Political pressure to save Britain's last coal mines

Thoresby colliery

When King Coal ruled and dominated Britain's industrial landscape in the middle of the last century, there were 1,000 pits employing 750,000 miners.

Nottinghamshire - one of the most productive coalfields in Europe - had 47 collieries.

Thoresby pit in the heart of Sherwood Forest is all that remains of a once proud industrial tradition. Now Nottinghamshire's last colliery and the jobs of its 700 miners is in doubt.

That's because of a huge underground fire at a similar deep coal mine 60 miles further south.

Daw Mill Colliery in north Warwickshire has been forced to shut. Several hundred miners have been laid off.

It was the biggest mine owned by UK Coal, the country's largest coal producer. Daw Mill was its money-spinner.

UK Coal's chief executive Kevin McCullough is now battling to preserve the business.

Kevin McCullough UK Coal's chief executive Kevin McCullough said the priority was to save existing jobs

"Given it was the most furious blaze in 30 or 40 years of UK mining, we had no option but to close that mine permanently," he told me.

Coal still accounts for generating 40% of the country's electricity needs.

But uncertainty over the future of UK Coal has knock-on effects for Thoresby and at Kellingley in North Yorkshire, the firm's two other big mines.

Any rescue plan will affect the remaining workforce and the pensions of thousands of retired miners who used to work in the East Midlands coalfield.

Start Quote

I've worked out a loss of about £20,000 to £30,000 in my total pension”

End Quote Alan Bell Fitter, Thoresby Colliery

I met up with Alan Bell, who has worked at Thoresby as a fitter since he left school 40 years ago. He fears losing thousands of pounds from his works pension.

"It's really concerning," he said.

£360m funding gap

"I've worked out a loss of about £20,000 to £30,000 in my total pension. As far as retirement is concerned, it's a no-no now."

Andrew MacKenzie was fortunate after the blaze at Daw Mill to get a transfer to Thoresby. But he too worries about big reductions to his pension pot.

"Of course, we are angry but if you want a job, you've got to take a cut one way or another haven't you," he told me.

The closure of Daw Mill not only seriously affects the output of UK Coal but also its ability to continue funding its company pension scheme for its 6,800 members.

Industry experts estimate the funding gap could total £360m.

Mick Stevens Mick Stevens from Nottinghamshire's UDM wants the government to do more to help

Kevin McCullough is quite clear on his priorities now.

"We are doing our hardest to secure the existing jobs and benefits of our employees.

"Clearly a pension is a big part of that. It's not lost on us. That's why we are working with lots of departments in the government to safeguard that to the fullest extent we can."

Those talks with ministers include the possibility of Daw Mill and the pensions scheme being taken over by the government and the state-run Coal Authority.

If the pension scheme is bailed out by the government, payments to retired miners won't be nearly as generous.

Mick Stevens, the general secretary of the Nottinghamshire Union of Democratic Mineworkers, is pressing coalition ministers for an early decision.

"There's just too much uncertainty over jobs and the pension," he said.

Start Quote

Save what's left of the coal industry and nationalise it”

End Quote Dennis Skinner MP Labour, Bolsover

"The government and local MPs can do a lot more to help. We need more communication to get the assistance and not just talk."

In Parliament, Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner has raised his concerns over the very future of coal mining in this country.

Safeguard jobs

He warned it could cost the government up to £500m in pension and redundancy payments if UK Coal is no longer viable.

"It would make a lot of sense for this coalition government to save what's left of the coal industry and nationalise it," he told the House of Commons.

Kevin McCullough says the priority has to be saving existing jobs.

"The most important point is that we safeguard the 2,000 jobs we have and look after our creditors.

"We need to do that so we retain a viable mining business.

"Where that ends up is still not clear, but we are working very hard to get there."

There's been coal mining at Thoresby for 90 years.

One question now: will Nottinghamshire's remaining pit see out its centenary?

John Hess Article written by John Hess John Hess Political editor, East Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    What about the issue of restoring opencast sites if the Company goes bankrupt? This could affect 10 sites, 5 in Northumberland, 1 in Co Durham, 1 in Derbyshire 1 in Leicestershire at Minorca, 1 in Telford and 1 in Bolton. 8 of them are known to have some insurance to cover the cost of restoration - but if it is not en.


  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Considered a hackneyed, knee jerk, old leftie response to the demise of the coal industry but look no further than the Thatcher government desire to destroy the industry. They were so cleverley duplicitous in their planning even to the extent of supporting the doomed UDM Trojan Horse. Pinned all hope on gas with a foolhardy ignorance of the fact that it's more finite than coal. RIP UK coal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    400 letters is not enough to say why UK Coal has gone belly up. Suffice to say that everyone who is and has been associated with the company should look no further than the directors at Harworth Park whose sole priority was to line there own pockets first, and try to run a company 2nd. It really is jobs for the management boys at throesby and kellingley. The company should be investigated today,

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I'd like to see you stand in front of them all and say that! Assuming you have a direct involvement to daw mill which I doubt you do.If it was one of the other pits faced with this fire disaster would you be repping for the remaining pits to close? I doubt it. #bootontheotherfoot. I hope to god the daw mill men get what they are rightfully entitled to and make the best of an awful situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A FULL INVESTIGATION of UK coals mishandling of daw mill and the way men have been treated should be a priority someone should give us a voice not just throw us on the scrap heap we need someone to look in to the mishandling and miss management by company directors they seem to just to sit under the radar

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Reply to Sam so did the 600 men work hard who have been cast aside from Dawmill they to had young families and mortgages to pay and have been firmly landed on the dole and are now unable to get redundancy payments so as your husband can carry on going to work paying your mortgage yes and I do wish another 2000+ men out of work that's how it has made me a bitter person CLOSE THE LOT FINGERS CROSSED

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    My husband is a coal miner working damn hard to save his job and look after our young family.Those of you that say shut the pits you clearly dont have an ounce of common sense.Your wishing another 2000+ men out of work landing them firmly on the dole. I hope your husband/wives are never faced with the same prospect of being out of work wondering where your mortgage payments are going to come from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I believe fire at daw mill could have been prevented
    and could have been isolated
    all senior management from daw mill have been found jobs at other pits or paid off
    contractors given permanent jobs at Thoresby when uk coal workers are made redundant
    overtime been paid at premium rates when other miners are been laid off
    company was split up to protect investors NOT WORKERS ONE BIG FARCE

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What about the miners from daw mill who lost there jobs and redundancy. Stuff them that's what the other 2 pits say, I'm
    All right jack. The jobs on offer to transfer were jobs for the boy's. The interviews were a farce, still lots of overtime and contractors. HOPE THEY SHUT THE LOT....

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    why try and save the last two pits this will only make a few people rich and the miners will loose out on redundancies and pensions payments the industry should have been saved after Thatchers reign any miner who thinks their future is secure is living in dreamland the government should pay all the men off and close the industry before it becomes a bigger burden to the taxpayer not the directors

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    to late for the coal industry once again past and present directors will walk away laughing all the way to the bank
    what about the men from daw mill who will be left without a job or a pension? men who got a transfer to other pits were not taken on by merit only by having mates in the fold men are still working overtime at pits when other men are been laid off I hope they close all the lot Amen

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This was ordained when the bankers got their hands on all the real estate that British Coal owned on behalf of the nation. They never wanted to mine coal it was just that they had to take the deep mines so they could operate the open cast mines and of course get the land. It was sold to the bankers for a song. The restructuring by the bankers has once again proved their greed. And the miners????



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