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Construction output falls

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RISING costs and uncertainty relating to Brexit are to blame for the sharp drop in output growth in January 2019, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in response to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index data (PMI).

The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) Construction Purchasing Manager’s Index incorporates survey results provided by construction firms throughout the country.

A reading above fifty suggests the construction sector is expanding, while a reading below fifty suggests the construction sector is in contraction.

The January 2019 PMI data revealed a fall from 52.8 in December to 50.6 in January, against the neutral reading of 50.0. January data pointed to a loss of momentum for the UK construction sector, with business activity growth grinding to its weakest for ten months.

All three categories of construction output recorded weaker trends than those reported in December.

Residential work was the strongest performing area, although the latest expansion was only modest and the slowest seen since March 2018. Civil engineering activity increased marginally, with the rate of growth much softer than December’s 19-month high.

Commercial work was the weakest performing area of construction output in January. Latest data indicated a decline in work on commercial construction projects for the first time in ten months. Anecdotal evidence suggested that Brexit-related anxiety and associated concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to weigh on client demand.

New business growth eased to an eight-month low in January.

Construction firms widely commented on softer demand conditions and longer sales conversion times, reflecting a wait-and-see approach to spending by clients. Concerns about the near-term outlook for new projects resulted in more cautious staff hiring policies at the start of 2019. The latest survey pointed to the slowest rise in employment numbers since July 2016.

However, construction firms remain positive about the outlook for business activity in 2019. Around 41% of the survey panel anticipate a rise in output, while only 16% forecast a fall.

Optimism had, however, fallen month on month. Large-scale civil engineering projects were cited as a key source of optimism, while Brexit uncertainty was the most commonly cited concern.

Tim Moore, Economics Associate Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey: “UK construction growth shifted down a gear at the start of 2019, with weaker conditions signalled across all three main categories of activity.

“Commercial work declined for the first time in ten months as concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to hold back activity.

“The latest survey also revealed a loss of momentum for house building and civil engineering, although these areas of the construction sector at least remained on a modest growth path.”

Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply said: “The sector suffered a sharp drop in output growth in January, and the softest rise in purchasing volumes since September 2017, as Brexit continues to hamper progress and dampen client confidence.

“The biggest shock came in the form of job creation which has managed to suffer the slings and arrows of Brexit highs and lows with solid hiring since the referendum result. Employment rose at the slowest rate since July 2016 and with optimism also in short supply, the sector only needs a small nudge to tip it closer to a recession.”

Commenting on the results, Brian Berry Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The latest PMI data show a slowdown in growth in construction with business activity growth easing to its weakest for ten months. The ongoing political uncertainty is partly to blame for this setback.

“Political uncertainty is the enemy of construction firms that rely on the spending power of homeowners to commission home improvement projects. The UK is set to leave the EU next month, and yet we are still none the wiser about what the future holds. Given these intense headwinds, it should not be surprising that the sector suffered such a sharp decline.”

Mr Berry continued: “Alongside the political uncertainty, the cost of doing business is also rising for construction firms up and down the country. Material prices have been rising steadily since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum.

“Looking ahead, material prices are expected to continue to cause a headache for the construction industry with recent research from the FMB showing that 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months. What’s more the construction skills crisis means that key trades are extremely difficult to recruit and the upshot of this is rising wages in construction.

“Tradespeople know they can command higher salaries than they did previously as workers are scarce, and this means a squeeze in margins for firms. This will only worsen if the post-Brexit immigration system that the Government has planned goes ahead.

“If the sector isn’t able to draw upon crucial EU workers of all skill levels, who have so far served to mitigate this shortage, the slowdown of growth will continue.”

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Business

FBM Holidays Wins E-commerce Award

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FBM HOLIDAYS have won the Pembrokeshire Business Award for E-commerce at a recent ceremony held by Radio Pembrokeshire.

The annual awards, hosted at The Pavillion in Haverfordwest were attended by a host of regional businesses all who were nominated for awards in various categories, there to celebrate the diverse and vibrant Pembrokeshire business landscape.

Sponsored by local online letting agents, easyProperty, the E-commerce award, as with the other awards on the night, was judged by an online vote.

Company partner, Tim Brace, said of the awards: “It’s an incredible feeling to have won this award for our investment and advances made in E-commerce, especially as this award was voted for by our customers, who come from far and wide.

“It’s particularly pleasing to have won this specific award, the timing of which is very fitting, as we as a business are less than a month away from delivering a brand new holiday bookings website; one that has been a year in the making, and which we believe will push the company on even further in its online offering.”

Speaking to the awards special guest on the night, local celebrity Connie Fisher, FBM Holidays’ Marketing Executive Laura Mackenzie said: “Being ‘digital and being online’ is the way that things are going these days. It’s becoming very competitive online, and we have to make sure we are at the forefront. Everyone should holiday in Pembrokeshire!”

With a brand new digital offering coming online very soon, FBM Holidays are hoping to press on even further this year, and turn what is already record-breaking booking figures into even more bookings for their owners. Now, with a local award as an accolade, it seems very much that they are heading in the right direction.

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Business

Double acquisition as Certas Energy acquires two Pembrokeshire filling stations

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CERTAS ENERGY has added two West Wales fillings stations to its growing company portfolio with the acquisition of Square & Compass and Letterson Filling Stations, both formerly owned by Roger and Anne Shackleton.

The couple have operated their Pembrokeshire forecourt business for 22 years, its two Gulf branded forecourts are integral to the local community, with large and successful convenience stores and a combined fuel volume of 5.6ml.

“We are delighted to have concluded this deal, it’s a very good fit for our business as we continue to grow our company operation across the UK,” enthuses Richard Billington, Retail Director, Certas Energy. “We already have a strong Gulf presence within Pembrokeshire and these two flagship sites will complement our thriving and expanding Dealer operation.”

“Anne and Roger have put their heart and soul into their business and its standing within the locality is testament to their hard work and that of a very talented team, whom we look forward to working with. We’ll bring the sites into harmony with the rest of our company-owned operation, investing in the latest back-office technology and on-site facilities to future proof the business. We will also remain true to the values established by the Shackletons to be at the heart of the local community.”

Square and Compass filling station in north Pembrokeshire

The two forecourts currently employ 20 people. They are seven miles apart, both situated in the town of Haverfordwest. Dave Morris, Director at specialist business property adviser, Christie & Co, acted on behalf of owners Anne and Roger and comments; “The two forecourts presented a great opportunity for a buyer as they are in a good location and well regarded locally. It has been a pleasure to work for Anne and Roger who have been passionate fuel retailers for over 20 years and we wish them all the best with their retirement. Both sites are a good fit for Certas Energy and we look forward to seeing them transition into Certas’ company owned portfolio.”

Reflecting on his departure from the business, Roger Shackleton says: “We have fantastic staff and a successful business that has been nurtured to the needs of our community. I’ve loved every minute of the ever changing environment of forecourt and convenience retailing. I still get up every morning at 4am to prepare for the day ahead but now seems the right time to retire. Certas Energy and Gulf Retail are better suited to unlock the future potential and get the very best out of our two sites. It’s a very emotive time for us both, we regard our staff as family but we know they are in good hands. The Gulf team are genuine, the process has been relatively smooth and David Morris of Christie and Co. has been brilliant, working tirelessly keep the deal progressing and to get us to this place.”

“When we drive past the sites in the future, we may feel saddened that we are no longer at the helm but in Gulf Retail, we are happy that we have sold to the right people.”

This latest acquisition by Certas Energy increases its company portfolio to 35 sites as it continues to grow the Gulf network in size and scale.

Fuel family’s final farewell

IT WAS an emotional farewell at two north Pembrokeshire filling stations this week as the popular owners Roger and Anne Shackleton handed the reigns over to new owners Certas Energy, Britain’s largest independent distributor of fuels and lubricants.

Staff at Letterston filling station say good bye to old owners Roger and Anne

After 22 years, Roger and Anne are looking forward to a more relaxed life on their farm, and to see more of their family, they told The Herald.

In 1997, the couple sold their pedigree herd and bought Letterston Filling Station. In 2007 Square and Compass Filling Station was purchased and plans were made to rebuild the shop into a convenience store to serve the neighbourhood. They were able to provide a wide range of goods and competitive fuel prices over a long period at both sites, an important resource for the local community in both cases.

The staff at Square and Compass filling station

Roger and Anne said in a statement: “We would like to thank our suppliers, and the loyal and long-standing customers for their support over the years. A final thank you goes to the staff, past and present that have helped make the business what it is today.

They added: “We would like to extend our best wishes to Certas Energy for success in the future with both Letterston and Square and Compass Filling Stations.”

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Solva: Farm’s new ice cream enterprise is a family affair

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WITH views over the stunning Pembrokeshire coastline, Pointz Castle Ice Cream’s new on-farm parlour is the perfect place for a refreshing treat on a hot summer’s day.

Pointz Castle Ice Cream is a family collaboration spanning four generations, located on the Lawrence family’s farm located between the fishing village of Solva and the expansive sandy beach of Newgale, on the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Richard and Gill Lawrence and their son William, daughter Rachael, daughter-in-law Lydia, and son-in-law Thomas all bring a range of skills which enabled them to establish and run the new business.

While the critical job of tasting the final product is down to the youngest – and oldest – members of the family: grandchildren Charlie, Freddie, Rhodri, Rebecca and Beatrice (who range in age from one to seven-years-old), and Gill’s father Leslie.

Rachael with Beatrice, Lydia with Rebecca, and William. (Pic Coleman Communications)

The step into making ice cream is a new chapter for the family, explains William, who with his sister Rachael makes the ice cream.

“Against a backdrop of continuing volatility in the dairy sector, coupled with the uncertainty created around Brexit, we decided to fulfil a long-term ambition for adding value to the milk we produce. Based on our coastal setting and growing tourism industry, ice cream was the natural fit.

“Located on the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, this corner of Wales possesses both a fantastic climate for producing grass for the milk required for our ice cream and in an area of spectacular scenery and coastal walks for our visitors to relax and enjoy.”

Visitors to the ice cream parlour can enjoy a complete cow to cone experience, enjoying the creamy, smooth texture ice cream and sorbets in some of the 70 different flavours.

Says William, “We use locally sourced ingredients such as cream, and Halen Dewi- St Davids Sea Salt to create some of the flavours which include Blueberry Pannacotta, Strawberry Cheesecake and Lemon & Mascarpone as well as the firm favourites Vanilla, Raspberry Ripple and Chocolate. The flavours on display in the cabinet alternate regularly and may well include a seasonal special such as Welsh Cake, Pumpkin or Mince Pie flavour.”

As well as ice cream, coffee and cake can be enjoyed in the traditional stone built converted cow shed with wooden beams and whitewashed walls or just sit and relax outside in the sun trapped courtyard watching the cows coming in for milking.

As the café is set within a working farm, this provides an opportunity to explain to visitors what farming entails.

Says William, “We calve in the spring and autumn, and that has been a real attraction for people who have different levels of knowledge about farming. It sparks all sorts of questions and helps people connect to where their food comes from. They come away knowing that the grass the cows were grazing today will produce tomorrows ice cream.”

As well as the on-farm cafe, the business takes their ice cream on the road with a converted vintage trailer available for all occasions from weddings to festivals.

The family has had help with its new venture from the Food Centre Wales at Horeb, and from Cywain – a Menter a Busnes delivered project that supports the development of growth orientated businesses in the food and drink sector in Wales.

“Setting up a new business has had its challenges,” says William, “but Cywain has been great. They have excellent contacts and have been able to put us in touch with people who have helped us to launch the business.’. They have kept us going and signposted us to any assistance and training we’ve needed.”

Steeped in history, the dairy, beef and arable farm is on the site of a Norman castle, with the raised mound of the original motte-and-bailey castle still visible while a public footpath links the farm to Porthmynawyd, a small cove west of Newgale Sands.

But it is not only the ice cream and café side of the business that has attracted visitors in their droves. Should the weather prove to be less than perfect Pointz Castle has got it covered – literally!

The area is popular with holidaymakers, many of whom are families drawn by Pembrokeshire’s magnificent beaches and lush countryside. Therefore, with the enjoyment of children – and parents – in mind, the Lawrence family recently created indoor play facilities at Pointz Castle.

There children can enjoy farm-themed activities including riding on toy tractors and diggers, as well as view the young dairy calves.
Continuing the educational theme, customers are also able to try milking a life-sized model cow for themselves in the play barn.

Says William, “In Pembrokeshire, we’re not guaranteed good weather, so we created the play area in the barn to give families another entertainment option. Our children have been very much involved in building it, and it is proving very popular!”
Said Lowri Davies of Cywain, “We are delighted to be part of the Pointz Castle story. By diversifying into producing ice cream the family is helping to showcase the flavours of Pembrokeshire, and at the same time opening a window for visitors on dairy farming in Wales.”

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