TALKS between ministers and ex-miners poorly treated by the government - which neglected to supply an immediate £1.2bn cash boost following an inquiry into controversial pension arrangements - are set to take place following pressure from a Barnsley MP.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee inquiry into the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS) was heavily critical of the government’s actions in claiming at least £4bn from a pension pot for former miners, many of whom live with long-term illness and disabilities.
But the government rejected the proposal that the £1.2bn ‘Investment Reserve’ - a fund left by British Coal to be called on in the event of a deficit - be given to ex-miners, equating to a £14-a-week uplift.
The response has been called a ‘slap in the face’ to those who toiled down the pits and their families.
Some, according to the inquiry held in March, survive on just £18 a week.
It also proposed the government only be entitled to shares of surpluses if it has to pay to counter a deficit, and only to make its money back, given the ‘relatively low degree of risk’ attached.
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock - who sparked the inquiry and has since continued to pressure the government on behalf of constituents - said: “As the cost of living continues to spiral, it is ever more important that retired miners receive all of the money in their pension scheme, and that the government stop profiting from 50 per cent of the surplus. Indeed, it totals £4.4bn to date.”
She requested a meeting between trustees and new BEIS Minister Greg Hands MP.
Responding to Ms Peacock, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, said: “As I’ve said in this House before, I very much view it as my role to facilitate meetings between honourable members and ministers, so I will obviously take up the request the honourable lady has made.”
In 1994, upon the privatisation of British Coal’s operations, MPS contributions were closed and the government stepped in as guarantor - in return getting half of all surpluses, used to improve benefits or offer contribution holidays to employers.
The scheme’s strong performance has since seen the government pocket £4.4bn - double initial projections - and anticipates a further £1.9bn, despite not contributing financially.
The BEIS Select Committee report said the government ‘failed to conduct due diligence’ in undertaking the 50-50 split, and not accurately forecasting how much it could receive.
The government dismissed the select committee’s finding that it has ‘benefited unduly’ from the arrangements and said concerns have only come about due to the scheme’s success.
“We note that if the trustees did not think the 50-50 offer was a reasonable one, they could have declined the offer of the guarantee at that time,” said ministers.
Ms Peacock said she was ‘delighted’ with the promise of a meeting.
“The last decade has seen coalfield communities fall victim to some of the worst cuts in the country.
“Now, as the cost of living rises, ex-miners are being placed in an even more difficult financial situation.
“The Minister must use this meeting to urgently review the 50/50 surplus sharing arrangement and put those hard-earned pensions back into miners’ pockets where they belong’