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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Is the coal industry worth saving?
The British government is ploughing £100m into the country's coal industry, in order to save the remaining pits from closure.
But would the money be better spent on developing cleaner and renewable sources of energy? Or is this a wise investment to secure a domestic supply of energy for decades to come?
Should power stations be able to shop around internationally for the lowest price for their fuel, even if the UK ended up entirely reliant on imports for energy?
And is this investment an admission that the previous administration was wrong to close most of the UK coal mines? Have the miners who fought bitter strikes in the 1980s finally been vindicated?
But could it be too little, too late? Has the UK's coal industry declined past the point at which it can be resuscitated?
Given that many former coal-mining areas have been blighted by unemployment and poverty since their pits closed, are the remaining coal mines worth keeping alive for social reasons alone?
No of course we shouldn't subsidise any of our industries (although virtually every other successful country does). We should close all our manufacturing industries and coalmines and all work in call centres or at McDonalds. Obvious isn't it (if you're a Tory)?
Coal mining should stop. The fuel is dirty; the job of mining is dangerous and almost inhuman. The Dutch Government stopped all coal mining 40 years ago. The country hasn't looked back since! Natural gas is an easy replacement fuel. Clean and easy to convert.
People who say the Coal Industry should not be saved show a total ignorance of the world energy markets. You can't fill your car up with wind or wave energy!
Jon Smith, Bahrain
This decision has everything to do with winning over votes in Labour's heartlands and nothing to do with the future economic prosperity of our country.
The UK government should without a doubt stop trying to save the coal industry and start trying to use cleaner, more renewable sources of energy.
It's about time the government intervened to save our remaining coal industry. The coal reserves in this country are a valuable resource that will long outlive north sea gas, modern coal technology is well able to make this a clean energy source, it is the fuel of the future, not just the past.
Just work out the math: if British coal operations were to be subsidised on the same scale as the German ones, which by the way, is illegal according to European Regulations, then RJB could give the coal away and still make a profit! However the differing standards of the European Union are not really of any concern: when you look at the figures, it can be seen that a lot of coal is actually imported from Australia - half a world away. The reason being that whilst we have considerable reserves in proportion to our size, the coal seams that we are mining are of the order of a few metres, whereas the Australian seams are tens of metres in thickness, with a lot less Sulphur and Chlorine content. This makes them vastly more economical to mine, and so a lot cheaper to export.
The coal reserves of our country could be better exploited by leaving them in the ground as a strategic reserve for the future - world politics being as they are at present, who is to say they'll remain this way in the future?
James Devney, UK
The only reason that our coal is expensive compared to imports is that other companies subsidise this natural resource and until today we didn't. The government is catching up with the reality that coal HAS to be subsidised to survive. Its economic madness to throw away domestic coal in favour of subsidised imports. It costs us more to pay dole money and regeneration grants to pit villages than it does to subsidise, so why not? I only fear that we have left it too late.
There is no way money should be thrown away in this way.
Given that we have a national shortage of skilled workers in proper growth industries like telecommunications and information technology, I find it unacceptable that the government is even considering squandering yet more money to subsidise this highly polluting, unprofitable, dead industry.
Yes the Government should invest the money, but not directly into the Coal Industry itself, but to the communities that we decimated by the strike of the early nineties, due to the egotistical stupidity of Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill. Making damn sure that it does go to those whose lives were ruined in the process, in order they may be trained in other skills.
This is a blatant attempt to buy votes. If Labour are desperate then they should spend the £100 million on the future by investing in schools and hospitals.
Imports (e.g., coal, agriculture) should
be taxed by the amount
they have been subsidised. Only then
can we compare industrial efficiencies.
When will the UK public learn to value one of the safest and efficient coal industries in the world? This is an industry to be proud of and develop for the future. Perhaps more attention should be focussed upon those countries who plough millions into subsidising their industries or indeed those who employ labour at slave rates and dump coal onto the market at silly prices.
Why the coal industry? They are letting the shipyards and farming die, so why all the extra money for this inefficient industry?
The UK cannot compete with cheap imported coal, and operating subsidies only prolong the current inefficient structure, rather than promoting restructuring. (The most efficient deep-mined coal will always cost more to produce than open cast mined coal). In addition, should we deny the right of foreign miners(most of whom are not Germans & who have a low living standard) to live by effectively preventing their coal from competing on a level playing field in the UK?
What I don't understand is why the government is so reluctant to inject large amounts of money into developing cleaner, renewable energies. Much of the expertise and existing technology for the development of solar power resides in this country, and yet we lag far behind Italy, the Netherlands and Australia in its development. We know that the coal industry in Britain has a limited future. Why not spend £100 million on the development of renewable energies, an industry that would have no time limit on its existence? Thousands of jobs would be created in the manufacture, installation and maintenance of solar panels, and Britain could lead the world in the development of a cleaner economy. This would mean we could export our expertise in the field, and eventually restore Britain to a position of greatness in the world-wide energy market.
I think the money would be better spent providing IT training to those dependent on dirty coal mining employment. Subsidies, if offered at all, should be given to farmers to install wind turbines on their land.
10,000 British miners bring 21 million tons a year of coal to the surface; now with the help of a £100 million subsidy. How many German miners are employed (40,000) to bring 25 million tonnes to the surface, with a subsidy of £2.5 BILLION. British coal miners are obviously vastly more productive than their German counterparts.
The technology exists and is well proven to burn coal cleanly.
Old Labour rears its ugly head! You can't buy success for an industry that is dying.
Leave the coal where it is and invest in new industries!
I object to public funds being used to subsidise a privately owned company. Wasn't privatisation supposed to end this sort of thing? Hasn't privatisation failed? Following the tenets of the beloved market, shouldn't RJB be allowed to go to the wall? Given that the state is effectively saving the mines, why not return them to (partial) state ownership? If the mines are simply closed as some suggest, the cost in benefits, etc. over time would need also to be brought into the equation.
The cost of policing the strike would have paid for uneconomic pits for 25 years, every country should have access to domestic energy supplies and not rely on the hope of a stable world for ever.
Coal has no future, but that doesn't mean that coal miners should be denied a decent future. 100 million pounds invested in the coal industry is a waste of good money. 100 million pounds spent on retraining staff in I.T. (or other) skills is money well spent.
The coal industry is a symbol of Britishness and a lot of jobs would be lost, this time by the 'people's party'!
I had to laugh at the
comment that we should
support the British
Coal Industry because
it is the most efficient
If it was efficient, it
wouldn't need support to
Michael Kilpatrick, Cambridge, UK
What I find strange here is the silence of the green movement on this one. Coal, mostly carbon with a high percentage of sulphur, is far more environmentally destructive than the hydrocarbon fossil fuels that FOE and others make all the fuss about. What we should be doing is closing the mines and leaving the vile stuff exactly where it is.
OK, so we pour a £100m subsidy into Britain's coal industry... What happens next? Will it increase productivity? Will it make British-mined coal cheaper than imported coal or other energy sources? Will it, in short, make the industry more competitive?
People complain about the downturn of British Industries. They do not agree with companies purchasing materials or products abroad which can be, and often were, made here in Britain. Surely this is also the case for coal mining? Why import when it can be produced here? When the long-term, knock-on effects are greater?
There was, and still is, potential in the British Coal Industry. Whilst there is not the great need for coal that there once was, it is still an energy source in the world market. As we have the capacity to produce it the venture should go ahead. People do not think of the jobs at stake here, not to mention the communities and the industry at large. Comments so far have been complaining about the waste of money, but then how would they justify another 10 000 workers becoming unemployed? The government would be blamed for an increase in unemployment, and increased spending on benefits.
I think that the government are right to continue with this course of action. The general public could never know all the information surrounding an issue - it would be impossible - and we should therefore trust the government that we overwhelmingly voted in to do the job.
The areas where jobs will be lost already suffer from high unemployment, sickness and poverty so why contribute further to this and deprive people of their livelihood? Taxpayers money will still have to go towards benefits for the unemployed and investing in these declining communities, taskforces investigating the problems caused by pit closures and associated problems. The government should subsidise these areas which they have prospered from for so long and stimulate growth and employment in their own country.
Yes we should support the British Coal industry. It is the most efficient in Europe. By comparison the German coal industry employs almost four times as many men with very little additional output.
John B, UK
This has to be a (rather clumsy) political move to calm trade unions down following Rover's debacle.
Capitalism's main benefit is that it is a self-regulating way of allocating resources and using them efficiently. It is cheaper to import than to mine, there is no intrinsic benefit in having a strong coal industry these days so why support it. Despite the protestations of Scargill et al, the coal industry is an industry and no more - it is not a charity.
No, the coal industry is not worth of saving. All available monies should be put into nuclear power development and stop at last the lethal pollution that coal and other fossil fuels cause to us.
Not only is it worse than spending the same money on newer forms of energy its also a downright waste of our precious tax money. Coal went downhill ever since the coal board came into being. The moment a government department ran it - it was all over for them, just like it was with British Leyland.
In the long-run however let's hope that trading blocks can eliminate these absurd subsidies. There is nothing special about coal when it requires the majority taxpayers of this country to provide a welfare subsidy to the industry. If we can create a level playing field, and our coal-mines still cannot compete with international competition then it's time to close the business. When or if this happens, lets hope the government has the intelligence and sensitivity to provide adequate retraining, tax incentives and local investment to ensure that new businesses can grow from the old.
Andy Mayer, UK
If it costs £1000 to get x amount of coal out of the
ground and the same coal can be bought and shipped
for £800 and the UK consumer foots the bill
ultimately then need one say any more. £100 million
would pay for umpteen more badly needed policemen,
or it could be used to promote new British business, not
prop up an un-viable one.
Spending money to subsidise the coal industry just deprives people who would have done better with the same money. Would you buy shares in a doomed company? That's what you're doing like it or not. Everyone pays for this kind of economic stupidity.
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