Beyond Portsmouth Royal Dockyard

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A New Era

Obituary from The Times
Obituary from The Times (RNM)

On 1 October 1984 Portsmouth Royal Dockyard became the Royal Navy's Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation (FMRO). The "dockyard matey" transformed overnight into a "frimrose", as they light-heartedly called themselves. FMRO's role focussed on refit, repair and maintenance of the Fleet.

FMRO logo
FMRO logo (RNM)

Initially there were teething problems with FMRO. Listen to Mr Bendell in the oral history extract below who explains how numbers were cut too much in some instances leading to the introduction of contractors and the problems that caused:

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"So we were in there, we had a destroyer, had to be retubed, we didn't have enough boilermakers to do it so they send contractors in. They went down there, they didn't know how to cut a tube out. Of course me being a union man said don't show them, don't show them, they come here to do that job, let them do it. Made our position better, but no, one or two slid over, they showed them how to cut out for

Interviewer: A backhander?

Yes. But you couldn't prove it, couldn't prove it"

The story of the Dockyard does not end with FMRO. The last 15 years of the 20th century witnessed a continual evolution in the Dockyard. The heritage area was created around number 1 basin. The historic ships HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose came into the yard as tourist attractions. The Royal Naval Museum, Action Stations and Harbour Boat Tours provide context and interpretation for the ships, technology and the Dockyard itself.

Historic Dockyard
Historic Dockyard (B. Patterson)

In February 1998 Fleet Support Limited (FSL), a company formed by BAE Systems and Vosper Thornycroft (VT), took over from FMRO. The Royal Navy became a customer by privatising the Dockyard and VT a contractor. This meant the Royal Navy no longer had overall control of the Dockyard. This graph illustrates the numbers of workers in the Dockyard at the time.

Graph showing number of workers
Graph showing number of workers (RNM)

Listen to this oral history extract to find out how different the yard felt:

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"There was loads and loads of work. I think, when I came here there must have been over 20,000 men in here. It was always a thing that you could never walk from one end of the Dockyard to the other in a day because you'd see so many people that you knew that you know, you used to have to try to get up there without. If you wanted to get there in a hurry, whereas today you would actually walk up there with your eyes blind-folded and you wouldn't even hit anybody.

Listen to the oral history extract below to hear about the impact the change from FMRO to FSL had on the Dockyard workers."

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"FSL is Fleet Support Limited, which is a conglomerate of Vosper Thornycroft and GEC, which have formed this company called FSL, Fleet Support Limited, which is purely to run Portsmouth Naval Base. The Base will still be owned by the government but it will be run by the private firm. So far as the change over has affected us at the moment obviously we will no longer come under the civil service, so our pensions will have to be - we've got choices with what to do with our pensions, whether to freeze them or to put them into the new pension scheme of FSL...And one of the things that has really worried everybody in here is a system that they call annualised hours, which means that to cover peaks and troughs of work, rather than having a period when it's quiet and everybody coming in with nothing to do and then when it's busy everybody doing loads of overtime, they would be sending people home for periods when there's not much work,. They're saying you have to be in for say 20 hours a week minimum then when there's a lot of work you would be in for say 60 hours a week. It might be compulsory that you work Saturday and Sunday, where at the moment that's voluntary and of course that's overtime but on this way your hours will be compensated for by not working very much for 2 or 4 weeks and then having to work all week and all weekend."

In 2003 VT Shipbuilding signed a 125 year lease and now occupies over 33 acres within Portsmouth Naval Base. VT signed a contract with BAE Systems to work together on the first six Type 45 Destroyer warships. VT Shipbuilding brought modern technology, such as robotic welders, into the Dockyard updating some of the trades.

Robot arm
Robot arm (VT)

Not only that, but on 7 September 2006, the first ship to be built in Portsmouth Dockyard in over 30 years was launched - HMS Clyde.

HMS Clyde and Bow Section of HMS Dauntless
HMS Clyde and bow section of HMS Dauntless (VT)