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County holds its breath over refinery’s future

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big playerAN ARTICLE published on Sunday by a leading national newspaper has reignited fears amongst workers that a Milford Haven oil refinery may close, putting 400 jobs at risk.

It was reported that mounting losses as well as a shift in focus by parent company Murphy Oil – from refining to exploration – meant that the refinery was now at risk. The American oil giant has tried to sell the refinery, which opened in 1973, but no buyer has been found. This is despite the offer of a multi-million pound dowry.

According to accounts published by Murphy Oil in the USA, the refinery made a loss of $105m (£63m) in the last three months of 2013.

Murphy Oil classified the refinery, which is the smallest site in the UK, as a “discontinued operation” in its accounts, according to The Sunday Times. The Sunday Times has also reported that Murphy Oil said that it expects to complete the “disposition” of the refinery by this year.

Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, has spoken to The Herald about her concern about the future of refinery following the report that it may face closure.

Mrs Evans said: “This is deeply concerning. The accounts, filed in America, show Milford Haven representing a loss to the company of $105 million for the last quarter of 2013.

The site has been for sale for three years, but Murco has been unable to find a buyer for the site and had to write-down the company’s value by $73m (£44m) from its value last year.

“Murphy Oil has said that it expects to complete the “disposition” of the refinery at Milford Haven by the end of the year. I am seeking urgent clarity from the company as to what
that means.

“Assurances were given in November that the refinery would not close – and yet three months later the company is talking about “disposition.”

If disposition means a sale, then that could be positive as it would end a protracted period of uncertainty for the 400 strong workforce. However, if disposition means closure, then that would be a devastating and terrible blow to Milford Haven and the surrounding area.

“I know that there are several serious challenges facing the Milford Haven operation, including the downturn in demand for petrol. There is also new competition from giant refineries being built in the Middle East and Asia which can operate at a fraction of the cost of Milford Haven refinery, which is the smallest in Britain.

“I have written to the Minister for the Economy, Science and Transport asking what discussions she and her officials are having with the company, what assistance Government might be able to offer in terms of helping find a buyer for the refinery, and what support can be offered to the workers.

“I also am seeking a meeting with union representatives.”

Plaid Cymru AM for the Mid and West, Simon Thomas said: “Just a couple of months ago the current owners were adamant that closure was not on the cards at Milford Haven but comments by the company’s CEO and the write down of UK assets, namely Murco, appear to suggest a real threat to ongoing operations at Milford Haven.

“Four hundred jobs are at stake so it is vital that the Welsh Government intervenes now. In November we were told that talks between the Welsh Government and the company were not in relation to the plant’s closure which at the time was a great relief. But it is unfair to expect workers to live with such uncertainty hanging over them.

“I expect the Economy Minister to address the Assembly at the earliest possible opportunity to reassure us that the Welsh Government is fighting for those 400 jobs.”

Paul Davies, Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said, “The Murco oil refinery is an important employer in Pembrokeshire providing hundreds of skilled jobs.

“Further uncertainty over the refinery’s future is most unwelcome and I hope the company will be offered every possible support.

“I hope Welsh Labour Ministers are doing all they can to help secure the future of this refinery and the contribution it makes to the Welsh economy.”

Patricia Haylock, Head of Legal Services for Murco, told the Herald: “The sale of the refinery is an ongoing process.”

When asked by the Herald if the company would be giving assurances to employees and contractors, Mrs Haylock said: “We will be giving assurance that the sales process is continuing.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald asked Mrs Haylock if the mounting losses would make it more difficult for Murphy Oil to find a buyer, Mrs Halylock said “We obviously need to publish our financials, I cannot comment on whether or not this will make the sales process more difficult.”

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb, said: “It’s my understanding that nothing has happened in recent days or recent weeks to put a question mark over the Milford Haven Oil refinery. What is going on is a very long sale process which involves several different buyers, I understand, expressing an interest in buying the refinery. Now it’s up to the sellers, the Murphy Oil Corporation, and any interested parties to reach an agreed purchase price”.

It has been reported that Greenergy, who are part owned by Tesco, were bidding for the Murco business. However, yesterday Greenergy spokeswoman Alex Lewis told the Herald:

“We are a major fuel supplier in South Wales and across the UK and in recent years have invested in several former refineries. We are keeping the developing situation at the Milford Haven refinery under review, but currently we do not have plans to purchase this site.”

The sale of the refinery was being handled by Goldman Sachs, but yesterday a company spokeswoman for the firm refused to confirm if they will still involved with the refinery.

A Murco spokesman said: “Murco Petroleum Limited (Murco) can confirm that the sales process by Murphy Oil Corporation of Murco’s UK Downstream business continues and it is actively progressing the sale process.

“The Milford Haven Refinery continues with safe reliable operations in a difficult market environment. The UK retail marketing business continues to perform well and delivered one of its best year end results on record in 2013.”

In spite of the fears, which have been extensively covered by national media, on social media sites workers at and with links to the refinery remain positive that a buyer will soon be found.

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a which hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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Kill the Bill protest to take place in Haverfordwest on Saturday

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INDIVIDUALS and activists from local groups, including Extinction Rebellion Pembrokeshire, Stand Up to Racism West Wales, Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly and Reclaim These Streets Pembrokeshire are campaigning against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and are to hold a demonstration against the Bill at 1pm this Saturday April 17, in Haverfordwest.
One of the organisers told  The Herald: “This is an enormous piece of draconian legislation that includes significant expansion in police powers to curtail the right to protest. The right to peacefully assemble and protest are a fundamental part of any democracy; empowering people to have their voices heard, in addition to holding the Government to account. These rights are universal –they protect peaceful and legitimate protest whatever the cause.
“The events at the Clapham vigil and at demonstrations over the last few weeks are a dangerous indication of what the future of protest will look like if the police powers bill gets through parliament.”
A local campaigner, a mother and grandmother said “We are in the process of losing a fundamental part of our democracy, It is important we protect it for future generations. We have messed up so much of their future already-we need to hold the Government to account”.
Aspects of the Bill include:
  • The power for Police forces to shut down protests that they deem too disruptive at their own discretion.
  • Up to a 10-year sentence for demonstrators considered to be causing a “public nuisance”.
  • The power for police forces to impose start and end times on static protests of any size.
  • The power to expand stop and search powers, which already discriminate against marginalised communities. If you live in the Dyfed Powys police area, you are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than white.
  • Up to 10-year sentences for damage to public monuments’ Police powers will be expanded and custodial sentences increased to “protect” women.
  • These measures are not sufficient to prevent violence and are troubling, considering some police officers’ involvement in cases of violence against women. Significant restrictions on where protests around Parliament may take place.
  • The elevation of trespass from a civil offence to a criminal offence, meaning police and courts can give harsh sentences to Travellers.
  • Increased power of police to seize vehicles and homes from Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and demanding proof of permission to travel.
  • The bill will criminalise a way of life for these communities.
A peaceful, Covid-compliant march and rally will be taking place in Haverfordwest on Saturday April 17 , assembling at Picton Fields at 1pm.
People will be asked to wear masks and keep to social distancing regulations.  It is one of a number of protests being organised nationally on the same day against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.
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Everything you need to know about the current coronavirus restrictions in Wales

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THE GOVERNMENT guidelines in Wales are changing today (Apr 12).

There are major changes coming into force today across the country as the government coronavirus guidelines are starting to relax.

The changes affect household bubbles, non-essential retail, education and travel.

As of Monday, April 12, the following changes have come into force:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet and exercise outdoors and in private gardens
  • Households or support bubbles can holiday in self-contained accommodation – including hotels with en-suite facilities
  • All pupils and students can now return to school, college and other education
  • All shops and close-contact services can open
  • The ban on travelling in and out of Wales has ended
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (Remainder on April 22)

Non-essential retail are able to open up today for the first time since the country was put into a national lockdown with non-essential retail ordered to close in December of last year.

With infection rates falling and the national vaccine rollout success, the Welsh Government have set out a road map of restriction easing.

Unlike England, the hospitality industry in Wales will have to wait until April 26 to open their doors to customers, but only for those who can operate in an outdoor space such as beer gardens.

The current guidelines in force for Wales are as follows:

Meeting friends and family

From May 3:

  • Two families can once again form an “extended household” and meet indoors.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet up outdoors, including gardens.
  • If you are an adult living alone or you’re a single responsible adult in a household (a single parent, for instance), you can form a support bubble with one other household.
  • You can also end it and form another support bubble with a different household, as long as you leave a 10-day gap between.

Going to work

  • You must work from home if you can. The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible.
  • Tradespeople can work in someone else’s private home, as long as it is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus.

Schools and nurseries

  • All pupils will return to face-to-face teaching at school from 12 April.
  • From that date all students can return to further education and training centres.
  • University campuses will be able to open for blended (face-to face and online) learning for all students.
  • Internal GCSE, A-level and AS-level assessments have been cancelled.

Leisure time

From April 26:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, will be allowed to reopen.
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants, but indoor hospitality will remain restricted.

From May 3:

  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place.
  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Self-contained holiday accommodation, including hotels with en-suite facilities and room service, can open to people from the same household or support bubble.
  • Outdoor sports facilities such as golf, tennis and basketball are open. A maximum of six people from two households can take part.
  • Organised outdoor sport for under-18s can now take place.
  • All gyms and leisure centres are closed.
  • Professional sports will continue but stadiums are closed to fans.
  • Bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs are closed – except for takeaway and delivery.
  • The outdoor areas of some historic places and gardens can reopen in a limited way.
  • Libraries and archives can reopen

Shopping

From April 12:

  • All shops can reopen.
  • All close contact services such as hairdressers or beauty salons can open, including mobile services.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Hairdressers and barbers are open for business – by appointment only.
  • Non-essential shops remain closed.
  • Garden centres are now open.
  • Alcohol cannot be sold in shops between 22:00 and 06:00 BST.
  • Face coverings must be worn by customers and staff.
  • Indoor shopping should be done alone, or with people in your household.

Other

From April 12:

  • You can travel anywhere in the UK or the Common Travel Area (Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands)
  • Outdoor canvassing for the Welsh elections can begin.
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (remainder on 22 April).

From April 26:

  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors, but will be limited to 30 people.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Weddings and civil partnerships can take place at licensed venues, but receptions are not allowed.
  • Care home residents can receive one designated visitor.
  • You can travel anywhere within Wales.
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