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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Walmart reclaims Fortune 500 top spot in big year for energy firms

Category : Business

Mergers and corporate spin-offs feature prominently in Fortune magazine’s annual roundup of most successful businesses

Spin-offs, mergers and the US energy boom changed the face of corporate America last year, according to Fortune magazine’s latest poll of top companies.

Walmart reclaimed the top spot in 2012′s Fortune 500, which ranks businesses by revenue. The retail group pushed the oil company Exxon Mobil back into second position after a 5.9% rise in sales, to $443.9bn (£285bn).

Facebook made the Fortune 500 for the first time, in at 482, after going public less than a year ago. The social network site beat a record set by Google for the speed with which it joined the elite list.

Apple was the highest ranked technology company, rising from 17th to sixth position, in the process cracking the top 10 for the first time.

Hewlett Packard dropped from 10 to 15 after writing off $16bn on botched acquisitions in 2012.

But energy dominated the top of the poll, with Chevron in the third slot and the refiner Phillips 66 fourth. Phillips 66, once part of ConocoPhillips, was one of three new companies to enter the 500 after a corporate spin-off (when a company splits off a section of itself, declaring that part a separate business).

Kraft Foods, the US grocery business of the Kraft empire, was spun off last October and took the 151st slot in this year’s poll. Its former parent, Mondelez International, kept international brands such as Cadbury and Oreo, and took the 88th slot.

The third spin-off to join the 500 was Huntington Ingalls Industries (ranked 380), one of America’s largest military ship builders. Its parent company, Northrop Grumman, (ranked 120), shed Huntington to focus on its core aerospace franchise.

Mergers and acquisitions knocked 13 companies, with combined sales of $201bn, out of the latest poll. Ten of those deals involved another player in the ranking, with energy firms proving the most acquisitive sector.

Berkshire Hathaway rose from seventh spot to fifth, despite CEO Warren Buffett’s assertion that 2012 was a “subpar year”. General Motors went the other way, slipping from fifth to seventh.

The financial services sector was last year’s biggest winner. It made a total of $200bn in revenues in 2012, $53bn more than technology, which came in second.

Countries most exposed to the carbon bubble – map

Category : Business

This interactive map reveals which nations’ stock exchanges are most exposed to the ‘carbon bubble’

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Chinese banks top Forbes Global 2000 list of world’s biggest companies

Category : Business

ICBC and China Construction Bank are Nos 1 and 2, ahead of JP Morgan, General Electric and Exxon, last year’s biggest firm

For the first time, two Chinese firms have topped Forbes magazine’s annual poll of the world’s largest companies. The Chinese bank ICBC ousted Exxon Mobil as the world’s biggest company, according to the magazine’s 10th annual ranking of the world’s top 2,000 firms. China Construction Bank bumped JP Morgan out of the second spot.

The US had a total of 543 members in the list this year, 19 more firms than last year and the highest total since 2009. Japan had the second highest number of companies in the list, 251, followed by China with 136. For the first time since 2004, when the list was first published, China did not increase its number of Global 2000 companies.

The list uses an equal weighting of sales, profits, assets and market value to rank companies according to size. Exxon, last year’s No 1, slipped into fourth place this year behind the two Chinese firms, JP Morgan and General Electric. Apple eclipsed Exxon as the most valuable company by market capitalization last year and the two have vied for pole position ever since. Apple slipped behind Exxon once more on Wednesday. Despite a 24% drop in the Apple share price since last March, Forbes’s composite ranking placed Apple at No 15, in a tie with WalMart, the world’s largest retailer.

Banks and other financial-services firms dominate the list, accounting for 469 of the world’s top companies, down nine from last year. The next three biggest industries by membership are oil and gas (124), materials (122) and insurance (109).

Standard Life shocks BP AGM with vote against pay and bonuses

Category : Business

One of the City’s biggest institutional investors calls on BP to ‘raise its game’ as it votes against remuneration report

Standard Life, one of the City’s biggest institutional investors, put executive pay back on the public agenda on Thursday when it voted against BP’s remuneration report at the season’s first major annual meeting.

The investment house called on BP to “raise its game” and said it should do more to promote the interests of women and other minority groups.

Standard Life used the oil company’s meeting at the ExCeL centre in London to argue that the targets set by the remuneration committee made it too easy for executives to obtain generous bonuses or other payouts. The investor also voted against reelection of Antony Burgmans, the chairman of the BP remuneration committee.

At the stormy meeting the BP board was criticised by various investors over share buybacks, the Gulf of Mexico spill and even the company logo.

“I should like the [BP] board to note that we have voted against or abstained on remuneration related resolutions at seven out of the last eight AGMs,” said Guy Jubb, global head of governance and stewardship at Standard Life Investments. “We want to see the remuneration committee raise its game and make significant improvements to address our concerns.”

Standard Life holds only 1.3% of the BP share capital but is one of the major investors. Its appearance in front of hundreds of small shareholders was an embarrassment for a company whose reputation is still suffering badly from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Institutional investors normally take their concerns to a company board in private and rarely turn up to AGMs unless the issue is considered very serious.

Burgmans, who saw 4% vote against his re-election, said high bonuses were on offer at BP but mostly had not been paid because targets had not been met. This showed the system worked, he said.

Executive pay issues have focused on the chief executive, Bob Dudley, who saw a drop in overall remuneration during 2012 but still secured £1.8m in total pay and bonuses plus a £5m injection into his pension pot. That was despite an 18% slump in underlying BP profits to less than £12bn, while his bonus target was in theory 923% of his base salary.

Referring to the bonus for Dudley, Burgmans said: “I admit it is a very high figure but the company would have to fire on all cylinders [for him to get it].”

The attack by Standard Life suggests there could be a repeat of last year’s AGM season, when there were was a series of revolts against excessive executive payouts at Britain’s leading companies during a period of high unemployment and government austerity became known as the “shareholder spring”.

The pensions advisory organisation, Pirc, had already raised the alarm about the BP remuneration report and has also urged shareholders to vote against AGM resolutions at other companies such as temporary power generator Aggreko.

In the end nearly 6% of shareholders voted against the BP remuneration report while a similar level of dissent was recorded against the re-election of the BP chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg. He has been a lightning rod for wider criticism of BP executives since the Macondo blowout three years ago.

BP said the 94% of shareholders voting in favour was the highest number for seven years and compared well with many other companies in previous years.Svanberg and Dudley gave an upbeat assessment of BP prospects despite continuing civil action in the US courts over the Deepwater Horizon and a $38bn (£24bn) sell-off of assets to raise cash to pay off liabilities emanating from the spill of April 2010.

Svanberg said BP had ended the 2012/13 financial year in good shape. “We have reorganized and restructured. We are resolving the uncertainties facing the company.We have a clear strategy. And more than everything we have great people. We go into a new year with momentum and with confidence.”

Dudley said the settling of many legal actions against in the US and the new deal with Rosneft in Russia were two of many pointers to a strong future. “I hope that you will leave here confident that your company is on the right course – in good shape to safely deliver energy for customers and sustainable growth for our shareholders.

But shareholders at the AGM raised all kinds of concerns, not least the decision to move ahead with $8bn worth of sharebuybacks. One investor, John Farmer, said the repurchasing of a company’s own shares was merely an “act of faith” that it would help boost the share price but often turned out to be pouring “money down the drain”.

Svanberg begged to disagree while Dudley was forced to deny allegations from shareholders based in the US Gulf who accused BP of playing down the health risks of the dispersants it had used to clear up the Gulf spill.

Environmentalists attacked the board over its commitments to high-carbon activities such as the Canadian tar sands but company executives insisted their took climate change sertiously and would only engage in “responsible” activities.

Executive pay: the likely flashpoints

Category : Business

After last year’s shareholder spring, the mood of rebellion against directors’ rewards may bubble up again this month – and is likely to be at its strongest at these annual meetings

BP

Pay campaigners have in the past confined their criticism to companies gifting bonuses to executives who have manifestly failed. Latterly, however, many have grown increasingly uneasy at the size of potential payouts on offer, which have ballooned at many large companies. Tougher laws requiring shareholder approval for large individual bonus payouts have been passed in Switzerland, adding to calls in the UK and elsewhere for payouts to be kept in check. Campaigners calculate BP chief executive Bob Dudley could receive performance-related payouts of up to 923% of his $1.75m (£1.15m) salary. Last year, 13.5% of votes cast at the oil group’s annual meeting were in protest – that is, “no” votes or abstentions – over pay deals for Dudley and his fellow directors.

RSA

The insurance group is expected to see investors register a protest at its decision to replace long-standing auditor Deloitte with rival KPMG.

This is not because they are keen for Deloitte to stay on – quite the contrary, after the firm received £10m for additional services sold to RSA on top of £6m for audit work. The proposed move from Deloitte has prompted concern because RSA’s audit committee chairman, Alastair Barbour, only stepped down as a senior KPMG partner in March 2011. Too close a relationship for some. Meanwhile, big bonuses for chief executive Simon Lee after a 20% fall in pre-tax profits and a dividend cut also sticks in the craw for many. Last year 9% of votes at the AGM were cast in protest over RSA boardroom pay deals.

WPP

Most chief executives facing a pay controversy try to absent themselves from the debate, or defer irate questions to the chairman or head of the remuneration committee. Not so Sir Martin Sorrell. In the runup to what he knew would be certain defeat at WPP’s meeting last year, he railed against those who suggested he was excessively remunerated. “WPP is not a public utility,” he said. His role, he argued, was “to behave like an owner and entrepreneur and not a bureaucrat”, and that meant paying him accordingly. Last year some 60% of votes were cast in protest at pay deals for Sorrell and his fellow directors.

Centrica

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw and four boardroom colleagues shared payouts totalling £16.4m last year. Such rewards have already sparked outrage from unions and fuel poverty campaigners who insist they are unmerited after Centrica subsidiary British Gas raised consumer gas prices by 6%. Coincidentally, the rise in payouts for executive directors was also 6% – gains the company insisted were based “squarely on performance”. That was not an argument that convinced all shareholders last year. Some 16.2% of votes cast at the 2012 annual shareholder meeting were in protest at the pay arrangements for Laidlaw and his fellow directors.

National Express

A delegation of American trade unionists is expected to return to National Express’s shareholder meeting this year, determined to highlight what they see as the company’s moves to block Teamster union recruitment efforts at school bus depots in America.

US union leaders said they had held talks with institutional investors and members of parliament about their concerns. The group is unlikely to face pressure this year from activist investor Elliott Advisors, which has in the past agitated for strategic changes. Elliott sold half of its near-20% holding last month and described itself as a “strong believer in National Express’s management team and its strategy”.

Prudential

Chief executive Tidjane Thiam surprised some by retaining the support of shareholders following the group’s ill-fated takeover bid for Asian competitor AIA three years ago. Last month, however, that sorry episode came back to haunt the FTSE 100 boss when he became the highest-profile figure to be personally censured by the Financial Services Authority. The regulator suggested he had not behaved “openly and cooperatively” towards it over the proposed deal, and went on to fine the group £30m.

Despite the huge fine and the censure, Thiam has received a £2m bonus. Last year the group faced a protest vote of 33.6% over its boardroom pay arrangements. Thiam, however, enjoyed near-unanimous support, with 99.1% of votes in favour of his re-election to the board.

SSE fined record £10.5m by Ofgem over ‘prolonged and extensive’ mis-selling

Category : Business

Utility giant gave ‘misleading and unsubstantiated statements’ to potential customers about prices and savings, says watchdog

The utility giant SSE is to be fined £10.5m for “prolonged and extensive” mis-selling in what will be the largest ever penalty imposed on an energy provider.

The energy watchdog Ofgem said it found “failures at every stage of the sales process” across SSE’s telephone, in-store and doorstep selling activities.

SSE provided “misleading and unsubstantiated statements” to potential customers about prices and savings that could be made by switching to SSE, according to Ofgem.

Ofgem said the level of the fine reflected the seriousness and the duration of the mis-selling, as well as the harm caused to customers and the likely gain to SSE.

Management at SSE – one of Britain’s “big six” energy suppliers – failed to pay enough attention to compliance, which allowed the mis-selling to take place, added Ofgem.

Ian Marlee, the managing director for markets at Ofgem, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “This is a woeful catalogue of failures by the SSE management.

“This fine represents the fact that what they were doing was allowing a culture of mis-selling to continue. They weren’t doing enough to prevent sharp selling practices from their selling agents. They actually provided misleading sales scripts.

“Some people were being told they were going to get savings when actually they were being put on a worse deal. People were expecting savings and were not getting the levels of savings. People were being told direct debit levels that made it sound like they were going to be better off when in fact they were worse off.

“What we need and what we expect from energy companies is they have a culture of putting consumers first and complying with the rules.

“Clearly SSE management were not doing that which is why we imposed the largest fine on energy suppliers we have ever imposed.”

The fine will be paid to the Treasury, Marlee said.

Greenland halts new oil drilling licences

Category : Business

Government reluctant to hand out new permits while exploration under existing licences will be subject to more scrutiny

The new government in Greenland has slapped a moratorium on the granting of fresh offshore oil and gas drilling licences in the country’s Arctic waters in a move which has been welcomed by Greenpeace but will disappoint the industry.

The ban came as one of the Arctic drilling pioneers, the British company Cairn Energy, failed in a bid to keep an injunction on any protests organised against it by Greenpeace.

A coalition agreement signed by prime minister Aleqa Hammond and others inside a newly elected administration said it would be “reluctant” to hand out any new permits, while exploration under existing licences could only be done under much heavier safety scrutiny. Oil industry experts in London said that a new licensing round that would have opened up waters off the north east of Greenland would not now take place.

Jon Burgwald, Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace in Denmark, said it was good news for everyone: “Until now, the people of Greenland have been kept in the dark about the enormous risks taken by the politicians and companies in the search for Arctic oil. Now it seems that the new government will start taking these risks seriously. The logical conclusion must be a total ban on offshore oil drilling in Greenland.”

Thecoalition agreement makes clear a parliamentary body will be established to scrutinise offshore operations while promising oil spill safety plans will be made publicly available in future.

Greenland, with Alaska and Russia, has been at the forefront of oil company hopes to uncover an estimated 25% of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves lying under and around the Arctic ocean.

Early drilling operations by Cairn and Shell infuriated environmentalists worried about global warming and concerned that the pristine and icy waters of the far north could be irreparably damaged by any oil spills.

A decision by the former Greenland government and Cairn not to make public any spill response plan caused particular concern and led to Cairn’s Edinburgh headquarters being taken over briefly by protestors dressed as polar bears.

A legal injunction obtained by Cairn against Greenpeace International was lifted on Wednesday although a parallel one against Greenpeace UK, which organised the protest back in 2011, remains in place. Cairn spent $1.4bn (£1bn) drilling without commercial success off Greenland while Shell has just been forced to drop plans to drill again off Alaska this summer after it ran into a series of technical problems in the region during 2012.

Hammond’s Siumut party came to power this month following an election campaign dominated by a debate over the activities of foreign investors and concerns among the 57,000 population that Greenland’s future could be dictated by the demands of potentially polluting new industries rather than traditional Inuit fishing and hunting.

Cyprus to keep banks shut into next week as it seeks deal to avert disaster

Category : Business

Ministers continue negotiations with EU, IMF and Russia as suspicions grow that Kremlin is pressing for stakes in gas fields

Cyprus ordered its banks to remain closed until next week as the cabinet held emergency talks on Wednesday in an effort to strike a deal with the EU or Russia to avert financial meltdown and stave off bankruptcy.

After the country’s parliament rejected a plan to provide €5.8bn (£5bn) by seizing a portion of bank deposits from anyone with a bank account, Cyprus is struggling to come up with a plan that will let it access an EU bailout to stop its banks failing.

The country’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ready to provide €10bn in an emergency bailout if Cyprus comes up with an extra €7bn itself. Most of the bailout money is needed to shore up the country’s oversized banking sector, with the rest for government finances.

No clear “plan B” had emerged after meetings between politicians and representatives of European partners and the IMF. The Cypriot cabinet was said to be discussing ideas including the nationalisation of pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold €2bn-€3bn, and another form of levy on deposits. The talks were due to resume

Another option debated may have been natural gas bonds linked to hydrocarbon reserves discovered off Cyprus, which remain uncertain and will not be exported until at least 2019.

It was unclear whether European partners would accept the idea of turning to pension fund assets, which could leave the government exposed to further debts.

“We don’t have days or weeks, we have only hours to save our country,” Averof Neophytou, deputy leader of the ruling Democratic Rally party, told reporters as crisis talks in Nicosia dragged on into the evening.

Banks in Cyprus will now not open until Tuesday at the earliest, because Monday is a bank holiday. They have been shut since last week to prevent a run on deposits. The country’s two main banks – Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus – face potential failure if a bailout is not secured. One official told the Associated Press that Europe and the IMF were pressing for the two banks to be wound down. The Cypriot government was said to be considering the possibility of imposing capital controls amid fears that money would flood out of the country once its banks were reopened.

With the EU deal uncertain, Cyprus was set to launch a second day of talks with its ally Russia in Moscow on Thursday over a multibillion-dollar loan. The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, held inconclusive negotiations with Russian officials, but said he would stay in Moscow “as long as it takes” to reach a deal.

“We had a very good first meeting, very constructive, very honest discussion,” Sarris said after meeting Anton Siluanov, Russia’s finance minister. “We’ve underscored how difficult the situation is.” But he said there were “no offers, nothing concrete”.

With an estimated $31bn (£21bn) held in Cypriot banks by Russian banks, businesses and individuals, as well as up to $40bn in loans to Cyprus-registered firms, Russia has been gripped by fear since the crisis began to unfold, with state-run television transmitting rare live reports from outside the Cypriot parliament.

Yet the Kremlin’s reputation for seeking hard assets abroad in exchange for aid prompted speculation that negotiations were dragging as it bargained for stakes in offshore gas fields and Cypriot banks. Gas fields discovered in 2011 could be worth many times Cyprus’s GDP but the exact potential revenue stream is uncertain.

Much speculation has fallen on Gazprom, the state gas monopoly that has often been dubbed a tool of Kremlin foreign policy. A spokesman shrugged off speculation that it was seeking exploration rights for gas deposits in the Mediterranean. “There have been a lot of fantasies in the press,” a Gazprom spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, said. “We have made no proposals.” He said no Gazprom officials took part in Wednesday’s talks.

The appearance in Moscow of George Lakkotrypis, Cyprus’s minister for energy, commerce, industry and tourism, only fuelled the speculation. Cypriot officials said he was visiting a tourism exhibit.

On Wednesday, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev criticised the EU’s handling of the Cyprus crisis, describing it as a “bull in a china shop” and adding that the bank deposit levy reminded him of Soviet-era policies that, he said, robbed Russians of their savings.

The Russian press reported that Gazprombank, a subsidiary of the gas group, was interested in Laiki Bank. The Cypriot government denied reports that it had been sold to foreign investors.

Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, a Russian bank, said a bid for gas fields would fit with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s strategy of using natural resources to boost Russia’s influence. “I could see some potential deal around the natural gas fields – energy is something that Putin believes makes the country powerful,” he said. “It would fit with his long-term agenda.”

A deal on banks appeared less likely, he said, particularly considering Russian clients were now seeking to move funds out of Cyprus and its banks were looking less than healthy.

Teetering Cypriot banks have been crippled by their exposure to the financial crisis in neighbouring Greece, where the eurozone debt crisis began.

The uncertain situation in Cyprus is “very damaging” and needed to be addressed immediately, the EU Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, told the European parliament.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said Cyprus’s banking sector, which through foreign funds attracted by low tax deals has swelled to eight times the country’s GDP “is not sustainable”.

The European Central Bank’s chief negotiator on Cyprus, Jörg Asmussen, said the ECB would have to pull the plug on Cypriot banks unless the country took a bailout quickly. “We can provide emergency liquidity only to solvent banks and … the solvency of Cypriot banks cannot be assumed if an aid programme is not agreed on soon, which would allow for a quick recapitalisation of the banking sector,” Asmussen told the German weekly Die Zeit on Tuesday. Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, said he could not rule out Cyprus leaving the eurozone, although he hoped its leaders would find a solution for it to stay.

Cyprus’s Orthodox church said it was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds. The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery.

Many infrastructure projects unlikely to be completed during this parliament

Category : Business

Fewer than one in four road, rail and energy projects finished, putting pressure on chancellor to speed up capital spending

Fewer than one in four of the government’s hundreds of national infrastructure projects – including road, rail and energy schemes – will be completed during this parliament, research by the Guardian has found.

The figures will feed growing pressure on the chancellor, George Osborne, before budget to speed up capital spending on homes, transport and

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King Coal nears the end of the line

Category : Business

Daw Mill will see its output end just as another large mine – Maltby – has been mothballed due to geological problems

The closure of Daw Mill comes when King Coal has made an astonishing comeback with consumption by UK electricity generators up year-on-year by more than 30%.

Despite government targets of reducing Britain’s CO2 emissions, the energy companies are burning lots more carbon-heavy coal attracted by its relatively cheap price compared to (environmentally-cleaner) gas and the need to use or lose this coal-burning capacity ahead of new pollution controls in 2015.

Around 40% of the electricity generated by power stations comes from coal while gas trails with a 30% share followed by nuclear, wind and other renewable sources.

Because of heavy usage, local coal stocks are at their lowest level for 40 years while Daw Mill will see its output end just as another large underground mine – at Maltby in South Yorkshire – has been mothballed due to geological problems.

The winners in the short-term will be the foreign coal exporters such as the US, Russia and Colombia which saw shipments to Britain rise by 50% last year.

The discovery and exploitation of cheap shale gas in the US has undermined the competitive advantage of coal there, encouraging US mine owners to export more to Britain.

But the UK is not alone in rediscovering a liking for coal. Consumption in other nations, notably India and China, is booming with estimates of up to 1,000 new coal-fired power stations being prepared for operation, according to the World Resources Institute.

Despite the immediately sunny outlook for the global coal industry, the longer-term future looks more cloudycloudier. China is increasingly worried about air pollution while energy suppliers in Britain have been forced to fit expensive filters on their power stations to screen out nitrogen oxides and other pollutants or risk closure under EU environmental legislation.

An industrial emissions directive, also emanating from Brussels and forcing even tighter controls, came into force in Britain in January while a carbon price support mechanism – an additional levy on fossil fuels used to generate electricity – will be introduced next month.

Five years ago there were high hopes of a new generation of “clean” coal-fired power stations as the government prepared to help fund plants where C02 would be removed using new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Little has happened due to the soaring cost of development although pilot schemes are planned.

Coal has a rich history as a fuel source in Britain. During its heyday just before the first world war, 1.25 million British workers produced 300m tonnes annually. Now the number of miners is set to fall to 5,000 and the output which rose after previous falls to 18.5m tonnes in 2011 is set to decline again.

The industry has fought back after previous setbacks, not least when striking miners were dubbed the “enemy within” by a Thatcher government which introduced energy privatisation and a “dash for gas”.

But the end of Maltby and now Daw Mill makes it look like the local King Coal – if not dead – is finally on its last legs.