JOHN Denham is calling for the Minister for Portsmouth to fight for jobs for Southampton as well – or be dismissed as a “political stunt”.
The Itchen MP says business chiefs are baffled by the appointment, when the two cities are effectively “one economy”, with growing links.
Now Mr Denham has written to David Cameron to urge him to expand the role of Michael Fallon, the man appointed to be Minister for Portsmouth, two weeks ago.
And he said: “I’ve been talking to business leaders and there’s a very strong feeling that what we need is a minister to look at the economy of the whole of the Solent area.
“There’s a worry that this is being done because the Government – which is closing the Portsmouth shipyard and taking work to Glasgow – needs to be seen to do something.
“But it’s one economy these days, from Portsmouth across to Southampton, from one end of the M27 to the other and the places along it.
“Also, 400 of the people losing their jobs at the shipyard have Southampton postcodes and we have had major job losses at Ford, as well.
“If this idea is serious, and not just a political stunt, we need to create the opportunity for job creation in Southampton as well.”
Michael Fallon, the Conservative business minister, has been sent to Portsmouth on a mission to help the city recover from the loss of 1,000 shipbuilding jobs.
The move had echoes of 1981, when Margaret Thatcher sent Michael Heseltine to Liverpool to lead a programme of urban regeneration following the Toxteth riots.
But the prime minister came under fire after it emerged he had explicitly rejected similar special help for |the north east, England’s poorest region.
Meanwhile, the idea was also panned from within the Cabinet for a different reason, |when Business Secretary Vince Cable branded it “tokenism”.
But Mr Cable, a Liberal Democrat, said: “I’m the real minister for Portsmouth. I go there, I |talk to the |city council| and the local enterprise partnership.”
In opposition, Mr Cameron pledged to appoint a string of “city ministers”, to replace Labour’s regional ministers, but the idea was quickly dropped.
The prime minister strongly defended Mr Fallon’s remit, telling MPs: “The appointment of a Minister for Portsmouth will make a big difference.
“It is good news that the youth claimant count has fallen so quickly in Portsmouth, but we must stick to the economic plan and keep delivering for Portsmouth.”