Earlier this month BAE Systems announced that it would discontinue shipbuilding operations in Portsmouth. The closure of the Portsmouth yard will allow BAE to consolidate its Scottish yards, Govan and Scotstoun (in Glasgow), which will be hopeful of building future frigates for the Navy. This decision, whilst perhaps unsurprising, has significant political and employment implications.
Jobs have been lost in both Portsmouth and Scotland as a result of the closure. Near to a thousand cuts are due to be made in Portsmouth whereas 800 of the 3,200 employees in Glasgow are to be let go. These latest figures are indicative of the all but defunct shipbuilding industry in the UK. At its peak Clydesdale shipbuilding supported 70,000 workers whereas UK yards are now somewhat reliant on MoD contracts in the face of fierce competition from the Far East.
Perhaps more interesting however, is how politicians have played the decision to discontinue Portsmouth-based operations as a gambit in the on-going debate concerning the referendum on Scottish independence. Normally, Glasgow would be the automatic choice for MoD contracts after 2016 but officials from both Westminster and Scotland have indicated that it is difficult to see government defence contracts going to Scotland, should the country become independent. MoD shipbuilding contracts have traditionally always been awarded to domestic contractors and an independent Scotland would class as a foreign country. The Coalition may yet continue to use the spectre of further job losses as a chess piece in the referendum.
Whilst the political ramifications are set to be interesting, a thought should also be spared for the yard in Portsmouth which closes after 800 years of shipbuilding and at its peak, had 23,000 workers.