Government in Crisis: Pit closure areas to receive pounds 165m package of aid

THE GOVERNMENT yesterday disclosed a pounds 165m package over two years for the areas affected by pit closures, including pounds 75m for training and careers advice.

Lord Walker, Secretary of State for Energy during the 1984-85 pit strike, is to be appointed as a 'co- ordinator and facilitator' for the initiatives.

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Employment, last night met leaders of Training and Enterprise Councils in localities where pits are closing and asked them for 'action plans' to cover all the unemployed in their areas.

In areas affected by the 10 pit closures which are still to go ahead, TEC chairmen were asked to respond in a fortnight. The new measures are also intended to apply to redundant miners who live outside the TEC boundaries.

Frank Dobson, Labour's employment spokesman, said the programme did not address the scale of the problem. Mrs Shephard insisted the initiatives would be funded with extra money, but Mr Dobson pointed out that the Secretary of State had already told the TECs they were going to get less money next year. 'That means she will be taking cash from other deprived areas in order to finance the programme.'

'Investing in training is always a good idea, but we have to ask what jobs they are being trained for. In pit communities and elsewhere there will be no vacancies.'

Under the Shephard scheme the jobless will get a guarantee of a 'full assessment' of the help they need lasting up to five days and available up to a year from the date of the pit closure. The assistance will be provided by the Government's Employment Service and British Coal Enterprise, a wing of the coal board.

Young people on apprenticeships or on Youth Training courses with British Coal or associated companies will be guaranteed their places, Mrs Shephard said. There will also be travel to interview grants, initial help with fares for jobs secured outside the region and removal costs in 'appropriate cases'.

Special efforts are to be made by JobCentres to identify all vacancies within 'reasonable' travelling distance and people will be given 'priority access' to opportunities. Retraining will be under the existing state Employment Training scheme for the adult unemployed, and help with employment will be provided by existing Jobclubs and the Job Interview Guarantee scheme.

The TECs will also provide help under present arrangements for those who want to start their own businesses, and grants will be made available for charitable bodies to assist in participation in voluntary activities.

Announcing his climb-down over the closures in the Commons, Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, said Enterprise Zones would be created in the mining areas. An extra pounds 75m would be made available over the next three years. An additional pounds 10m would be spent this year in the areas concerned. More localities would qualify for Assisted Area status where companies setting up plans are paid grants.

The Department of the Environment is to set up a Coalfield Areas Fund with a budget of pounds 10m over two years for projects to help those who had been made redundant. The department would also be making an extra pounds 2m available to the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation to enable it to make an early start on the further extension of the Sunderland Enterprise Park and the new Viking Industrial Park in south Tyneside.