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Have your say on the budget

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Executive Board has reiterated its commitment to creating jobs and improving the quality of life for the people of Carmarthenshire.

The Executive Board has agreed a draft capital budget that details and sets out almost half a billion pounds worth of improvement and regeneration programmes planned between now and 2025.

The budget includes additional commitment to supporting businesses, regenerating local towns and boosting the local economy as Carmarthenshire recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The council’s capital spending includes items like major road improvement schemes, new schools or buying significant assets, such as buildings, which are used to provide the council with income as well as providing jobs to benefit the local economy.

Following endorsement by Executive Board, the draft capital budget forms part of a wider consultation on the council’s plans for spending and saving, allowing everyone the opportunity to feed back their opinion before it ends on February 3.

Public feedback will be considered as part of the budget decision making process.

Included in the proposed capital projects are several road and traffic infrastructure improvement schemes, such as upgraded bridges, street lighting, electric vehicle charging points and active travel links to support people to travel safely by bike and on foot.

The council plans to continue its ambitious schools’ modernisation programme, building new schools or transforming existing facilities to bring educational settings up to 21st century standards.

Regeneration of urban and rural towns is also a main focus with targeted schemes to improve their appearance and prospects to support businesses and boost the local economy.

There are plans for improved facilities and estates for rural and industrial industries and support for businesses to harness renewable energy.

Supporting businesses to get back on their feet as the county recovers from Covid-19 is a key focus, as well as encouraging new business start-ups and improving digital connectivity in rural areas – the draft capital budget allocated funding in year one of the programme.

Delivery of projects that form part of the Swansea Bay City Deal programme are also included.

Cllr David Jenkins, Executive Board Member for resources, said: “We are quite rightly focusing our efforts in the first year on supporting and stimulating Carmarthenshire’s economy following the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19, but we are proud to identify funds for many more important capital programme projects. Our aim is to create better prospects for the whole of Carmarthenshire, making life better for our residents and more prosperous for our businesses.

“The draft capital budget of course forms the basis of consultation and as always we welcome public feedback which will help our decision-making in the coming weeks.”

People can share their views online at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/consultation until 5pm on February 3, 2021.

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Business

Principality performs well as it supports customers during pandemic

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Principality has posted good annual results for 2020, as it focused all its efforts on supporting members, customers and colleagues during a challenging year.

The building society granted more than 15,000 homeowners a mortgage payment deferral, helping them to cope with the financial uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic and supported communities by keeping its branches open throughout the lockdown periods.

Wales’ largest building society saw its assets grow to more than £11bn for the first time in its history, as it saw retail mortgage lending increase by £182m this year (2019: £499m), taking total retail lending over £8bn for the first time, despite the UK housing market coming to a standstill for the best part of four months in the first half of the year.

Last year the business signposted an expected reduction in profits in 2020 due to continued investment in technology to transform its core mortgage and savings operations. In addition, it also increased provision levels by £9.1m (2019: release of £4.1m) to cover potential future losses arising from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Whilst no significant credit losses have been incurred to date, Principality recognises that some customers may experience financial difficulties over the next few years, and its conservative approach takes into account economic forecasts of factors including unemployment levels and property prices.

Principality has strong capital reserves but this prudent approach has had a significant impact on results for 2020, resulting in an underlying profit before tax of £24.1m (2019: £39.8m) and statutory profit before tax of £19.9m (2019: £39.6m).

For the third year running Principality has won the What Mortgage award for Best Building Society Customer Service. This is reflected in the Society’s Net Promoter Score which is well above the sector average at 79.8%, meaning almost eight out of 10 of members say they would recommend Principality to family or friends based on their level of satisfaction.

CEO Julie-Ann Haines said: “Despite facing significant disruption and uncertainty this year, we maintained our award-winning customer service and delivered essential service for our members when they needed us most.

“During the first half of the year we had to deal with a number of operational challenges, not least enabling around 800 colleagues from our head office to work effectively from home. The strength and resilience of our business has allowed us to keep everyone in employment and not to furlough anyone. We strive to create a friendly, open and inclusive culture, and our colleagues continue to make us stand out in the sector with their warmth, personal approach and empathy.

“As promised last year, we continued to invest previous profits back into the business to boost our technology so we could offer our members improvements to their customer service. Our enhanced online security has made members’ accounts more secure, and a new web chat function has been added to improve the customer experience. In response to customer feedback, we have also increased the range of products available to customers online.  Our ambition is to move at pace in the next few years and we will continue to invest in the Society to improve our proposition and offer greater flexibility to our members. This will be complemented by fantastic service through our branches in Wales and along the borders with England.”

Principality’s Commercial team once again contributed in helping communities, with work completed on the second phase of affordable homes at The Mill development in Cardiff. The team have now completed £55m of the £75m affordable housing fund established in 2018 and this has seen take-up from housing associations across all corners of Wales. It will continue to focus its efforts to make housing more environmentally sustainable and support house-builders through funding of solar powered and zero carbon homes.

Now more than ever, Principality has continued to invest in financial education by partnering with Young Money for their Fiver Challenge which encourages the development of entrepreneurial and financial education skills for children, while raising money for local causes. More than 8,000 children signed up for this digital challenge through their schools.

On the outlook for 2021 Julie-Ann added: “We expect the economic environment to remain challenging in 2021 and beyond as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt. In these difficult circumstances, I want to assure members that Principality remains a safe home for their savings, and has the strength to resist the turbulence we are all facing. Our strategy and long term priorities remain unchanged and, while our immediate focus remains on helping members, colleagues and communities through these uncertain times, we are committed to developing and growing our business in a safe and sustainable way.”

KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

  • Total assets – £11.1bn (2019: £10.7bn)
  • Underlying profit before tax – £24.1m (2019: £39.8m)
  • Statutory profit before tax – £19.9m (2019: £39.6m)
  • Net residential mortgage growth – £182.2m (2019: £499.3m)
  • Residential mortgage balances – £8,175.7m (2019: £7,993.5m)
  • Savings balances – £8.2bn (2019: £7.6bn) 
  • Saving balance – increase is £596.1m (2019: £598.7m)
  • NPS – 79.8 (2019: 81.5)
  • Capital (CET1 ratio) – 27.10% (2019: 26.20%)
  • % of mortgages funded by savers – 88.9% (2019: 84.0%)
  • Charity fundraising total – just over £152,000
  • Employee engagement score – 86% (2019: 77%)
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Business

Nick Ramsay MS: Freeze welcome but doesn’t go far enough

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BUSINESS rates in Wales will not be subject to an inflationary increase in 2021-22 Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has confirmed today.
Freezing the multiplier next year will help support around 54,000 ratepayers across Wales, who are not already receiving 100% rates relief. This takes the total amount of savings businesses have received on their rates bills to more than £90 million from 2018 to 2019.
Earlier this year the Welsh Government also announced a rates relief package worth £580 million to provide businesses with the support they needed to survive the pandemic.
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We recognise the pressures that businesses are facing and we are continuing to explore the support measures we can put in place to help businesses cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the end of the EU transition period.
“The announcement I have made today provides businesses with the reassurance that they will not see an increase in their business rates liabilities next year.”
The Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Finance – reacted to the announcement.
Nick Ramsay MS said: “The continuing health emergency produced by the Covid pandemic remains grave, yet the economic emergency we’re going through is still bringing about a different, but equally devastating effect.
“The announcement is, therefore, welcome but doesn’t go far enough.
“Welsh Conservatives outlined earlier this year our vision of how to rebuild the economy, which will require the next Welsh Government to utilise tax powers in innovative ways.
“We have pledged to create ‘Business Rate-Free Zones’, where all businesses would be free from paying business rates for up to three years, and to scrap business rates for all businesses with a rateable value of under £15,000 outside of these zones.
“Sure, the business-rates freeze from the Finance Minister is a step in the right direction, but I – and undoubtedly many businesspeople – am left feeling no real sense of assurance from her announcement.”

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Business

Welsh Government releases additional £100M business support

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The latest phase of the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund has benefited from the release of a further £100million from ministers within 72 hours of launch, due to a massive demand.

More than 6,000 grant applications from small and medium sized businesses and social enterprises were received within 24 hours of the launch on Friday – an unprecedented response, revealing the scale of the challenges facing Welsh businesses.

The Fund aims to complement and fill the gaps left by UK Government schemes such as the Job Retention Scheme, with grants of up to £10,000 for micro-enterprises and up to £100,000 for SMEs and a light touch appraisal system designed to get money to businesses with the minimum of delay – as well as a new loan fund administered by the Development Bank of Wales.

Less than three weeks since the First Minister announced the intention to create the Fund, the Welsh Government has released a further £100 million, taking the grant fund to £300 million. This will supplement this latest phase of support, providing non-repayable grants to microbusinesses, SMEs and those large businesses of critical, social or economic importance to Wales.

The Fund has been warmly received by trade union and business organisations, with the Institute of Directors calling it ‘very welcome news for business owners and managers who are desperate for all the help they can get at this difficult time’. The South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce has called ‘the rapid response to date’ of the Welsh Government in supporting the economy of Wales ‘impressive’. The Wales TUC welcomed ‘additional funding to address the gaps’.

Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates said:  “We knew that even with the help offered by initiative such as the Job Retention Scheme, there was a massive need for quick access to grant funding if Welsh businesses were to survive this unprecedented economic shock. Whilst in order to make the scheme quick and simple we needed to take tough decisions over eligibility – like requiring businesses to be registered for VAT as a way of having to check on their trading history – it is clear from the level of response received that the Economic Resilience Fund is plugging a gap in UK Government support and providing much needed financial reassurance to many businesses at this challenging time. We will continue to review support and consider how we can develop it over the coming days.

“The rate of applications has been massive and unprecedented. This is the second time in a matter of weeks that access to Welsh Government funds aimed at easing cash flow pressures for Welsh business have quickly reached capacity, and we have responded with pace to release a further £100m into this phase of the fund.

“In these difficult and demanding economic times we have worked hard to free up resources to create such a large Fund despite the huge demands on our budget, and to strike a balance between supporting as many enterprises as possible and making a meaningful contribution to each one’s survival, as well as asking each recipient to sign up to the principles of the economic contract.

“Though we applaud much of what the UK Government has done, there is an urgent need to see more of the promised lending guaranteed by the UK Government getting to the front line. The UK Government must continue to support and press the high street banks to be much more responsive to the needs of our businesses at this difficult time.”

Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “The Economic Resilience Fund is part of more than £2bn of support that we have made available to help businesses and charities during these incredibly difficult times.

“We know that support for business is crucially important but whilst we are doing everything we can in Wales to plug any gaps and provide the best possible financial support to businesses, it is clear there are further steps that the UK Government needs to urgently take.”

The Economic Resilience offers financial support to help businesses, charities and social enterprises deal with the coronavirus crisis and will be vital in helping organisations manage cash flow pressures. It is a unique additional funding stream for Wales and was designed to address gaps not currently met by schemes already announced by the UK Government, Welsh Government and Development Bank of Wales.

The first stage of the Fund saw the £100 million Development Bank of Wales’ loan scheme fully subscribed in little more than a week. Applications are currently being processed and some businesses have already received funding. It is anticipated that the Development Bank will have processed all applications received within the month.

To ensure that money reaches businesses as quickly as possible more than 120 additional Welsh Government and Business Wales staff have been diverted onto processing applications and supporting businesses and organisations in this latest stage of the Fund.

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