Former Yorkshire miner ‘sickened and disgusted’ as government decide not to give £4.5bn in pension scheme back to former coal pit workers

A former Yorkshire miner has said he’s ‘sickened and disgusted’ at a government decision not to return any of the £4.5bn in pension contributions to former coal pit workers.

Dave Douglass

Dave Douglass, former Hatfield Main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary, said the move was ‘the robbery of all pension robberies’ and urged the government to change tack.

The former NUM stalwart also hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said the decision could undo a lot of gains the Tory party made in so-called ‘Red Wall seats’ in South Yorkshire and the north east if he doesn’t change course.

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The former Doncaster miner said Labour’s position on handing the £1.2bn surplus to miners was a ‘good start’ but feels all of the money should be returned to former pit workers.

The government has received around £4.4bn from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme as a result of the arrangement set up in 1994.

This gives 50 per cent of any surplus to the Treasury, and according to the BEIS Select Committee, the government is due to receive almost £2bn more including £1.2bn from the Investment Reserve Fund.

The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme has around 152,000 members including hundreds in Doncaster.

The current average pension for former miners in the scheme is around £84 a week, and over half of members receive less than the average pension, say Labour figures.

Labour is continuing to call on the government to return the £1.2bn reserve fund to pensioners and change the surplus sharing agreement to give more to former miners.

According to estimates by the National Union of Miners, returning the £1.2bn to members of the scheme would equate to £14 per week uplift for members on the average pension of £84 per week, or £728 a year.

During the 2019 general election campaign, when asked about the mineworkers’ pension scheme, Boris Johnson said: “We will make sure that all their cash is fully protected and returned. I have looked into it and we will ensure that’s done.”

But Labour said he has failed to keep that promise.

“I’m sickened and disgusted at the decision, it’s our money,” Mr Douglass said.

“I’ve read the All Party Parliamentary Committee’s report which says quite correctly that is it not the job of government to make money out of the miners’ pension.

“We were expecting at the very least that the investment fund, a contingency fund of £1.2bn would go back into our fund. Now, that was the very minimum I’m campaigning for the return of all of the money that they’ve taken out of the pension fund.

“It’s the robbery of all pension robberies. It’s disgusting. I can’t quite believe what’s happening. I don’t know what gives them the legal or moral right to tell us what to do with the money we’ve invested.

Asked what he would say to the Prime Minister who made a promise to miners on the pension question, Mr Douglass added: The Prime Minister on the campaign trail said he would make sure that the miners would get justice on their pension.

“I’d say to Mr Johnson if you want to continue your successes in the north, he needs to seriously address the question of the robbery of the miners’ pension fund. It would be great kudos for him if he decides to right this wrong.”

In a letter to the committee, energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said there were numerous examples of pension schemes that had been ‘unable to meet their basic obligations, let alone increase’.

“The government continues to believe the arrangement agreed in 1994 was fair and beneficial to both scheme members and taxpayers,” she wrote. “Scheme members have rightly shared in the benefits but the government has taken on all the risk.”

But the Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband, who is also Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, said: “This is an appalling response from the government.

“Rather than act to right an historic wrong, they have doubled down on an unjust arrangement that will see more than a billion pounds extra taken from retired miners’ pensions by the Chancellor.

“Boris Johnson personally promised during the election campaign to tackle this injustice, and has broken that promise today. The message from this government is that they will betray the promises they make to coalfield areas. Labour would do the right thing and return what’s due back to miners.

“This would make a significant difference now to retired miners and their families. It is what fairness and justice demands. It is clear now that it will only happen with a Labour government.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme members are receiving payments 33 per cent higher than they would have been thanks to the government’s guarantee.

“On most occasions, the scheme has been in surplus, and scheme members have received bonuses in addition to their guaranteed pension.

“We remain resolutely committed to protecting the pensions of mineworkers, but do not accept the committee’s recommendations strike a fair balance between scheme members and taxpayers.”