THE RECENT conduct of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has led to fears that the future of the UK’s business relationships with Europe are of secondary interest to senior government ministers.
A strongly-worded statement from the CBI, warning policy makers to ‘focus on business priorities and put evidence above political ideology’ was greeted with Mr Johnson remarking ‘f**k business’.
Those remarks were preceded by the Foreign Secretary being recorded saying that the border with Ireland was a minor issue of little consequence in the context of Brexit.
The CBI subsequently suggested that it will ensure negotiators on both sides ‘are well equipped with the unequivocal economic facts’.
Whether the facts fit the Foreign Secretary’s preconceptions of what Brexit might mean for the UK’s businesses is open to question.
AIRBUS RAISES STAKES
A similar gap between reality and ideology was exposed by the warning from Airbus that – in order to continue to comply with the European regulatory framework – it might have to move its base of operations from Broughton in Clwyd, where it supports 6,500 directly employed jobs and businesses and the economy over a much wider area.
In the absence of a Brexit agreement, UK aerospace companies will not be covered by existing approvals. More than 10,000 original aircraft parts originate in the UK, the manufacture of which is covered by tight regulations requiring certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency. Should a single parts supplier not be certified, its parts cannot be installed and aircraft will not be delivered.
If a supply chain agreement is not reached with the EU, the consequences for the aviation industry selling into the EU trading bloc will be a disaster for the UK.
BUSINESSES TOLD TO BUTT OUT
However, the unwelcome intervention of facts in the Brexit narrative roused Health Secretary Jeremy (H)unt to tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr that talking about job losses risked undermining the government in its negotiations with the EU.
“It was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats, for one simple reason. We are in a critical moment in the Brexit discussions. We need to get behind Theresa May to deliver the best possible Brexit, a clean Brexit.”
Mr Hunt’s comments were supported by leading Brexit enthusiast Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, who also suggested that businesses warning the government based on their own detailed knowledge of the regulatory regimes under which they work were somehow placing the UK Government’s negotiating position – which is as yet both unknown and possibly undetermined – at risk.
The key economic issue for businesses is ensuring the sort of continuity in trading arrangements which secures jobs and encourages investment. Large businesses need a significant amount of time to make decisions on the allocation of resources, particularly in the face of unpredictable trade policy by twitter approach of the US Government. Short of certainty, and faced with a capricious transatlantic trading partner which scraps trade agreements and treaties at short or no notice, businesses are understandably twitchy about their inability to plan and the absence of meaningful interaction with them by the UK Government’s crack Brexit team.
In a carefully-phrased statement to MPs, Business Secretary Greg Clark told MPs: “Any company and any industry that supports the livelihoods of so many working people in this country is entitled to be listened to with respect.
“The government has been clear that we are determined to secure a deal with the EU that meets the needs of our aerospace firms and the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on them.”
IRISH TRADE KEY FOR WEST WALES
Meanwhile, businesses have struck back at the apparent indifference of the UK Government’s key Brexit ministers to the interests of businesses which stand to be affected directly should the UK reach no regulatory deal – or a poor regulatory deal – with the EU.
Business groups the CBI, Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Business, the Employers’ Federation, and the Institute of Directors are placing pressure on the government to reach agreement on trade, customs, and immigration.
Pembrokeshire’s MPs, Simon Hart in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Stephen Crabb in Preseli Pembrokeshire, are in an intriguing position over the issue of Irish trade.
With major ferry ports in Pembroke Dock and Fishguard, both Conservatives have a dog in the race to ensure that trade with the Republic of Ireland is at least maintained at current levels.
100,000 lorries were carried to Ireland via ports in Pembrokeshire in 2015. Any disruption of that trade, by the introduction of customs and immigration checks for example, would significantly reduce the attractiveness of west Wales’ ports to businesses trading with Ireland. That is not, however, a one way street. The Irish Government is also keen to maintain access to the UK as an access point to mainland Europe.
While the ports are not in themselves major employers, the ‘ripple effect’ of any loss or reduction in through traffic and any subsequent job losses could be significant. And concerns have been magnified by Stena’s decision to scrap a significant investment plan in Fishguard.
When we asked to respond to the Foreign Secretary’s views on the Irish Border issue and the importance of trade with Ireland to Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart said: “I have spoken (very informally) to [Boris Johnson] to make that point, which he says he recognises. The border issue might be minor in the overall context of Brexit but it is nonetheless very important.”
Stephen Crabb told us: “I have said right from the start that the issues over trade between the UK and Ireland, including the question of the Northern Ireland border, are some of the most complex and important of the Brexit negotiations.
“For us in Pembrokeshire it is important because of our trade links with Rosslare and I have raised this matter with Ministers in Ireland, the Cabinet in Westminster. The commitment that the Prime Minister has given that there will be no additional trade barriers for East-West trade between the UK and Ireland is crucial and reflects the points that I and others have been putting to her.”
Business Wales delivers vital support
MORE than 20,000 jobs have been created since April 2015 by enterprises that have received support from the Welsh Government’s flagship Business Wales service, Economy Minister Ken Skates has revealed.
Business Wales makes it easier for Welsh micro-businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as aspiring entrepreneurs of all ages to access the information, advice and support they require to start and grow their businesses.
In addition to helping Welsh enterprises create more than 20,000 new jobs since April 2015, the service has handled over 60,000 enquiries and advised over 30,000 individual entrepreneurs and firms across Wales. It has also helped Welsh entrepreneurs create more than 4,000 new businesses across Wales with an impressive four year survival rate of over 80 per cent.
The Welsh Government continues to proactively support entrepreneurs at each stage of the business lifecycle from raising awareness of entrepreneurship with more than 200,000 primary school pupils right across Wales through to idea generation, start-up and on to sustainable growth.
In November, the Economy Minister announced proposals to build on Business Wales’ success to ensure its high quality is maintained and developed so even more firms and entrepreneurs can benefit from the service.
This includes how the service can prepare businesses for what the economy will look like after Brexit.
Business Wales also has an increasingly important role in supporting firms to rise to the challenges set out in the Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan of preparing for digital developments, improving productivity, increasing the incidence of fair work, decarbonising and promoting inclusive growth.
Ken Skates said: “As we enter the New Year, it’s fabulous news and a great achievement that our flagship Business Wales service has supported the creation of more than 20,000 jobs since April 2015.
“That’s 20,000 people given an opportunity to work, earn a wage, make a living and help drive a productive Welsh economy. I am delighted we, as a Welsh Government, have played our part in helping Welsh entrepreneurs and SMEs to make that happen.
“Although 92 per cent of Business Wales customers say they would recommend the service to a friend, we’re certainly not resting on our laurels and I’m already looking at ways Business Wales can directly support more firms and entrepreneurs over the coming years.
“Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the Welsh economy and vital to our economic outlook and the way communities throughout Wales operate from day-to-day.
“We will continue to support our SMEs and be on hand to provide the high-quality information, advice and guidance they need to thrive.”
Last remaining council owned shop in Llanelli Town Centre
Here is an opportunity to start the New Year in business – grab the last remaining council owned shop unit in Llanelli Town Centre.
Number 3 Cowell Precinct – most recently occupied by Clair Adams Schoolwear – is up for rent and is in a prime town centre location.
The ground floor unit is available at an affordable rent of just over £650 per month and coupled with reduced business rates being offered by the Welsh Government under its business rate relief scheme, it offers an attractive package to those thinking of opening up shop in Llanelli.
Retail space is approx 133.5 sqm and benefits from a main sales area with additional raised area with store room, WC and rear access. Front entrance is within Llanelli Indoor Market Precinct. The lease will be for a term of at least five years.
Almost £5million has been spent buying town centre properties from private ownership to renovate and offer to businesses at an affordable rent, and all but one council-owned property in the main shopping streets of the town are currently occupied.
Carmarthenshire County Council Cllr Leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “We have acquired many properties from private ownership in the last couple of years. In doing so, we now have control over more business premises which allows us to set an affordable level of rent that will help new businesses to establish and sustain themselves. Many people are under the misconception that the council own all properties in Llanelli Town Centre – this isn’t the case and many are owned privately and over which we have no control.
“We continue to encourage private landlords and owners to make better use of town centre buildings by offering grants and loans as part of a range of incentives, including simpler planning rules to speed up the process for investors and developers.”
Llanelli’s Altalia restaurant to close after 18 years
THE OWNERS of a family-run restaurant in Llanelli town centre have decided to call time to focus on new ventures.
Al and Tal Einon, who run Italian restaurant Altalia on the corner of Stepney Street and Market Street, will serve for the final time on Saturday, December 21.
Carmarthenshire County Council, which owns the building leased to the business, has thanked the couple for their commitment to the town over the last 18 years.
The council is currently working on proposals to transform Market Street to provide a better connection with the main town centre and Eastgate.
It was hoped Altalia would stay as an anchor tenant within the new development, and the council has worked closely with the couple over the last year to plan ahead.
However, in a personal decision, the Einons have decided to bring their time in the town centre to a close and try something new.
“We are taking this opportunity to thank all our valued customers, many of whom are now friends and always will be,” they said.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed catering for Llanelli for some 18 years. The teams we have developed over the years really have been the best at their game and the fulfilment of training them, and our daughters, into capable caterers – both front and back of house – has been the most satisfying thing of all.
“All good things must come to an end, and we look forward to a new venture in 2020.”
Carmarthenshire County Council’s regeneration team are working on plans to transform several areas of the town.
Almost £5million has been spent buying town centre properties from private ownership to renovate and offer to businesses at an affordable rent, and all but three council-owned properties in the main shopping streets of the town are currently occupied.
The team also continues to encourage private landlords and owners to make better use of town centre buildings by offering grants and loans as part of a range of incentives, including simpler planning rules to speed up the process for investors and developers.
The next phase of development will see more mixed-use retail and residential space created, a model that has already proven successful along Stepney Street.
Market Street is one of the key sites earmarked for development to encourage more footfall and flow between the town centre and Eastgate.
The council is currently working on proposals for the area, with no firm plans about the site yet in place.
Feedback from members of the public, businesses and town centre stakeholders from a series of drop-in consultation events in the town centre during 2018 will be taken into consideration.
Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of the Council and Executive Board Member for Regeneration, said: “We thank Al and Tal for their service to Llanelli town centre for the last 18 years. They have provided a wonderful welcome to customers and have been a huge part of the town centre as our tenants. We have worked closely with the couple to plan for their future as part of our continued regeneration of Llanelli town centre, and whilst naturally we’re disappointed that they have decided to bring their business to a close, we fully understand and accept that decision and wish them well in their new ventures.”