Fife colliery could be reopened

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MINING Scotland, a consortium of Edinburgh financiers, trade unionists and a leading Glasgow lawyer, hinted yesterday that it would reopen the mothballed Frances Colliery in Fife if its bid to take over British Coal's Scottish assets is successful.

The suggestion came as the Government's adviser on coal privatisation, NM Rothschild, said the sale had attracted strong interest, with 18 companies bidding to buy one of the five regional packages on offer in Britain.

Keith Palmer, managing director of Rothschilds, said there were at least three bidders for each of the regions on offer. The preferred bidders will be named next month before completion of sales by the end of the year.

Three groups - the Nottinghamshire-based Budge Mining, ScotCoal headed by Lord Sanderson and Mining Scotland - are bidding for the Scottish package, which analysts say is worth between pounds 20m and pounds 35m.

The Mining Scotland tender marks only the second time that a union has put forward a bid in a Government privatisation. Leaders of the Scottish Trade Union Congress and the National Union of Mineworkers agreed to join forces with Edinburgh-based financiers Murray Johnstone, despite their opposition to the privatisation programme, because, they said, the consortium offered 'the best hope of safeguarding the future of deep mining in Scotland'.

Professor Ross Harper, the Glasgow lawyer who brought unions and the finance houses together, expressed anger that companies involved in the rival ScotCoal tender had lodged compensation claims of almost pounds 200m from British Coal for contracting difficulties in the run up to the sell-off. It is unclear whether Mining Scotland will have to meet the cost of claims if its bid is successful.