Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to see defence investment in Plymouth for the ‘next 30 to 40 years’ as well as a commitment to shipbuilding in the city.
The leader of the opposition was in Plymouth today (April 7) supporting Plymouth Labour’s local election campaign, and will be knocking on doors alongside MP Luke Pollard.
The Labour leader is also met with representatives of the GMB trade union who work at Devonport.
You can recap our live blog of the event here.
Sir Keir’s visit comes as the party leader pledges to back the “British-built-by-default” campaign, urging ministers to give greater protection to UK jobs by favouring British defence manufacturers over buying military equipment from abroad.
Starmer says he supports frigates being built in Plymouth
Questions remain about how much work will come to Plymouth as new Type 26 and Type 31 frigates come into service over the coming years.
Eight Type 26 frigates are to be based in the city after years of campaigning by city MPs.
First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin has said that by the early 2030s the Royal Navy’s ambition is to have up to 24 frigates and destroyers.
But where the new generation of frigates will be refitted has not yet been confirmed, despite a Defence White Paper announced last month.
HMS Portland is towards the final stages of her refit.
Devonport Dockyard could face competition from BAE in Portsmouth and Babcock’s own yard at Rosyth.
But when asked whether refit work for the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates could take place in Plymouth, he responded: “Yes it could. We’ve got the skills and ambition here and the history here.
“So of course it should be done, and there’s a lot of work going on to make sure Plymouth is absolutely fit for the shipbuilding of all sorts. We shouldn’t limit this, so I absolutely support it.”
Labour Party want to see investment in Plymouth
Sir Keir told PlymouthLive that the Labour Party wants to see investment in defence in Plymouth spanning across the next 30 to 40 years.
“There are apprentices here learning the skills for the future. We the Labour Party want to see investment in Plymouth in defence not just for the next year or two, or three or four, but actually for the next 30 or 40 years.”
The leader went on to discuss Plymouth’s freeport status.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced last month that Plymouth’s bid to be one of the Government’s tax-free freeports has been successful.
According to the government, freeports are “secure customs zones” that are located at ports where business can be carried out inside a country’s land border, but where different customs rules apply.
Typically, items brought into a freeport do not have a requirement to pay duties until they leave the freeport and enter the domestic market – and there are no duties on the items at all if the product is re-exported.
Ultimately, freeports support jobs, trade and investment in a particular area and serve as “humming hubs” for high-quality manufacturing, the titans of trans-shipment and warehouses for wealth-creating goods and services, the government says.
Sir Keir said: “We’ve been talking to the city council leader about that [freeports] this morning.
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“Clearly there’s been a plan for Plymouth that’s been in the pipeline for sometime which didn’t depend on the freeport but now the freeport will be brought into that plan which, it looks to me, will work well for Plymouth.
“What I would say is I don’t think freeports on their own are a silver bullet, because what we need is a plan, not just in Plymouth, not just in the South West but across the entire United Kingdom is proper strategy for all places in the United Kingdom and investment and resources to go with it.
“But I think here in Plymouth, if I know anything about Plymouth, the people of Plymouth, the communities of Plymouth and the city council in Plymouth they will do everything to make that work.”