PONTEFRACT and Castleford Labour MP Yvette Cooper has accused the Government and UK Coal of betraying the miners who will man the remaining shifts at Britain’s last deep coal mine, Kellingley Colliery.
The miners will receive statutory redundancy pay capped at £14,250 once Kellingley shuts, a fraction of what their forebears have received during the many rounds of redundancies that have taken place since the pit closure programmes that began in the 1980s.
Ms Cooper also believes the Government and UK Coal should have done more to assist the workforce at Kellingley prepare for new careers outside mining.
Speaking in a debate in the House of Commons, Ms Cooper said: “Kellingley has not been given the same sorts of training opportunities that Selby got when it closed.
“Miners need more skills training, retraining courses and support to be able to get new jobs in an area where skilled work is still too scarce.
“Support also has to be made available for our communities, because the pit has been at the heart of the community for so long. Kellingley club is now at risk, and the communities that depend on the coal industry are also being undermined by the last pit closure.
“I ask the Minister to look seriously at what more support can be given to the Kellingley miners. They have worked so hard to save the Government money, to support UK Coal and Kellingley, and to keep the pit open, but they feel that all they are getting in return is a kick in the teeth.
“When Margaret Thatcher closed the pits in the 1980s on a massive scale, even she made sure that the miners got full redundancy pay and pensions. When Michael Heseltine closed pits in the 1990s, he made sure that miners got full redundancy pay and pensions.
“When the Prince of Wales and Selby pits closed under the Labour Government, we made sure that the miners got not just redundancy pay and pension support, but retraining, the coalfield regeneration taskforce and support for communities as well.
“What miners are getting now under this Tory Government is the worse deal of all, so I urge the Minister to look at it again - not to blame this on the market or on UK Coal, but for the Government and UK Coal together to provide the miners, who have worked so hard and helped both UK Coal and the Government, with the support and the recognition that they deserve.”
Ms Cooper added: “We fought for two years to try to keep Kellingley open. We sought alternative investors.
“We campaigned for the EU state aid that could have opened new faces and accessed new and rich reserves, and yet the Government deliberately dragged their feet, pushed costs up, and let us down.
“Closing Kellingley will not cut Britain’s carbon emissions; all it will do is make us more dependent on imported coal. We campaigned too for clean coal technology - carbon capture and storage at Drax - that could have not just supported Kellingley but security of supply here in Britain.
“It had the potential to cut carbon emissions, to be a great export all over the world, and to cut energy bills here at home, and yet the Government have pulled the plug.
“Ferrybridge is set to close in a few months’ time, again years before it needs to, so we will lose more skilled jobs. Experts are raising concern that that capacity has been cut so far that it is likely, in the short term, to be filled instead by smaller diesel energy plants, which are far dirtier than the big power stations that they replace.”
Nigel Adams, the Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty in whose constituency Kellingley sits, has praised the work done by Jobcentre Plus this year in providing careers advice to the colliery’s staff.
“Its team need to be recognised for the effort they have put in during the past year, since the closure was announced,” he said. “Last week, they were on site hosting an employers forum, similar to a jobs fair that I hosted in October, which was well attended by local employers seeking staff.
“Several leads from my jobs fair have been fed into Jobcentre Plus for follow-up. I have helped workers at Kellingley to get alternative employment, and I am very keen that that should continue as we move towards the closure.
“The team had another on-site event in October, and they were there in June and July as well. They provide help with writing CVs and training advice regarding grants and courses.
“The one thing we do not yet know is how many miners have secured jobs; such information might put their redundancy pay-offs at risk, so I understand the sensitivities about that.”
Mr Adams has also urged the Government to do more to help with retraining.
“In the past couple of years the Government have put in almost £20 million to UK Coal. I had a meeting with the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise to discuss compensation and retraining packages, and she has promised to look carefully into that crucial issue,” he said.
“I see little distinction between coal miners from Kellingley colliery and steelworkers. I know that the steelworkers were thrown out of work rather quickly, but we must look after these people. Part of the £20 million was to ensure that staff received proper compensation, and I hope the Minister will ensure that that happens.”