MBO at Coal Investments

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The Independent Online
THE 33-year-old company secretary of the collapsed mining firm Coal Investments is leading a management buyout attempt to save the firm's two most viable pits.

Former City corporate financier Diana Dyer Bartlett is heading a team of four that is seeking to buy CI's Silverdale mine in Newcastle, Staffordshire and Annesley Bentinck near Nottingham.

CI, headed by former British Coal marketing director Malcolm Edwards, went into administration three weeks ago after bankers pulled the plug on refinancing talks.

News of the buyout attempt comes just a week after the administrators, Arthur Andersen, laid off 270 miners and halted production at two of CI's six pits, Markham Main near Doncaster and Cwmgwili, an open-cast mine near Swansea.

All six were advertised for sale last Tuesday, but prospects for the other two - Hem Heath, near Stoke-on-Trent, and Keresley, near Coventry - are bleak, according to mining sources. The group has bank debts of pounds 26m and owes its trade creditors another pounds 25m.

RJB Mining, the UK's largest coal miner, has already made enquiries. About 1,500 jobs are at risk at CI, around 600 of them at Silverdale and Annesley, which are both profitable and generating cash.

The buyout team includes Jim Sorbie, one of CI's two production superintendents, Lee Dyson, sales manager, and Andrew Purcell, a management assistant.

"We're interested in doing it and working hard to achieve that, but it's very early days yet," Ms Dyer Bartlett told the Independent on Sunday.

"It would be very pleasing to keep the pits open for all these men who have worked so hard. It would be shame if it all went to the wall."

Advised by the accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand, the team is currently approaching banks for funding, but it is too early to talk of specific figures.

Neither Mike Arthur nor Alec Blackwell, who run Silverdale and Annesley respectively, is involved in the team, but both are thought to be supportive.

Elsewhere, prospects look bleakest at Hem Heath, which has Europe's second largest coal reserves, but has been plagued by collapses at its main coal face as the money has dried up.

Around pounds 10m and another year is needed to open up a new face. However, an Andersen spokesman said: "You don't have those sort of funds in administration."

Production at Keresley, which adjoins an RJB mine, is also due to cease at the end of March, with pounds 20m needed to develop new reserves.