Nearly a week after miner ICL UK announced at least 200 further redundancies at its Boulby potash base, Redcar and Cleveland borough councillor David Walsh tells The Northern Echo how a dedicated taskforce could help those affected back into employment

THE news is devastating for east Cleveland.

Although it was anticipated by many, the real impact will be felt further around Teesside in terms of the jobs in the extended supply chain, from engineering to rail freight operation and the potash terminal at Teesport.

Loading article content

What can we do?

Well, try as I might, on this occasion I can’t blame the Government for the sackings.

Geology is geology. The pit isn’t closing either. But what of the 230 people affected?

A rational approach, one from a Labour Government, perhaps, could be along the lines of setting up a ‘job and finish’ taskforce of central and local Government, the Teesside Combined Authority, the trade unions, the North East England Chamber of Commerce and local colleges, which would work alongside mine management and other affected employers to deliver both work opportunities here and possibly elsewhere (miners have valuable transferable skills).

This is an easy task - the existing taskforce for the SSI UK site could simply be redirected to a new east Cleveland focus, as has been suggested by Redcar MP Anna Turley.

The starter would be with Sirius Minerals, which is developing a similar polyhalite mine down the road at Whitby.

That’s not due to go on stream until 2022, but work on shaft sinking and the tunnelling of the produce conveyor to Teesport is about to start.

There is a natural correlation here, and such a taskforce should seek to see if some kind of service level agreement could be struck whereby the taskforce would underwrite recruitment costs in return for prioritising the Boulby men.

This kind of work will last some time, and can act as a feeder for work at the mine when it starts, as with the sinking work at Boulby back in the 1970s.

Of course, there will be those workers among the 230 who would want to look elsewhere for new opportunities.

The SSI UK taskforce discovered that while many of the redundant steelworkers didn’t have great IT skills in a workplace setting, they were able to pick them up and show aptitude in how those new skills could be deployed in any process industry setting.

The same applies here.

This is where local colleges, most obviously Redcar and Cleveland College, can come in, as well as training bodies like the North-East Process Industry Cluster and the TTE Technical Training Group.

This doesn’t have to be in a college setting, which may be alien to older miners, since there are local providers, like the Loftus Co-op building, Destinations, at Saltburn, and the East Cleveland Employment and Training Group, in Liverton Mines, which can allow the college or training provider to deliver undisturbed training in rented room space on a flexible timetable.

The second big job of any taskforce is the need to underpin the future of the mine and allow it to again develop on a new base of polyhalite production.

Crucial to this is the securing of the upcoming application to the North York Moors National Park for a 25-year extension to the existing mining licence consent.

In effect this is a new planning permission consent.

Planning law precludes central Government or Redcar and Cleveland Council’s planning section becoming involved in this, but individual members of a taskforce - most notably the trade unions, assisted by local business groups, local councillors and community bodies - can make a positive case.

It won’t be an easy job, amazing as it may seem.

The experience at the time of the Sirius application showed massive and heavy opposition to the proposal from many national environmental bodies, like Greenpeace, as well as lobbying from the rich and famous who like unspoiled countryside near to their second homes on the moors, and who will oppose any job creating alterations to that landscape however much locals need them.

Assuming that the application succeeds, then a taskforce should then be free to seek help for that development, both in human resources and supply side needs.

Again, a partnership of such a taskforce could set up an on-site training centre module for delivery to new miners recruited as the polyhalite extraction speeds up, and be prepared to financially assist in building up new supply chains to replace previous suppliers.

Once all these hurdles are cleared, east Cleveland could be comforted by the thought that a key source of employment, and one that could last well up to and beyond 2050 was guaranteed.

Mining would continue carrying forward the iron legacy of the past.

All this is practical politics, using the national and local state and state agencies to assist, nurture and secure jobs and enterprise.

It is rather grey and bureaucratic, but it is real politics (and written when the windows are open, and I can hear the rattle of loaded potash freight trains on the nearby line).

But will we get real politics from our present masters, besotted as they are with Brexit?

We will have to wait and see.