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Cabinet Secretary focusses on automotive industry

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Ken Skates: Uncertainty over future demands attention

CABINET S​ECRETARY​ for the Economy, Ken Skates, has highlighted the achievements and issues faced by the automotive sector in Wales during his keynote speech at this year’s Autolink event.

Organised by the Welsh Automotive Forum (WAF) and supported by Welsh Government, Autolink is the premium automotive business to business event in Wales.

Ken Skates said: “These days, it seems the automotive sector is rarely out of the news headlines.

“We find ourselves talking about a host of subjects, from the unknown impact of Brexit and the associated effect on investment and car sales, to the need to improve air quality fuelling issues such as the debate over the future of the diesel engine, use restrictions in city centres and the uptake of alternatively fuelled vehicles. Not to mention being asked to consider the development of autonomous vehicles and what they mean for future car ownership and personal mobility.

“With these issues and more creating uncertainty, it is right we should come together to put the spotlight on the sector in Wales.”

Autolink 2018 will consist of around 200 attendees including 50 exhibitors drawn from the Welsh based automotive supply chain, representatives from vehicle manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers (companies supplying components directly to the chain’s original equipment manufacturer), academia and visitors from the wider supply chain community.

Ken Skates continued: “There are many topics open to discussion here – free movement of goods and people and the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers, the Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan, reducing carbon emissions. I could go on.

“Here in Wales, we have strengthened our commitment towards reaching our own emission reduction targets. Our Environment Act sets out a clear decarbonisation pathway for Wales within the context of our existing UK and international obligations, with a reduction in emissions of at least 80% by 2050.

“Decarbonisation has a significant place in our new Economic Contract which is part of our innovative Economic Action Plan. This will see a new way of working with businesses to create wealth, jobs and wellbeing.

“Change and a degree of uncertainty are part of the environment with in which we all operate. To prosper, we must all adapt to that new environment.”

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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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Deliveroo launches in Llanelli ahead of planned date

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FOOD delivery company Deliveroo has announced its early launch in Llanelli this week. According to Deliveroo, the company has brought forward the launch by weeks in order to help restaurants and customers through lockdown. This means that locals can now order food from a range of restaurants and grocery retailers in the local area. 

Deliveroo is an app and website that enables Brits to check out the very best local food in their area. The British company has seen great success and is now available in 12 different markets across the world. Deliveroo works with both the best independent restaurants like Best Pizza and Kebab House, Harry Watkins and Tinworks Brewery, well-known high street favourites like KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut as well as grocery retailers and convenience stores such as Co-op (see Editor’s Notes below for full list available on Deliveroo in Llanelli).

The food delivery company will continue to add new local restaurants, takeaways and convenience stores to the platform over the coming months, with the likes of Nando’s joining Deliveroo as lockdown eases. Apply here to become a Deliveroo partner. 

 The food delivery company is also giving customers 20% off orders for the next four weeks with code: LLANELLI10

The launch will be a major boost to small restaurant businesses across Llanelli who will be able to reach new customers and grow their restaurant businesses through offering delivery.  

Working with Deliveroo increases restaurants’ sales as they can reach a wider range of customers. This enables restaurants to expand their businesses, often employing more staff, broadening their menus and lengthening opening times as a result. 

Deliveroo will be looking for up to 50 people in Llanelli to become riders. Those who work as riders will be able to work when they want and where they want, delivering food and groceries to customers’ doors in as little as 20 minutes. 

This comes as Deliveroo will also be extending further into the suburbs of existing cities or towns that it currently operates in. The drive behind the rapid expansion is underpinned by the company’s belief that people in every part of the UK should have access to amazing meals wherever and whenever they want them.

Harrison Foster, Regional Director in the UK: “Launching in Llanelli is a key milestone for Deliveroo. Llanelli has a thriving foodie community and a wide range of restaurants and retailers, so we’re excited to connect them. We look forward to working with our new partners to reach a new customer base and expand their businesses.”

Deliveroo is focused on providing the ultimate food delivery experience. Customers have the option to schedule orders via the Deliveroo app up to one day in advance or receive food as soon as possible between 11.30am and 11pm on weekdays and 11.30am and 11pm on weekends, from a variety of independent eateries, traditional takeaways, high-quality chain restaurants as well as grocery retailers.   

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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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