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Tom Sawyer: Ideas and action from Milford Haven’s new port boss

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HERALD EDITOR TOM SINCLAIR SPEAKS TO THE NEW CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE PORT OF MILFORD HAVEN, TOM SAWYER

HE started off his working career, at 18, as an assistant at the Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam, Scotland. So, the Port of Milford Haven’s new Chief Executive’s first post was linked to the sea. But then, following his father’s footsteps, he then joined the RAF – so how did a man who spent 26 distinguished years serving on land and in the air become the boss of one of the UK’s busiest ports?

Tom Sawyer: Took control of the Port of Milford Haven at the end of April (Image Herald)

Tom Sawyer took control of the port at the end of April. He spent his many RAF years working on forces’ air-land integration. During our two-hour chat in his office, which has a huge window overlooking the waterway, he explained how his military service had taken him to such danger zones as Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. We touched on how Russia had been doing this badly, leading to heavy losses in the Ukraine conflict. But we weren’t there to talk about the crisis in Ukraine, except to discuss if it would impact on port operations, so more on that later.

Mr Sawyer left the military in March 2011 and spent the next six and a half years working with QinetiQ. Whilst there in 2017, he led the initial business set up and strategy development of BQ Solutions, a Joint Venture in Qatar. Then, as the Business Development and Solutions Director, he was in the vanguard of the engagement into Qatar’s Ministry of Defence and its Armed Forces and played a central role in winning and delivering significant business that provided his clients with operational and commercial advantage.

This business experience, plus working for four and a half years in the firm he helped to create, combined with skills from his time in the military running air bases has stood him in good stead for his new role at the Port.

Mr Sawyer explained that an airport is a kind of port after all with “much of the same safety-critical and environmental considerations.”

Mr Sawyers’ promise when he joined the port just seven weeks ago was to: “build for the future and ensure the long-term relevance of the Port to the region and nation.”

A TIME FOR CHANGE

Mr Sawyer is taking the reins at the Port of Milford Haven at a time of innovation and exciting plans for change.

And building for the future he certainly is already; I spoke to the Port’s new Chief just one day after he had been at The Houses of Parliament, as part of the Milford Haven Waterway Future Energy Cluster. The two local MPs, Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb were both there – as was the Business, Energy and Clean Growth Minister Greg Hands.

Members of the Haven Waterway Future Energy Cluster – including Blue Gem Wind, Cambrian Offshore, DP Energy, Dragon LNG, ERM, Marine Energy Wales, RWE, Valero, Prosperity Energy, the Port of Milford Haven, South Wales Industrial Cluster, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Pembrokeshire County Council – are working collaboratively to promote the Milford Haven Waterway’s pivotal role in delivering the UK’s net zero ambitions, offering a whole energy cycle solution that will ‘unlock accelerated transition, whilst stimulating economic growth.

Mr Sawyer admits it’s a big plan, with Milford Haven having the potential to provide 20% of the UK Government’s low carbon hydrogen production target by 2030 as well as 10% of its floating offshore wind target.

“One of the things we have is a steady wind supply in Wales”

Heavy lift: The turbine under construction in Pembroke Dock (Image: Herald)

“We have tide and wind energy, and we need to adapt for these opportunities.”

We spoke about the £60 million Pembroke Dock Marine programme, which is designed to place Pembrokeshire at the heart of global zero carbon marine energy innovation while also helping tackle climate change.

The programme is expected to generate £73.5 million a year to the regional economy.

As well as having application across other blue economy industries, Pembroke Dock Marine will create the right conditions for the marine energy industry to flourish as the UK moves towards net zero decarbonisation targets.

Pembroke Dock Marine’s drive to maximise innovation and operational efficiencies will seek to drive down the cost of marine energy, while acting as a foundation programme that will support the growth of new initiatives in the region.

VALERO

As shipping movements currently account for 75% of the Port’s revenue I asked if he thought there was a future for the continued operation of Valero oil refinery in the long term. The plant is over fifty years old now, and some staff there have said it is showing its age.

In a nod to the predicted continuation of oil refining operations in Milford Haven, Tom Sawyer said: “The long-term future of Valero is in being here.”

Explaining that he could not speak for the management of Valero, he did say: “The refinery makes money, is thriving, and is operating at full speed.”

Valero Oil Refinery, Milford Haven (Image: PA)

Pointing across to the window he said: “There is barely a day when there is an empty berth on the jetty over there.”

“There will be oil tankers coming in and out of this harbour for the next twenty or thirty years. Hydrogen and electric vehicles cannot replace fossil fuels overnight.”

“In addition, there are other products such as bitumen which cannot be replaced by a hydrogen alternative.”

OBJECTIVES

I asked Mr Sawyer about how he saw his new role, and to define objectives. He said: “I see myself as the current custodian of this trust port. My aim is that when I do eventually hand over this office to the next chief executive, that I do so with the Port in a better state than when I took it on.”

“75% of what we do is move ships, and we must continue to do that in a safe, resilient, reliable way and provide the right services for our stakeholders.”

New boss: I am the current custodian of this trust port (Image MHPA)

In relation to stakeholders and the wider community, he added: “The Port does have social obligations”

“I look out of my window every day and see a multi-million-pound industry, but at the same time I am aware that around 30% of children in Pembrokeshire are living in poverty.”

“That’s something we need to look at and work collaboratively with our stakeholders and partners on”, he said.

The new Port boss promises that he is committed to the local community, stating the Port’s role as a Trust Port to “contribute to the future prosperity, quality of life and wellbeing of the people of Pembrokeshire”.

He explained the importance of the Port to the locality in economic terms, explaining that the Port supports 200 jobs directly – mostly employing local people – and that the energy sector around the Port provides, according to early recent economic analysis by Cardiff Business School – around 3,500 jobs in the communities immediately surrounding the Waterway.

Mr Sawyer added that he wanted to promote the Port’s Community Fund and the Green Energy Fund.

He said: “We have funding in place to support worthwhile causes in the local community. I feel that we need to promote our Community Fund more as last year it was not fully subscribed.”

There will be more information in The Herald in the coming weeks about these two funds.

DOCKS DEVELOPMENT

The Milford Waterfront development is something that Mr Sawyer says would continue. He praised the business partnership with The Celtic Collection in running the new 100-bedroom hotel on the marina.

He said: “In regard to the development of the area further, I am keen that this is done in such a way that it should benefit the town centre and not distract from it.”

Miflord Haven Docks Masterplan (Image: MHPA)

Mr Sawyer said that access between Milford Haven’s Charles Street and the Waterfront could be improved to facilitate this.

He said that he wanted there to be “more to do” at Milford Waterfront, and he said he did not want there to be only “places to eat and drink” but a range of activities to make the area more of an attraction – an example cited was a new canoe and kayaking businesses which was due to open soon near the old Cosalt building.

IMPROVEMENTS

We spoke about the November 2018 flood in Lower Priory and Havens Head.

There had been controversy at the time, with Stephen Crabb MP calling on the Port to take responsibility for the flooding. That never happened.

Mr Sawyer said: “There is a corporate recognition within the Port that communications between the various agencies and with residents were poor, and that things could have been handled better.

“There was no liability for the flood apportioned to the Port, but we should have been more forthcoming and supportive earlier on.

The Priory Inn, Lower Priory, Milford Haven on November 9 , 2018 (Pic: Herald)

“We do understand that we have a role in collective community responsibility.

Mr Sawyer added: “The Port of Milford Haven commissioned its own analysis, in which we found that no activity would have made any difference in preventing the flood, given the tidal nature of the docks.

“We have invested significantly on improvements – such as new covers for culverts – and these modifications will make it safer for our team to deliver a new ‘good housekeeping’ plan, ensuring that rubbish can be kept clear of the culverts.” The Port is also working collaboratively with PCC to look at longer term improvements.

THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR

Mr Sawyer explained that the Port, which handles 20% of the UK’s seaborne trade, had to conduct more checks now to ensure compliance with sanctions against Russia. He said: “We have a due diligence process and are conducting checks and balances on embargoed items.

“We have a new system of multiple checks on cargoes and produce a daily assurance list to ensure that all cargo meets the threshold (of being legal),”

He added that despite sanctions, which the Port would monitor carefully, it was unlikely that there would be a turndown in business.

News

New mobile visitor centre ready to help visitors gear up for the Pembrokeshire Coast

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Park Authority Ranger Richard Vaughan and Summer Ranger Megan Holt with the new information van at Poppit Sands.

PEOPLE visiting some of Pembrokeshire’s top beaches and events may soon encounter a new mobile information centre, with a specially converted van ready to hit the road and help people enjoy their visit.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s new information van will be set up at seaside locations and popular local events, with Rangers on hand to give advice to those who need help and suggest free activities for those looking to discover the area’s wildlife.

National Park Authority Ranger Service Manager, Libby Taylor said: “This new vehicle will help our staff provide a range of information at locations where we know many people head to enjoy the National Park.

“As well as helping people learn more about the area and the different ways they can make the most of their visit, people can also find out how they can make the least impact on the Park during their stay.

“As well as having an awning to provide shelter, the van also includes space for magnetic panels that can be changed so the information that’s most relevant to the location or event can be provided.”

The vehicle, which has been converted by local company Poppit Campers, also includes a solar panel, which will help to power two iPads, which will give members of the public a chance to find further information on subjects such as nearby walks and wildlife identification.

The purchase and conversion of the vehicle was made possible through the support of the Welsh Government.

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Community

Deadline approaching for £500 payment to unpaid carers

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THE DEADLINE to apply for a one-off £500 payment to eligible unpaid carers in Wales is rapidly approaching.

The Welsh Government scheme, administered by Pembrokeshire County Council, is open to all unpaid carers in Wales who were in receipt of Carers Allowance on 31 March 2022.

The deadline to apply is 5pm on 15th July 2022 and those who believe they are eligible are urged not to miss out.

The Council is also sending out 400 letters this week to those they believe may be eligible and who have not yet applied.

The payment is in recognition of the increased financial pressures many unpaid carers experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic and to help with some of the additional costs they have incurred. 

The payment is targeted towards those individuals who care for someone for at least 35 hours a week and have low incomes.

You will not be eligible for the payment if:

  • You have an underlying entitlement to Carers Allowance but do not receive a payment because you are in receipt of another benefit at the same or higher rate; or
  • You only receive the carer premium  

If you have already applied please be assured the Council is working its way through the applications as quickly as possible.

How to apply

Applicants (this should be the person in receipt of carer’s allowance)

are required to complete the online form at: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/grants/unpaid-carers-500-pound-payment

Required information is:

  • Your name, address, telephone number and email address
  • Date of Birth
  • National Insurance Number
  • Post code
  • A bank statement showing your name, address, account number and sort code

If you are having problems completing the on-line application form please email: UnpaidCarers@pembrokeshire.gov.uk alternatively call 01437 764551 for assistance.

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Crime

Lola James: Two people have denied charges in connection of the death of 2-year-old

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TWO people who have been charged in connection with the death of a Haverfordwest toddler have denied charges.

30-year-old Kyle Bevan of Aberystwyth, denied a charge of murder at Swansea Crown Court.

Lola’s mum Sinead James, 29, denied a charge of causing or allowing the death of a child.

Lola died in Hospital on July 21, 2020, four days after sustaining a severe head injury at her home address in Princess Royal Way, Haverfordwest.

Bevan was remanded into custody.

James was released on conditional bail.

The trial will take place in 2023 and Judge Thomas said it is expected to last four weeks.

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