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Welsh construction sector fares better than UK average

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THE PERCENTAGE of Welsh construction firms at heightened risk of insolvency sits comfortably below the UK average, according to the latest research by insolvency and restructuring trade body R3.

With 37.6% of firms at increased risk, the sector sits just over 2% below the UK average of 39.7%.

Only the construction sectors in the North West, London, and Northern Ireland fare better, at 37.4%, 37%, and 34.8% respectively.

However, the March research shows that the percentage of construction firms at heightened risk of insolvency increased by 3.8% from February’s figures, closely matching the construction sector’s UK-wide increase of 3.9%.

Commenting on the research, Louise Durkan, Chair of R3 in Wales and a director at Deloitte, told The Llanelli Herald: “Resting just below the UK average, while rising at the same rate, will come as encouraging news for many Welsh construction firms, and signals a hopeful outlook for the region after a challenging start to the year.

“According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, January saw the UK’s construction sector contract for the ninth month in a row, fuelled in part by increases to the cost of imports, a fall in the number of new homes being built, and the strain on the sector’s supply chains.

“However, for Wales at least, a number of new projects in the pipeline, and a rapidly rising Cardiff skyline, look to be helping the construction sector weather the storm.

The wider Welsh picture

Of all 10 key industry sectors monitored by R3 in Wales, construction had the 7th highest percentage of firms at heightened risk of insolvency, followed by agriculture (43.2%), technology and IT (47.7%), and the professional services sector (49.5%).

The restaurant sector saw the lowest percentage of firms at heightened risk of insolvency of all sectors in Wales at 31.9%.

However, the sector remains notably above the UK average of 30.2%, and is only surpassed by the East of England and the South West, at 32.1% and 33.8%, respectively.

Louise continues: “It is unfortunate but unsurprising to see the restaurant sector struggling. Consumer habits are shifting, and while there is a trend for increasing ‘leisure’ spending, this is coming at the expense of eating out in restaurants. Poor real wage growth is limiting what people can spend overall, so more spending in one area means less in another.”

Louise adds: “For any businesses in Wales who are starting to feel financial pressure, as always, R3 suggest seeking professional and qualified advice at the earliest possible opportunity, as this will only increase the chances of successful business rescue.”

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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

Wales is moving in the right direction to ease coronavirus restrictions

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THE NUMBER of coronavirus patients being treated in Welsh hospitals is at the lowest for three months, Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething has revealed at a briefing today (Feb 8).

The R number is below one, it was confirmed – the most recent estimate from SAGE is that R is between 0.7 and 0.9 in Wales.

He also confirmed that the latest figures show the testing positivity rate has fallen in Wales below 10%, which means Wales could soon be moving is from alert level 4 to alert level 3.

Mr Gething said: “There are some encouraging signs that the number of people needing hospital treatment for coronavirus is starting to fall.

“The number of people with confirmed Covid in our hospitals is at the lowest since 8 November and we have also seen a reduction in the number of people with coronavirus needing intensive care.

“Overall, we are seeing cases of coronavirus fall. Monday’s figures show there are around 115 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in Wales.

“But this varies widely across Wales.

In Wrexham, rates are above 220 cases per 100,000 people, although this is falling. In Ceredigion, the rate has risen over the last seven days to 56 cases per 100,000 people.
“The positivity rate – this is the percentage of tests, which return a positive result every day – is also falling. It now stands at just below 10%.

“This is still high, but it’s a lot lower than the very high rates we were seeing before Christmas, when we had overall rates of more than 650 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of more than 25%.”

BAM communities hesitant to get vaccines

Concerns have been growing in recent weeks about an apparent hesitancy from some people in black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to have the Covid-19 vaccine.
Which is why Mr Gething also told the briefing that work was being done to counter some of the misinformation about the vaccine, which is common among some groups and communities.

He said that Welsh Government was closely monitoring vaccine uptake to make sure there are no barriers to take-up.

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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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