Obituary: Kevan Hunt

AS HEAD of Industrial Relations at the National Coal Board, Kevan Hunt held one of the most difficult management jobs in post-war Britain.

He assumed responsibility for industrial relations at a critical period of the year-long miners' strike of 1984-85, and then undertook the job of making thousands of miners redundant in preparation for privatisation. Had he been a convinced Thatcherite, both tasks would have been undertaken with relish. However Hunt was no hard-line monetarist and he never forgot his humble origins in the industry; he had begun his career as a colliery electrician in Derbyshire.

Hunt felt like "piggy in the middle" between the Thatcher government, which harboured an ideological passion to defeat the left-led National Union of Mineworkers, and the revolutionary socialism of Arthur Scargill, its leader. During that bitter struggle, in which many mineworkers lost their homes and others saw their families split apart under the pressure, Hunt would privately express his intense frustration with the obduracy of both the government and the leadership of the NUM. He succeeded Ned Smith as head of industrial relations in 1985, just over halfway through the dispute.

The strike took its toll on Hunt. There were prolonged periods of intense activity, often under the glare of the world's media. There was the consciousness that he was a key player in one of the most important periods in post- war British history and there was the realisation that the future of many thousands of miners and their families was partly in his hands. At one stage he believed the great conflict - which saw some of the most oppressive policing in peacetime modern Britain - was near to resolution. The opportunity ebbed away however and Hunt admitted weeping in frustration. He was, he said, "bloody distraught" at the time.

Hunt did not allow his concern for the industry and its employees to interfere with his strongly pragmatic approach. He was a clever, hard- nosed negotiator and often appeared abrasive to those he faced across the table. To ordinary mineworkers Hunt would have appeared as something of an ogre, although they cast most senior managers in such a role. All coal board employees knew was that he was the man who helped to preside over an industrial relations cataclysm and what they saw as the virtual destruction of the industry. In the early 1980s coalmining employed 200,000; today the figure is nearer 10,000.

His single-minded approach to dealing with union negotiators was tempered by his sense of humour. He had the capacity to go toe-to-toe with the trade unionist and then immediately afterwards inquire quite genuinely about their well-being. After the strike Hunt was never to face Arthur Scargill over a bargaining table because the NUM leader refused to negotiate alongside the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, a breakaway organisation which helped to defeat the strike.

If Hunt was responsible for helping to contract the industry - although he fought tooth and nail to keep some collieries open - he was anxious to help ameliorate the impact of the policy on miners and those who relied on collieries. As head of industrial relations from 1985 to 1988, and then as a director of the board until 1991, he attempted to ensure proper financial compensation for redundant pitmen and retraining for those who wanted it. From 1993 to 1996 he was chairman of British Coal Enterprise and helped to involve the private and public sector in the creation of 130,000 jobs in areas affected by colliery closures.

He was active in attempting to regenerate industry in other parts of the country through his presidency of the Prince's Youth Business Trust in Nottinghamshire and through membership of government regeneration agencies. After his retirement the World Bank sought his help in restructuring coal industries in Eastern Europe and Russia. People associated with him in these endeavours tell how senior business people and major players in the public services would always attempt to be at meetings when Hunt was in attendance. They realised that he had been at the "sharp end" of an industry during one of its most turbulent periods.

It was the miners' strike which tested the mettle of the man. Only the far left in the NUM painted him as little better than their sworn enemies in the Thatcher government. Hunt was particularly hurt to receive a letter from Arthur Scargill on his retirement which accused him of relishing the destruction of the industry. Scargill expressed delight at his departure.

Kevan Hunt might have pursued a career in politics. He was a member of the Amber Valley District Council for 12 years and was its leader for three years until 1976 when he moved to the coal board's industrial relations department in London. In later years he was able to go back to his roots, spending more time with former Derbyshire miners with whom he felt quite at home.

His inability to come to terms with Conservative governments, both during and after the strike, cost him a place in the honours list. Last year, however, he became a member of the Royal Victorian Order for his attempts to regenerate the old coalmining communities and for his youth work. Most trade unionists and management colleagues saw not only as a hard-headed manager, but as a warm and generous person.

It was during a medical examination towards the end of his career at the coal board that the leukaemia was diagnosed which led to his death.

Kevan Hunt, industrial relations manager: born Seaham Harbour, Co Durham 13 October 1937; HQ Industrial Relations Director, National Coal Board (renamed British Coal 1987) 1982-84, IR Deputy Director-General 1984-85, Head of IR 1985-88, Executive Director 1988-91; chairman, British Coal Enterprise 1993-96; MVO 1998; married 1958 Valerie Scattergood (two sons); died Derby 17 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea