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Government to halts competition law and considers bringing in army to deliver fuel

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THE UK GOVERNMENT is to suspend competition law to allow oil firms to target fuel deliveries at petrol stations following recent panic buying.

Petrol stations in Ceredigion, and across the UK, have struggled to keep stocked over the last few days, with several running dry altogether. Other forecourts have run out of certain fuels, with diesel it seems, in particularly high demand.

Officials said the move would make it easier for companies to share information and prioritise parts of the country most at need.

It follows days of long queues at the pumps, after fears of disruption to the fuel supply sparked larger than usual demand at the petrol pumps.

The news comes after it emerged that hundreds of soldiers could be scrambled to deliver fuel to petrol stations running dry across the country. The plan expected to be considered by Boris Johnson on Monday (Sept 27).

The prime minister will gather senior members of the cabinet to scrutinise “Operation Escalin” after BP admitted that a third of its petrol stations had run out of the main two grades of fuel, while the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents almost 5,500 independent outlets, said 50% to 90% of its members had reported running out. It predicted that the rest would soon follow.

Conceived years ago during the planning for a no-deal Brexit, “Operation Escalin” would mean hundreds of soldiers being drafted in to drive a reserve fleet of 80 tankers. It is understood that it would take up to three weeks to fully implement, because some of those mobilised may already be on other deployments and others could be reservists. Escalin was touted as an option last week, but government sources downplayed the chance of its activation.

Announcing the measure to exempt the oil industry from the Competition Act 1998, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government had “long-standing” contingency plans to maintain fuel supplies.

“While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains.

“This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.

“We thank HGV drivers and all forecourt staff for their tireless work during this period.”

Transport secretary Grant Shappson on Sunday urged people to “be sensible” and blamed “one of the road haulage associations” for what he called a manufactured crisis, suggesting on Sky News that the group had leaked details from a meeting last week about driver shortages at fuel firms. However, the Road Haulage Association branded it a “disgraceful attack” concocted to “divert attention away” from the government’s handling of the issue.

BP, Esso, Texaco and Shell have introduced a £30 limit on fuel purchases after motorists were seen filling multiple jerry cans as the government warned the public not to panic buy fuel.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We are experiencing temporary outages in a small number of areas. We have good availability of fuel, and we’re working really hard to ensure regular deliveries to our petrol filling stations across the UK every day.”

A BP spokesman said: “We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK. This is being caused by delays in our supply chain due to a shortage of qualified drivers – this issue is impacting industries across the UK.

“Most of the 1,200 sites we supply across the UK remain supplied and open. However, with the intense demand seen over the past two days, we estimate that around 30% of sites in this network do not currently have either of the main grades of fuel. We are working to resupply as rapidly as possible. Sites that have multiple grade-outs may have closed for fuel purchases – we do not have an estimate of this number.

“We continue to work hard with our haulier supplier, Hoyer, to optimise fuel distribution and to minimise the level of disruption, keeping key sites supplied and restocking as rapidly as possible. The sites affected are changing as we continue deliveries.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Shell added: “We are working hard to ensure supplies for customers. Since Friday we have been seeing a higher-than-normal demand across our network which is resulting in some sites running low on some grades.”

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Changes to bus services in Ceredigion confirmed by local authority

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THERE will be changes to local bus services in Ceredigion from Tuesday 3 January 2023.

The tenders received as part of a procurement process for operating several services have shown significant cost increases. This has resulted in substantial increases in subsidy levels being requested at a time when public finances are under tremendous pressure. The higher costs are largely reflective of particular challenges affecting the bus industry currently which includes considerable increased operating costs, lack of qualified and available drivers, uncertainty around future funding mechanisms as well as declining passenger numbers and changing travel behaviours.

Bus passenger numbers have been in decline across Wales and essentially halved in the period between 1982, where there were 181 million passenger journeys and 2019/20 where there were 91 million passenger journeys. This has been severely compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a drop to 26 million passenger journeys in 2020/21, that has further impacted on the viability of local bus services.

The 22T (Aberystwyth-Devil’s Bridge), 27T (Penrhyncoch-Penbontrhydybeddau) and T29 (Tregaron Circular) demand responsive services will stop at the end of December 2022. This is due to the significant costs associated with providing them and the very low level of usage, which equate to unviable levels of public subsidy per passenger journey.

There will be changes to the timetables on the 525 (Aberystwyth-Ponterwyd), 526 (Aberystwyth-Penrhyncoch) and 585 (Aberystwyth-Tregaron-Lampeter) services. The timetables for these services, subject to submission by the operators and approval by the Traffic Commissioner, are attached. These timetables are based on proposals provided by the local bus operators and reflect what is operationally deliverable with the resources available, in terms of buses and drivers, at this time.

The T21 (Aberystwyth-Llanafan-Tregaron) and 552 Cardi Bach (New Quay-Cardigan) services will continue as currently.

All these contracts have been awarded on a 6 month basis to allow for a wider review.

Councillor Keith Henson, Cabinet Member for Highways and Environmental Services and Carbon Management said: “I would like to thank the local bus companies for their ongoing engagement in what is very challenging operating environment. We continue to work with them and in partnership with the other key stakeholders including the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales, seeking possible solutions and a way forward. Bus services and networks are dynamic and subject to change. Further changes are likely as the reality is that, in addition to the sparsity of resources, the amount of subsidy now required to provide the services is unaffordable, unjustifiable and unsustainable in the current financial climate.”

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Urgent police appeal for missing Ceredigion man

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POLICE in Ceredigion are appealing for help to find Dyfed who is missing from the Talybont area.

He was last seen at his home address in the Ceredigion village at around 10.30pm or 11pm on Saturday, 3 December.

Dyfed is described as being 5ft 10ins, of medium build, with short mousey brown hair with short ginger beard, and was wearing grey waterproof trousers over jeans, a blue-check padded shirt and woolly hat and wellies.

Have you seen Dyfed, or do you have info that might help us find him? Please, let us know:

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New Rural Health Economics Professor builds on University healthcare provision

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AN ACADEMIC who played a key role in decision-making in the adoption of medicines in NHS Wales and NHS England has been appointed as Professor of Rural Health Economics at Aberystwyth University.

Professor Murray Smith, an expert in the use of economics and statistics to predict outcomes in health and health-related behaviours, joins Aberystwyth Business School.

His recent research has centred on the quality of use of pharmaceutical medicine, with one project exploring the use of an inhaled analgesic for acute pre-hospital trauma pain, and others on topics that have spanned medicine use across a number of chronic disease areas.

After beginning his career in Australia, Professor Smith moved to the United Kingdom in 2007 and has worked at the universities of Aberdeen, Nottingham and Lincoln.

Professor Smith said: “I am delighted to join Aberystwyth Business School. Health economics is a vital subject because it provides methods and tools to help decision makers in the choices they face when trying to deliver high quality healthcare in a modern resource-limited economy.

“I am excited about adding to Aberystwyth Business School’s existing portfolio of expertise in research and to being given the opportunity to continue to use my skills to help the NHS to identify and deliver cost-effective healthcare and services to the people of mid Wales.”

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said: “It is vital as a society that we continue to innovate in our approaches to healthcare and Aberystwyth University is stepping up to the challenge with the launch of our first ever nursing degrees in September 2022 and through interdisciplinary research into combating diseases, using artificial intelligence to improve patients’ health, and exploring new techniques to improve human health through diet.

“The appointment of Professor Smith demonstrates our continuing commitment to developing and delivering high quality healthcare education and research at Aberystwyth. His expertise will focus on the economic aspects of healthcare, and his teaching and research will benefit our students and beyond.”

Professor Smith’s appointment coincides with the awarding of Honorary Professorships to three executives from Hywel Dda University Health Board, further strengthening Aberystwyth University’s expertise in healthcare as well as building on its partnership with the local health board.

Dr Helen Munro, Consultant in Community Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare at the Board; Dr Leighton Phillips, the Board’s Director of Research, Innovation and University Partnerships, and Huw Thomas, its Director of Finance collectively have decades of expertise in the health sector in the United Kingdom.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda University Health Board, added: “On behalf of the Board I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Helen, Leighton and Huw on their appointment as Honorary Professors at Aberystwyth University. Our partnership with Aberystwyth University continues to go from strength to strength and we look forward to continuing our vital work together in the future.”
Professor Elizabeth Treasure added: “I am delighted to welcome our new Honorary Professors, who together will bring decades of experience to our research and teaching. Their expertise will further contribute to the role we have to play as a University in helping improve healthcare provision for everyone.”

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