UK Coal has announced a significant restructuring of its operations, after the company was forced into administration due to a £450m deficit in its pension scheme. As part of this restructuring the remaining mining operations will pass into the hands of a new business, UK Coal Production Limited, which will be run as an employee trust.
This is not the first time this sort of arrangement has been suggested for the coal industry. Back in 1971 the head of the Conservative Political Centre, Russell Lewis, proposed that the mines should be handed over (for free) to workers’ co-operatives, and although there appears to have been little popular support for this suggestion at the time, the idea would resurface on several occasions over the following two decades. It received a very brief mention in the 1977 report of the Policy Group on the Nationalized Industries, and according to David Parker’s Official History of Privatisation the idea was also proposed by Sir Keith Joseph in the early 1980s. John Redwood also gave the idea his support in his 1986 pamphlet Equity for Everyman, in which he wrote that the creation of workers’ co-operatives had the potential to ‘bring about the most dramatic transformation in the mining industry in history’.
Unfortunately Mrs Thatcher’s response to these proposals has been lost to history.