Wales politics

UK and Welsh governments worked closely on Murco deal

Murco refinery at Milford Haven, 2006 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Murco refinery in Milford Haven will now be decommissioned say US owners, Murphy Oil

The Welsh and UK governments might spend much of their time at each other's throats - with last month's row over NHS standards a clear example - but on some issues the two sides do work effectively together.

It seemed as if a deal to save the Murco refinery in Milford Haven was going to become a shining example of cross-government co-operation.

But with the collapse of the deal and expected loss of jobs ends months of cooperation.

One source involved in the talks described them over the summer as the "best example since devolution of governments working together".

Part of that success was built on a good relationship between the new Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb - the refinery is also in his constituency - and the Welsh Economy Minister, Edwina Hart.

Just last week, Mr Crabb described Mrs Hart as "a very practical pragmatic person - the kind of person I enjoy doing business with".

UK ministers have not always been so complimentary.

Timeline

1973 Refinery opened in Milford Haven by Amoco

1981 Murco became a partner and the site has a major upgrade

2010 The plant is first put up for sale

March 2014 Reports talks between Murco's owner Murphy Oil and London-based private equity fund Greybull Capital over a sale are at "an advanced stage"

3 April Murphy Oil announces it is entering into consultation with staff on the future of the plant, after the talks break down, as First Minister Carwyn Jones announces plans to visit the site to see if jobs can be retained

11 April Milford Haven Enterprise Zone chair Lord Bourne, a lawyer and former Welsh Conservative leader, is appointed to lead a task force of UK and Welsh government representatives, Murco and trade unions aiming to prevent the refinery's closure

31 July Swiss-based Klesch Group confirms it has signed a purchase agreement for the site after Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, newly appointed Welsh Secretary, brings the two parties together

10 October The firm is cleared to buy the refinery by the European Commission

4 November It emerges the deal has collapsed and only around 60 of the 400 refinery staff will remain when the site is converted to a storage and distribution facility, Mr Crabb says "it does feel very much like it's reached the end point"

The political will to keep Milford open didn't stop there - the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has been involved throughout, as has First Minister, Carwyn Jones, with 10 Downing Street taking an interest too.

Much of the work was done on the phone, with Mr Jones, Mr Davey and Mr Crabb all in contact over the weekend. There were several late nights trying to save the deal.

"I genuinely don't believe there is anything more that could have been done from the UK or Welsh government side to hold this together," said Mr Crabb, the MP for Pembrokeshire.

Image caption Murphy oil have been looking for a buyer for the Murco plant for four years

'Big hole'

He told BBC News Online he did not know yet why the deal had collapsed, and that there was a lot of confusion as it had appeared last week that the deal to sell it had been done.

"The Murco oil refinery was the largest employer - private sector employer - in my constituency," he said.

"There are 400 high quality jobs at the plant and many many more jobs supported in the local community.

"The loss of those jobs will leave a very big hole in the economic activity of west Wales, and it will take a number of years for the local economy to recover".

During Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron expressed his disappointment, promising his government would continue working with Murco "to find employment opportunities for all those who work there".

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Media captionDavid Cameron was speaking during Prime Minister's Questions

Mrs Hart said Murco had been "integral to the the fabric of the oil and gas infrastructure in Wales and the Welsh economy for many years".

She pledged support for the refinery and its staff "will not stop here".

"We will all continue to work tirelessly with Murco management to maximise the opportunities for employment at the site, ensure the ongoing viability of the terminal and assist to find a new owner."

'Energy-rich'

Liberal Democrat Wales Office minister Baroness Randerson said the UK and Welsh governments had made every effort to secure the future of the refinery and it is was "regrettable that ultimately a buyer has not been able to reach a deal with Murphy Oil".

"Supporting the staff at Murco is now our immediate concern and we stand ready to assist in any way we can," she added.

For Plaid Cymru, Mid and West Wales AM Simon Thomas described the collapse of the deal to buy the refinery as "devastating for employees, their families and the local community" and warned its impact would be felt "in the wider Welsh economy".

He added: "Wales is an energy-rich country and can be a world leader again."

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