BAE Systems denied reports that it will close the Portsmouth dockyard, which would threaten up to 3,000 jobs in the area, deeming the news as “speculation”.
The Sunday Times reported on the potential closure yesterday, after it emerged that in late 2011 BAE Systems hired a management consultancy, LEK Consulting, to review its UK operations, including the shipbuilding unit.
Ships have been built in Portsmouth for centuries, and the city’s dockyard is now preparing to start working on the hull of the HMS Prince of Wales next month. While the defence giant insisted that work will take place as planned, the Sunday Times reported that it failed to comment on whether operations would be moved to the Clyde dockyard in the future.
The company has shipbuilding operations in the Clyde, at Scotstoun and Govan, and Portsmouth. Shutting down the South East England site could axe up to 3,000 jobs (1,500 people work at the dockyard, another 1,500 are in support operations), end a 500-year tradition, and cost UK taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, because a section of the contract forces the MoD to shoulder the expense of the site closing.
The deal between BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence was signed in mid-2009, and guarantees work through its 15-year duration.
A BAE spokesperson said: “As part of our business planning activity, we are reviewing how best to retain the capability to deliver and support complex warships in the UK in the future. This work is ongoing and we will keep our employees and trade union representatives fully informed as it progresses.”
The company added that no choice has been made yet. Many seem to believe there is no future for the Portsmouth dockyard once the current aircraft carrier are completed, with work moving to Asia and no new orders in sight.
The Unite union said the news would be “deeply unsettling for the people of Portsmouth”. Ian Waddell, national officer, commented: “BAE must meet with the unions as a matter of urgency to discuss all solutions for saving the workforce. Equally, the government has a role to play.”