Pressure mounts to save mines' jobs
The government is coming under increasing pressure to help save jobs at two of the country's three remaining deep-pit coal mines which face closure.
Labour accused the coalition of adopting an "inflexible attitude" to rules over potential support for UK Coal, which i s consulting on plans to shut Kellingley in North Yorkshire, which employs 700 people, and Thoresby in Nottinghamshire, which employs 600.
Jobs are also likely to go at UK Coal's head office in Doncaster. The closures will leave employee-owned Hatfield colliery in South Yorkshire as Britain's last remaining deep-pit mine.
Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex told energy ministers during a Commons debate: "You are very well aware competition in our energy markets is partly governed by EU regulations, particularly those relating to state aid.
"With the announcement from UK Coal yesterday, would you confirm what trade unions learnt in talks with the (European) Commission just this week that the attitude to Government support to prevent immediate closure of the two deep pits at Kellingley and Thoresby is much more flexible than your officials' interpretation seems to be?"
Mr Greatrex added later: "There are real concerns that the Government is adopting an inflexible attitude to the rules regarding potential support for UK Coal. With 1,300 jobs at stake, we need to have confidence that the Government is doing it all can to prevent immediate job losses and the impact on those communities affected.
"David Cameron has been using the EU as an excuse to claim that his hands are tied. But yesterday, the European Commission indicated that the rules regarding state aid for coal closures may be far more flexible than the Prime Minister has suggested. The Government must urgently clarify their position and ensure that they are taking all possible steps to deliver the best deal for our industry and the local communities.
"Just last month, the Miners' Pension Fund transferred £700 million to the Government. The collieries at Thoresby and Kellingley need just a fraction of that in support."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "There is nothing stopping the Government from applying to Europe for permission to use state aid to save Kellingley and Thoresby - and the thousands of jobs in North Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire which depend on these mines staying open.
"The Government says that any plans to delay the pit closures must 'show good value for money' but it will cost more to shut both mines than it will do to keep them open. Just £60m would secure the future of several thousand jobs, the communities surrounding the mines and the British coal industry.
"If ministers do nothing and allow the mines to close, the UK will become even more reliant on foreign, mostly Russian, coal imports, and that means a worryingly insecure future for the UK's energy supply. Shutting the pits will also jeopardise any chance the UK has of becoming a significant player in the emerging, multi-billion pound market for carbon capture and storage technology."
Energy Minister Michael Fallon told the Commons that any taxpayer-funded plans to delay the closure of the collieries must "show good value for money", adding: " The proposals that have been put forward with the Commission, any proposal for taxpayer support would have to show good value for money and would have to be through a clearly defined period."