Fresh blow for Scottish Coal owner SRG as Don Nicolson quits

COAL miner Scottish Resources Group has been left a “rudderless ship” it was claimed yesterday after its chief executive Don Nicolson walked out.

Nicolson is the fifth and most senior director to have resigned from the group in the past 13 months after its failed attempt at a £200 million-plus flotation in the summer of 2010. An energy industry stalwart, he joined the group as chief executive in 2008 following a successful 26-year career with oil giant BP.

The Clackmannanshire-based firm owns Scottish Coal, the UK’s largest surface mine operator and the second largest coal miner.

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SRG’s strategy has been subject to uncertainty since it abandoned the initial public offering in which it planned to raise £25m in cash for investment in the company’s operations.

In September, the group revealed that its profits had slumped 90 per cent to £2.6m in the year to the end of March, mainly as a result of the firm spending £35m on equipment and development of its mines.

Earlier this month Palmaris, an investment firm that owns a 16 per cent stake in SRG, said the firm’s finances were set to improve alongside an expected rise in global coal prices.

But it also emerged this week that SRG may be struggling to operate efficiently. Although it had formerly been praised by First Minister Alex Salmond as being “poised to make its own contribution to our nation’s world-leading climate change targets”, SRG is one of the highest producers of CO2 in the industry. According to a report by the Environment Agency this week, Scottish Coal emits twice as much carbon per tonne of coal produced as its English counterpart, UK Coal.

SRG, which is controlled by Colin Cornes, 69, confirmed Nicolson’s departure but declined to make a comment on the reasons.

Most of the other defections are thought to be linked to the failure of the scheme to list the firm on the stock exchange. In July 2010, SRG pulled its planned flotation at the last minute, citing challenging markets.

Months later, the firm’s chairman, chartered accountant Sean Mahon, left the group. He was replaced by retired Tarmac executive Ian McPherson, 71, in January. Mahon’s departure was surrounded by a spate of others, including that of Nick Parker, a non-executive director who was due to become chairman if the firm achieved its listing.

Other departures included Nick Guest, the firm’s finance director, who was succeeded by Rod Mathers, and the firm’s property director, Alan Somerville.

The firm declined yesterday to comment on who would be handling day-to-day operations, whether it would recruit a new leader or if the job would be handled by Mathers or Andrew Foster, managing director of the Scottish Coal division.

It is understood the failed flotation has caused some major upsets among its potential beneficiaries.

The flotation would have added greatly to the wealth of Cornes, who owns a 71 per cent stake in SRG through his investment company Parkburn.

The Paterson family, which owns quarries in Coatbridge, also stood to benefit through its control of Palmaris. It was understood that both owners were planning to exit their shareholding, subject to investor demand, at flotation.

SRG operates nine open-cast coal mines in Scotland and accounts for about one-fifth of total UK coal production, It is a major supplier to Longannet power station.

The group has more than 1,000 employees.