Last week, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, visited Cornwall where she came to unveil a plaque to mark the launch of a degree apprenticeship programme at Camborne School of Mines (CSM). During her visit to Camborne School of Mines, the Princess Royal learnt more about its vital role in developing the UK’s Critical Minerals Strategy, and the global sustainable mining.
Currently, there are issues around the apprenticeship levy, which is a useful tool for unlocking private-sector funding for skills. Using CSM as an example, if a Scottish mining company wishes to train or upskill a member of staff using funding from the apprenticeship levy, they currently can only send them to a Scottish educational institution. However, currently, CSM is the only mining school left in the UK or Ireland. I believe that the Government should amend this meaning that we can begin to train up a new domestic workforce required to develop the raw materials and technology that we need to deliver net zero by 2050.
The new workforce cannot come soon enough as just a few miles away, they are only a few days away from beginning the dewatering of the mine at South Crofty. The team at Cornish Metals have made some incredible progress and attracted some serious investors who have a deep understanding of the mining business. Mining ventures are sometimes speculative and fluctuations in commodity prices can affect confidence. Many doubted whether production could resume in Cornwall but their success in raising the funds to build a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and commence de-watering represents a huge leap forward.
Cornish Metals managed to raise over £40 million at the beginning of this year to help dewater the mine and get it back up and running. They wasted no time in delivering the project with the plant nearing completion when I visited. It means that water discharged from South Crofty will be cleaner than at any time in history, so the project brings a major benefit to the environment too. It is now hoped that both water pumps will be operational by early November with de-watering commencing. If things all go to plan, there is the possibility that the mine could be fully reopened by the end of 2024 and hopefully move to a new construction phase in advance of that.
The recent rise in the tin price means that production in Cornwall is viable once again but it is also important for another reason. In an uncertain world, national resilience is becoming more important. In the late twentieth century, there was a view that globalisation meant we no longer needed to have certain primary industries because it was assumed we could always import the goods we needed. We now know that that view was quite naive because we have uncertainty around the globe and have ended up with an over-dependence on foreign states and sometimes unreliable states for the resources, and crucially the workforce, that our economy depends on.