A GOVERNMENT Minister has come under fire for ‘washing his hands’ of a Mansfield-based rescue service for mineworkers.
The Mines Rescue Service (MRS) has been on hand to rescue miners across the country for the past 95 years - but a decline in coal industry profits has left the organisation struggling to meet its running costs and it now faces an estimated loss of £3300,000 this year.
Rescue bosses have tried to keep the service afloat by offering its training expertise to organisations such as the fire service but industry insiders say this has not been enough to plug the gap.
And it has now emerged that Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks has turned down an appeal for financial assistance, telling the service it must generate its own income.
The controversial decision has been slammed by Mansfield MP Alan Meale, who said Mr Wicks was ‘totally wrong’ to refuse funding and insisted the service should receive Government support.
“The MRS is absolutely key to any mining community - it has trained personnel with a certain expertise that cannot be found anywhere else and this is not simply about active mines, but any communities with coal mines” he said.
“We need that specialist training to help us when these disasters occur.”
And UDM president Neil Greatrex told Chad he feared the financial pressures on the MRS could end up costing mineworkers’ lives.
“My worry is that if there is a major incident in the mines and they are off dealing with other matters to raise money, somebody could lose their life because the rescue service is not available,” he said.
“This is the best rescue service in the world and the lack of support from the Government can only result in a loss of life that these guys could and would have prevented.
“It just goes to show the attitude of the current Labour government - it has completely washed its hands of coal as an energy requirement for this country.”
But Sherwood MP Paddy Tipping said although the rescue services resources looked likely to dry up within the next 18 months, he was confident it would find the money to keep going.
“The MRS has a statutory resistibility to deliver men and equipment to mines within a certain period of time and that becomes harder and harder to maintain,” he said.
“But I think ultimately, the way forward is to have enough income from work outside the coal industry and the service has responded magnificently to this challenge and found new areas of work, such as providing training for the fire service.
“These are highly skilled men who have got all kinds of services to offer, not just in terms of underground rescue and health and safety, and they can count on my continued support.”
He said the other option for the service was to raise the fees it charges coal operator UK Coal, and pointed out that the Government-run Coal Authority had recently donated proceeds of land sales to the MRS.
The service’s chief operating officer, Barrie Jones told Chad that Mr Wicks’ decision not to give the MRS any more financial help had not come as a surprise.
“We realise the problems the coal industry itself has, but because of our expertise in rescue we see any firm or organisation who work in a confined space as a potential customer.”
“But we have always retained our and responsibility to protect the coal industry and it’s workersd and we will continue to do so.”