Regional power firms ready to strike coal deal: Breakthrough in talks raises hopes for threatened pits

THE TWELVE regional electricity companies have told Whitehall officials that they are now prepared to sign a coal contract for the coming year - a key component in any package to save some of the 31 pits threatened with closure.

A senior government source said last night that weekend progress represented something of a breakthrough for the negotiators. But he warned that National Power and PowerGen were still not ready to sign.

Nevertheless, the possibility of agreement on the coming year's 40 million-ton core contracts, followed by contracts of 30 million tons for future years, could provide the basis for further negotiation on top-up contracts that could offer the prospect of a secure future for some of the threatened pits.

Industry sources have warned that all 31 pits could still face closure within two to three years if the core contracts are not bolstered by supplementary orders.

Against that background, John Smith warned yesterday that John Major was ready to kill communities and throw 100,000 miners and other workers on the 'slag-heap of unemployment'.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, opens the final day's debate on the Budget in the Commons this afternoon, and is bound to be pressed for an update on his six-month review of the pit closures.

But miners, ministers and MPs face a cliff-hanger in the run-up to the end of the coal year on 31 March. The worst scenario is that next year's 40 million-ton contracts are still unsigned by the time Cabinet meets on 1 April - the day before the Commons rises for its Easter recess. In that event, Mr Heseltine would be forced to make a holding statement, reporting defeat.

Bracing his party for bad news, Mr Smith told a regional Labour conference in Skegness: 'What this Conservative government doesn't seem to understand is that entire communities wither and die when their lifeblood is taken out of them.

'The long-term interests of this country are not served by closing 31 collieries, destroying the jobs of 100,000 workers, decimating entire communities and writing off our most valuable energy resource.'

The Labour leader also attacked the 'scandalous betrayal' of election promises in last week's Budget. But Norman Lamont said on BBC television's Breakfast with Frost: 'It would be a real betrayal. . . if I did not face up to the problem of our borrowing, and I believe the country understands that.'

The Chancellor will wind up tonight's Commons debate, under continuing pressure to explain the terms under which low-income pensioners and families will receive relief from Value Added Tax on domestic heating and power bills.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral