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.”
Nick Ramsay MS: Freeze welcome but doesn’t go far enough
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.”
Welsh Government releases additional £100M business support
|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.”
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.”