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Shipyards decision sparks huge row

A decision by defence giant BAE Systems to axe 1,775 jobs and end shipbuilding at one of the country's most historic industrial sites sparked a huge political and industrial row.

The firm said 940 jobs will be lost in Portsmouth and a further 835 in Glasgow, Rosyth and Filton, near Bristol.

Shipbuilding operations will end in Portsmouth in the second half of next year, but an engineering team will be retained to support the new Type 26 warships, which will be built in Glasgow.

Unions said the job losses were a "devastating blow" to the industry, while some politicians said Portsmouth was being hit harder than yards in Scotland because of the independence referendum in Scotland next year.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, condemned the decision to shut down the last remaining shipyard in England with the capability to build advanced surface warships, saying it was bad news for the defence of the UK and for the Royal Navy.

"The remaining yards with the capability to build advanced warships are in Scotland, and the referendum on Scottish independence is less than one year away. Ministers have put the defence of the UK and the future of the Navy at real risk," he said.

The announcement was attacked as a politically motivated "act of lunacy" by Portsmouth Conservative councillor Alistair Thompson, who said: "This is devastating for the workers and their families but also for all those people involved in the supply chain that keeps the dockyard working.

"Many of those who I represent as a councillor are hugely concerned that this decision has been taken for political reasons because of the referendum in Scotland next year."

Gary Cook, regional organiser of the GMB, said every single job loss in Portsmouth will be opposed, adding: "The contempt shown to the workers by BAE and the Tory coalition by leaking stories to the media before the affected employees were informed, is nothing short of a stab in the back and a national disgrace.

"If the Government wants their second aircraft carrier, a large proportion of which still sits in the build facility at Portsmouth, they're going to need to talk to us about how we preserve jobs and protect the livelihoods of hundreds of people."

The 940 Portsmouth jobs are expected to go in 2014, while the 835 jobs across Filton, Glasgow and Rosyth, will go progressively through to 2016.

The company said it will work hard to mitigate job losses across all the sites.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the Commons that every effort would be made to redeploy workers, and that compulsory redundancies would be kept to a minimum.

"The loss of a shipmaking capability will be a harsh blow to Portsmouth," said the minister, who announced that more than £100 million will be invested in the city's naval base so it can accommodate new warships.

The minister also gave details of three new offshore patrol vessels for the Royal Navy, which will be built on the Clyde in Scotland.

The contract with BAE will provide work between the completion of the current aircraft carriers and the start of the building of Type 26 combat ships.

The minister said that following a review, the cost of the carriers was £6.2 billion, meaning the defence budget will remain "in balance".

"The loss of such a significant number of jobs is of course regrettable, but it was always going to be inevitable as the workload on carrier build came to an end."

BAE said it remained committed to continued investment in Portsmouth as the centre of its maritime services and high-end naval equipment and combat systems businesses, adding it was being hit by a "significant" reduction in workload following the peak of activity on the aircraft carrier programme.

The grim news was given to workers at a series of meetings at 11am across the affected sites, before they were allowed to go home for the rest of the day.

David Hulse, GMB national officer, said: " We have arranged a two-day meeting with the company at Farnborough next Monday and Tuesday that will be attended by officers and shop stewards from all the yards and all the unions. This meeting will examine in detail the business case and all aspects for scheduling work in the yards to complete building the carriers, starting work on the Type 26 ships and any other work."

BAE said: "Following detailed discussions about how best to sustain the long-term capability to deliver complex warships, BAE Systems has agreed with the UK Ministry of Defence that Glasgow would be the most effective location for the manufacture of the future Type 26 ships.

"Consequently, and subject to consultation with trade union representatives, the company proposes to consolidate its shipbuilding operations in Glasgow with investments in facilities to create a world-class capability, positioning it to deliver an affordable Type 26 programme for the Royal Navy.

Unite national officer for shipbuilding Ian Waddell said: "This is a very worrying time for the workforces and their families as the work on the two carriers comes to a conclusion.

"It is a huge blow to Britain's manufacturing and industrial base, with many highly skilled workers faced with losing their jobs."

Conservative MP Mark Hoban, whose Fareham constituency neighbours Portsmouth, warned that the area would need Government support to deal with the blow.

At Prime Minister's questions David Cameron said: "These are extremely difficult decisions and our first thoughts should be with all of those that are affected.

"We want our Royal Navy to have the best and most modern ships and the best technology. That means we will go on building warships on the Clyde, we will be announcing three new offshore patrol vessels, keeping that yard busy rather than paying for it to remain idle as the last government proposed.

"In Portsmouth, yes there will be job reductions, but there are many more people involved in ship servicing than in ship building, so the workforce will go from 12,000 to 11,000."

In his response to the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson the PM added: "N o one should be in any doubt of two things: under this Government we will have aircraft carriers, Type 45 destroyers, the new frigates, the hunter-killer submarines.

"And there's something else they should know: if there was an independent Scotland we wouldn't have any warships at all."

Tory MP Caroline Dinenage - whose Gosport constituency lies on the other side of Portsmouth harbour and is home to many dockyard workers - said south coast jobs had been "sacrificed" to Scotland.

And she accused BAE Systems of failing in its responsibility to seek alternative work from overseas to protect employees and prevent the need for job losses.

"The fact that Scottish jobs have been protected at the expense of those on the south coast, which is an area of equal economic need, for us is devastating and very upsetting."

Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the job losses were a "devastating blow", and a "wake-up call to think differently about the future of our yards".

She said: "Naval procurement will be part of that future but we need to do more to seek export work and diversify beyond naval orders alone. Other maritime countries, of similar size to Scotland, like Norway, support much bigger shipbuilding industries than Scotland."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "I deeply regret the job losses we've seen. It is a terrible blow for the workers and for their families.

"The priority now is to do everything we can to help those people find alternative employment and to help their families.

"We will be working with the Government to try and make that happen that's really important and a big priority.

"I do welcome the decision that's been made to preserve work both in Portsmouth and in Scotland.

"Britain has a proud shipbuilding past. We need a shipbuilding future for the Royal Navy."


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