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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.

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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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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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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