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Port’s report shows £3m fall in profits and fewer shipments

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THE PORT OF MILFORD HAVEN has published its 2017 Annual Report and Accounts, revealing a £3m fall in profits alongside a 2.8m tonne decrease in throughput for the year.

The Port feels this was due mostly to the ongoing volatility in the Liquefied Natural Gas industry which saw record low shipments in 2017, and in part to an additional £1m pension service charge due to changes in long term interest rates.

The report also records an increase in the number of employee concerns and incidents over the past year, with the Port suggesting this is merely a result of the updated complaint mechanism.

To illustrate the volatility of the Gas Industry, in 2011 the port handled 126 LNG vessels. In 2013 this had fallen to 54, rising again to 91 in 2015, before falling to a low of 36 in 2017-just over one quarter of the throughput in  2011.

This volatility is driven by the differential in the price of wholesale gas in the UK market compared to other markets such as the Far East and Latin America.

This is not due to Brexit, nor low oil prices, but is due to the balance of supply and demand in the gas wholesale markets, not only in the UK, but also across the globe.

The global market for LNG is heavily influenced by the regularly fluctuating price, with increased demand in locations such as China and India seeing it sold there rather than being transported to Milford Haven.

In 2016’s report, the Port recorded a 26% reduction in the volume of LNG handled and they had anticipated this headline trade being substantially lower again in 2017.

Chris Martin, Chair of Board conceded that the significant reduction in LNG activity supports the need to diversify the Port’s revenues into new areas of business, reducing the impact of oil and gas market influences or the loss of a major customer.

A major investment was completed last year which saw the acquisition of Havens Head Retail Park. The retail park will complement the Port’s extensive property portfolio and become a key part of the Milford Waterfront development, creating close to 600 new jobs in Milford Haven. The first construction element is now underway.

Pension costs in 2017 were, at £2.3m, nearly £1m higher than in the preceding year. This additional charge taken through the profit and loss account is based on a technical calculation driven by accounting standards of the true annual cost to the port of funding pension obligations.

The calculation is highly dependent on current long term interest rates which reduced significantly in 2016 and which led to the £6.6m reversal of the Port’s scheme into a 10% deficit position shown in 2016’s accounts.

The accounting entries serve to underline why, in terms of employee benefits, it is now almost universally the case that businesses have moved substantially towards offering defined contribution schemes only.

The Port’s policy is to provide employee pay and benefits in line with the median market and therefore it is currently consulting on a move to a  defined contribution scheme for new employees.

In the past year the Port has set up an Assurance Framework (AF) to provide a mechanism for reporting incidents, near misses and concerns, whether they are minor or major in nature.

Employees are encouraged to submit AF reports, which resulted in the number rising from 247 in 2016 to 318 in 2017.

During the year the number of near misses fell from 81 to 20, concerns increased from 67 to 124 and incidents rose from 99 to 174.

The Port were however able to record zero lost time accidents in 2017.

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Llangwm: Solicitor jailed for six years for £1m fraud

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A PEMBROKESHIRE solicitor who overcharged clients by almost £1m has been jailed this week for six years.

Edgar Stephen Thomas, aged 58, charged one client at the rate of £20,000 a week without doing any work at all.

Another was charged at £12,000 a week and went on to lose a total of £100,000.

Thomas, of Stephen’s Green, Deerland Road, Llangwm, admitted 23 offences of fraud and theft, which stopped only when his firm of Steve Thomas and Co was closed down by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Jim Davis, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that Thomas got away with the frauds by deducting monies from the estates of deceased people without telling the beneficiaries.

“He grossly overcharged and then deducted the payments directly from the estates of deceased people,” he said.

“He helped himself without telling them what he was doing.”

The overcharging began in 2005 when he was asked to handle the estate of Richard James Rogers. He charged the estate £41,800 plus VAT but internal documents showed that as the work decreased his bills increased.

Thomas agreed overcharging that estate by £12,000.

Thomas went on to plunder many more accounts.

The most outrageous example, said Mr Davies, related to the estate of Audrey Williams, who died in 2013.

Thomas charged £127,250 plus VAT, sometimes raising–but not posting–two invoices a day. He agreed he had overcharged by £100,000.

Mr Davis said Thomas’ offending did not stop there. His firm was hired by Vaughan’s Radio, an electrical store in Haverfordwest, to handle the purchase of a business in Aberystwyth.

Thomas simply kept for himself £50,000 of the purchase price.

Mr Davis said Thomas had worked for Eaton Evans in Haverfordwest, rising to becoming a partner, before leaving to form his own firm in 2005.

His accounts had to be audited and as a result the SRA were alerted to fears that he was overcharging.

A detailed forensic examination of his accounts was carried out and the fears were confirmed, along with the discovery of a shortfall in his client’s accounts of £144,326.

There was then an administrative error at the SRA and the initial report was not acted upon until June 2014, when a second financial investigation revealed more fraud and he was later struck off.

In February 2015 Thomas was declared bankrupt.

Mr Davis said the SRA had reimbursed those who had lost because of Thomas’ fraudulent behaviour, but there remained the question of costs and whether he could be made to repay any of the money. An investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act is underway.

Thomas’ barrister, Ian Ibrahim, said his client was now broke and all the money had gone on keeping his business afloat.

“His fall from a high place has been dramatic. His remorse is complete and utterly without qualification.

“He has lost everything and knows that he will go to jail today.”

Judge Keith Thomas said those who worked in the legal profession had to demonstrate the highest level of integrity because the public put trust in them, sometimes at the most stressful times of their life.

“Your victims have described your behaviour as disgusting and despicable.

“You were struck off in 2016 and have had to wait a long time for the process to be complete, but that is partly because you were not willing to admit the extent of your offending,” he added.

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Claim a free McDonalds cheeseburger this week

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TO REMEDY ‘Blue Monday’, McDonalds is giving away a free cheeseburger to everyone this week.

Starting today (Jan 21), the fast food chain is asking customers to install the McDonalds app on their phone and then take it to their nearest restaurant for a free burger.

Blue Monday is said to be the ‘most miserable day’ in the year.

The app is available on both the Google Play store for Android devices, and the App Store for iOS devices.

Once downloaded, register a new account, or log in to your existing account, and go to ‘My Deals’ to claim your free burger.

The offer runs until Friday (Jan 25) and can be claimed any time after 10:30am, when the breakfast menu finishes.

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Road re-opened following successful bridge replacement

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PEMBROKE ROAD in Merlins Bridge, Haverfordwest, has re-opened and train services between Whitland and Milford Haven have resumed as normal, following the successful replacement of Pembroke Road railway bridge this weekend.

Over the weekend, Network Rail teams worked around the clock to demolish and remove the existing railway bridge deck – which carries the South Wales Main Line. Engineers then installed a new, steel structure which includes a concrete collision beam to provide extra resilience, as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan to improve the reliability of the railway.

Rhys Howells, scheme project manager for Network Rail Wales and Borders, said: “We would like to thank residents and rail passengers for bearing with us whilst we replaced Pembroke Road railway bridge.

“The previous bridge deck was nearing the end of its serviceable life, and has now been replaced with a more resilient structure which will help to keep the railway in West Wales running reliably.”

Next month the second part of this £4.25m upgrade project will see engineers replace Milford Road railway bridge.

The A4076 at Milford Road railway bridge on Dredgeman Hill will be closed from 7pm on Friday 15 until 6am on Monday 18 February and a fully signposted diversion route will be in operation.

Residents and local businesses wishing to find out more about the work to Milford Road railway bridge are invited to attend a ‘drop-in’ event on Thursday 31 January from 3pm to 6pm at the Merlins Bridge Welfare Hall, Pembroke Road, SA61 1JW. No appointment is necessary and representatives from Network Rail’s project team will be on hand to provide information and answer any questions.

You can also find out more information about this essential upgrade project here: www.networkrail.co.uk/Merlins-Bridge.

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