Scottish coal under threat from asset-strippers

SCOTLAND’S coal industry should be taken over by a single and stable company to save hundreds of jobs and prevent asset-strippers moving in, SNP energy minister Fergus Ewing has said.
Cockenzie power station. Picture: Sean BellCockenzie power station. Picture: Sean Bell
Cockenzie power station. Picture: Sean Bell

The call came at the first meeting of a taskforce launched last week after Scotland’s last domestic coal mining company, Scottish Coal, announced it was in liquidation, with the loss of almost 600 jobs.

Blair Nimmo and Tony Friar of KPMG were appointed by the Court of Session to sell off as many of the group’s mines as they could.

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However, a taskforce of ministers, MSPs, union representatives, local councils and industry bosses agreed yesterday to write to the liquidator asking for the business to be kept together in any sale.

Mr Ewing said the meeting in Glasgow focused on how the six mines in East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire could be saved from permanent closure.

He said: “The Scottish Open Cast Mining Taskforce brings together all relevant stakeholders including communities, councils, landowners and coal operators. I also welcome that it has cross-party representation from the relevant local parliamentarians and that the UK government is sending senior officials.

“Our main goal in our discussions with all relevant parties today was to focus on the retention of as many Scottish Coal jobs as possible.

“The main outcome of today’s meeting was that the objective of the group should be an outcome that maintains a sustainable business model for the sectors and restores the sites.

“The taskforce further agreed to write to the liquidator to express the preference for the assets of Scottish Coal to be taken over by a substantial, well-capitalised company, able to protect jobs and meet its environmental obligations, as well as avoiding cherry-picking of assets.”

Mr Ewing said the taskforce would meet again on 15 May.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who represents a mining area, called on the SNP government to co-operate with trade unions to help protect jobs at the mines, which have ceased production.

He said: “It is vital that this business is saved and not stripped of its assets – I would urge the Scottish Government to work with the trade unions to ensure that any buyer that comes in is motivated by securing jobs for future, not ripping the cash out of what is left of Scottish Coal.”

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Scottish Resources Group (SRG), which owns Scottish Coal, blamed falling coal prices and rising operational costs for the job losses.

SRG says competition from overseas and the impact of cheap imports have put global prices at “record low levels”.

The business is owned by Colin Cornes, 71, a reclusive millionaire who was estimated by the Times Rich List to be worth £90 million. His attempt to raise £25m in a £200m flotation in July 2011 failed.