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Superfast roll out by councils is superslow

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Damaging businesses: Nine Welsh councils have no broadband plan

AN INVESTIGATION by broadband comparison website, BroadbandChoices, which analysed almost four hundred UK council websites and Ofcom performance statistics, has revealed that many councils have missed their own targets and deadlines for improving broadband connectivity in their areas.

And only one of Wales’ 22 councils – Newport – has hit the target; while nine have no plan at all.

The research reveals that many councils fall drastically short of targets set to provide superfast connectivity. Just 12 out of the 391 UK Councils analysed have reached 95% levels of superfast broadband penetration or higher, the UKs target. It also revealed that only 7 councils in the UK have met the targets for broadband speeds they set themselves.

The latest analysis from BroadbandChoices highlights how much work must still be done by Councils to provide sufficient connectivity to all homes and businesses in the UK, regardless of location.

With broadband speeds affecting small businesses, rural communities and those who work from home, internet speeds have a significant impact on productivity and can cost businesses money, time and even customers or clients and are costing businesses thousands in lost productivity.

The average percentage of premises with superfast broadband speeds has been revealed to be just 58% based on Ofcom’s report – nearly 40% lower than the 95% UK-wide target. The research also reveals that almost a quarter (24%) of councils don’t have a publicly available strategy when it comes to broadband.

After reviewing 391 council plans for broadband outlined on each council’s website and comparing them with actual broadband performance levels as compiled by Ofcom2 the research also revealed that the percentage of premises with access to superfast broadband ranges from just 11% in some jurisdictions, to 98% in others. This dramatic discrepancy in connectivity means some council areas have 87% fewer homes able to access superfast broadband yet no clear plans in place to improve performance.

The research exposes how the majority of councils in the UK under-estimated how long it would take to make superfast broadband available to premises within their borough. Sixty-seven councils were found to have failed to meet the targets they set themselves within the timeframes they identified.

The findings suggest that many councils in the UK have failed to make superfast broadband a priority. Surprisingly, 122 councils have information about plans to extend broadband penetration on their websites but exact details regarding reach and performance are inadequate. Broadband Choices research found vague claims in an unquantifiable format or without a specific target date for completing the work. Meanwhile, many other councils failed to even reference broadband on their websites.

The volume of ongoing council plans demonstrates that many councils are still working towards achieving widespread connectivity in their areas, and that more work still needs to be done to reach the UK Government target of 95% coverage for superfast broadband, despite some reports that it has already been achieved.

Vix Leyton, home comms expert at Broadband Choices said: “This study demonstrates that while many UK councils have active plans in place to improve connectivity for their residents, very few have succeeded in actually meeting their targets. Meanwhile, areas with the most need have councils who are failing to recognise good internet connectivity as a strategic priority.

“Whilst our research gives a broad stroke picture of the UK by comparing council intention to reported performance, a lot of consumers are still in the dark when it comes to the actual service and speed they will personally receive until after they have signed up for a deal. Broadband Choices has been lobbying for some time to inform consumer purchasing, using things like the postcode checker tool, to ensure that in the face of different reports about performance they will get a clear and honest picture of the position their home or business is in.

“Access to technology is a staple requirement and reliance on high-quality connectivity will only increase. That’s why we’re helping to educate consumers so they are better aware of the broadband available in their area, and what plans their local Council has in place to keep up with technology. Councils should have their plans and target deadlines clearly outlined on their website for constituents to see, and if targets haven’t been met this needs to be addressed and reviewed, and residents are entitled to know why.”

“The lack of superfast broadband has a combined impact on productivity and communication, which is a real concern, translating into a loss for small businesses, and communities. Councils need to do more to improve connectivity to protect the productivity of the UK workforce.”

Business

Local businesses to benefit from Supreme Court insurance ruling

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THE SUPREME COURT has largely ruled in favour of policyholders and the City regulator in the landmark business interruption insurance case. 

In a judgment handed down today, the court said it “substantially allowed” the appeal by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and campaign groups Hiscox Action Group and Hospitality Insurance Group Action. 

Tens of thousands of small businesses will receive insurance pay-outs across the UK covering losses from the first national lockdown. There are thought to be hundreds of businesses in Pembrokeshire which will benefit from the ruling.

One of the judges, Lord Briggs, said in the ruling: “On the insurers’ case, the cover apparently provided for business interruption caused by the effects of a national pandemic type of notifiable disease was in reality illusory, just when it might have been supposed to have been most needed by policyholders.

“That outcome seemed to me to be clearly contrary to the spirit and intent of the relevant provisions of the policies in issue.”

The insurers Arch, Argenta, Hiscox, MS Amlin, RSA and QBE, have had their appeals dismissed. 

The ruling will provide guidance for a further 700 policies, potentially affecting up to 400,000 policyholders.

Richard Leedham, partner at Mishcon de Reya who represents the Hiscox Action Group today said: “The judgment should be a massive boost to all businesses reeling from a third lockdown who can now demand their claims are paid.”

“The hope and expectation of our clients is that the claim adjustment process starts immediately and that insurers will not continue to cause further distress by further unnecessary delay.”   

Following today’s decision the insurance industry is expected to pay out over £1.8bn in coronavirus claims related to the first lockdown, which includes business interruption policies.

The FCA, which brought the test case, said: “We will be working with insurers to ensure that they now move quickly to pay claims that the judgment says should be paid, making interim payments wherever possible.”

Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) confirmed insurers would settle claims as soon as possible.

“Customers who have made claims that are affected by the test case will be contacted by their insurer to discuss what the judgment means for their claim. All valid claims will be settled as soon as possible and in many cases the process of settling claims has begun,” he said after the judgment.

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Welsh Government reminding hauliers to be prepared for changes at ports

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FOLLOWING the expected quiet start to the New Year at Welsh ports and with freight levels expected to rise over the next few days, the Welsh Government said it is reminding hauliers to be prepared for the changes which are now in place

To transport goods from Great Britain to Ireland, including from Welsh ports, hauliers need a Pre-Boarding Notification (PBN) from the Irish Revenue.  Without it they will not be able to enter the port to board the ferry, and will be turned away.

Since January 1 around 20 per cent of HGVs have been turned away because they do not have the correct paperwork.

With an increase in freight traffic expected, more hauliers could be turned away.  Forecasts from the UK Government have predicted between 40 and 70 per cent of hauliers could be turned away from ports.

Contingency plans are in place at Holyhead to minimise any potential disruption to the port, town and community as a result of HGVs being turned away.  Hauliers without the correct paperwork will be redirected along the contraflow on the A55 to Junction 4 where they will turn off and join the westbound carriageway where they will either be stacked while they sort their paperwork, or be redirected to Parc Cybi.

Minister for Transport and North Wales Ken Skates said: “When we announced our contingency plans for Holyhead Port we said the New Year period was expected to be quiet, following a very high level of freight passing through the port before Christmas.  Mid-January is expected to be the peak period for HGVs being turned away.

“Many hauliers are prepared for the changes which are now in place as a result of the EU Transition period.  But, as the experience of the first few days have shown, as expected there are a number who are not.  I would urge all hauliers and freight companies which transport goods from Welsh ports to Ireland to familiarise themselves with the process and ensure they have a Pre-Boarding Notification ID before they arrive at the port.

Pembroke Port (Pic MHPA)

“Our contingency plans are there to minimise disruption for the port itself and the wider community.  They are in place and ready to be used should the need arise and as we approach mid-January we will be reaching a busier time for freight at the port.  We will keep our plans under constant review.”

Anglesey Council Leader, Councillor Llinos Medi, added, “We’re working closely with Welsh Government, North Wales Police, Port Authority and other key partners to ensure safe and efficient trade and traffic movement through the Port of Holyhead, whilst protecting our local communities.”

“Given the expected increase in freight volume over the coming weeks, I would echo the Minister’s call for hauliers to be prepared when they reach the Port of Holyhead. Despite contingencies being in place, I would also ask local residents and businesses to bear in mind the impact that any potential traffic congestion in the Holyhead area and on the A55 could have on their lives and daily routines, and to plan any essential journeys accordingly.”

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Business

Reminder of rules over closure of accommodation businesses

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ACCOMMODATION businesses in Pembrokeshire are reminded that they must now be closed under the current Alert Level 4 restrictions put in place by the Welsh Government.

Pembrokeshire County Council acknowledges the major impact the restrictions are having on local businesses but the Council has a duty to help prevent the spread of covid-19 by ensuring that the Alert Level 4 rules are followed.

Local authorities can authorise accommodation businesses to open for specific purposes such as housing key workers, people who have been displaced or are homeless, or medical patients.

However, a permission must first be obtained from the Council.

Businesses are asked to please contact via email at buildings@pembrokeshire.gov.uk or by phone on 01437 764551, providing necessary information.

Businesses should also obtain information to check legitimacy of key workers/vulnerabilities and record the details.

Where people continue to stay in an accommodation business that is otherwise closed, premises must ensure they follow the restrictions on infection prevention and control measures, occupancy, contact tracing, food provision and sale of alcohol.

Catering should be takeaway only and room service can still be provided.

Cllr Cris Tomos, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Protection, said: “The Council is very aware of how the restrictions are affecting local businesses and we once again thank all those who are following the rules and doing their bit in the fight against Covid-19.

“We have a duty to ensure the rules are being followed in Pembrokeshire and so over coming weeks our Covid Enforcement Officers will be inspecting businesses and checking that they have the necessary risk assessment in place and documents.

“We have always said that we much prefer to engage and educate rather than enforce and that remains the case. If you wish for your accommodation to open to provide housing for key workers or for other permitted reasons please contact us and we can help.”

Please note it is an offence for owners not to comply with their duties and can be punishable by a fine.

Further information on the Alert Level restrictions can be found at: https://gov.wales/alert-level-4-frequently-asked-questions

The regulations are clear that residents should stay at their primary residence and that travel to holiday accommodation or second homes is not essential travel.

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