High politics ends Navy shipbuilding in Portsmouth
- 6 November 2013
- From the section Hampshire & Isle of Wight
What would Nelson have made of it? Before Trafalgar he signalled "England Expects." And it is the argument over Scotland's independence that has left ship-building holed below the waterline after 500 years on the south coast.
Already work on the new aircraft carriers is being moved from Portsmouth to Glasgow, and now Phillip Hammond says he will order three new warships to tide the Govan and Scotstoun yards over until the bigger order to replace existing Type 23 frigates.
Hampshire MPs lined up to underline what they saw as a defeat for England, victory for the Scots.
Gosport Conservative MP Caroline Dinenage described it as "devastating news for families across the region." Asked whether she thought English jobs were being sacrificed for Scottish ones she replied, "Yes, definitely."
Could Portsmouth be re-opened if Scotland goes its own way in 2014 and the Westminster Government wants to re-negotiate terms?
Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael said today that if Scotland was independent then "the rest of the UK would let future contracts on the same basis as ones that we are discussing today, that is to yards within their country."
"If Scotland is no longer part of that country then yes, it's difficult to see how the work would go to Scotland."
By ordering Scottish ships has the Westminster government has created a Trojan Horse in the battle for Independence?
With jobs at stake what looks like a gift could actually provide vital leverage in the referendum debate.
But what could England Expect then?
Well, Not A Lot from Portsmouth. The much-vaunted new apprentices will have moved on to find new work. The traditions, often passed through generations, of working on warships will be have been abandoned.
For shipbuilding the government might be keener to re-open yards on the Tyne than in a city perceived (wrongly) to be part of the affluent South-East.
Already Portsmouth City Council and the Ministry of Defence are carving up parts of the docks to be handed over for commercial development. A long tradition will end.
From the oaks of the New Forest, cut down to build Nelson's Fleet at Buckler's Hard, right back to Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose. The only major ship-builder left on the South coast will be Chinese-owned Sunseeker, producing super-yachts for Russian oligarchs.
Over the next two years 940 BAE employees will lose their jobs in Portsmouth. The MOD is paying redundancy and is pressing for as many as possible to be voluntary.
But there are possibly as many people again who work for sub-contractors or other companies in the local marine supply chain for whom there won't be such generous pay-offs.
Then there is the impact on the wider economy. We mustn't forget Southampton, already rocked by the closure of the Ford Transit factory, where many staff live after the Vosper Thornycroft yard was taken over by BAE.
But here again, politics is dictating policy rather than practical need.
Conservatives accuse Portsmouth's Liberal Democrat City Council of failing to agree a £42m "City Deal" that could help redundant workers find a new job.
The Lib Dems, and Portsmouth South Independent MP Mike Hancock agree they don't want to provide a fig leaf but also argue they're trying to negotiate better terms. Perhaps a release of MoD land - Horsea Island or another slice of the Dockyard.
They say the £100m Phillip Hammond boasts will be used to expand facilities for the carriers is already committed to dredging and building a new power station.
In a fluid and complex situation the UK Independence Party had a simple message. Britain needs to spend more on defence.
Hampshire County Councillor Ray Finch said "This news shows that none of the other parties believe in Britain, the British Armed Forces, or in the British worker."
"UKIP are the only party that will give our armed forces the tools it needs to defend us and the shipyards the orders to build for our future security."
The Lib Dems and Labour accuse the MoD of ignoring radical ways of generating new business.
The Conservative MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, is Phillip Hammond's PPS, a navy reservist and named after a warship, HMS Penelope!
Her ideas outlined in a letter to the Prime Minister included putting Royal Navy crews on commission, "sell what you sail and get a bonus".
But Labour's John Denham said "No efforts have been made to win new work for Portsmouth in the past three years."
"Many on the south coast feel they have been sold down the river by a government whose interest and attention has been elsewhere."
Even Nelson could not have turned a blind eye to Alex Salmond. Pompey Pride is legendary, but this is a broadside they'll find difficult to deal with.