THE next prime minister has been urged to finally address long-running calls - spearheaded by a Barnsley MP - to unlock more cash for ‘unfairly treated’ ex-miners whose pension pots have been raided.
Stephanie Peacock, who represents Barnsley East, wrote to leadership rivals Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak about the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS) having secured the backing from 50 coalfield MPs.
The 70-year-old MPS is valued by a government actuary every three years, with the most recent of these valuations two years ago.
In 1994, upon the privatisation of British Coal’s operations, contributions were closed and the government stepped in as guarantor - in return getting 50 per cent of surpluses, used to improve members’ benefits or offer contribution holidays to employers.
Since then, the scheme’s strong performance has seen the government pocket £4.4bn - double its initial projections - despite not contributing financially.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee report released a year ago said the government ‘failed to conduct due diligence’ in undertaking the ‘arbitrary’ 50-50 split.
It recommended that the £1.2bn investment reserve - a fund left by British Coal, to be called on in the event of a deficit - be given immediately to ex-miners, equating to a £14-a-week uplift.
Stephanie said: “Last year, the BEIS Committee published a report on the conditions of the MPS.
“Informed by evidence sessions with former miners, trustees of the scheme and union representatives, the report analysed its sharing agreement - set up in 1994 - which allows the government to keep 50 per cent of any surplus from miners’ pensions.
“However, despite clear and implementable cross-party recommendations for the 50/50 arrangement to be comprehensively reviewed to make sure miners get their fare share, and for the £1.2bn reserve fund to be given back immediately, the government have so far made no progress towards these changes.
“As coalfield MPs, we ask the government to do the right thing and agree that, whoever becomes Britain’s next prime minister.
“Giving former miners the financial settlement they deserve will not only directly support them, but it will also have a significant impact on the local economies of struggling coalfield communities.”
Chris Kitchen, secretary of Huddersfield Road-based National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), backed the MPs’ quest.
“We now know a lot more about the finances of the MPS and the risks that it faces than was known in 1994, when the agreement was made.
“However, given the size of the sums involved, it is not surprising that successive governments have sought to avoid any such review.
“The NUM was not involved in establishing the terms of the original agreement and has argued consistently for changes that would achieve a fairer outcome for retired mineworkers and their families.
“We will continue to lobby the government and campaign for a more balanced approach to the distribution of surplus funds, with the recommendation that its entitlement to the investment reserve of £1.2bn is also redirected to pension members.
“For the sake of our members and their families, we will continue to fight for a fair deal - it is only right.”