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Solid year for Swansea Building Society as new office makes bright start

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SWANSEA BUILDING SOCIETY enjoyed a strong increase in its total assets and a modest increase in its profits in 2016, mainly driven by the success of its newest branch in Carmarthen, which generated increased retail savings and mortgage balances during the year.

The Building Society’s annual income was £5.7m in 2016, an increase of £300,000 or 6% on its income of £5.4m a year earlier. It was boosted by increased retail savings balances across all of its branches – but Carmarthen in particular, which opened in October 2015. This helped its total assets increase by 16.2% to reach a new record level of £268.6m.

The Society also increased its net profit to just over £2m, an increase of £12,000 in comparison to 2015, despite the appointment of additional staff at its Carmarthen branch and head office, and continued investment in its IT systems.

The Building Society’s total loan book increased to £185m in 2016, an increase of £15.2m or 8.9% on the £170 million outstanding in 2015. This helped generate an operating profit before impairment losses and Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) provisions of £2.7m, which, in turn, led to increased capital, which now stands at £17.8m.

Alun Williams, Chief Executive Officer of Swansea Building Society, said he was pleased with the results and the extent to which its investment in setting up a new branch has delivered results. But he also warned that some aspects of government policy that applies to building societies continues to make life difficult for niche players that do not use the wholesale money markets for funding.

Mr Williams said: “We are delighted with another strong set of results, particularly the contribution made by our newest office in Carmarthen. Despite the significant investments we have made in staff, infrastructure and IT systems last year, we have delivered an extremely pleasing set of results.

“That said, the economic landscape remains uncertain and we still face some challenges. Contributions to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) continue to weigh heavily on the Society and the costs are proportionately higher than that levied on the banks due to our reliance on retail depositors rather than wholesale funding.

“Following the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, the Bank of England base rate reduced to 0.25% with effect from August 4, 2016, having been at 0.50% since March 5, 2009. Most economic forecasters expect UK Economic growth to slow in 2017 and if that is the case then the bank base rate is likely to remain at 0.25%t well into 2017, and possibly beyond.”

Mr Williams explained that the Society has also benefitted from stimulus in the form of the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), which has served to depress both the retail and wholesale borrowing costs of the banking and building society sectors. But he added that while the resultant low interest rate environment benefits borrowers, savers lose out and Swansea Building Society must carefully manage inflows of funds in such an environment.

“In addition to the base rate reduction, the bank announced a package of measures including a new Term Funding Scheme (TFS) of up to £10b of UK Corporate Bonds and an expansion of the asset purchase scheme for UK Government bonds of up to £435b.

Unfortunately, whilst the above will reduce the borrowing costs for households and businesses, it has led to a further reduction in savings interest rates across the UK. We remain acutely aware of the negative impact that these very low interest rates are continuing to have on our savings members.

“We kept our savings interest rates as high as we could for as long as we could during 2016.
It is a measure of how competitive our current range of savings accounts are that our savings balances increased by £35.7m (16.6%) to £250.3million of savings balances under management during the year.”

The Society’s balance sheet is 100% funded by retail and business savings and retained profits, meaning it has no reliance on the wholesale money markets to fund either asset growth or mortgage lending.

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Drink driver hospitalised and arrested

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A MAN who was hospitalised after crashing his car on the B4310, Drefach, has also been arrested for drink driving.

The crash, which happened in the early hours of Sunday morning (Feb 18), destroyed the Mercedes he was driving.

He hit a van which was parked outside of a property, which was also damaged.

Dyfed-Powys Police, Welsh Ambulance Service, and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service personnel attended the scene.

A spokesman for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were called to reports of a road traffic collision at 12.50am on Sunday morning on the B4310 in Drefach.

“We sent crews from Pontyates and Tumble at the scene and one male was cut out of a car using hydraulic cutting equipment and taken to hospital.”

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‘Connecting Carmarthenshire’ campaign takes a leap forward

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Making progress: Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM and Geraint Trello

EFFORTS to improve the availability of high speed internet and good mobile phone signal took a leap forward this week as EE sets about switching on new mobile phone masts and launches its 4G Home Broadband solution.

Representatives of EE came to Carmarthenshire this weekend to meet with Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards and Assembly Member, Adam Price who have led a ‘Connecting Carmarthenshire’ campaign.

Their meeting, which took place near the site of one of two new mobile phone masts near Abergorlech, focused on the upgrades and improvements the company is undertaking across rural Carmarthenshire, with a particular focus on EE’s new 4G Home Broadband solution which can provide superfast broadband via an antenna on the house – a solution EE says could help around 580,000 homes nationwide gain access to high speed connectivity.

The Plaid Cymru politicians said the new improved mobile signal was itself “a big advancement”, but said the launch of the 4G antenna was “a leap forward” for connecting rural Carmarthenshire communities.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said: “It was a pleasure to welcome EE to Carmarthenshire and continue our discussions on improving connectivity in rural Wales. One new mast will be switched on in Abergorlech in a matter of weeks, with another new mast for the Llansawel region with us later in the year.

“These new masts add to the 27 4G upgrades EE has carried out to existing sites in Carmarthenshire over the last 12 months, providing better coverage for rural communities including Llanybydder, Pencader and Llanarthne, adding to the upgrades from other mobile phone giants across the county.

“Perhaps the most impressive news this week is the launch of EE’s Home Broadband solution which, with the use of a small antenna on the home, can bring superfast broadband to the house. This looks like it could be the answer for many properties which have been left behind during the fixed line upgrades, or where they can only receive slower fixed broadband speeds.

“It’s not for an elected representative to promote a particular private company, but where there appears to be a solution for so many properties to get high speed internet, I have no problem in promoting the product – particularly because when it was trialed it delivered speeds over 100Mbps! This is a giant leap forward.

“Connecting Carmarthenshire is really starting to see positive results, but I’ll keep on working to ensure everyone I represent achieves good connectivity.”

Assembly Member Adam Price said: “The new sites in the Abergorlech area are the latest in a long time of upgrades in recent months, with the added bonus of those mobile signals being used for superfast internet in the home.

“Given that various grants for broadband solutions are available from the Welsh Government, we believe those who can’t get access to fixed broadband connections or receive a glacial pace connection may well be able to receive a grant to have products like 4G Home Broadband installed at their homes.

“I’d encourage anyone who is interested in a grant to cover the costs of delivering a step change in their broadband speeds to visit the Welsh Government’s website to check eligibility, or contact Jonathan and I where we can send information to them directly.

“More and more people across our Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency are seeing the benefits of good mobile phone signal and much faster broadband. We’ve still got a little way to go, but local residents are seeing big advancements. We’re delighted the Connecting Carmarthenshire campaign is delivering tangible results for the county.”

On the launch of EE’s 4G Home Broadband solution, Max Taylor, Managing Director of Marketing, EE said: “As our network continues to expand into some of the most remote parts of the UK, we’ve seen the amazing impact that 4G connectivity can have on rural communities. Our newest 4G home broadband router and antenna takes this one step further, ensuring thousands of families in rural areas across the UK could enjoy the benefits of superfast broadband inside their home for the very first time – whether video-calling the grandparents or streaming their favourite TV series.”

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4.4 magnitude earthquake felt across Wales

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AN earthquake of 4.4 magnitude has been felt across Wales and England this afternoon (Feb 17).

There are numerous reports of the earthquake being felt across west Wales, including Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The earthquake originated near Swansea, where it is was felt strongest, at around 2:30pm.

However, the earthquake was felt across Wales, and many parts of England.

The EMSC, an independent monitor of earthquakes, said: “Latest update of the effects of the #earthquake in #Swansea region. Was felt up to 300 km from epicentre.”

Dyfed-Powys Police received many reports about the incident, but said that there was no need for concern, and that they felt it themselves in their control room.

The police force said: “We are receiving an extremely high call volume reporting some sort of earth tremor in the area – we are receiving reports from across the whole of Wales (we felt it in our control room too!). For now – it is unexplained – but there is nothing to worry about.”

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