Consortium is formed to bid for British Coal

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The Independent Online
EAST Midlands Electricity has joined forces with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to bid for all or part of British Coal. The consortium, advised by Kleinwort Benson, is also seeking two other major companies to join it.

The buyout team includes George Guise, a former director of Consolidated Goldfields, and Dickson Mabon, an energy minister in the last Labour government.

East Midlands Electricity said it intended to be a strategic, but not dominant, partner. A company spokesman said: 'We are not interested in running the coal industry.' Although employees would participate in any buyout, they would not necessarily run the privatised company.

The Union of Democratic Mineworkers has already told the Government it would like to see miners owning 10 per cent of the industry after the sale, with a further 10 per cent in the form of share options.

The consortium favours a split of the industry into two equal companies, each owning deep pits and opencast mines. But the spokesman said it would respond to the Government's proposals, whatever the final structure of the sale.

Ministers have not even addressed the issue of the shape of the privatised industry, although the sale is scheduled for next year, because British Coal has yet to agree future contracts with the electricity industry, on which its survival depends.

National Power and PowerGen, British Coal's main customers, are expected to cut their coal purchases from 65 million tonnes this year to 40 million tonnes next and 30 million thereafter. The result could be the closure of about 30 of the 50 deep mines currently open. 'Whatever the final size of the coal industry it still has a future,' the East Midlands spokesman said.

It is believed that the sale of single pits has been ruled out by government advisers, as isolated mines would be too risky to run as a business. This would thwart the aspirations of many miners who would like to bid for the collieries in which they work.