive efficiencies for the Royal Navy.’
News confirms union’s ‘worst fears’
A DOCKYARD trade union official has said his ‘worst fears’ of Portsmouth losing its shipbuilding heart have been realised.
John Ferrett, negotiations officer for the Prospect Union, said he was shocked by today’s announcement.
‘We’re incredibly disappointed by the news,’ he said. ‘Portsmouth has been let down by the MoD and by the government.
‘Unfortunately this just confirms our worst fears that when BAE Systems left, shipbuilding in the city would end and that it would be really tough to get it back.’
He added he was angry that promises made by the prime minister had been broken.
‘The promise to bring shipbuilding back to Portsmouth was clearly done as a political gesture for the general election when this was a very hot and raw topic in the city,’ he said.
However, Tory council boss Donna Jones defended the prime minister and said the city had not built full ships for decades.
Responding to claims the PM had broken his shipbuilding pledge, Cllr Jones said: ‘We haven’t had complete shipbuilding in Portsmouth since the 1960s – we have built key components of ships.’
The last piece of one of the UK’s new aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, built in Portsmouth left the city in August, 2014.
Two years after pledge and no action
‘I MAKE this pledge to you today: this government will do everything we can to protect the future of the shipyard and livelihoods of the people who work there’.
These were the words of Prime Minister David Cameron written directly to The News in January 2014 after shipbuilding was axed from the city.
But more than two years since the pledge, shipbuilding has still not returned to Portsmouth.
This comes despite direct assurances from the PM, in his letter, in which he stressed: ‘We also want to retain shipbuilding in the city for which there is still significant, untapped potential.’
Mr Cameron explained the government had been looking at ‘every possible option to keep on building Royal Navy ships’ at the naval base.
It came after BAE Systems ended its shipbuilding ties with the city, to move up to yards in Clyde, Scotland – with the loss of 1,000 jobs in Portsmouth.
Mr Cameron said BAE had reluctantly concluded that the operation was no longer commercially viable, explaining the cost of paying them to do otherwise would have been ‘unaffordable’ at a time of deep cuts.
The Tory leader added: ‘I am not sugar-coating the challenges ahead but with determination, resolve and sheer political will – this city can and will come through stronger on the other side.
‘I promise you that we will do everything in our power to make sure it does.’