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Business

Businesses’ Brexit fears dismissed

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Airbus: Warned of risk of capital flight

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 Hunt 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.”

Business

£66m in Covid-19 business grants paid to Pembrokeshire businesses

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WHAT has been described as an incredible team effort has seen Pembrokeshire County Council pay out more than £66m to county businesses in Covid-19 support grants so far.

And across Wales more than £1bn has now been paid to businesses since the start of the pandemic.

In Pembrokeshire 9,171 grants have been paid across the 10 grants introduced by the Welsh Government.

The total amount of £66,370,548 paid in Pembrokeshire is the fourth highest amount paid out so far across Wales.

And the figures are growing all the time with further payment runs undertaken this week.

The team is now currently focussed on the Restrictions Grant and working their way through the applications.

Cllr Paul Miller, the Cabinet Member for the Economy, said: “I would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to ensure that the money available to support businesses through this
difficult period gets to them as soon as possible.

“The sheer number of applications processed and the money delivered is a testament to those efforts and we’re not done yet.

“We have now moved onto the Restrictions Grant and we’re ready to continue the effort to help Pembrokeshire businesses for as long as it takes.”

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Business

Online conference will give everyone a say on transport in South West Wales

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ANYONE interested in helping to shape the future of transport in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea is invited to attend a major online event that aims to set out a clear plan for transport in the region.

This event, titled Moving Forward Together – Regional Transport Conference – South West Wales, is organised by 4theRegion and Swansea Environmental Forum and sponsored by South West Wales Connected community rail partnership and Natural Resources Wales. It runs in the mornings of Tuesday, February 9 and Wednesday, February 10, beginning at 10 am on the Tuesday with an opening address from Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Welsh Government.

The conference will provide an open forum to explore key transport challenges and opportunities, and design new solutions to move towards a greener, cleaner, healthier, more inclusive and better-connected transport system for our region.

Topics to be discussed include the transport needs of local communities, how businesses address staff transport needs, innovative approaches to travel, potential for investments and what it would really take for people to leave their cars at home more often.

Participants will get their say on what the government should be investing in, what the local authorities could be doing, and how people, communities and businesses can be part of the solution.

Organisations, businesses and community groups involved in travel and transport in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and/or Swansea, are also being invited to get in touch regarding opportunities to showcase their work at this event.

Dawn Lyle, Chair of 4theRegion, said: “It’s time to take a fresh look at how we can better connect our region whilst reducing carbon emissions and improving health and well-being. This is an inclusive online event for car users, transport users, cyclists and pedestrians, even if you’ve never been involved in conversations about transport before. If you care about South West Wales and want to see our region flourish in the years to come, please get involved!”

If you represent an organisation, business or community group involved in travel and transport in Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and/or Swansea, and would like to showcase your work at this event, email Zoe@4theregion.com.

Philip McDonnell, Coordinator for Swansea Environmental Forum and Low Carbon Swansea Bay added: “As we journey towards a low carbon society, transport is lagging behind and remains one of the most challenging issues in both rural and urban areas in our region. The current situation is simply bad for our health and totally unsustainable. We will need everyone to get on board if we are going to tackle this.”

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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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