Businessman who purchased British Coal’s English mining assets loses nine-year battle with cancer
RICHARD Budge, the businessman who was crowned ‘King Coal’ after successfully spearheading the purchase of state-owned British Coal’s mining assets in England when the industry was privatized more than 20 years ago, died today [18 July] at the age of 69 following a nine-year battle with prostate cancer.
Mr Budge was born in 1947, the year the UK coal industry, with almost a thousand deep mines and a million employees, was nationalized and became the National Coal Board. Almost half a century later when the ‘ultimate privatization’ was completed, there were just 19 deep mines in production – and Richard Budge’s Doncaster-based RJB Mining company bought all but two of them.
The three English coalfield packages embracing 17 deep mines, 30 surface mines, more than 400 million tonnes of reserves and nearly 50,000 acres of land, cost RJB Mining, of which Mr Budge was chief executive, £815 million.
Lincolnshire-born, Mr Budge went to Boston Grammar school and then studied Fine Art at Manchester University before leaving to join the Retford-based company, AF Budge, owned by his late brother Tony, which was involved in civil engineering projects, constructing major motorway interchanges and extracting coal from seams laying close to the surface.
In 1992, Richard Budge bought the Opencast Coal and Plant Division from the family business. He bought a small deep mine in Northumberland, contracted for surface mine sites, and, as the Government prepared for the sale of what former Energy Secretary Cecil Parkinson had described as the ‘ultimate privatization’, rescued three deep mines which British Coal had decided would play no part in the privatization process.
These ‘lease and licence’ mines went on to produce almost 20 million tonnes of coal for power stations and industry before they closed.
The mining assets of British Coal were sold off in five packages. The core three in England bought by RJB Mining transformed overnight what was a relatively small company to the biggest independently owned coal production business in Europe.
Mr Budge and his team took on the challenge of changing the culture of a business where more than 10,000 employees had only previously had one employer – British Coal – which had closed more than 100 collieries in the decade from the miners’ strike ending to privatization being completed.
Armed with contracts to supply power stations in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East at guaranteed prices for three years, Mr Budge launched a personal hearts-and-minds campaign, convincing employees in an industry where tribal loyalties were rock solid, that he was in it for the long term.
There was investment in both deep and surface mines, new machinery accessing millions of tonnes of reserves, and a determination to maintain and improve health and safety standards.
A slump in energy prices in the late 1990s as coal supply contracts were being renegotiated dampened the appetite for the investment needed in an industry typically facing a four-to-five-year payback and Mr Budge quit as the company’s chief executive in the summer of 2001.
He then invested his energies and much of his personal wealth in securing a future for Hatfield, a colliery near Doncaster with substantial reserves and the potential to pioneer carbon capture technology, seen as an environmental lifeline for coal.
He secured foreign investment but little was forthcoming from the EU or the UK Government, which by then was promoting ‘renewable’ energies as the way forward.
Mr Budge was the driving force behind the foundation of the Confederation of UK Coal Producers (CoalPro), a campaign group which, for the first time, gave independent producers a voice in the corridors of power.
It had many successes – but failed in its biggest objective: to secure government and EU investment in clean coal carbon capture and storage technology that would have allowed Britain’s most plentiful fuel to be utilized in a more environmentally acceptable way.
The decision sounded the death knell for the British coal industry, and the country’s last deep mine, once owned and developed by RJB Mining, ceased production at the end of last year.