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Arthur Scargill (President NUM 1982-2002) to Barnsley Chronicle

Updated: Jun 22

Arthur Scargill (President, National Union of Mineworkers 1982-2002), to Barnsley Chronicle (published 21 June 2024)


I rarely write letters to newspapers but feel I must respond to your front-page story headlined “Labour pledges £700-a-year boost for ex-miners” (June 14, 2024). 


The statement: “First introduced in 1952, the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme set out to ensure that retired mineworkers received a good pension after years of work in coal mines” gives the impression that all retired mineworkers will qualify for the Labour Party’s Manifesto proposal of a £14 per week pension increase from the MPS investment reserve fund.  



Nothing could be further from the truth.  The MPS was established in 1952 as a flat-rate scheme into which mineworkers paid no more than 20p a week – receiving pennies, not pounds on retirement.  During a Court case in 1996, British Coal witnesses admitted many mineworker pensioners received  no more than £1 a week from the MPS.



It was not until 1975 that the National Union of Mineworkers negotiated a defined benefits scheme which involved contributions from both mineworkers and the NCB – but the NCB refused to make the new scheme retrospective – leaving out thousands of retired miners and other beneficiaries, none of whom will benefit from the Labour Party’s “£700-a-year” pledge.



I speak from experience; I receive a good pension as a retired full-time NUM official – but after working as a miner at Woolley Colliery for nearly 20 years from 1953 to 1972, my MPS pension today is £3.12 per week.  



In 1994, the Government privatised the MPS – and established a 50:50 split with the Scheme of any surpluses in future valuations, a “split” which has resulted in the Government effectively stealing £4.4 bn from a fund established to provide pensions for retired miners and their widows!



In 2021, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee called for this split to be replaced with a more appropriate arrangement. In its opening Summary, the Select Committee’s Report stated that since privatisation in 1994 to date:



“….The Government has received £4.4 bn, and is also due to receive another£1.9 bn, on top of 50% off any future surpluses.  The Government has not paid any funds into the Scheme in return”. And:



“We conclude that, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the Government has already profited greatly from the Scheme.” And:


“The Government must acknowledge that continuation of arrangements in their current form deserves a review and a better outcome for pensioners should be found.” And:



“The Government should also relinquish its entitlement to the Investment Reserve, and transfer the £1.2 bn fund to miners, to provide an immediate cash uplift to former miners.”



It was pointed out that since the arrangement was agreed in 1994:  “the Government has received £3.1 bn as its share of surpluses, and £1.3 bn from the Investment Reserve.  The Government has not contributed financially to the Scheme since it became the Guarantor in 1994.  The agreement did not include a mechanism to review the arrangements at any point in the future”.



That was three years ago.  The Chronicle’s 14 June report states that the Labour Party “will review the surplus sharing arrangement and return the £1.6 bn investment reserve fund to miners”.  This figure of £1.6 bn means that in the three years since the Select Committee’s Report the Investment Reserve fund has increased substantially, with the Government plundering still more.



Chris Cheetham, Chair of the MPS Trustees in 2021 explained that such an arrangement is now “highly unusual”, if not “unique”.  “There is no current situation where sponsors take money out of the scheme that they are responsible for; indeed, they cannot.  Regulations do not enable it”.

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