Government in Crisis: Confusion reigns at 10 pits facing closure

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The Independent Online
MANAGERS and miners at the 10 pits threatened with immediate closure were thrown into confusion by the statement by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade.

They are likely to have to wait for clarification in the High Court today about whether they have to work their 90-day reprieve period or will receive a cash payment in lieu of notice.

Most are still unsure exactly what will happen to their pits. Mr Heseltine said that no pits would shut until the statutory notice and consultation period was complete but managers believed it was unlikely any coal would be produced.

British Coal said no redundancy notices would be sent during the 90 days. 'While the corporation will approach the statutory consultations with an open mind, it does not want to raise false hope.

'Subject to those consultations, it is British Coal's present view that the 10 collieries have no realistic prospect of a viable future whatever the outcome of the wider review,' a statement said.

At Shirebrook colliery, Derbyshire, two faces need development work before Christmas, without which the mine cannot prove its viability. 'The lads have been phoning from underground to ask how long have we got,' an NUM official said. 'We can't tell them any more now than yesterday.'

Roy Lynk, president of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, who is maintaining his occupation 1,200 feet underground at Silverhill Colliery, Nottinghamshire, said Mr Heseltine's statement was a 'whitewash'. He said in a message to his union office: 'There is nothing in it for our members. British Coal still intends to close all the pits.'

He said he would return his OBE to the Queen as a protest at the closures, and would not be standing for re-election as UDM president next month.

Peter Hewes, deputy manager of Silverhill, also on the list of 10, said that he was seeking clarification on Silverhill's position. 'As things stand at the moment, nothing has changed. There will be no night shift and we will not be coaling in the morning,' he said.

Mr Hewes, who stands to lose his job, said management at the colliery had lost faith in the Government and Mr Heseltine. 'The argument he has been putting forward does not hold water. We do feel rather let down,' he said.

British Coal's former commercial director, Malcolm Edwards, said it was 'inevitable' that the Government would change course. He said: 'What the statement does not do is address the country's energy strategy or the problem of what is in the country's best long-term interests.'

Mr Edwards said: 'Some of these mines can work for a number of years, employ a lot of people and produce competitive and profitable coal. These mines need to be offered to the market, they should not be shut by government diktat.'

Union leaders said that the announcement would not alter plans for tomorrow's mass demonstration in London and lobby of Parliament.

The Coalfields Communities Campaign said the extra aid to the coalfields would add up to little.

Hedley Salt, chairman of the campaign group, which represents 90 local authorities, said Mr Heseltine had failed to recognise that the closure of three-fifths of the coal industry was unacceptable.

'Nothing short of suspension of the whole closure programme followed by a full and independent review of the costs and benefits to the nation is what is really needed,' he said.