The recent news that the Klesch Group will acquire the UK refinery and terminal assets of Murphy Oil Company and that, around the same time, Motor Fuel Group will acquire its retail assets plus marketing and distribution to the dealers is welcome on several fronts.
Firstly, the beleaguered Murco employees who have remained working and committed should be rewarded with a more stable job future. Secondly the bulk, if not all, of the forecourts should remain open for business. Lastly, retention of a threatened refinery and retail outlets is important for the UK’s energy resilience in road fuels.
However, the bigger picture is that yet another major oil company has pulled out of the UK. At the same time, Esso has around 200 company-owned sites on the market, with the sale process due to complete by the end of the year, which will leave them with only their Tesco Express joint venture for direct retail presence.
Shell is quietly making progress with its forecourt c-store joint venture with some 15 Little Waitrose shops expected on company-owned sites by December 31. Further roll outs for 2015 and beyond are likely to be announced next month. This arrangement is in addition to the Shell branded and supplied Waitrose main store petrol outlets. Perhaps Shell will also take the opportunity to release some non-core forecourts to the increasingly acquisitive independent market?
BP has already committed to a long-term development project with M&S to increase the number of Simply Food stores to a target level of 300 sites. This involves disposal of existing non-core company-owned forecourts to dealers and the acquisition of dealer sites by purchase and leasehold agreements.
So with all these changes taking place, the effect will be to increase numbers in the independent forecourt sector which PRA has forecast could increase to over 5,700 sites by the end of 2015. This would represent close to 70% of total UK site numbers with oil companies reducing to just 15% and supermarkets also at a similar level.
Nevertheless, the smaller and often rural independent forecourt remains an endangered species with an average 200 closing every year since 2009. The PRA is fighting for a better deal from government to help these smaller sites.