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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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Crabb slams Barclays Post Office cash opt-out

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PRESELI MP Stephen Crabb has criticised Barclays Bank’s ‘short-sighted’ decision not to allow its customers to withdraw cash from Post Office counters.

A new agreement has seen 28 banks and building societies sign up with the Post Office for three years from January. The agreement will see postmaster paid more to take in and dispense cash on behalf of these banks.  However, Barclays is the only bank to exclude cash withdrawal as part of the agreement.

Government ministers have been urging the banks to make greater use of the Post Office network so that bank customers will still be able to save and withdraw cash following a large number of bank branch closures.

Preseli MP Stephen Crabb, who has spoken out against bank closures and the shortage of free ATMs, said:

“This is another slap in the face from Barclays for its own customers.

“The Post Office has become essential to high street banking as banks have closed their doors, taking with them free ATMs. To not allow Barclays customers to withdraw money from the Post Office is a short-sighted decision, which will likely result in Barclays customers paying to take their own money out.

“Earlier this year I spoken in Parliament about the drive towards a ‘cashless society’ which goes against the needs of rural communities.

“I have now written to the Treasury Minister to ask him to challenge this decision by Barclays.”

Barclays customers currently make 1.2 million cash withdrawal from the Post Office each month.

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Pembrokeshire turns pink and blue for Baby Loss Awareness week

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CASTLE HILL Tenby, Manobier Castle and Pembroke Castle will be illuminated in pink and blue lights between 9 th and 15 th October to show Pembrokeshire’s support for Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019 (9 th to 15 th October).

The annual awareness week, now in its 17 th year, is an opportunity for bereaved parents, families and friends, to commemorate babies’ lives and break the silence around pregnancy and baby loss in the UK.

Nia Payne originally from Tenby, now living in Cilgerran, said: “We hope turning these landmarks pink and blue will spark conversations about baby loss and give local bereaved parents and families an opportunity to talk about their precious babies. Since our daughter
(Gwennie) was born sleeping in March of this year I have been shocked by the number of people that have experienced a pregnancy or baby loss, yet it is almost a taboo subject. I have reached a point were I enjoy sharing our story with people and keeping Gwennie's
memory alive. Trying to arrange these light ups has given me a focus while hopefully helping others to communicate about their personal experiences.”

All of the buildings and landmarks turning pink and blue for Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019 will be featured on the interactive map and the Facebook album Anyone in Pembrokeshire can share their photos of the landmarks on social media with the hashtag #BLAW2019.

Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death charity), said: “Baby Loss Awareness Week is a unique opportunity for parents to commemorate their babies who died. I hope bereaved families in Pembrokeshire seeing these landmarks lit up pink and blue will feel less isolated and alone in their grief.

“Pregnancy loss or the death of a baby is a tragedy that affects thousands of people every year. It is devastating for parents and families and it’s vital they get the bereavement support and care they need, for as long as they need it.”

For further information about Baby Loss Awareness Week visit: www.babyloss-awareness.org

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Spooky celebrations and events at National Park

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THIS half-term a creepy concoction of events and activities will be taking place at all three visitor attractions run by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Carew Castle and Tidal Mill, Castell Henllys Iron Age Village and Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre will all be hosting Halloween-themed events, from witch hunts to ghost tours and encounters with woodland fairies.

Events at Carew Castle and Tidal Mill will include Fireside Tales on 19, 20, 26 and 27 October, where guests will be invited to sit around a fire and listen to spooky tales and stories of brave knights and beautiful princesses.

For those interested in honing their sorcery skills, The Carew School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will open its doors to new pupils on 29, 30 and 31 October. The syllabus will include wand-making, discovering spirit animals, spell-casting and broomstick agility. For those in costume, there will be a competition at noon.
Ghost Tours of the Castle will also take place during this period.

At Castell Henllys the thinning of the veil between this world and the next will be celebrated on 31 October with Samhain – Haunted Henllys. With a variety of spooky activities on offer, including a Ghost Walk, the day will end with the spectacle of the burning of the wicker man.

Scary Fairy Fun on 28 and 30 October offers visitors the opportunity to meet the woodland fairies at Castell Henllys and take part in activities such as face-painting, storytelling and enchanted woodland crafts.
Those of a magical mindset might also be interested in attending Wizards and Witches on 29 October and 1 November, with magical crafty activities organised throughout the day.

Between 20 October and 3 November, Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre in St Davids will host a Halloween Trail around the grounds and centre. The Trail will cost £2 per sheet and will run between 10 am – 4 pm each day.

For those seeking a less hair-raising half-term experience, places are still available for the Wildfowl of the Western Cleddau walk arranged to take place at Little Milford between 1 pm – 3 pm on 26 October. Guided by a Ranger, this gentle stroll along the banks of the Cleddau will offer the opportunity to see wading birds, such as the curlew and redshank. Children must be supervised and no dogs are allowed.

If culture holds greater appeal than the occult, two exhibitions, A Celebration of Contemporary Welsh Painting and The Cabinet of Curiosities will be hosted at Oriel y Parc during October and November, featuring top contemporary Welsh artists and members of the Carmarthen Artists’ Network respectively.

For details of all the events taking place in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park visit www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/events.

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