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Construction output falls as productivity shrinks

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THE GOVERNMENT and Parliament must break the Brexit deadlock and find a way forward warns the Federation of Master Builder (FMB), in response to the latest Construction PMI data, which shows another drop in construction output.

The March 2019 PMI data revealed an Index score of 49.7, up slightly from 49.5 in February, against the no change threshold of 50.0. This points to a sustained decline in construction output, representing the first back-to-back fall in construction output since 2016. While the residential building sector enjoyed an upturn, commercial construction was the worst performing area.

Commenting on the results, published this morning, Sarah McMonagle, Director of Communications at the FMB, said: “The construction industry is being seriously affected by Brexit uncertainty as evidenced by two very worrying sets of results for construction output in the first quarter of 2019.

“Businesses have been waiting for politicians to come to some resolution for far too long now, and it’s time that this deadlock was broken. It’s not surprising employers are finding it hard to plan for the future, when we don’t even know when, or indeed if, we’re leaving the EU. Today’s results are a reminder of just how vulnerable the construction industry is to political turmoil as confidence among consumers and contractors continues to wobble.”

Ms McMonagle concluded: “Brexit uncertainty and the construction skills shortage have created a perfect storm in our industry.

“Around 9 per cent of construction workers in the UK are from EU countries, but we know from speaking to small construction employers that many of these skilled workers are starting to return, whether that’s because of strengthening economies elsewhere, or that they simply don’t feel welcome anymore. This is compounding an already severe construction skills shortage, and I’m worried that the Government’s post-Brexit immigration system will make it even worse. For example, the system will not allow Level 2 tradespeople to live and work in the UK for more than 12 months at a time. At the same time, the Government’s figures last week show that the number of Level 2 apprenticeship starts among our domestic workforce is dropping.

“It’s quite simply not possible to build the homes and infrastructure we need without bricklayers, carpenters and plasterers. The Government and industry must work together to attract more people into the industry, by offering them high quality training with clear career pathways for progression but in the meantime we need sustained access to tradespeople of all skill levels for the industry to continue being open for business.”

Elsewhere in the economy, the Federation of Small Businesses has expressed concern at the UK’s productivity growth in Q4 of 2018 decreasing for the second consecutive quarter.

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry, said: “Today’s data highlights yet again the impact of the political and economic uncertainty to the economy.

“Small business confidence has fallen through the floor as firms face a trying time amid a fragile economy.

“While there were some positives in the data such as a 0.4% productivity increase in services, there was a significant 1.1% decrease for manufacturing.

“Small firms are not only contending with unprecedented uncertainty, they are also dealing with a raft of new cost increases and reporting requirements.

“Rising labour costs have continued with the introduction of Making Tax Digital, fresh hikes to business rates and a further increase in auto-enrolment pension contributions.

“In order to improve productivity, key areas that must be addressed include management and leadership, broadband connectivity and the scourge of late payments.

“All this amid the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU which shows no sign of reaching a resolution.

“Productivity will only continue to decline unless the Government can do more to step up and back British businesses.”

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Natural Resources Wales approves Ireland-UK interconnector licence

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GREENLINK INTERCONNECTOR LIMITED says it welcomes the decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to approve its application for a Marine Licence for the Greenlink electricity interconnector project, which will link the power markets of Great Britain and Ireland.

An important project for Pembrokeshire, and the UK as a whole, NRW’s go-ahead is one of several consents required for the construction of the project and covers installation of the marine cable in UK waters.

The approval is a major milestone for Greenlink and joins the onshore planning consents granted unanimously in July last year by Pembrokeshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Greenlink’s proposed 190km subsea and underground electricity cable will run beneath the Irish Sea to connect National Grid’s Pembroke Power Station in Wales and EirGrid’s Great Island substation in County Wexford, Ireland. It will have a nominal capacity of 500 MW.

The Wales-Ireland link is just one of four interconnectors being installed

Nigel Beresford, CEO for Greenlink Interconnector Limited, said: “We are delighted by Natural Resources Wales’s decision to grant this licence. This marks a significant milestone for Greenlink and another important step towards project construction, which we expect to commence later this year.

“The Greenlink team has worked constructively with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh marine stakeholders to find workable solutions to the many technical and environmental challenges facing a large infrastructure project like this, and this has been reflected in the quality of the final proposal.

“The thorough environmental and technical assessments we have undertaken, supported by the practical and value-adding feedback we have received from key marine stakeholders, have ensured that we move forward confident that we are delivering a well-designed project with the interests of the Welsh marine habitat at its core.”

The subsea section of the cable will be approximately 160km in length and uses high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology. The preferred route and installation methods were chosen following the conclusion of subsea surveys and consultation with key stakeholders.

In Ireland, a Foreshore Licence application was submitted to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Foreshore Unit) in 2019 and the onshore planning application was submitted to An Bord Pleanála in December 2020.

Greenlink is one of Europe’s most important energy infrastructure projects and brings benefits on both sides of the Irish Sea for energy security, regional investment, jobs and the cost-effective integration of low carbon energy. The project will offer important local supply chain opportunities and plans are being drawn up for ‘meet-the-buyer’ events in the local area prior to construction.

Once fully consented, Greenlink is expected to have a three-year construction programme, with commissioning planned by the end of 2023.

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Single port plan should be off the agenda for now says MS

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WELSH Labour Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales, Eluned Morgan, has welcomed a decision from Irish Ferries that underlines its commitment to the port of Pembroke.

The company has signed a 10 year deal with the Port of Milford Haven for the berth at Pembroke Dock which first came into operation under B&I Line in 1979. Since then, the port of Pembroke has seen multimillion pound investments to improve facilities and creating jobs and has become established as an important transport node with Europe.

In recent weeks, Westminster politicians have raised the suggestion that as a result of Brexit, Pembrokeshire could only support a single port linking the county of Pembrokeshire and the M4 corridor with the Irish Republic.

Eluned Morgan MS said: “I was frankly disappointed at the lack of ambition displayed by Pembrokeshire’s MPs over this issue. These continue to be worrying days for our ports which have played a pivotal role in defining the coastal communities of both Pembroke Dock and Fishguard over the years. We were told Brexit would bring benefits not the demise of our links with Europe. So I am pleased to hear that Irish Ferries has signed a 10 year deal with the Port of Milford Haven to maintain facilities at Pembroke Dock. I understand that Stena Line is committed to Fishguard also.

“In recent weeks, I have been in touch with Irish Ferries and Stena Line to understand their position as part of an ongoing conversation in light of Brexit and the subsequent shift in trade that has followed. We must all work together to ensure that Pembrokeshire is recognised as a gateway to Europe and seek out every opportunity to replace the trade lost in the years ahead.”

The Port of Milford Haven confirmed: “We are pleased to report that Irish Ferries reconfirmed its commitment to Pembroke Dock with the signing of a new 10-year deal.
This marks a huge statement of confidence in the Rosslare-Pembroke Dock crossing, which is the primary freight corridor carrying two thirds of the total freight units using the south Wales corridor, and supporting 325,000 passenger movements each year.”

Eluned Morgan is a Labour Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales and currently serves in the Welsh Government as Minister for Mental Health, Wellbeing and the Welsh Language.

She is also a member of the House of Lords.

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Business

The Herald.Wales website launches this Friday, February 26

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A PEMBROKESHIRE based media company is launching a news website which will cover all of Wales this week, as it takes the leap from being a regional to a national news provider.

As part of the latest change to Wales’ evolving media landscape, ten jobs have been created and a further 20 secured, as Herald News UK Ltd launches its Herald.Wales service on Friday (Feb 26).

The company says it is investing a considerable sum over the next two years to provide news in both English and Welsh. As well as breaking news, coverage will include politics, entertainment, sport, and opinions from a number of contributors – including Welsh Media Awards (Best Columnist) Winner 2019, Matthew Paul.

Political Editor Jon Coles, said: “Launching a national news platform is something we’ve been thinking of for two years.

“The pandemic and lockdowns made us put the project on pause. Despite Covid-19, our print title, The Pembrokeshire Herald, has bucked the trend of shrinking circulation and that’s encouraged us to take this next step.”

Jon Coles continued: “We provisionally chalked in St David’s Day to launch; however, the late entrance of the US-owned and London-based Newsquest to the market with ‘The National’ came as a surprise.

“We had already set up and were trialling our website and tweaking it in the autumn.

“We were a founding patron of New Media Wales with whom we were looking forward to working with to provide independent news online.

“When New Media Wales partnered with Newsquest, I was surprised and disappointed. Our plans had to change and so we brought our launch date forward.”

When it comes to Herald.Wales’ stance on the big issues which affect Wales, Jon Coles said: “We will report every political view. Herald.Wales starts from the position that Wales should have the choice over whether to be an independent country.

“That doesn’t mean we’re an uncritical voice in support of independence. We’re realistic about the challenges it presents us as a nation. We will report each side of the debate so our readers can form their own opinions on Wales’ future. However, our sentiment will favour an independent Wales.”

South & West Wales Editor Tom Sinclair said: “We’ve built a network of contributors across Wales to provide news for every area.

“We will report on local news, news from Wales’ regions, and Welsh national news in Welsh and English. Video content will be important to us.

“Our introductory video has already gained plenty of views and our new Facebook page is getting more followers daily.

“We are confident there is space in the market for a genuinely independent online news source for Wales, to complement what is being offered by the bigger players such as the WalesOnline and BBC Wales websites.”

Advertising Sales Manager Brian Hancock, who has worked in news media advertising for twenty years, said that he thought that Herald.Wales would undoubtedly be a success.

He said: “Despite the slow down in revenues to all commercial news organisations due to the pandemic, we have secured commitments which will ensure the future of the new site.”

He added: “I would like to thank the nearly 5,000 Welsh businesses who have supported The Herald since we launched the eight years ago, and who are continuing to support our independent news with our weekly print publication, The Pembrokeshire Herald – and now Herald.Wales.”

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