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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)?
Phil, UK

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.
Anton Jansen, Australia



People who say the Coal Industry should not be saved show a total ignorance of the world energy markets.

Jon Smith, Bahrain
North Sea Oil and Gas production is already declining. There are over 200 years proven coal reserves in the UK. How will we fund the energy imports we will need to replace North Sea Oil? Selling Rover cars? That's assuming that there ARE oil surpluses on world markets. Most energy analysts point out that in the next 20 years oil demand on a global scale will outstrip production. Oil production globally has already peaked. Oil can be generated from Coal; in fact British Coal ran a pilot plant in North Wales to develop this technology (which could have been developed for export) until the Conservative Government stopped the funding.
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.
What a disgrace in 2000 that we are still sending people down coal mines. And how many people who purport to support the extra funding would themselves become miners or encourage their children to do so? This failing Government lets jobs burn in the Midlands over Rover, yet gives subsidies to out of date and un-competitive industries like coal mining. We'll be subsidising sending kids up chimneys next! Is this the Third Way?
Jonathan Labrey, United Kingdom

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.
Stephen, USA

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.
There are still many thousands of people in this country who still use and prefer to burn coal domestically, and it should be British coal.
Keith Wilson, UK



The coal reserves of our country could be better exploited by leaving them in the ground as a strategic reserve for the future.

James Devney, UK
Having studied mining geology at Staffordshire University, and visited RJB mining operations, which are incredibly economical, and environmentally friendly (they have to be to obtain planning permission). I think its easily apparent what the figures quoted by David Yates mean.
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.
Ian Bailey, UK

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.
PLEASE reconsider and INVEST this money in education and training for the future, rather than wasting it on this shallow attempt to buy votes.
Neil, UK



Preserving access to coal reserves may be very significant in years to come.

Stu, UK
There are good strategic reasons for maintaining key coalmines. Preserving access to coal reserves may be very significant in years to come. Re-opening a closed pit is difficult and often impossible. We should keep our options and our coal producing capability open.
Stu, UK

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.
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil

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.
Adrian, England

Imports (e.g., coal, agriculture) should be taxed by the amount they have been subsidised. Only then can we compare industrial efficiencies.
Clive P Mitchell, UK



Forget the ye good olde mining days myths and put the money into industries that have a future.

Tim, UK
100m for 450 jobs!!!! It's crazy, forget the ye good olde mining days myths and put the money into industries that have a future and are compatible with today's environmental and social challenges (off-shore wind: a golden opportunity for energy security, jobs and exports, without messing up the weather).
Tim, UK

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.
Rob Smale, UK

Why the coal industry? They are letting the shipyards and farming die, so why all the extra money for this inefficient industry?
Stephen, UK

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?
Nick, 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.
Ashley Hare, UK

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.
Tom, Australia

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.
David Yates, UK



If we end up importing all the coal we require to run our coal -fired power stations, won't we end up being held at ransom by the coal producers?

Trevor, UK
If we end up importing all the coal we require to run our coal -fired power stations, won't we end up being held at ransom by the coal producers? We should continue to produce our own coal to give us some degree of independence. Just how much needs to be decided by our Government. They're meant to take an overall view, aren't they?
Trevor, UK

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!
Andy McMullon, Lincoln, England

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.
Gareth, UK

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.
Gwynfryn Williams, Australia



I think it's certainly within the province of government to provide support for an industry on hard times

Krow, USA
I think it's certainly within the province of government to provide support for an industry on hard times. But there must be some indication that it will eventually recover. I doubt that spending large sums to support a few more years of life support for a doomed industry makes good sense at all.
Krow, USA

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.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

The coal industry is a symbol of Britishness and a lot of jobs would be lost, this time by the 'people's party'!
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK (in US)

I had to laugh at the comment that we should support the British Coal Industry because it is the most efficient in Europe. If it was efficient, it wouldn't need support to begin with!
Jon Livesey, USA



If there were to be not one single pit left, that would be a disaster.

Michael Kilpatrick, Cambridge, UK
As a consumer I buy British in order to ensure that the British balance of trade is better than that of Germany or Japan, for example. It's in my interests to keep miners in jobs, just as it's in my interests to keep Rover workers in jobs. It's in Britain's interest to maintain a diversity of industries and suppliers of raw materials. There can be no question about that. I can't argue about what the appropriate level of coal mining should be, but if there were to be not one single pit left, that would be a disaster.
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.
Yet the same 'green' government that has increased total petrol taxation around 1500% has reduced taxes on coal based heating to only 3% and is now to subsidise its continued extraction.
Essada, UK

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?
If the answer is no, then surely this will be simply a case of throwing good money after bad, and with no guarantee that the industry won't need a further injection of public funds in a few years' time.
Henry Case, UK

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?
Matthew Talboys, England

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.
Antonia Lum, England



It is time for European governments to realise that they cannot survive forever subsidising industries that can't make it on their own.

Dave, USA
It is time for European governments to realise that they cannot survive forever subsidising industries that can't make it on their own. I understand the good intentions involved, I also understand the economic principle behind subsidies, but the fact remains that this is not something you can afford to do forever. It would be wiser to put the money into something that has a growth potential and will be able to make its' own money in the future. Otherwise you end up like the French farmers, absolutely incapable of competing without government help.
Dave, USA

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.
Gayle, England

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.
The waste by-products of nuclear energy have a potentially lethal effect upon the environment. This is often overlooked. We should not write off the coal field communities when we have an opportunity to rectify social exclusion. Certainly not unless we are all prepared to give up driving cars that have by far the biggest effect on the ozone layer.
John Nevitt, UK



I suspect this is little more than gesture politics to try and get Old Labour back on side.

Jurgen S. Olisv, UK
I don't think 100m will make a lot of long term difference. I think Tony has realised he's spent so much time trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the middle classes he's losing his "core" supporters. I suspect this is little more than gesture politics to try and get Old Labour back on side. If the industry needs a kick-start that will provide long term gains and employment then it should be done properly.
John B, UK

This has to be a (rather clumsy) political move to calm trade unions down following Rover's debacle.
Jurgen S. Olisv, UK

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.
Richard, UK

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.
Mikko Toivonen Finland

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.
Terry Avon, UK



There is nothing special about coal when it requires the majority taxpayers of this country to provide a welfare subsidy to the industry.

Andy Mayer, UK
The only justification for a government subsidy for the coal industry would be to meet the level of similar subsidies in other countries, for example Germany, to create a level playing field. Coal is not an investment product that private companies cannot or will not provide through high entry costs; in which case government aid could be justified by returns to the whole economy.
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.
James Denning, UK

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.
Judith, England

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05 Apr 00 | Business
Mines at risk as losses mount
05 Dec 99 | Business
The fall of King Coal
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