Fresh pit closures will halve workforce

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AN ANNOUNCEMENT of mass pit closures, halving British Coal's workforce, will be made before the end of the month, according to a letter leaked via the National Union of Mineworkers to the Coalfields Communities Campaign.

The letter, from Tim Sainsbury, industry minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, to Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is dated 1 September and lists 30 targeted pits employing 25,512 people.

Worst affected areas are the East Midlands, dominated by the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, where 12 pits are named, and Yorkshire, which will lose 10. The list was apparently drawn up in early August as it includes six pits where closures have already been announced.

The letter appears to dash hopes that vast sums would be pumped into the affected areas. Although the Government is likely to have to find almost pounds 700m in redundancy payments at pounds 27,000 a worker, Mr Sainsbury makes it clear that he is not expecting the Treasury to produce additional funds to soften the blow, though it is possible that the EC will offer help.

'A number of measures will certainly be of some help, but nothing which can be presented as appropriate to the serious problems the coalfields will face,' Mr Sainsbury writes.

The wave of closures would leave British Coal with just 20 pits and 28,000 staff, compared with 50 pits and 53,000 people now and 169 pits and 220,000 workers in the mid-Eighties. It is a drastic response to the expected collapse in sales to its main customers, the electricity generators.

Kevan Hunt, British Coal's employee relations director, said yesterday: 'The fact that there needs to be a substantial realignment in British Coal's capacity to reflect future demand is well known.' The DTI said it never commented on 'alleged leaked documents'.

The supply negotiations are likely to be signed within the next three weeks. They are at present being held up by objections from three of the regional electricity companies, which are worried about the knock-on effect of the new arrangements.

However, the big loser will be British Coal, which will see its guaranteed deliveries to National Power and PowerGen fall from 65 million tonnes a year to 45 million and eventually 30 million.