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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.
Contact InformationRobert Owen0300 0252 058Robert.Owen009@gov.wales
Notes to editorsIn response to this news:

Robert Lloyd Griffiths, Director of IOD Wales said:  “Today’s announcement by Welsh Government will come as very welcome news for business owners and managers who are desperate for all the help that they can get at this difficult time. It is particularly pleasing that it follows the announcement last week by UK Government that the furlough scheme has been extended as called for by the IoD.”

Heather Myers, CEO, South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce said:  “The Welsh Government has made significant efforts to support the business and industry of Wales, creating packages of funding that will help get much needed cash into very many businesses.

“We have been in regular contact, explaining the issues that businesses face and the areas of distress where they need urgent help. The Economic Resilience Fund, The Small Business Rates Relief and the range of support from the Development Bank of Wales shows that Welsh Government Ministers have been listening.

“Whilst there are still gaps in funding, which we will continue to identify, the rapid response to date to support the economy of Wales has been impressive.”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director said: “The CBI welcomes today’s allocation of a further release of £100m from the £500m Economic Resilience Fund, announced by the Welsh Government on the 30th of March. Welsh firms of all sizes and all parts of our nation are facing unprecedented challenge as they respond to the social, economic and health impacts of the coronavirus. Similar to the support provided by the UK Job Retention Scheme, Welsh businesses will be keen to receive these funds in their bank accounts so they can continue to support their staff, secure their business and plan for the post-Covid economy.”

Shavanah Taj, General Secretary of Wales TUC said:  “Despite the UK Government’s relief package, we know that some employers are still unable to readily access the funding they need to survive this deepening crisis.

“We welcome this additional funding to address the gaps, as well as Welsh Government’s ongoing commitment that this will be going to employers that are delivering fair work and a safe environment for their workforce.”
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Lidl to build brand-new store in Llanelli

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LIDL has confirmed it intends to build a brand-new store in Llanelli as part of its ongoing £1.3bn investment across Great Britain in 2021 and 2022. The announcement comes as Lidl is working with developer Arbenigol Limited who has exchanged contracts with Carmarthenshire County Council, securing the site on Trostre Retail Park.

As well as delivering Lidl’s high quality and affordable produce to even more of the community, the plans include a multi-million-pound investment and the creation of around 40 new jobs for the local economy. The new store would consist of a 1,410m² sales an in-store bakery, customer toilets, baby changing and 130 car parking spaces. 

Lidl GB’s Regional Head of Property, Paul Hebblethwaite, commented: “We are delighted to confirm plans to open our second store for Llanelli and serve even more of the local community our fresh, quality, great value products. We are firmly committed to continuing to develop the local area through investment and job creation. The team are very much looking forward to confirming a date for our public consultation when we will outline our plans and get input from those who will directly benefit from the new store.”

Its ongoing success shows no signs of slowing, with the latest Kantar Worldpanel results highlighting Lidl’s increase in sales year on year and market share of 5.7%.

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Thousands of steel jobs at risk as lender collapses

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GREENSILL CAPITAL has this filed for administration, potentially putting at risk thousands of jobs in the UK steel industry, including jobs in Wales.

On Monday (Mar 8), lawyers for the bank, which is one of the main sources of funding for steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s business empire, appeared before a UK court today, the FT reported.

Unions are seeking urgent talks with steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta over the future of his operations in the UK with its main financial backer having now filed for administration in the UK.

Mr Gupta, who lives in Monmouthshire, has over the last few years acquired a string of steel and aluminium interests globally with the backing of supply chain lender Greensill, which is understood to have provided him £3bn.

According to court documents, Greensill has “fallen into severe financial distress” and can no longer pay off its debts.

As a result, US investor Apollo Global Management could now sweep in and buy up some of the firm’s businesses.

Accountants Grant Thornton said that it had been appointed as Greensill’s administrator.

In a statement, it added that in was in “continued discussion with an interested party in relation to the purchase of certain Greensill Capital assets.”
“As these discussions remain ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”, it added.

The collapse marks a rapid downfall for the firm, which counted former PM David Cameron among its advisers.

The supply chain finance specialist was thrown into disarray last week when its insurance provider refused to renew a $4.6bn contract.

Shortly thereafter, lender Credit Suisse froze $10bn of funds linked to the firm, leaving it perilously short of cash.

With Gupta’s GFG Alliance believed to be heavily exposed to the firm, the collapse could have a devastating affect on the UK steel industry.

Up to 5,000 jobs at GFG and subsidiary Liberty Steel could be at risk, with union officials set for crisis talks with the firm tomorrow.

“Sanjeev Gupta needs to tell us exactly what the administration means for Liberty’s UK businesses and how he plans to protect jobs”, union Community said in a statement.

“The future of Liberty’s strategic steel assets must be secured and we are ready to work with all stakeholders to find a solution.”

It was also reported that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with Liberty Steel’s chief executive John Ferriman yesterday.

Nicknamed the “saviour of steel”, Gupta had previously snapped up a number of steel assets in the UK despite uncertainty over the future of the industry.

Liberty Steel currently owns nine steelworks sites in the UK, which employ around 3,000 people. 2,000 more staff work for engineering firms connected to the industry.

Reacting to the announcement of possible steel job losses at Liberty Steel, Newport and other sites, the Shadow Minister for Economy, Business and Infrastructure, Russell George MS, said: “This announcement, of course, will undoubtedly cause anxiety for workers and their families.
“So, first and foremost, the most important aim now is for dialogue to ensue, in a bid for a solution to be found.
“Steelworkers in Wales have a brilliant reputation for creating high-quality products and I truly hope a solution can be reached.”

But a spokesperson for the company said that the firm was currently running as normal.
“Our operations are running as normal and our core businesses continue to benefit from strong market conditions generating robust sales and cash flows”, they said.
“Our operational efficiency programme has improved profitability and we are making progress in our discussions with financial institutions that can help diversify our funding. We are keeping our employees up to date and will provide further updates as we deliver our plans.”

Mike Hill, Labour MP fo Hartlepool, where one of Liberty’s steelworks is, said: “Liberty Steel is a major employer in Hartlepool, manufacturing bespoke Pipes for use by the offshore oil and gas industry.
“The company has also been identified as a key player in the Government’s plan for a Freeport in Teesside and Hartlepool. The last thing our local economy needs in these difficult times is for the business to go under and urgent intervention from Ministers will be needed if there are any signs of that happening.”

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Burry Port residents urged to pool ultrafast broadband vouchers

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OPENREACH is asking people living in Burry Port to get behind a push for faster broadband.

Ultrafast, ultra-reliable full fibre broadband is within touching distance for people living in Burry Port – thanks to Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership scheme.

The company – the UK’s largest broadband network used by customers of BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen – is urging people living or working in Burry Port to consider pooling Gigabit broadband vouchers available from the UK and Welsh Governments to help build a new, gigabit-capable network, where fibre is run directly from the exchange all the way to each property.

Many residents have already pledged their support, but those who haven’t and don’t currently have access to a 100Mbps broadband service can check if they qualify and pledge their voucher on the Connect My Community website.

If enough people come forward to pledge, and validate their vouchers – before the scheme ends – Openreach can work with the community to build a customised, co-funded network and bring full fibre broadband to areas not included in any existing private or publicly subsidised upgrade schemes.

By working with Openreach in this way, more than 150,000 homes and businesses across the UK can already benefit from ultrafast, ultra-reliable broadband.

Connie Dixon, Openreach’s partnership director for Wales, said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for the community of Burry Port to bring full fibre infrastructure to the town but the clock is ticking.”

“Deadline for vouchers to be pledged and issued is the end of March so we need as many people as possible in Burry Port to get involved so that we get enough pledges ‘over the line’. Everyone who pledges a voucher will be doing their bit to help make Burry Port one of the best-connected places in Wales. Pledging couldn’t be simpler, but we need residents to act quickly.”

Connie added: “Thousands of homes and businesses across Wales can already upgrade to the Openreach full fibre network and local people can use our online postcode checker to see what’s now available.

“We’re investing £12 billion to build full fibre broadband to 20 million homes – and more than three million of those will be in the toughest third of the UK – but we can’t upgrade the whole country alone. This latest support from government, alongside help to remove red tape and barriers that slow down the build, is vital.”

To claim vouchers which contribute towards the cost of building the new network, residents are asked to commit to ordering a full fibre service from a provider of their choice for at least 12 months once the new network is available.

Eligible residents can qualify for up to a maximum of £3,000 while small to medium sized businesses can claim up to £7,000 under the UK Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme which has been topped up by Welsh Government funding.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “We welcome this scheme and would strongly recommend residents and businesses in Burry Port seeking ultra-fast, ultra-reliable internet speeds to register their interest now. Fast, reliable connectivity is vital to support business growth, help communities to thrive, improve health and well-being, and make it easier for people to get online and access public services. This has been particularly highlighted during the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Full fibre technology provides more reliable, resilient and future-proof connectivity; meaning fewer faults; more predictable, consistent speeds and enough capacity to easily meet growing data demands. It’s also future-proof, which means it will serve generations to come and won’t need to be upgraded for decades.

Fibre optics – strands of glass around one-tenth the thickness of a human hair – transmit data using light signals. Fibre is smaller, lighter and more durable than copper cabling and less vulnerable to damage. This short video explains what full fibre technology is and there’s more info here.

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