AN EMPLOYEE buy-out which could have kept one of Yorkshire’s last remaining deep pit coal mines open until 2020 has been shelved by the National Union of Mineworkers.
The union claims that UK Coal, which announced plans for an 18-month closure of Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire in April, with the loss of 700 jobs, made the buy-out “unviable” by saying it would have to take on the debts of its second deep-pit, Thoresby in Nottinghamshire.
But the company branded the union’s plan “woeful” and said they failed to take proper financial advice when putting together the buy-out proposal.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, whose constituency neighbours the pit, has called for the Government to step in to try to save the pit long-term, but for the union, the fight is over.
Keith Hartshorne, NUM delegate for Kellingley, said 720 workers had each pledged £2,000 and a ten per cent pay cut to fund the buy-out, which would have kept the pit open for six years.
He said “significant millions” had been added to the cost of taking on the business, rendering the plan unviable.
“I’m very disappointed,” Mr Hartshorne said. “But I can leave here with my head held high knowing I’ve done my level best to keep this mine open.”
UK Coal spokesman Andrew Macintosh said the company had tried to advise the union to take sound financial advice on its plan but they had “buried their heads in the sand” and failed to come up with firm evidence of investment.
He accused the union of misleading members on the cost of liabilities that would have to be met. He told The Yorkshire Post: “Union members at Kellingley should be asking serious questions about the lack of expertise in putting this together, why critical advice was ignored and how much was spent on this.”
UK Coal is now pushing ahead with the closure plan and the company yesterday met with new Energy Minister Matthew Hancock to try to move it forward.
In April, then-Energy Minister Michael Fallon pledged a loan of £10m to fund the 18-month closure of the two pits, which was backed by £10m from the private sector. The plan was put into doubt in June when mining group Hargreaves Services, who had put forward half the private cash, pulled out.
But following an upturn in production, reduced costs, and negotiating with creditors, funding the closure has significantly reduced, to £7.5m, UK Coal said.
A Government spokesman said the cash remained on the table and that it was continuing to do “everything it can to help in this challenging and unique situation.”
He added: “We are open to exploring viable proposals put forward by any parties, but any use of taxpayers’ money will of course need to represent value for money.”
Yvette Cooper, who is still fighting to keep the pit open, said the “clock was ticking” and urgent action from Ministers and UK coal management was needed for Kellingley to have a future.
She said that improved profitability at the pit showed a case for keeping it open, especially in the light of the 300 million Euro investment in clean coal technology at nearby Drax Power Station.
“Security of coal supply” should also be considered, as 40 per cent of the country’s coal imports come from Russia.
She added: “This is a terrible time to close down the British coal industry - especially when so many imports depend on Russia.”
Meanwhile, miners who face losing their jobs were still at work yesterday.
Nigel Kemp, 48, who has worked at Kellingley for 32 years, said he was “devastated” the buy out had failed. He said: “I have no confidence in the government stepping in to help.”
NUM Kellingleyy branch secretary Keith Poulson said decades of experience and skill would be lost when the pit closed.
Wearing a ‘coal not dole’ t-shirt, he said: “We’ve been in fear of our jobs since 1984 and I thought we’d turned a corner. But this is the final nail in the coffin.”