Mark Leftly: MPs dig for the truth and prepare for a crackdown on mining companies

Westminster Outlook

For platinum miners, South Africa remains a dangerous place. In August 2012, 34 workers were shot dead by police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, north of Johannesburg, following a wildcat strike.

A few weeks ago, members of Parliament’s Business Select Committee, on a fact-finding mission to the country, were instructed by the Foreign Office that sites belonging to Lonmin and Anglo American should still be considered off-limits. They were told violence and tensions remain, particularly ahead of the country’s May general election, while a strike that has reduced the world’s platinum output by 40 per cent is into its tenth week.

The committee, led by chairman Adrian Bailey, is in the midst of quietly investigating extractive industries – miners, oil and gas producers – and wanted to find what is happening on the ground in one of the sector’s most important but troubled markets.  Although mine visits were restricted, what the MPs discovered on this trip could have an enormous impact on the mining groups that are now such regulars at the top of the FTSE 100, such as Glencore, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange asks companies to produce a social responsibility index. This measures what the exchange describes as the “three pillars of the triple bottom line” – environmental, economic and social sustainability.

This is particularly pertinent for mining groups due to the inherent dangers of working far underground and the energy-burning nature of the industry.

Some members of the committee are minded to introduce something similar specifically for mining and oil and gas groups on the FTSE 100. However, they want to avoid this becoming a “tick-box” exercise, overseen by savvy communications gurus, so the idea would be for the index to be mandatory rather than voluntary.

That the mining sector – which has been so badly scarred by corporate governance and financial scandals at Bumi and Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation in recent years – has caught the attention of a powerful group of politicians who can cover any aspect of business it sees fit is instructive.

Of course, it does not follow that a select committee recommendation becomes a law or regulation, but the conclusions will be noted by lawmakers and regulators.

This inquiry has been run fairly quietly thus far, but miners should be under no illusions that they are about to face huge regulatory upheavals in the wake of the sector’s many recent scandals.

Wait for the bombshell news on the big nuclear clean-up

 Late on Monday morning, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will reveal which of four consortiums has been selected to clean up nine sites that hosted Magnox reactors. These were the first generation of British nuclear reactors, dating back to the 1950s, and are now all but obsolete.

What’s remarkable is how little media attention this competition has attracted. Detoxifying nuclear sites is, after all, one of the most delicate, complicated jobs in industry, while the overall contract is worth around £7bn over 14 years.

The official line is that no-one can possibly know which consortium has been selected because the process has been run so tightly.

But leaks, even nuclear ones, are hard to suppress and the smart money is on the incumbent, private equity-owned Energy Solutions retaining the contract. The Salt Lake City-based group is backed up this time by Bechtel, the mighty US engineering behemoth that has tried to run everything this side of the pond from major rail infrastructure, like High Speed Two, to great swathes of the Ministry of Defence. 

In December 2012 we reported the outcry as Bechtel was allowed to bid for the Magnox contract, given allegations about the group’s work on US nuclear sites. This included a leaked memo from Department of Energy director Gary Brunson, who accused Bechtel of 34 failings at one plant and claimed it was “not competent to complete” its clean-up role.

If the NDA does go for Bechtel, expect this contract to finally hit the headlines, as union leaders and environmental campaigners start spitting blood.

Don’t trust Farage and his Euro woe over the Quo

 Unbelievably, Nick Clegg let Nigel Farage get away with this absurd lie in their tamely-contested, televised confrontation over the EU this week: “This debate is between a tired status quo defending a crumbling EU that frankly isn’t working any more, and a fresh approach that says, ‘let’s not be governed by their institutions’.”

As Mr Farage is surely aware, the Quo are far from tired: they are still rockin’ all over the world, from Wolverhampton Civic Hall to Ijsselhallen, arguably the premier conference centre in the Zwolle municipality of the Netherlands.

Fronted by Catford caterwauler Francis Rossi, the soft rock yet hard-hitting band have even secured a crafty commercial tie-up with Wychwood Brewery. “Two legends collide”, Wychwood tells us, to create Piledriver, a 4.3 per cent ale with a label that features a gorilla brandishing a Status Quo missile – presumably used to defend the “crumbling EU”.

Mr Farage is well-known for his fondness for a pint, so if we can’t trust him on the beer-brewing Status Quo, how on earth can we believe him on Europe?

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album