A TASKFORCE of MPs who represent former coalfields communities such as Barnsley could help fast-track government investment to boost ex-mining areas’ future prosperity after decades of decline.

Stephanie Peacock, the MP for Barnsley East, recently attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Coalfield Communities.

The group undertake regular projects and look into issues concerning ex-coalfield communities like Ms Peacock’s constituency, which includes Grimethorpe, one of the hardest-hit following its pit’s closure in 1993.

An inquiry - which was carried out by the group - concluded that the loss of coal mining jobs still cast a ‘long shadow’ on communities and MPs put forward ideas such as geothermal mine water to be used for green energy, longer-term funding and an investment in rail.

“The inquiry clearly showed that coalfield areas need more support,” Ms Peacock said.

“The report’s recommendations must be taken seriously if local economies of former coalfield areas are to grow.

“I am glad that the group has undertaken this task and I hope that the results will encourage the government to commit to the investment we need in former coalfield areas.

“One of the recommendations was the exploration of geothermal mine water energy as a sustainable energy source to provide low-cost, low-carbon heating for homes.

“There is a real possibility that this could work, and several eligible places have already expressed an interest in the preliminary exploration of geothermal energy.

“This is one of many interesting possibilities and shows the local appetite for regeneration and change in former coalfield areas.

“Whether this change be through mine water or other routes, I hope that the government will take the report’s recommendations seriously and level up former coalfield areas in a meaningful way.”

Grimethorpe was even ranked as the country’s poorest village in 1994 - less than 12 months after an estimated 6,000 workers lost their jobs - and the report suggests it and other locations have failed to reverse the economic damage 30 years on.

The report added: “Successive governments have addressed the economic and social problems caused by the decline of the coal industry.

“Significant progress has been made and many of the physical structures and scars of mining have now been removed.

“The miners’ strike of 1984/85 is fading in popular memory, but the consequences of the upheaval caused by pit closures continue to be felt.

“Put simply, the former coalfields continue to lag behind on a range of social and economic indicators - fundamental imbalances in labour markets, social mobility and health persist.

“While many other parts of the country have prospered, most coalfield communities are failing to keep up.

“Many respondents identify the local economy as the central problem facing the former coalfields.

“Whilst substantial progress has been made and mass unemployment is no longer the main problem, in many respondents’ view the former coalfields still face significant economic challenges.

As Barnsley Council put it, ‘the dominance of a single primary industry in the borough left us behind the starting line in the national structural shift towards a knowledge and service driven economy’.

“In the former coalfields, wages are below average, job growth lags behind the big cities, and there are large numbers out of the labour market on incapacity benefits.

“A common issue reported by respondents to the inquiry is a low skills base and limited availability of higher skilled, higher paying jobs.

“Levelling up remains a government priority of course, and one for which funding is in place until the next spending review due this year.

“Working out what should come next, and how it might benefit the former coalfields, is crucial to continuing the story of coalfield regeneration and helping communities to thrive.”