THE Government has been accused of sabotaging the British coal industry after it turned down a bid for state aid to keep two of the country’s last remaining deep pit mines open.
In a written statement to parliament yesterday, Business Minister Matthew Hancock said a state aid funding bid to keep Kellingley and Nottinghamshire’s Thoresby Colliery open for another three years “is not affordable and does not represent value for money to the taxpayer”.
The announcement means the pit will close as part of a £4m “managed closure” plan already agreed.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has maintained throughout that the pit is profitable long-term and that state aid could keep it open.
General secretary Chris Kitchen said he felt “utterly dismayed” and “misled” by the Government.
UK Coal first approached the Government for support to keep running in December 2013, but was forced to ask for a loan to support closure when this did not come. A state aid application was also hampered, he said, by misinformation on eligibility.
We have been deliberately misled so they could drag their feet.Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers
He said: “We have been deliberately misled though this process so they could drag their feet until the costs were too high.”
Keith Hartshorne, NUM delegate at Kellingley and Yorkshire vice-chairman, who has worked at the pit since 1988, said: “The lads at Kellingley can leave the pit with their heads held high. They have done nothing to cause the closure of this pit.
“The people in power should hang their heads in shame after allowing this industry, that this country was built on, to die.”
He said Kellingley was still producing 40,000 tonnes of coal each week, but delaying the decision to provide state aid meant crucial work on a new seam hadn’t started.
He is also angry that the news was delivered in a written statement, rather than being announced in the Commons were questions could have been asked.
“That just sums up how we have been treated over the last 12 months, and if you want to get political, over the last 30 years,” he said. “The coal industry has been sabotaged.”
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and local MP Yvette Cooper met with Business Secretary Vince Cable on Monday to urge him to support Kellingley.
She said she was “bitterly disappointed” at the decision.
“We first called for this help a year ago, when the cost of keeping the pits open would have been four to five times lower,” she said.
“Yet Ministers refused to even look at proposals then. Investment in new faces has been frozen since last April so with every week that has gone by the face gap has grown and the cost has gone up.”
UK Coal first announced plans to close the pit in April, and a planned workforce buyout fell through in July.
In September, the company secured the ‘managed closure’ deal to ensure gradual job losses.
One state aid application would have seen the pit remain open until 2018, while another would have provided a further £10m in funding for the closure of the business. The latter has been agreed “in principle” by the Government.
Yesterday’s announcement included a pledge to meet UK Coal’s concessionary fuel obligations to its employees and support for staff looking for alternative jobs or re-training.