Is Minister for Portsmouth a job for life?
- 25 July 2014
- From the section England
There were a few raised eyebrows when Michael Fallon was appointed the first Minister for Portsmouth back in January.
The usual reaction was: What will he do? Followed by: Why can't WE have a minister?
But it worked wonders for Mr Fallon's career - proving a stepping stone to Secretary of State for Defence.
So this week we got the second ever Minister For Portsmouth on a visit to our fine city.
Matt Hancock was if anything even keener than Michael Fallon, conducting a round of interviews and tours and dismissing talk that the job might not last beyond the General Election next May.
"I hope we win, and then the good work will continue."
But would we still need a minister as the impact of the shipyard closure receded? I asked.
"It's a question for the PM of course, but I would hope so. Given that there have been difficult changes we must retain these high-skilled jobs in Portsmouth, so we are looking to the future."
Mr Hancock was visiting a Trafalgar Wharf company called Autonomous Surface Vessels - ASV. These are clever robo-ships for use by the oil industry, offshore wind farms and defence.
The British navy is already using autonomous vessels for mine clearance. Within 15 years the government believes it could be a global market worth $136bn.
Four million pounds has been pledged for a new research base in Portsmouth, and £5m is being put into a pot for innovative companies in the field.
But will these sort of jobs, and the America's Cup work with Ben Ainslie, really support the more than a thousand families whose main breadwinners are being made redundant with the end of navy ship-building?
There are still many people in the city who think this is all just fiddling at the edges, however well the economy picks up nationally.
Which brings us to the other big question for the new Minister for Portsmouth. The Scottish question.
Couldn't a YES vote in the referendum be good for Pompey jobs? If Scotland goes its own way wouldn't UK ship-building have to come back to England?
The new minister has a carefully worked out answer.
"Scottish independence would be bad for the UK, and ultimately bad for Portsmouth because Britain plays a crucial role in the world, we're seeing that now with Russia."
"If we raise our eyes to the horizon and think what is good for our nation it is also good for Portsmouth because in defence we punch above our weight.
"The question is what would be the UK's role in the world. It is a question that would be raised and I would far rather that we put the effort in now as we are doing into Portsmouth and making sure that the future is bright here."
Minister for Portsmouth may at first have been seen as a joke job. A fig leaf to cover government embarrassment over the MoD decision, or crass political manoeuvring as the coalition tried to demonstrate their voters in some hotly-contested constituencies hadn't been forgotten.
There was the bizarre start of the role as Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable declared himself the "real" minister for Portsmouth.
And stranger still, we now have a Conservative Mr M Hancock trying to outshine the other M Hancock - long-term MP for Portsmouth South.
But after just a few months it really does feel like a role that is working.
Which brings us back to the initial problem - why can't every city have their own minister?