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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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Boost for town: Local celebrity Matt Baker to take on the Castle Hotel

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A WELL known local musician and radio DJ is to take on a landmark business in Haverfordwest. The nine bedroom Castle Hotel is probably one of Pembrokeshire’s best known venues – but Matt Baker says it is now under new management.

Matt Baker is not doing things slowly, with a planned opening of the premises on May 28 promising live music, good food and a relaxing atmosphere for all ages. For what is sure to be a postive piece of news for Haverfordwest’s ailing town centre, he is currently advertising for staff, thus creating jobs.

Matt, who previously ran The Tiddly, made his announcement on his Facebook page this morning (May 16), with hundreds of people liking the post and many more wishing him well with his new venture.

He wrote: “Well folks I got some exciting news.

“As most of you know cruise ships have been a big part of my life, 16 years on and off.

“In between that I did open my own pub here in Pembrokeshire call The Tiddly and worked me bottom off to provide a great place for people to come and switch off with live music every night.

“That unfortunately had to come to an end and I have missed it very much.
Well, seeing as I can’t go back to ships at the moment I’ve decided to take on an adventure I
“I’ve always dreamed one day I would own and that is a Hotel.

“It’s not just any Hotel, but one full of amazing history right here in the heart of Pembrokeshire and right in the Center of Haverfordwest.

“Everyone said when I was at The Tiddly “we love it here but we wish you were in town” as The Tiddly was 3 miles outside of Haverfordwest.

“I’m super excited to start a new chapter in my life and with the support of the people of Pembrokeshire and beyond and I’m hoping it will be life long.

“The Hotel has nine beautiful rooms on suite and a lovely restaurant area and a lounge/bar which I’m planning to have all up and running very soon, all been refurbished by the way.
We still are In uncertain times but I’m hoping we are at the back end and can enjoy each other’s company like before and socialise.

“I’m bringing back live music, good food and drink, and a place to come and switch off for all age groups with a comfortable and enjoyable environment.

“I’m planning for the 28th of May to be open, that’s in just under 2 weeks, but if you know me, you know I like a challenge.

“Please come support and follow all guidelines for now as we move forward in these new times.

“I will look forward to welcoming you to The Castle Hotel with open arms and let’s make more great memories together.

“See you soon Pembrokeshire and beyond!”

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An experimental nuclear fusion reactor could be built in Pembrokeshire

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PEMBROKESHIRE could be the location of an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, which could produce abundent clean energy, if the council backs plans for a site on land owned jointly between Valero oil refinery and Pembroke Power station.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet will be asked next week (May 17) to support the project, which it is hoped could create limitless energy.

The officers of the council are recommending to Cabinet that members approve the nominated site being included on the list of UKAEA candidate sites.

Elsewhere in Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan Council is bidding for it to be built at the Aberthaw power station site.

Communities had until the end of March to nominate locations.

If approved the nuclear fusion station, the council’s officers say, could position Pembrokeshire at the international forefront of the clean energy revolution, bringing visibility to the community on a global stage. It was also recommended that the project will bring long-term and enduring environmental, employment, skills and economic benefits to the host community.

However, Greenpeace believes that nuclear fusion is an expensive distraction from the real agenda of providing environmentally benign, reliable energy supply. The campaign group gas also written to Parliament saying that the deuterium-tritium (D-T) fuel mixture used in nuclear fusion produces four times as many high energy neutrons per kilowatt-hour of energy produced than sandard nuclear fission.

Council officers recommend approval for a nuclear fission reactor near Valero refinery (pictured)

Nevertheless the government has a concept programme called STEP, which is an ambitious programme for the conceptual design of a fusion power station. It is a UKAEA administered programme, currently with £220 million funding to produce a phase 1 concept design by 2024.

Beyond 2024, it is claimed, phase 2 intends to move into the engineering design and build phases to deliver the prototype of a commercially viable fusion plant. The prototype will hopefully demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion. The learning from this will enable the future development of a UK fleet of commercial fusion plants, the government said. The target date for the first fully operational plant will be 2040.

In November 2020, the UK Government released an open call to communities across the UK to identify sites that could accommodate a STEP power station, with the site near Valero being chosen.

A report to councillors sitting on the Cabinet states that unlike with conventional nuclear power, there is a benefit of limited risk of nuclear materials proliferation. This is because nuclear fusion doesn’t employ fissile materials like uranium and plutonium. There are no enriched materials in a fusion reactor that could be exploited to make nuclear weapons.

The STEP programme said that it seeks to maximise the recycling and re-use of materials and only use disposal routes where there is no other option.

It said to this end research is being carried out on suitable materials to minimise decay times as much as possible. Any radioactivity of the components in the tokamak structure is classed as low level and relatively short lived.
Fusion is regarded by Government as being carbon free, safe, low land use, low, manageable waste, reliable energy baseload with unlimited fuel.

Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture on Pembrokeshire County Council said: “The Haven Waterway has provided livelihoods, underpinned by fossil fuels, for thousands of Pembrokeshire families, mine included, for more than 50 years.

“Its my job to help ensure the waterway continues to provide high skilled, engineering, science and technology jobs for the next generation of this county and so linked to our focus on climate change (and in addition to our existing multi-million pound commitments to supporting wind, wave and tidal clean power generation) my team have been exploring whether we can also support the development of clean, green fusion technology.

“It very early days in the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s site selection process but we’ll provide regular updates as things progress.”

What is nuclear fusion?

Fusion is the process that takes place in the heart of stars and provides the power that drives the universe. When light nuclei fuse to form a heavier nucleus, they release bursts of energy. This is the opposite of nuclear fission – the reaction that is used in nuclear power stations today – in which energy is released when a nucleus splits apart to form smaller nuclei.

To produce energy from fusion here on Earth, a combination of hydrogen gases – deuterium and tritium – are heated to very high temperatures (over 100 million degrees Celsius). The gas becomes a plasma and the nuclei combine to form a helium nucleus and a neutron, with a tiny fraction of the mass converted into ‘fusion’ energy. A plasma with millions of these reactions every second can provide a huge amount of energy from very small amounts of fuel.

One way to control the intensely hot plasma is to use powerful magnets. The most advanced device for this is the ‘tokamak’, a Russian word for a ring-shaped magnetic chamber. CCFE’s goal is to develop fusion reactors using the tokamak concept.

Advantages of fusion power

With increasing concerns over climate change and finite supplies of fossil fuels, we need new, better ways to meet our growing demand for energy. The benefits of fusion power make it an extremely attractive option:

  • No carbon emissions. The only by-products of fusion reactions are small amounts of helium, an inert gas which can be safely released without harming the environment.
  • Abundant fuels. Deuterium can be extracted from water and tritium will be produced inside the power station from lithium, an element abundant in the earth’s crust and seawater. Even with widespread adoption of fusion power stations, these fuel supplies would last for many thousands of years.
  • Energy efficiency. One kilogram of fusion fuel could provide the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel. A 1 Gigawatt fusion power station will need less than one tonne of fuel during a year’s operation.
  • Less radioactive waste than fission. There is no radioactive waste by-product from the fusion reaction. Only reactor components become radioactive; the level of activity depends on the structural materials used. Research is being carried out on suitable materials to minimise decay times as much as possible.
  • Safety. A large-scale nuclear accident is not possible in a fusion reactor. The amounts of fuel used in fusion devices are very small (about the weight of a postage stamp at any one time). Furthermore, as the fusion process is difficult to start and keep going, there is no risk of a runaway reaction which could lead to a meltdown.
  • Reliable power. Fusion power plants will be designed to produce a continuous supply of large amounts of electricity. Once established in the market, costs are predicted to be broadly similar to other energy sources.
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Pembs Pet Supplies & Spa gets tails wagging

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LAUREN KIMPSON has an immense love for pets, that much is clear.

From humble beginnings running Woofers Dog Groomers on Charles Street in Milford Haven, Lauren has now expanded her business into a fabulous pet supplies and spa out on Thornton Industrial Estate. The Herald popped up there to have a nose around and, even from the outside, we were impressed.

Pembs Pet Supplies & Spa: A brand new local business

As we stepped inside it became clear that Lauren has a love and a vision for what she wants to create for pets in Pembrokeshire.

From the gorgeous finish of the main desk to the light, airy feeling of the grooming salon, Pembs Pet Supplies & Spa feels like a much more modern, easy-going place to get anything your pet might need.

The beautiful, spacious interior

My first question to Lauren was simply ‘What made you want to expand your business? ”We had lots of people, and pets, coming into Woofers who had lots of different needs” She said. “Now we have so much more space to stock the things that our four-legged-friends need. Not just dogs or cats, we even stock Horse food too!”

Looking around the shop, it’s clear that Lauren and her team are putting people’s safety first, there are clear floor markings, masks are mandatory and the shop is big enough to easily social distance, but I wanted to know what else Pembs Pet Supplies & Spa are doing to give their customers a stress-free shopping experience.

“We know peace of mind is important too, especially at the moment, so we’re offering a local delivery service on the products we sell and we have no problem popping out to peoples cars and picking up their pet if they’re booked in for a grooming!”

The passion Lauren has is clear, the walls have countless certificates and awards that she has earned over the years and the amount of happy Woofers customers speak for themselves.

Exciting times: Lauren now has space to stock pet products and to expand the services she offers

I asked Lauren how the first month has been out in Thornton, I imagine it’s a tricky time for new businesses what with this global pandemic still knocking about, but Lauren’s infectious excitement for her new premises is clearly driving her forward.

‘It’s been really good so far’ she said “It’s been really positive and people seem to like having a one-stop-shop for pets and their needs. People can pick up a lead or some dog food when they’re dropping their pooch off for a pampering.”

And it’s clear that people do, whilst I was there a steady stream of customers were coming through the door, all socially distanced and wearing masks of course.

Pembs Pet Supplies & Spa offer a laid-back, friendly, personal service, the type of service only small, independent local businesses can provide.

Add Lauren’s pet passion to the mix and we’re sure that she’s on to a winner.Lauren needed to finish grooming a dog when I was there so I decided to have a browse, what with being a dog-owner myself.

The shelves are stacked with everything you might need for your dog or cat, from chew toys to bowls or beds, every pet need is catered for and its a shop clearly designed to bring your pet in to, it’s not cramped or over-filled which really makes shopping there a delight.

Once Lauren was done, I popped my head into the grooming salon and saw a newly pampered pooch proudly sporting a great new trim and looking fancy.

My last question to Lauren, who has clearly limitless enthusiasm, was “What next?” She smiled and said: “Well, doggy-day-care is definitely on the horizon now we have all this room to expand.”

It’s an exciting time for pets in Pembrokeshire because Lauren’s passion and imagination knows no bounds, best of luck from all at The Herald!

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