Prime Minister vows to try to preserve jobs in mining

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Prime Minister David Cameron has promised the Government will do ‘everything we can’ to help preserve jobs after Britain’s largest coal producer announced plans to close two of the country’s three remaining deep-pit coal mines over in the next 18 months.

UK Coal is consulting on plans to shut Kellingley in North Yorkshire, which employs 700 people, and Thoresby in north Nottinghamshire, which employs 600.

It will leave employee-owned Hatfield colliery in South Yorkshire as Britain’s last remaining deep-pit mine.

Jobs are also likely to go at UK Coal’s head office in Doncaster.

Mr Cameron said: We are talking to the company, we are talking to other businesses related to this company.

“We will do everything we can to help them.”

He added: “There are obviously limits. This is taxpayers’ money that is involved. But we will work with them as closely as we can.

“I am in the business of trying to save jobs, of making sure we have diverse supplies of energy, so if I can help I will help. We want to do everything we can to keep people in their jobs, to keep businesses going.”

Mr Cameron said discussions were already under way, but added: “There are limits to what we can do because you are not allowed to just wilfully spend taxpayers’ money helping particular businesses.

“If there are things that we can do, if there is bridging finance that we can make available, then we will look at that very, very closely.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper and unions called on ministers to help try to rescue the sites.

The firm is hoping to secure an emergency cash injection of up to £20 million through a combination of funding from the Government and the private sector but will still need to make the cutbacks even if it succeeds.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper and unions called on ministers to help try to rescue the sites.

Ms Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, a neighbouring constituency to Kellingley, said: “I think this is really troubling.

“We have fought many times to keep Kellingley Colliery open before and we’ve always succeeded. But we really need to stand together again at a time when we’ve got jobs at risk but also the whole of the remaining deep mine coal industry at a time when we need jobs but also we need to maintain that diverse energy supply.”

The TUC claims the Government will provide a £10 million loan towards the £20 million cost of closing the mines, with a loss of tax and national insurance contributions to the Treasury of around £30 million a year.

It argues that closures will make the UK more dependent on Russian and other foreign-sourced coal, weakening the security of energy supply, and is putting forward an alternative rescue plan which it says will cost £50 million to £60 million

The TUC says it is challenging an argument by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that under European rules it cannot provide state aid, and that it has obtained clarification on the issue from the European Commission.

Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: “There is no economic case for the UK taxpayer to pay more to close pits than to keep them open.

“The commission says there is no obstacle in providing modest help. All it would take to secure thousands of good jobs is a commitment from this Government.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government should back help to keep Britain’s last coal mines open.

“This would be good for jobs, communities and for the environment as such assistance could help drive investment in carbon capture and storage, for which there is a growing international market.”

A DECC spokesman said: “The future of UK Coal is primarily a commercial matter. However, we are in close contact with the company to ensure that Government is kept aware of the challenges they face.”

UK Coal, which provides 4% of the UK’s electricity needs, has been hit by a strong pound and the increasing availability of cheap coal imports - especially from the US, where the shale gas boom has forced producers to find new international markets.

UK Coal is seeking between £10 million and £20 million to carry on operating and is understood to be in advanced talks over the funding, which it hopes to secure in the next few weeks. But this will involve winding down deep-pit operations.