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AM to hold surgery on the Maes

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MEMBERS of the public are being encouraged by Mid and West Wales Assembly Member, Rebecca Evans AM, to come along to the Urdd Eisteddfod in Bala next week where the AM will be holding an advice surgery. The Urdd Eisteddfod, which this year is being held on the Rhiwlas estate near Bala, is an annual Welshlanguage youth festival of literature, music and performing arts organised by Urdd Gobaith Cymru. It is one of Europe’s largest youth festivals, and takes place this year over the Whitsun week. At the festival the National Assembly for Wales will host an outreach bus to answer any questions the public may have on the role of the Assembly. Mrs Evans, as one of the Assembly Members for the region, will be holding an advice surgery on the bus on the Thursday 29th May and members of the public are welcome to attend from 12 noon. Welcoming the Urdd Eisteddfod to Meirionnydd Mrs Evans said: “It is a great pleasure to see the festival return to Meirionnydd. I am delighted that the region is once more playing host one of Europe’s largest youth festivals, welcoming people from across Wales and further afield to celebrate the Welsh language, literature, performing arts and music. It is a great showcase for our young Welsh talent, set against a beautiful backdrop. “I will be holding an advice surgery on the Assembly’s bus on the Maes to give constituents an opportunity to seek advice or help from me if they need it.”

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UK inflation falls to 2.3%, raising questions over interest rate cuts

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UK inflation has dropped to 2.3% in April, marking its lowest level in nearly three years. However, the decline fell short of analysts’ expectations, dampening hopes for an imminent interest rate cut by the Bank of England.

City analysts had anticipated a reduction to 2.1%, closer to the Bank’s 2% target. This discrepancy led markets to adjust their forecasts, now predicting that the Bank’s current rate of 5.25% may not be reduced until August, rather than next month as previously speculated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the decrease from March’s 3.2% was primarily due to lower energy and food costs. The last time inflation was this low was in July 2021. Significant contributions to the drop included a record 27% fall in electricity and gas prices over the past year and a modest 2.9% annual rise in food and soft drink prices, the smallest increase since November 2021.

Illustrating the ongoing strain on household budgets, furniture retailers reduced prices by 0.9% between March and April, while overall goods prices dropped by 0.8% month-on-month. However, annual services inflation, reflecting inter-company charges, remained stubbornly high at 5.9%, only slightly down from March’s 6%.

Despite the overall fall in the consumer prices index (CPI), the ONS noted that higher property rents and mortgage costs kept the alternative CPIH measure, which includes housing costs, elevated at 3% year-on-year. Petrol and diesel prices rose last month, although the price of Brent crude has recently stabilised around $83 (£65) per barrel.

KPMG UK’s chief economist, Yael Selfin, suggested that the chance of an interest rate cut next month had diminished. “Falling inflation nears the Bank of England’s target but may not suffice for an early rate cut,” she stated. Echoing this sentiment, Paula Bejarano Carbo of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, remains high at 3.9%. Combined with robust wage growth, this persistence could compel the Bank’s monetary policy committee to maintain rates.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded April’s CPI figure as a “major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” asserting that it validated the government’s economic strategy. Conversely, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves argued that it was premature for the Conservatives to celebrate, highlighting the ongoing pressures of soaring prices, mortgage bills, and taxes.

In the eurozone, inflation held steady at 2.4% in April.

Separate ONS data indicated a larger-than-expected rise in public borrowing for April, with the monthly deficit reaching £20.5bn. Despite a decrease in debt payments, the high cost of servicing government debt exceeded expectations, potentially ruling out pre-election tax cuts.

Economic adviser Martin Beck from the EY Item Club described the public finance figures as disappointing, suggesting that continued higher borrowing costs would likely prevent any significant fiscal easing before the next general election.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Energy, Samuel Kurtz MS, praised the inflation drop, attributing it to the UK Conservative Government’s effective economic policies. He called on the Welsh Labour Government to support the economy by fully implementing business rates relief and reforming growth taxes.

Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West, and Mid, noted that while the reduction in inflation was significant, it remained above the Bank of England’s target. He expressed hope that the continued downward trend might prompt an interest rate cut soon.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) warned that despite the fall in inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to severely impact mental health. Their recent survey revealed that 74% of respondents felt their mental health was worsened by the crisis, with particularly high impacts on those with pre-existing conditions, women, ethnic minorities, and lower-income households.

BACP’s Director, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, emphasised the need for government action to address these mental health challenges. The BACP has proposed a 13-point action plan to improve access to mental health services, stressing the importance of funding and support for vulnerable populations.

As the nation grapples with economic and mental health pressures, the government’s response to these intertwined issues will be crucial in the coming months.

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First drive-thru Starbucks in Pembrokeshire approved

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PEMBROKESHIRE is to get its first drive-thru Starbucks coffee shop after a scheme was backed by county planners today, May 21.

An application – expected to create 20 jobs – by Magic Bean Company Ltd to site an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station and drive through Starbucks coffee shop on land adjoining Days Garage, Fishguard Road, Haverfordwest, was recommended for conditional approval when it came before the May meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee.

A report for planners said: “There are two principal elements to the proposed development. The provision of an EV charging station with eight charging points and a drive through coffee shop, which will provide 20 full time jobs.

“A further 13 parking spaces are provided to serve the development, including two spaces for people with disabilities. The coffee shop will be situated at the western end of the site opposite the proposed EV charging station, which is centrally located within the site. “

It added: “The coffee shop building will be single storey with a ‘tower’ feature in the west elevation where the customer collection point will be located beneath a timber finished pergola.”

The report said the proposal represented a more effective use of the application site than its current car parking use.

10 representations from members of the public raised concerns about the proposal, issues including: no need for additional coffee shops locally, adverse impact on existing small local coffee shops and that the planning authority should not be supporting “multinational businesses,” and littering and highway issues.

While Starbucks was not mentioned in the planning documents, Magic Bean Company Ltd, on its website, says: “Established in 2014, The Magic Bean Company opened our first store and became the first licensee to open a Starbucks Drive Thru.

“Since then, we have gone on to become Starbuck’s only national growth partner covering England and Wales, developing our green electric vehicle Starbucks platform.”

Speaking at the May 21 meeting, Magic Bean Company Ltd agent Matthew Gray said the drive-thru coffee shop would be a Starbucks, adding: “The application is driven by the requirement for Days to diversify, following a slowing of vehicle sales across the UK.”

He added: “It’s pretty well reported that car sales are slow in the UK in the past few years, this is an opportunity to boost the viability of their [Days’] own operation.”

He said the eight EV charging units would be provided by Ionity, one of Europe’s largest charging providers, with a need for more such facilities in west Wales.

After Cllr Alistair Cameron raised concerns from members of the public about potential littering, Mr Gray said Starbucks had a standard approach to litter management, with staff maintaining the area, and coffee outlets having a lower level of litter than some other drive-thrus.

Concerns were raised by Councillor John Cole on highways grounds, fearing the combination of the drive-thru and a nearby school, along with the nearby annual County Show, could create “havoc” with parents stopping off for a coffee.

Following an approval call by Cllr Brian Hall, members unanimously backed the application.

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Haverfordwest airport to be leased out to make it cost-neutral to council

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SENIOR Pembrokeshire councillors are to lease Haverfordwest airport as part of plans to make the council-run facility, which had a circa £119,000 deficit last year, cost-neutral to the authority.

Last year, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members heard the financial position at the council-supported Haverfordwest/Withybush airport deteriorated in 2022/23, with an out-turn position for 2022/23 of £238,000.

That loss has been reduced to an expected £119,000 for 2023/24 “following an extensive review of the operations of the airport”.

Following scrutiny committee backing for the airport to be leased, a more detailed recommendation was presented to Cabinet on May 20, seeking approval of the lease to “an existing stakeholder / established aviation company,” by giving delegated authority to the Assistant Chief Executive, with relevant input from officers.

The report before Cabinet said the lease would be for an initial 10-year term, with a requirement to obtain/keep a CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] Cat II licence and at a market rent, which would “make the airport cost-neutral to the council from the day the lease is signed, whilst also ensuring that an operational airport remains for Pembrokeshire to benefit from”.

“Any lease would have to allow the operator to run the airport on the commercial terms of their choosing to give a chance of long-term sustainability, so, the council will lose full control of how the airport operates.

“However, any lease will require that the airport be maintained to an acceptable standard and that a CAA Cat II licence is maintained. If these terms of the agreement are breached, then the facility will return to the council.”

Deputy Leader Cllr Paul Miller, presenting the proposal and moving approval, said: “The airport is a valuable facility and one I’m keen to maintain; I personally recognise that maintaining an ongoing public subsidy is not something we’re particularly keen to do indefinitely.”

He added: “What the lease, we believe, will do is maintain a franchising CAT II airport in Haverfordwest and remove our liability from day one.”

Members heard conversations were ongoing with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society over continued use of part of the site for the annual Pembrokeshire County Show.

Cllr Miller said he was “a huge supporter” of the show, and it was hoped the lease will broadly allow it to continue as before, adding that officers “are getting involved to ensure a smooth transition, and one the show is comfortable with”.

New Cabinet Member for Planning & Regulatory Services Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I don’t think this administration, or any administration, can afford to lose the farming community, one of the oldest and biggest county shows in Wales; it’s so important we don’t lose the ongoing relationship between the agricultural society and the council.”

Following a discussion in private session, members unanimously backed the leasing of the airport.

The council intends to exclude Hangar 5 [indoor trampolines] from any lease, and also includes the option to take back part of the site that may have the potential to be developed as a solar farm or industrial units.

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