First published Friday, May 2, 2014
Here in Pembrokeshire, we have three particularly strong economic sectors – agriculture, the energy sector, and tourism. Each employ significant numbers of people in the county, and whilst all three sectors have peaks and troughs in employment (seasonal variation, process shutdown maintenance periods in refineries etc) there will be few in the county who don’t know someone working in one of these sectors, if they themselves don’t.
Given the dependence of the local economy on a comparatively small number of business sectors, it is understandable that at present there are some nervous folk about, particularly within the energy sector. One of the county’s refineries (there are two in operation here), Murco, has been on the market for some 3 years or so. At the 11th hour a deal to sell the site as an operational asset to a venture capitalist company fell through shortly before Easter.
The site employs upwards of 300 staff, in addition to supporting a number of sub contract roles, and uses the services of a number of other local businesses in supply chain and maintenance periods such as shutdowns. The collapse of the sale has left the future for employees and those affiliated with the refinery hanging in the balance.
Recent news reports have indicated that talks with other potential buyers are ongoing, however the site has now stopped buying in crude oil, the raw product that is then refined to produce goods such as petrol, diesel and aviation fuel. As such, there are more and more questions being asked in relation to the future of the business there, the overall feeling emanating being less than positive. If the site does close, it will have a significant impact on the economy of Pembrokeshire, which whilst beginning to move tentatively forward from the darkest days of the economic downturn, is not exactly out of the woods yet.
Time will tell what the outcome will be. If the refinery does close, there will of course be an immediate impact locally. However, it may also bring with it opportunity as the local market responds to the changes, and seeks to diversify. A strong economy needs to have a number of income streams to support it, and with the advent of superfast broadband and improving infrastructure links, it may well be that more and more businesses are able to operate from the area whether they be technology businesses, financial services or light industrial firms. Such a diversification will of course need to be managed sensitively, to reduce negative impact on existing sectors, particularly tourism and agriculture, but if the fragile economic balance is to be maintained, it is certainly worth considering.