Oiling the wheels

The breakdown of the deal to sell the Murco refinery comes as no surprise, though the consequences are no less pleasant for that.

There is a surplus of refining capacity world-wide and if an experienced operator like Murphy Oil can’t make a profit on the site – and these big companies don’t usually close down their profit centres – it is highly unlikely that someone with no specialist knowledge of the industry could make a go of it.

No doubt if Klesch had been offered sufficient inducements by the two governments it might have seen the refinery as a money-making opportunity, but it seems the financial carrot offered was neither large enough, nor juicy enough, to tempt them.

I have no doubt that both the UK and Welsh governments did all that they could to rescue the facility, for both political and strategic considerations, but the economic realities simply got the better of them.

There will, no doubt, be attempts to make political capital out of this closure, but, with the possible exception of a bit of over-optimism by Stephen Crabb MP, it is hard to see how anyone has put a foot wrong.

It goes without saying that everyone is sympathetic for the Murco staff who are faced with exchanging secure well-paid jobs for life on the dole. Not to mention all those employed by contractors and the workers in the wider economy whose jobs will be impacted when the multiplier effect of all that lost spending power kicks in.

It is tempting as a local councillor to make noises about softening the blow with task forces and the like, but the reality is that we are powerless to do anything that will make more than a marginal difference. The brutal fact is that the council itself is facing huge budget cuts of £12 million year on year and, as something like 70% of council spending goes on wages and salaries, it is not easy to see how this will be achieved without substantial job losses.

One thing the council can do is ensure that no unnecessary impediments are put in the way of the proposed gas-fired power station at South Hook and that the proposed bio-generator at the former Mine Depot doesn’t get lost in the bureaucratic maze.

At least the jobs created in the construction phase of these developments will afford some temporary respite. As for the future, we have to realise that what marketing buffs call our unique selling points (USPs) are changing. Traditionally these have been some fertile early agricultural land; beautiful coastline and beaches; and the deep water harbour.

As a source of new jobs, ever increasing mechanisation makes agriculture a dead duck.

Tourism – a source of low-paid seasonal jobs, subject to cheap foreign competition – is not an activity on which a modern economy can be based.

And, if the deep-water harbour is no longer sufficiently attractive to oil companies to overcome the disadvantages of the county’s remoteness, we have to think of something else.

Of course, distance is no object to the Internet and that is where the county’s economic future must lie. If the Welsh Government have a spare £10 million in the cupboard, and that is the amount they were prepared to use to oil the wheels of the Murco deal, then it should be redeployed to ensure the county has super-fast broadband with a view to attracting major IT companies into Pembrokeshire.

Think of the advantages: relatively cheap housing, an educated workforce, plentiful industrial development land and a very pleasant place to live.

We should aim to get ahead of the game and not, as generals are said to do, waste time our time fighting the last war.

And an added attraction for any inward investor would be a first class education system.

Now, that is something that is within the county council’s powers to provide.


Ken the comeback kid

Old Grumpy can now bring you bang up to date with the events surrounding Cllr Ken Rowlands’ ejection/resignation from the post of Cabinet education supremo.

I may have given the impression that “The voice of Johnston” was sacked, by spreading rumours about him wandering the corridors of the Kremlin telling anyone who would listen how bitterly disappointed he was that the Leader had removed him – a former primary school deputy head – from his post and replaced him with someone less well qualified.

There was even a tale (unreported) that Ken and his wife had gone to the house of one of his fellow IPPG members for an hour-long shoulder-crying session.

All untrue, it seems, because we now have it straight from the horse’s mouth that his decabinetification was an amicable affair.

As Cllr Ken told the Herald:

“When I left the Cabinet, we had been under a good deal of pressure in the County’s education and a corner had been turned. The whole of our authority – officers, staff and members – had worked closely together to change the situation. It had been a heavy period of time and when I came to the time I stood down, both Jamie and I felt I was unwell and we agreed I should take a back seat for a while.

That doesn’t mean I will take a back seat forever.”

“That doesn’t mean I will take a back seat forever” doesn’t quite have the same ring about it as General MacArthur’s “I shall return” following his escape from the Philippines in 1942, but it sends out a clear message that it would be unwise to write him off.

So there you have it.

Having sorted the county’s education system, the old warhorse has been put out to pasture for a well-earned rest.

And it seems that, as Jamie Adams merely asked him to take a “back seat for a while”, his demotion is only temporary.

Just shows you shouldn’t believe everything you hear from those mischief-making, gossip-merchants in the members’ tea room.


Agony aunt

Grumpette was on the phone the other day to one of her friends who was complaining about the time it was taking for the builders to install her new kitchen.

From what I could gather, the main problem was the lack of cooking facilities and a diet of Tesco sandwiches for the best part of a week.

The conversation went on for nearly half an hour and no sooner had Grumpette put down the phone when another friend rang to tell her about problems with her car.

Apparently, it had failed the MoT and she was seeking Grumpette’s advice on whether she should spend the £300 required to make it roadworthy, or scrap it and buy a new one.

When this conversation eventually came to a conclusion, Grumpette turned to me and said: “Here I am, 50 years married to the most evil bastard in Pembrokeshire, and they think they’ve got problems.”