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Calendar

Book 7 The 21st Century


Chimneys
2005

  2005 Pages 

2005 - Page 2


Compensation

In 2003 the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) backed claims by ex miners for compensation for knee injuries causing arthritis, due to kneeling for many years whilst working at the coalface.

A report in the Nottingham Evening Post Saturday 10th January 2004 stated that a family of a Nottinghamshire miner who died as the result of working underground for almost 50 years have received a five-figure sum in compensation. The miner had worked at Hucknall but died in 1989 aged 78, as a result of lung disease and bronchopneumonia after a long illness. However money does not bring back lives!

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said that the Labour Government would put a deadline date of 31st March 2004 for claims to be submitted regarding chest problems and many although receiving large compensation payments would find breathing a problem as mentioned before.

At the end of January 2005, four ex-mining constituencies in Nottinghamshire were among the top ten out of 25 recipients of Government compensation according to the Department for Trade and Industry.

  • Easington in County Durham was 1st with 11,813 payments worth £82.7m
  • Sherwood was 5th with 12,714 payments amounting to £62.7m
  • Mansfield 6th with 10,878 payments amounting to £58.1m
  • Ashfield 7th with 11,269 payments amounting to £57.4m
  • Bassetlaw 8th with 9,638 payments worth £57.3m.

Throughout the UK a total of £2.3 billion has been paid in compensation to ex-miners for illnesses caused by working underground. So much so for such a wonderful job where almost everyone who has worked in the industry ends up with some kind of disablement, including myself, now in the twilight of our life, when fitness means everything and money means nothing, if you can't spend it on the things you have always wanted to do.


Sherwood Energy Village Wins Top Award

The closed Ollerton Colliery site was chosen as a pioneer for an Energy Village and scooped one of the top awards in the country as Gordon Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lab) announced the site as winner of year 2005 Enterprising Britain Award beating 11 other finalists. The Sherwood Energy Village scheme was launched last year by the Department of Trade and Industry to combat the devastating social and economic problems suffered by the community when the pit closed in 1994 and subsequent closure of two textile factories, set up in the past as employment for miners’ wives and daughters. The Managing Director Stan Crawford was delighted with the achievement as a lot of hard work had gone into the project with a probable 1,500 jobs to be available by 2007, equalling almost the manpower of men and boys employed at the mine in the 1960s. However as stated earlier regarding the natural power to be used for the enterprise, coal was not on the list. Returning recently to Ollerton where I was Surveyor for the Mine from 1971-1986 and Senior Surveyor 1986-1990, I found the transformation incredible and wonderful but unrecognisable apart from the ex officials houses known as the ‘Ten Commandments’, (4 missing), at the entrance to the colliery site where a traffic island has been constructed. The positions of the filled up shafts are shown in the centre circle.


Welbeck To Close

A meeting was called at Welbeck (Nottinghamshire) on 10th February 2005 where UK Coal confirmed that the pit would close when the current advancing face and the next retreat face had been worked. However agreement was made to work flexible 12 hour shifts on a 4 shift pattern so that the mine could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This would allow the mine to continue beyond the proposed closure date.

A £50m short wall retreat face at Welbeck was sustaining the output, however 33,000 tonnes per week was the norm expected, not a cheery thought, as knowledge of the past production in the Deep Soft seam had not been as good as expected ‘on paper’, nor might I add would they be in the future, now that the method of work was changing to advancing and not retreat mining. A further 3 months would prove it! Chairman of UK Coal was David Jones.


Kyoto Global Warming Pact

And yet further bad news for Nottinghamshire coal. The Kyoto (Japan) Global Warming Pact took effect on 16th February 2005, some 7 years after it was negotiated, requiring the reduction of ‘greenhouse’ gases by 140 industrial nations including the UK, but excluding the USA. Carbon dioxide and several other gases are to blame according to the experts. As mentioned previously, unless all the coal burning power stations have the conversions done to help eliminate these gases, then only ‘suitable coal’ will be used - and not from Nottinghamshire.


Twenty Years After The Miners’ Strike

Researchers at Hallam University (Yorkshire) had found that 20 years after the last miners’ strike in 1984 thousands of jobs were yet to be replaced in the Coalfields, and there is a hardcore of ‘hidden unemployment’ with many on sickness benefits. Professor Stephen Fothergill said it was a sad reflection on the scale of the job losses where over 40,000 mining jobs had been lost since 1984 and about 17,500 non-coal jobs had been created in that time. In Nottinghamshire (2004) 18,500 were claiming incapacity benefits. Most of these men if working underground prior to being made redundant were supposed to be A1 fit, the criteria required for underground work.

Not only has a great industry fallen but with it thousands and thousands of other people have lost a livelihood also in the support industries of steel, manufacturing, forestry etc. The electrical industry, which at the turn of the 19th Century was in its infancy, is now the main consumer.


UK Coal Losses

‘It was announced on 3rd March 2005 that UK Coal lost £58.6m. The reasons given for the loss were “industrial action, geological ‘nightmares’ and unfavourable contracts” quote Daily Mail, 3rd March 2005. These factors have always been the main reasons for losses within the mining industry, so it is no surprise. Within this book you can see that I forecast the very thing some months before!

The losses set against a £1.2m loss last year wiped £23m from the firm’s dwindling market value on 2nd March and the shares plunged 11.6% (15p) to a new low of 117p with a final dividend cut from 5p to 1p!

Gerry Spindler an American, and the Chief Executive of UK Coal drafted in to the top seat in October 2004, admitted that the problems were worse than he had previously thought said that the improved way forward had emerged from the consultation process some 3 months before and that the shortfall of £1m a week caused by production gaps etc.

Spindler stated that the deep mines had lost £38.8m (with Harworth, Thoresby and Welbeck (Nottinghamshire) among the last 8 remaining pits). Although the results were quite bad news, he was confident that the company would get back on track and hoped for profits by December 2006, at the latest. He put an uplift figure of 80m on solving staff problems, better maintenance, and improved coal contracts. As stated, Welbeck although losing £20m last year, was given an 11th hour reprieve, as the 520 miners, and unions agreed to work new flexible shift patterns i.e. 3 night shifts at 12 hours, 4 days off, 4 day shifts at 12 hours, 4 days off, 4 night shifts at 12 hours, 1 day off, start days and so on. As stated earlier the production would have to come from an ‘advancing’ face in the Deep Soft seam, notorious for floor blow etc and would require far more maintenance than if it was a retreat face.

The coal production was not up to expectations, neither was the progress in the development headings for the next proposed face following the reprieve.

Paddy Tipping MP Sherwood (Lab) stated on Radio Nottingham that he had to some degree helped to save the immediate closure of Welbeck (Nottinghamshire) by his plea both to Gerry Spindler UK Coal Chief and to Government for more financial help to alleviate the situation. The ‘U’ turn by UK Coal just two weeks after announcing the closure of Welbeck came about as the miners and unions had agreed to work the new shift pattern. Neil Greatrex UDM President, John Mann MP Bassetlaw (Lab) and Paddy Tipping MP Sherwood (Lab) met Energy Minister Mike O’Brien MP (Lab) to negotiate more Government funding to help develop more seams. A figure of £4.7m funding to keep the pit open until 2008 and a further £2m ‘could be’ available! The Energy Minister promised that a ‘Coal Summit’ would be held later in 2005 to establish priorities, and ensure coal continues to make a valuable contribution towards the energy market, and particularly for the local mines.

On the Footsie Index Asia Energy which mines coal in Bangladesh shares leapt 123p higher to 776p with the shares of Cambrian Mining who own 26%, pushed higher by 25p to 212p! The reason a seam of coal at an unbelievable thickness of 130 feet (almost 40m), and lying only 700 feet (215m) deep had just been discovered. Imports of this coal as well as the present imports from countries mentioned before could spell the end of what was a great industry in this country as we will then be reliant on others for the foreseeable future. UK Coal shares fell to a low of 106p (highest 171p), and would fluctuate around 160p in the near future.

UK Coal share price had fallen 10p in one day down to 131p with the announcement on 15th February 2005 that UK Coal could face legal action from Europes largest coal fired power station Drax, after the company admitted it could not supply sufficient fuel as previously agreed, maybe a shortfall of 750,000 tonnes. Again it appeared that ‘unforeseen’ geological problems at Kellingley (Yorkshire) had happened. Albeit too that the colliery was almost on the doorstep to the power station, the mining area was ‘too far away’, for the original planned area to be mined because it was found that the coal was not thick enough to be economical! To me as a Surveyor, it was a lame excuse, as millions of £s had been spent in prospecting the area with boreholes, etc, so the knowledge was there previously! The power station earnings would reduce by £10m in 2005 and £5m in 2006 for the company would be forced to buy coal on the open market in other words from abroad! In fact the imports of coal rocketed in 2004, at least 35m tonnes from Australia, Colombia, South Africa, Russia and other countries, no doubt China among them, who can bring coal to this country at times cheaper than we can mine it!

The share price of UK Coal continued to fall and would eventually be removed from the Share prices. However in the weeks of early April 2005, they rose sharply to around 144p (lowest 106p) when there were talks of a takeover for the company, thought to be from George Wimpey Ltd, very experienced in surface open casting methods. The takeover fell through. Alchemy Partners was another interested party.

Around 110,000 men and boys worked in the pits of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in 1921. There were a further 13,000 men and boys in Leicestershire. The number now is in the region of 3,000 and falling.


Computerisation Continued

A new tool has been given to colliery management, called a ‘tracker’. Detailed critical face installation and start-up dates, development performance and salvage deadlines, cost control and progress on process issues such as incentive agreements are updated weekly for each colliery. The trackers show where the completion of each key activity is on target, or where delays have already accumulated. This may be a new program on a computer, but this type of thing was done at all pits 25 years before on paper-- ?


General Election

The General election on 5th May 2005 returned New Labour for a historic third term of office with Tony Blair as PM, however with only 36% of the vote, the lowest share of the vote in British history, 8,028,242, to Tories votes of 8,086,306 and a loss of almost 100 seats. There was an immediate change of cabinet members, and the Department of Trade and Industry was renamed to Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry replacing Patricia Hewitt with Alan Johnson (with a sensitive dossier, the renewal of the Nuclear industry). Another twist to the tale! UK Coal shares fell to 124p and continued to do so down to 117p by 16th May 2005.


Another Energy Minister Given the Poisoned Chalice

And yet another Energy Minister since the election, Malcolm Wicks (Lab) 57, MP for Croydon North, replacing Mike O’Brien (Lab) MP for Warwickshire North, along with a new Secretary for Trade and Industry, Alan Johnson. I reiterate it appears that no one stays in either job long enough to make any firm future commitment to the coal industry!


Wind Turbines


Photo From Inhabitat.com

Already there are talks of installing wind turbines on several closed colliery sites in the region.


UK Coal

UK Coal shares improved in price to 137p by 17th June and 140p by 28th June 2005.

Alec Galloway (10934) (53) Director of Mining departed from UK Coal on Monday 18th May 2005.? He had begun his career in the NE transferred to Nottinghamshire and was appointed Technical Assistant at Sherwood 1976, Official at Blidworth, transferred to Welbeck, promoted to Undermanager Bolsover, Deputy Manager Ireland for 4 years, Manager at Ireland and on the merger in 1986 Manager for the Markham / Ireland combine 1993, transferred to Manager at Daw Mill, appointed to his present position reporting to Director of Deep Mines Bill Rowell.


Alchemy Partners

The private investment group Alchemy Partners announced it was making an offer for UK Coal. After 2 months talks with a previous unidentified party terminated on 8th June. UK Coals property interests were valued at £174m in 2002, but losses of £51.6m for last year were declared for its 7 deep mine pits.


Alcane Energy

Alcane Energy the renewable energy specialists connected two electricity generating plants to the National Grid from two sites, at Markham in Derbyshire and Bevercotes in Nottinghamshire with a total of 5.4MW from coal methane gas from the old mines. The plant at Bevercotes had cost £1m but could produce 4.1MW. Other sites being built were at Whitwell and Mansfield Woodhouse (Mansfield colliery workings). Later a further project would be at the closed Clipstone colliery site (2009).


MP Advocates ‘Vendside’ To Be Investigated

John Mann MP (Lab) Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire, tabled an early-day motion in Parliament and a further 50 other Labour MPs signed the Commons motion to investigate Vendside the UDMs claims handling company and the suspension of the agreement allowing the union to process compensation claims. Mick Stevens and Clare Walker announced they were standing down from their posts until police enquiries were completed.