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Business

FSB calls for domestic focus

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LOOKING ahead to the beginning of 2019, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry, said: “Small business owners tend to be an optimistic bunch. They are used to being nimble, adapting to circumstances and making the most of opportunities. They are creative and entrepreneurial.

“And yet as we head into 2019 small business confidence is on the floor, and desperately needs lifting.

“Of course the political turmoil of recent months and the ongoing lack of clarity about what kind of Brexit they should prepare for is playing a part – particularly around investment decisions.

“Yet there are plenty of headwinds in the coming months which are nothing to do with Brexit whatsoever, which is why politicians should resolve this New Year to re-focus on the domestic issues which affect small businesses day-in-day-out.

“The start of the new financial year in April will see a whole host of changes, leading to higher costs and greater bureaucracy for many small firms – from higher costs of employment to the rollout of quarterly, online tax reporting for VAT-registered firms.

“There are chill winds gusting down our High Streets. Thankfully most town centre and high street small businesses will benefit from relief on their business rates, which FSB fought hard to secure. But many small firms elsewhere will see previous reliefs taper off, and therefore higher bills from this out-dated tax.

“More optimistically, I believe 2019 could be the year in which we finally see poor payment practices by some big businesses to their smaller suppliers and contractors finally stamped out.

“The government recently listened to FSB calls to stop giving lucrative tax-payer-funded contracts to big firms which pay smaller suppliers late or subject them to supply chain bullying.

“I’m hopeful boardrooms will finally do their bit too, with larger firms having a non-executive director specifically responsible for overseeing the fair treatment of suppliers and contractors.

“As Brexit approaches on March 29, the Government must give proper help and support on how to comply with whatever will be required. Adapting to whatever the new trading circumstances with the EU are will mean changing business procedures, taking valuable time out from running a business, and for many, it will involve paying for external expertise.
“Clear advice and support will be needed with a voucher scheme operating as it does in both Ireland and the Netherlands to help small businesses or tax-free allowances.

“Longer term, whatever happens with Brexit, we already have one-in-five small businesses exporting and growing their business through overseas trade. This could be doubled with the right support available to encourage them to take that bold step.

“Back at home, I want to see in 2019 a greater recognition of the vital role small businesses play at the heart of local communities. These businesses don’t just provide goods and services, they bring much more to their local economies; support local charities or football teams; those on high streets bring character and individuality to an area; many provide opportunities for skills training, where an apprentice can benefit from the guidance and expertise of an experienced business owner.

“Smaller businesses are also disproportionately better at employing people from harder-to-reach parts of the workforce – those who have recently left military service; those who have taken time out of working because of caring responsibilities; people with disabilities; and ex-offenders seeking a new life on the straight and narrow.

“I strongly believe that it is in the interests of the country and the economy as a whole that we nurture skills and talent wherever they exist. Education and FE must work more closely with business around the skills needed, and the government could help smaller businesses to do even more in this area with an employer National Insurance holiday for those who employ people furthest from work.

“Even in these uncertain times, there are lots of ways in which the UK’s 5.6 million small businesses can be encouraged and supported to thrive and grow. This is absolutely vital for UK PLC. It’s time for politicians to remind themselves of this, and stop spending so much time on political infighting at the expense of the domestic agenda.”

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Businesses urged to apply for new Covid-19 grants

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BUSINESSES eligible for the new Welsh Government Covid-19 support grants are being urged to apply as soon as possible.

In response to the recent national firebreak lockdown, the Welsh Government has introduced two non-repayable grants.

Grant 1

A grant of £5,000 is being made available for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses that have been forced to close and occupy properties with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £51,000. Applicants will need to be on the Non-Domestic Rate (NDR) rating list on 1st September, 2020, and will need to complete a simple registration form to receive the grant.

Properties that will benefit from the relief as being wholly or mainly used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation.

Grant 2

A grant of £1,000 is being made available to businesses eligible for Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) in Wales occupying properties with a rateable value of up to £12,000.

Dependent on meeting the eligibility criteria, Grant 2 applicants that have been forced to close as a result of the national firebreak lockdown will also be eligible for a further top-up grant of £2,000.

Again, applicants will need to be on the NDR rating list for their local authority on 1st September, 2020, and will need to compete a simple application form to receive the grant. Businesses need to declare that they are trading and generating a turnover to be eligible for this grant.

Not-for-profit organisations that meet the eligibility criteria for Grant 2 may apply for the grant including the enhanced top-ups if appropriate.

In relation to self-catering accommodation, properties will not be eligible for the grant unless the following criteria are met:

  • the self-catering accommodation can produce two years of trading accounts directly preceding the current financial year of the business
  • the self-catering accommodation must actually have been let for a period of 140 days or more in the financial year 2019-20
  • the self-catering accommodation business must be the primary source of income for the owner (minimum threshold is 50 per cent).

As the overall discretion allowed by local authorities in the first scheme is no longer there, the Council will need to assess any applications from self-catering units against the strict criteria in the scheme and applicants should only apply if they meet all three.

In addition, for businesses not on the NDR list the Welsh Government has launched the Lockdown Discretionary Grant.

A discretionary grant of £1,500 is available to assist businesses that have:

  • been forced to close as a result of the national firebreak lockdown
  • or are able to demonstrate that the national firebreak lockdown will result in at least a 80 per cent reduction in their turnover for that period

Businesses are not eligible for this grant if:

  • it is eligible for, or has received, the Lockdown NDR Grant from its local authority
  • it has 50 or more employees
  • the business generates less than 50 per cent of the applicants income. The business must be the main source of income.

Welsh Government has announced that the grants will be open to applications from 28th October and will close at 5 pm on 20th November, 2020, or when the fund is fully committed.  All businesses are urged to apply as soon as possible.

Receipt of an application will be acknowledged within 10 working days and the Council aims to process grant finalised applications within 30 days of receipt. Please do not contact the Council to chase progress during this period.

For more information and to make an application from Wednesday (28th October) go to: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

Pembrokeshire County Councillor Paul Miller, the Authority’s Cabinet Member for Economy, said: “I would encourage all eligible businesses to apply as soon as they can.

“I have asked officers to consider all applications as sympathetically as possible and where we possibly can offer support, we will.”

 

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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.

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Smarter working for a smarter workforce

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THE WAY an organisation responds to challenges is testament to its values, its planning and its employees.

Covid-19 has gathered pace which has been unprecedented – and is a situation that the majority of us could never have anticipated.

Facing this pandemic and being prepared has been a challenge for all tiers of Government – but Pembrokeshire County Council’s capability to reposition its workforce is thanks to embracing the Smarter Working approach.

Our investment in technology has enabled the organisation to have more than 750 staff working flexibly to keep vital services running.

Introduced in the summer of 2018, the Smarter Working project is about harnessing the potential of flexible working in a strategic way, to deliver benefits both for employees and the business.

It is well-recognised that the principles of Smarter Working acknowledge that technology and flexible working patterns are changing the way we work for the better.

Councillor Neil Prior, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Transformation and IT said: “The Council’s employees understand that we are in a fast-changing communication and technology world.

“Culture and behaviour change has enabled us as an organisation to benefit from the advances in IT and an improved flexible use of our estate.

“I’d like to thank the IT team who have been working incredibly hard to support our Business Continuity planning. The investment we have made in technology over the last couple of years has meant that we’ve been able to see a greater number of staff work from home, which is exactly in line with the Government’s advice to ‘work from home where possible’.

“I would also like to thank staff who have adjusted their working patterns and are going over and above in their efforts to prepare our County to respond in the best possible way to the current situation.”

The world of work is changing, and people no longer need be tied to a desk. Pembrokeshire County Council can now work smarter, in a way that saves money, time and improves productivity.

As part of the Council’s approach to smarter working and refining the estate – two key changes were implemented.

The conversion of Haverfordia House – which previously accommodated staff – into a reablement centre also enabled the Council to list the Cherry Grove building in Haverfordwest as surplus to requirements, ensuring cost avoidance over the next 10 years stretching into millions of pounds.

Regarding the response specifically to Covid-19 – the stats are impressive. They include:

  • 95 per-cent of IT department working remotely
  • Skype – average unique users logged in: 1,200
  • almost 14,000 one-to-one skype sessions – this equates to more than 1,200 conferences and in excess of 60,000 audio and video minutes used
  • figures showcase the Council’s ability to enable its staff to work flexibly and keep vital services running
  • Community Hub has received more than 700 calls
  • the Council’s Cabinet is continuing to meet via videoconferencing.

Councillor Prior added: “We take pride in the relationships that we are building with our communities – and I am extremely proud of the work that has gone into the planning and the commitment shown by the Council’s staff.

“Pembrokeshire County Council has a history of positive relationships with our colleagues within health, third sector agencies and emergency services – and we are all working together to support each other through this challenging time.”

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