Coalfields Regeneration Trust

– in the Scottish Parliament on 24th February 2011.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S3M-7706, in the name of Helen Eadie, on celebrating the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament remembers that coal mines across the United Kingdom were closed during the 1980s and 1990s and considers that the effects were devastating not only to workers and their families but to their wider communities especially in Scotland in towns and villages such as Lochgelly, Cardenden, Kinglassie and Kelty where the scars run deep and have left an enduring regeneration challenge; celebrates the fact that in 1999 the Coalfields Regeneration Trust was formed as an independent charity operating on a UK-wide basis, funded in Scotland by the Scottish Executive, and is the only organisation dedicated solely to the social and economic regeneration of coalfield communities; further commemorates the efforts of miners across the centuries in helping to build Scotland into what it is today and, in recognition of their efforts, pledges to continue to do all that it can to say thank you to folk in those coal-mining communities whose harshness of life over the years entitles them to fulsome support, and would welcome a demonstration of gratitude on behalf of all of the people of Scotland by ensuring full financial support is given to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Scotland.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I am grateful to the Parliament for giving me the opportunity to promote a debate about supporting the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust but, following our main debate this morning, I was most concerned to see a tweet from the Scottish nationalist MSP Stewart Stevenson saying that it was important but not that important—not important enough to have two debates on. He should try saying that to the former miners’ families in the constituency that I am privileged to represent, my colleagues who are present and some of those who have had to go because of other commitments.

My constituents will learn of the savage cuts that are being approved by the Scottish nationalists and, in particular, on Alex Neil’s watch. It was inevitable that this debate would never be consensual and not only because this morning’s debate was acrimonious. It was always scheduled for conflict once the extent of the threat to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust became apparent.

The approach that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust takes is different from that of all the other enterprise agencies in Scotland, because it starts to work from the bottom up to secure people’s trust and their commitment to ambitions and goals for regenerating the communities and to the all-important task of motivating individuals. That work takes real know-how and tenacity of endeavour.

I experienced that sort of hard graft when I was a manager at West Fife Enterprise, an organisation that was founded by local people for local people. As manager, I had the job of applying for all sorts of funding and, once we had it, using it to create local enterprises and training opportunities. None of that was easy, especially as we were dealing with communities in which the men in particular had lost all feeling of self-esteem and self-worth. Poverty was everywhere—in their homes and in their streets. Their confidence had been shattered by, in some cases, not having worked since the closure of their pits.

At West Fife Enterprise, we had to encourage, motivate and believe in the impossible. That is precisely what those who work, or volunteer, for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust do day in, day out. The trust provides special skills with a special approach. For that reason, the cuts will come as a savage blow to the coalfield communities—as savage as Thatcher’s closures of the pits. We now know that the minister, Alex Neil, plans to be just as cruel.

I am privileged to be part of the debate for a number of reasons. I have the honour to represent the Dunfermline East constituency, which is made up of many former coal mining towns and villages. My father-in-law, Alexander Eadie, who is well known to Alex Neil and is now nearing the end of his days at the age of 90, was a National Union of Mineworkers official who went on to be an MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy under Tony Benn, working with our dear friend and Labour’s lost leader, John Smith.

My father-in-law had responsibility for the coal industry in government. His father was tragically injured in a mining accident and died as a result. Alex spoke often of the black diamonds but, when he did so, he meant not the coal coming out of the earth but the black faces of the miners and the special body of men who made up the mining communities. They were the true black diamonds for their strength in every imaginable way. They created the industry and the nation that we have come to rely on. My husband was brought up in a mining village and regularly ran to meet his daddy emerging from the pits with a black face and white eyes where his safety goggles had been.

In all the mining disasters in Scotland, blood ran red in communities. Perhaps that was never more the case than when we witnessed the demise of the coal mining industry in Scotland—I see that only one Tory is left in the chamber. The devastation was awful.

Transformation of communities is under way. Although much has been done, much remains to be done in the special way that only organisations such as the Coalfields Regeneration Trust are good at delivering.

The Tories often ask me and wonder why they do so badly in Scotland all the time. The Tories cut the life-blood of our mining heartlands and they still do not get why they have lost our people’s absolute trust. The Tories did harm and caused hurt that will run deep for many generations to come—people still cannot forgive or forget the Thatcher era. In villages such as Glencraig, from which Lawrence Daly came, Crosshill, Lochore and Lochgelly, some individuals have never worked since the mine closure programmes.

I started work in High Valleyfield with West Fife Enterprise on the first day of the miners’ strike in 1984. The memories are still vivid of the long queues to the social work offices in which I had a temporary desk pending my move to the permanent offices of West Fife Enterprise—the soon-to-be legendary community training organisation that it has become today. I am proud that I played a founding role in shaping that organisation.

I am sure that Labour will commit to supporting the Coalfields Regeneration Trust’s work. The people who are in the most need deserve our support, not the unfeeling and uncaring cuts that Alex Neil is about to impose on us.

I will set the record straight on the scurrilous attack on Labour’s record of fighting for compensation for Scottish miners who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger. The compensation schemes for those conditions were believed to be the largest in the country, if not the world. It is astonishing that Alex Neil continues to make false assertions. I recall no Scottish National Party members taking an interest in the subject when it was a live issue and when the famous and renowned firm Thompsons Solicitors and others made great practical efforts to establish systems and procedures to maximise payments and settlements to the most elderly surviving miners. Scotland also had a system to prioritise claims by the most elderly widows.

I make one last appeal to the minister not to cut the funds for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which has done nothing to deserve that. The nation needs to treat former coal-mining communities with the respect and dignity that they deserve. [Applause.]

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. I say to people in the public gallery that we do not allow applause during debates.

Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Helen Eadie on securing this members’ business debate. It is unfortunate that we debated similar issues this morning.

Since its formation in 1999, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has sought to improve the lives of people who live in coalfield communities and has targeted its resources on the most deprived 20 per cent of areas. The trust has benefited from more than £15 million from the Scottish Executive and Government since its inception. That has enabled it to conduct valuable work in areas including Fife, Clackmannanshire, the Lothians, East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and my area of North Lanarkshire to increase access to employment and lifelong learning and to promote community welfare and support services.

In many parts of Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, former mining communities suffer from deep-seated poverty as a consequence of the mining industry’s demise. Depopulation is also a factor. The narrow economic base in those areas makes them far more susceptible to the worst effects of the economic downturn, which shows little or no sign of easing in the near future, in the present economic climate.

The trust has awarded £371,000 of funding to 25 projects in North Lanarkshire since April 2008—the average award per project is just under £15,000. The trust channels much-needed funding into community projects, but the 2009 EKOS report “Evaluation of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust Activity in Scotland” notes that the trust’s influence goes far beyond direct funding to assisting groups with organisational and service infrastructure, which enhances those groups’ long-term prospects.

Key projects throughout North Lanarkshire have made a difference to the community. Funds have been given to groups and organisations. In December 2008, over £85,000 was given to Glenboig Neighbourhood House Life Centre to support its work over a two-year period. Members of the neighbourhood centre are in the gallery tonight. I should declare that I, too, am a member. The funding helped to further develop plans for a new custom-built centre and a community transport scheme for the village where I live.

Since 2008, there has also been support for the Gartcosh parent and toddler group and Auchengeich Amateur Boxing Club, alongside large funding for St Patrick’s Furniture Project, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Unemployed Workers Centre and Recap in Cumbernauld. I must also not forget the £4,893 that went towards the building of the Auchengeich memorial garden. On 20 September 2009, the First Minister unveiled a plaque in the garden to mark the 50th anniversary of the pit disaster that took the lives of 47 miners. As Helen Eadie indicated, we owe a debt not only to the miners who gave their lives to deliver coal for the people of Scotland but to former miners who live on today and to the families of the miners who gave up their lives.

As the only organisation that is devoted solely to the social and economic regeneration of coalfield communities, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has successfully channelled substantial investment into community-led project activity in coalfield areas in my constituency and throughout Scotland. However, there is no doubt that more still needs to be done to improve the lives of those living in these areas. Scotland has an industrial heritage of which we should be proud. It is essential that no community should be left behind. Deprivation in Scotland continues to be disproportionately concentrated in coalfield communities and it is therefore fundamental, particularly at present, that these communities are supported to ensure a viable future. That would be for the benefit of older and future generations. I look forward to the continued work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.

I come to my advert of the evening, Presiding Officer. In addition to supporting the Glenboig Neighbourhood House Life Centre, I support the funding bid that the Auchengeich retired miners group is making to re-establish the bowling green in the area. That will help the sustainability of Auchengeich Miners Welfare and Social Club, of which I am proud to be a member.

Clearly, these are emotional issues and emotional times. We have to ensure that the Scottish Government finds the resources to allow the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to continue. That support is needed by future generations in these communities. As I indicated, many of these communities are isolated from the main towns and cities of Scotland. They have to have support. The financial support that has been provided over the past 12 years has been a substantial element in allowing these communities to develop their own strategies and centres. It has allowed communities to take forward the issues that are most important to them. I commend the motion.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I congratulate Helen Eadie on securing tonight’s important members’ business debate, even though her thunder was partially stolen when her party opted to debate the same topic this morning. However, no one who passes Helen’s office and sees the many tributes to miners that are on display can be in any doubt about her unswerving support of our former mining communities.

When I was a small boy, my grandfather worked on commission driving a baker’s van. It was not long before he discovered that some of his best customers—and, indeed, profits—came from the mining communities of west Fife. When I travelled with him in my school holidays, it was exciting for this east coast bairn to visit what were then exotic places. I am thinking of places such as Wemyss, Ballingry, Bowhill and Cardenden. I recall vividly the miners’ rows and the pervading coal reek that came from the smoke that billowed from every chimney. I, too, remember the white-eyed men I saw walking their greyhounds. One particular highlight was visiting the grave of the former Celtic goalie, John Thomson, in Bowhill cemetery. The miners and their families were generous and loyal people and I liked them a lot.

This is not the place to discuss the many reasons why deep coal mining came to an end in Fife and elsewhere. Having recently lost a constituent and family friend in the appalling mining disaster in New Zealand, I find it impossible these days to justify human beings having to crawl on their bellies along mine shafts to earn a living. Fife knows only too well the real cost of coal in terms of the mining fatalities over the years.

However, one could never doubt the miners’ resilience or the talents that drove so many of them to the very top. I am proud that my fellow Fifer Jennie Lee, Nye Bevan’s wife, came from a mining background in Lochgelly; that the formidable general secretary of the NUM in my young days, Lawrence Daly, originated in Kelty—not Glencraig, I think; and that great footballers such as Jim Baxter, Charlie Fleming and Felix Reilly, writers such as Val McDermid and artists such as Jack Vettriano were all products of the Fife coalfield, as was Henry McLeish, our former First Minister.

It was right and proper that, even after the demise of king coal, the communities at the heart of the coalfield should be supported, so I am happy to commend the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, not only in Fife but throughout the former coalfield areas of Scotland. The physical scars of the past have largely faded in west Fife, but I am well aware that the spirit of the former mining communities is as strong as ever. That is due in no small part to the work of the CRT. In the decade since it was set up, the CRT has awarded some £20 million to projects in Scotland. In Fife alone, between 1 April 2008 and 21 February 2011, some 91 projects received grants averaging £12,000 each, which amounts to around £1.1 million over the award period.

Despite Helen Eadie’s comments on Thatcher’s record on mine closures, which Alex Neil and others largely rebutted earlier today, I do not intend to get into an argument about the CRT’s future level of funding, as members’ business debates are supposed to be consensual. However, I am sure that the Westminster Government and whichever party is in power in Scotland come May will want its work to continue and, indeed, to improve.

I find CRT projects that are aimed at young people especially interesting. The Lochgelly and Benarty befriending project, in which young volunteers are encouraged to befriend elderly people who feel lonely and socially excluded—I know a lot about how they feel—is a typical example. The Synergie youth project, which is based in the Linburn and Woodmill communities, helps to alleviate the concerns of parents and police about the safety of local children who are out at weekends in alcohol environments. Results have shown a sharp drop in teenage drinking. The west Fife green map project is also a way of bringing people together, by breaking down communications barriers in the former coalfield communities of Kincardine, Culross and Low Valleyfield. The green map idea is intended to help them to have their voices heard in the community planning process and to improve the services that they receive from statutory agencies.

There are many more projects in Fife and elsewhere that are worthy of mention. The important thing is to send out a loud and clear message from the chamber this evening that the work of the CRT is vitally important, not just in regenerating our former mining areas but for wider economic generation.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Coalfields Regeneration Trust again. I say “again” as I last debated the subject on 29 November 2007, not because Labour chose to have the same subject debated twice on the same day, which was rather odd. However, this is a worthy subject for a members’ business debate.

Since the previous debate more than three years ago, I have worked with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust on a number of projects in west Fife, which I represent. Those include opening an all-weather play area—a facility that is a great asset to the community—in Torryburn a couple of years ago and discussing issues here in the Parliament with trust staff, many of whom I see in the public gallery this evening. I have no doubt but that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has played an important role in empowering local communities to take action to improve the quality of life in their area. It has provided a vital hand to some of our neediest communities when that was needed.

It is a core belief of the Liberal Democrats that local communities should be involved in developing local solutions to local problems and should not simply have things thrust on them. Involvement gives people the chance to progress personally, for the benefit of the local community and themselves, whether it be in education, health or employment.

A particular barrier to employment in former coalfield areas has been the lack of accessible transport at appropriate times. The trust has supported community transport initiatives to help people to travel to work or to training schemes. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust plays an important role in improving the economic prospects of former mining communities, supporting and developing social enterprise. It also seeks to engage the business sector in corporate social responsibility to sustain its projects.

Fortunately, the work of the former Executive, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the Government and, most important, community activists in our former mining areas has helped to lift those areas out of dereliction. That has fostered strong and long-lasting community relationships and helped many of those areas to become desirable places in which to live and bring up a family. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust should therefore be commended for its hard work and its commitment to our former mining areas. Many of my constituents in Oakley, Blairhall, Newmills and elsewhere wish to move on from the coal mining legacy. Those have become modern places that attract new development and new people that bring new life to formerly derelict communities. Those communities want to move away from needing external help to become more sustainable in their own right.

In his contribution this morning, my colleague Jeremy Purvis outlined a different funding model that would help to sustain community help by using regional development banks to focus on providing support in our communities where it is most needed. In future, I think that trusts such as the Coalfields Regeneration Trust will look more towards that area rather than to local authorities or Government for the funding that they need to provide vital services. That is why we supported Labour’s motion at decision time.

The former coalfield communities are improving. Many have more modern community and residential facilities. Thanks to the work of many people in the communities affected, those areas are moving out of the deprivation of the 1950s and 1960s and becoming desirable places in which to live and bring up families. People from the former mining areas, including where I was raised in Fife, want a hand up, not a handout. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has done a great deal to help those communities and will continue to help them to find a more secure future that does not rely on handouts. I know that the trust has provided excellent projects, and I am sure that it will continue to do so in my constituency of Dunfermline West and elsewhere.

Photo of David Whitton David Whitton Labour

I am delighted to take part in tonight’s debate on this important topic and offer my congratulations to my colleague Helen Eadie on securing the debate.

As has been commented on, we have already debated the subject today, but we should not apologise for that because it is an important matter. On this occasion, though, as indicated by Mr Brocklebank and Mr Wilson, we are celebrating the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Mr Neil can rest easy that I am not about to throw a large number of verbal barbs in his direction.

Over the past decade, the Scottish Government has taken significant steps towards revitalising former coal mining areas, notably with projects such as the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. Independent study from the National Audit Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed that the trust has delivered hard and soft benefits.

I am sure that I speak for all members when I say that we all want to work for a fair and equitable Scotland in which each individual can fulfil his or her potential. The Scottish index of multiple deprivation, however, identifies many areas as deprived, particularly in the central belt, including three areas in my constituency of Strathkelvin and Bearsden. It only goes to show that in areas of relative affluence there can be pockets of poverty, with their attendant problems.

The 1999 coalfields task force identified former coalfield sites as unique in Great Britain for combining conditions of joblessness, physical isolation, poor infrastructure and severe health problems. While the trust has made a number of improvements, the Department for Communities and Local Government found that former coalfield areas were still a special case requiring unique attention. As such, continuing work by the trust is crucial. In efforts to rectify that embedded legacy of joblessness, the trust has made a number of investments in ideas suggested by the local people. According to the NAO, schemes approved by the trust have employed more than 14,000 people and trained almost 8,000 others to achieve their national vocational qualifications up to at least level 2.

The NAO also found that the trust’s engagement with local communities created about 8,000 jobs that otherwise would not have been created. Local jobs for local people, as Mr Tolson has just commented, so that they were not forced to get on their bikes to look for work. That, I think, is my only political comment of the evening.

The trust’s most substantial successes come from its ability to break traditions of social isolation and realise a competent, confident and integrated community. For example, the trust has encouraged more than 10,000 new people to volunteer in their community. A visible representation of those successes is provided by the 2,300 community centres that the trust has built or enhanced. One such centre is the Twechar healthy living and enterprise centre in my constituency, which has received substantial outside praise. As well as winning an architectural award, the centre was found by Local People Leading, an alliance of national networks and community groups that evaluates community initiatives, to serve as a focal point for community activities that provide essential services that might otherwise be lacking, and the in-house lifelong learning team provides employment and training opportunities.

Similarly, the trust provided funds to the Twechar youth group to produce a film that explored the rich Roman heritage of the village. Those two projects in Twechar highlight the institutional benefits that the trust brings to Scotland. The link between the Scottish Government and local government stresses a future in which different government levels will work together in a relationship that is

“based on mutual respect and partnership”.

The recent regeneration discussion paper, “Building a Sustainable Future”, found that best practice from past regeneration projects included the development of partnerships between Government organisations and the people whom they serve, and the engagement of the community. One way in which the trust follows such best practice is through its methods of fund distribution. Rather than ring fencing funds, it can fund whatever projects communities find relevant, which means that trust projects are not mandates but collaborations. In its review of the trust, the Department for Communities and Local Government found that the organisation had particular acumen in working with local people.

Government resources are limited, but those that are backed by the trust are value for money. Although the additional jobs that were created came at a price of about £2.7 million, estimates found that the created jobs had saved the Exchequer more than £3 million. In addition, there is evidence from the NAO that suggests that the trust’s employment schemes are cheaper than other Government initiatives. That is why investment in and by the trust deserves the support of this Parliament and should be celebrated by us.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I have a vested interest in the debate because I am the son, the grandson and the brother-in-law of miners and I was brought up in the mining community of Patna in east Ayrshire. A highly enjoyable job that I had in the 1980s was as chief executive of the Cumnock and Doon Enterprise Trust, which was set up by a partnership involving the then Scottish Development Agency, the council and the private sector to bring new jobs and industry into Cumnock and Doon Valley. The problems that afflicted Cumnock and Doon Valley then—which, sadly, still afflict the area today—are typical of the problems that are faced in mining communities throughout Scotland.

There are three fundamental problems. First, when the pits shut, there was no big employer to take on the men who had been made redundant. Secondly, the areas in which mining communities are situated are, typically, semi-rural and often have very poor transport and other connections to areas where there are jobs for the young people who grow up in those communities. That has led to high levels of long-term unemployment and, in turn, to high levels of depopulation. Too many of those communities have got into a cycle of depopulation feeding unemployment and unemployment feeding depopulation. The objective of the Government and the Parliament is to do what we can to break that cycle of unemployment and depopulation in the mining communities.

If we are to do that, we must ensure that there is substantive investment by the public and private sectors in those mining communities. I see the role of public sector investment as being in helping to generate private sector investment and thereby create new jobs and industry in those areas.

That is why, as the minister responsible for the town centre regeneration fund, I ensured that a high proportion of the funds went to coalfield community areas such as Lochgelly, where a new business centre is about to be opened as a result of money that was invested through that fund. That business centre is a good example of how we can create new jobs and industry in the mining areas.

As I made absolutely clear in this morning’s debate, the Scottish Government sees the Coalfields Regeneration Trust continuing to have a permanent and major role in helping us to regenerate coalfield communities. Helen Eadie said that we are not committed to the future of the trust. That is absolutely not true. I and my officials have had productive meetings with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and I have told it that we must give priority to two issues. First, we must maintain the core capacity of the trust, particularly the four staff who work there, so that they can continue to deliver on behalf of the coalfield communities. Secondly, the future focus must be on creating new jobs and industry in those areas, although not to the exclusion of everything else. The trust’s role is to be a partner in levering in funding from the private sector and the public sector, through the range of other available funds, to help the process of job creation.

It is also totally untrue that I have decided to impose savage cuts on the trust, as Helen Eadie also said. We have made no decision on the trust’s future budget because we are waiting for the trust to come forward with its business plan. Indeed, in its annual report from 2010, the trust said that it recognised the need for a change of emphasis and focus in its operations and that it wants to focus on dealing with the problems of worklessness and related issues, unemployment and the need to attract new jobs and industry.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I do not have time, I am afraid.

The trust has also said that it needs to engage in more spatial targeting that could result in a reduction of 38 per cent of the coalfield wards that it covers. As I said, we are waiting to hear from the Coalfield Regeneration Trust about its business plan for the future. We will continue to hold a positive dialogue with the trust to ensure that its work will continue.

I will tell you this, Presiding Officer: the Labour Party needs to learn something. We are having such difficulty with our budget because of the savage budget cuts that London has imposed. Two thirds of those cuts were imposed by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling; the other third came from the new Con-Dem Government. The reality is that the Labour Government took the decisions and we must face the consequences.

As the son, grandson, father-in-law and son-in-law of a miner, what disgusted me more than anything else—and, by God, I was disgusted by the Thatcher years and their impact on the mining communities—was the decision of a Labour Government to take the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers to court to stop it paying compensation to miners for pneumoconiosis and other diseases. None of us in those mining communities thought that we would live to see such a day. It is high time Helen Eadie got her facts right and fully understood how damaging that decision was.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Two thousand miners in Scotland died before they got their compensation because Labour took the union to court. Labour members should hang their heads in shame.

I tell you this, Presiding Officer: as far as this Government is concerned, we will continue to deliver for the coalfield communities in a way that the Labour Government never did.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. I now close this meeting of Parliament.

Meeting closed at 17:39.