100 per cent pension pot plan may be a bridge too far for former mineworkers in Mansfield and Ashfield, says MP

Mansfield’s MP says that a deal for former mineworkers with their pensions called for by a Parliamentary committee may not be immediately achievable, but he will continue to fight to put more money in their pockets.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 5:27 pm

Last week, a report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee called on the Government to scrap the 50-50 surplus sharing arrangement - all investment profits made by trustees on the pension fund.

Currently, the Government takes half of everything made, without ever having put a penny into the scheme, leaving many former mineworkers and their widows around Mansfield and Ashfield on the breadline.

The “take it or leave it” deal, imposed in 1994 when the mining industry was privatised, was for a guarantee for the scheme so it would never decrease in value, with the Government having already profited to the tune of £4.4bn over the past 27 years.

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Former mineworkers campaigning for a fairer pensions deal outside Downing Street

They were due to take a further £1.9bn if the matter had not been addressed, but the report from the committee is calling on the Government to end the ‘historic outrage’ by handing over an initial £1.2bn to former mineworkers.

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In real terms, many miners receive an average of £65 per week in pension, plus a £19 per week bonus, although 25 per cent are paid £30 per week – and 10 per cent of former mineworkers are paid as little as £18 per week, many having paid into the pension pot for years.

The committee has now formally ruled that the Government should review the surplus sharing arrangements in the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme to ensure they are fair and deliver a better outcome for pensioners.

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley

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

The report found that, given the strong financial performance of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, and the ‘vast sums which have been paid to the Government, it is ‘unconscionable’ that many of the scheme's beneficiaries are struggling to make ends meet.

It recommends that the current surplus sharing arrangements should end and that in future the Government should only be entitled to a share of surpluses if it has to put any money into the scheme and, even then, only up to the value of the money it has put in.

To bring more immediate redress to pensioners, the report calls on the Government to relinquish its entitlement to the £1.2bn Investment Reserve, and instead give it to the miners.

Coalfield campaigner Mick Newton

For the average pensioner receiving £84 per week, this would mean an additional £14 per week.

Earlier this week, we reported that committee chairman Darren Jones MP had also written to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak MP, asking him to respond to the reports findings by today (Thursday, May 6).

However, it has now emerged that a group of MPs are lobbying for an alternative deal - a 70/30 split in favour of the mineworkers, which campaigners say is not acceptable.

Responding to an enquiry from the Chad about where he stands on the issue, Ben Bradley MP said: “I’ve been pushing for improvements since 2017 and was instrumental in getting the guarantee extended to cover bonuses.

Thoresby Colliery, Nottinghamshire's last pit, which closed in 2015

“I wrote to the select committee calling for the inquiry and sat as a guest member of the committee during the sessions too. I’ve subsequently written, along with Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke Smith, to the Chancellor to highlight the report to him.

“With regards to the profit sharing arrangements, there are multiple campaign groups asking for different things. One group wants a 70/30 split. Another group say they don’t want that. The whole thing is very split.

“I am keen to get improvements for the miners, and to get the best deal possible. Any steps to put more back in their pockets are positive, and we’ll keep pushing the Chancellor on the issue – but I don’t feel it’s for me to decide what is ‘enough’.

“A 70/30 split would be better than what they have now, 100 per cent back to the miners going forward would be even better, but is much harder to achieve.

“Immediate cash paid back would be amazing, but to be honest seems very unlikely to be achievable.

“So, from a practical point of view, I’ll continue to work with colleagues to get the best deal that we can get, and any movement is a positive step.”

However, campaigners are not happy at the prospect and say that the only way forward is for the Government to give all future surplus to mineworkers and widows, while continuing to guarantee the fund.

Mick Newton, who has campaigned for a fairer deal for mineworkers in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere in the East Midlands, said: “This is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Parliamentary Select Committee Enquiry Report, that both proves and suggests the we have paid for the Government Guarantee in full if not twice over.

“We believe that the Government, which has not put a single penny to our pension scheme, should not receive another single penny.

“The committee inquiry is cross-party and MPs should accept both the findings and the proposals in full.

“Mineworkers will not accept any further attempts to play political games with our future.

"The report states without any doubt that the ‘miners have been robbed’, and that the ‘Government should not be in the business of profiteering from the pension scheme’.

"Anything short of all future surpluses, will maintain the robbery and ensure that billions more will be taken from mineworkers’ pensions.”

Editor’s message: In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Ashley Booker, editor.