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Eligibility checker for £120m Omicron business support package goes live

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ELIGIBLE businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500k – £25,000, with grants dependent on their size and number of employees.

Businesses in Wales impacted by the rapid spread of the Omicron virus can now find out how much they can expect to receive in emergency financial support from the Welsh Government.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething previously said £120m would be available for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business and their supply chains affected by the move to alert level 2 announced by the First Minister on Wednesday 22 December.

The support package includes funding from the Economic Resilience Fund (ERF), with an eligibility checker for this fund now live on the Business Wales website.

This will help businesses, including charities and social enterprises, to gauge how much they can expect to receive from the ERF.

The application window for the ERF will open in week commencing 17 January 2022, with payments starting to reach businesses within days. The application window will be open for two weeks.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “We recognise that businesses are facing another hugely uncertain time due to the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. The eligibility checker which goes live today will help them forward plan during this challenging period.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve provided over £2.6bn of support to businesses throughout Wales to help them manage their way through difficult circumstances. This latest £120 million package of support will further assist impacted businesses and we will get financial support to them as quickly as possible.”

Non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses in Wales will also receive support from the Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grant which will be administered by Local Authorities. Businesses will be entitled to a payment of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000 depending on their rateable value.

Local Authorities will also be administrating a discretionary fund for sole traders, freelancers and taxi drivers and businesses that employee people but do not pay business rates.

The registration process for the NDR linked grants and application process for the discretionary fund will open week commencing the 10 January 2022.

The ERF eligibility checker can be found at: https://fundchecker.businesswales.gov.wales/businesssupport

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Bug Farm explains rush to keep people and animals safe as raging wildfire approached

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A PEMBROKESHIRE business has taken to the internet to thank everyone who has supported them throughout the recent grass fires. The management of Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm said on Facebook: “Thank you everyone for your kind comments about the fire.

“Being told that you may lose your family home, cows and nature reserve is rather sobering.

The business describes itself as a visitor and research centre located on a farm wildlife reserve grazed by our Tyddewi Herd of Welsh Black cattle. IT has a focus on invertebrates (bugs) alongside sustainable food and farming, they are also home of Grub Kitchen & Bug Farm Foods. 

However all of that was hanging in the balance with people and animals threatened by the oncoming flames.

Ongoing battle: Tabitha and Andy extinguishing a reignition.

They explained: “With the fire just one field away from them, our first priority was getting our cows to a safer area. We had a team of ecologists working on the land who thankfully saw the fire and got away in time. Then we looked up and said: “oh my gosh, the house”.

“All my memories of my late mum and dad were in the house. We drove through the smoke and flames to reach it. I will never forget seeing the small mammals running for their lives across the road, in particular a rabbit with charred fur that stopped in the middle of the road and looked straight at me before carrying on. The firefighters said their priority was trying to save the first 5 houses of Nun Street if possible.

“Ours was number 1, the house nearest to the fire. I was allowed one dash in by the firefighters to grab what I could. Typically, the fire expanded behind me, with Andy the other side of it not being able to contact me. It was completely terrifying for everyone.

No entry: The fire jumped a road at one point during the incident

“A huge thank you to my cousin Rachel and Nick for hosing down the garden as the fire reached the garden hedge and closing all the windows of the house while I grabbed precious memories. Thanks to a monumental effort, our house, Tabitha’s home, the cows and most of our fledgling nature reserve at Penweathers are safe. The fire team were amazing.

“After putting the main blaze out on Saturday, they must have returned 4 or 5 times on Sunday, when we, Adam Vincent at Clwb and the TYF Adventure guides couldn’t control the blazes.

“Following advice from the fire officer, Andy did an amazing job on Saturday night and Sunday cutting fire breaks around our meadows as a preventative measure to stop the fire spreading to the houses in St Davids and the cathedral cemetery if it reignited (which it did…time and time again).

“Tabitha and Angela worked tirelessly with us and Adam putting out the fires and a big thanks to Lou for helping out too.

Devastation: Scorched earth remains after the blaze was extinguished

“On Sunday, two big fires started, one at Newgale and another at a South Pembs recycling centre, and all the fire teams in the county were called away. It was an odd feeling on Sunday evening, hearing the local fire officer saying that all engines in west Wales were deployed elsewhere so, if it re-started, we were pretty much on our own and so we should do everything we could to extinguish the new, small fires so they couldn’t escalate.

“We managed to keep on top of the small fires and smoking bales thanks to regular patrols and local residents calling us whenever they spotted smoke so we could rush to extinguish new fires before they got too big.

Destroyed by fire: Shed’s seen better days

“After almost 24 hours of fire-free time, we thought we had won and then, on Tuesday afternoon, got a call to say that smoke had been spotted again.

“By the time we arrived, Adam was extinguishing a smoking bale and then we found a smoking hawthorn tree in a largely unburnt hedge, at the edge of what had burnt: within seconds, the trunk was glowing bright red, with flames starting to spread.

Fire appliances responding to the blaze

“Thanks to the rain, we had our first fire-free day yesterday (the second busiest day of the year at The Bug Farm). Please bear with us over the next few days if we are a bit zombie-like, we are all exhausted and still a bit shaken, but so, so thankful that it has ended how it has.

Scale of burned area and proximity to residential property can be seen clearly in this shot

“The fire burnt through our neighbour’s arable land and improved grassland, destroying the crops, but seemed to skirt around our wildlife habitat, going through the hedge banks but not making it across our fields, despite them being long grass meadows. Having been told at least 5 times over the past few days that it is: “long grass and bl**dy rewilding like you are doing” that is causing these fires to spread, it is worth noting that the re-wetted marshy grassland stopped the fire in its tracks and stopped it getting to the cemetery and to St Davids houses on Nun Street – you can see it very clearly in the pictures below. Oh and it started by someone leaving glass bottles on the footpath.

“Please take your litter home and don’t smoke or have barbecues in the countryside in a drought.

“Lots of people have kindly offered to help. If you would like to help, please grab gloves and a bag and walk the Pilgrim’s Way footpath that is now partially burnt, picking up glass bottles, cans and other human detritus that is now visible to help stop this happening again.

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Port breaks ground on key phase of marine renewable energy project

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THE CONSTRUCTION of a new supersize slipway and new workboat pontoons is now underway at Pembroke Port. It marks a big step forward in the realisation of the Port of Milford Haven’s vision for the Milford Haven Waterway to play a vital role in driving new green growth across the region, while supporting the country’s transition to a net zero future.

The new slipway will provide maximum flexibility for the launch and recovery of marine energy devices and vessels, while the pontoons will strengthen the Port’s operations and maintenance proposition for the floating offshore wind (FLOW) industry.

Commercial Director at the Port of Milford Haven, Steve Edwards, said: “It’s fantastic to see this development underway at Pembroke Port. The new upgraded spaces and facilities will be perfect for the growing low carbon industry around the Celtic Sea as well as the supply chain companies that will benefit from the opportunities created here. We’re looking forward to seeing huge changes over the next eighteen months, working with industry and academia to maximise local and regional benefits.”

The works sit alongside the renovation of the Annexes attached to the Sunderland Hangars. These are now midway through construction and will create new office and workshop spaces for industry. Later phases of the project will focus on creating large scale laydown spaces for device fabrication and development.

The modernisation of the Port’s infrastructure forms part of the Pembroke Dock Marine project, a £60m partnership between the Port of Milford Haven, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, Marine Energy Wales and Celtic Sea Power. The project is funded by the UK Government and Welsh Government through the Swansea Bay City Deal, and through the public and private sectors. It is also part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.

This collaborative platform has already attracted companies from across the globe who are spearheading new research, development, and manufacturing in marine energy power generation, with an appetite to do much more. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the UK’s leading technology, innovation and research centre for renewable offshore energy, has also demonstrated its confidence in the area’s potential with the development of a multi-million pound Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence based at Pembroke Dock.

Cllr Paul Miller, Pembrokeshire County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change, said:

“The Haven Waterway is inextricably linked to the health of the Pembrokeshire economy. We need to invest in the waterway in order to sustain employment but also to ensure it remains the UKs leading energy port.

“Up to 30% of the UK’s gas today, but also Green/Blue Hydrogen and Floating Wind Generated electricity tomorrow.

“These investments are the foundation upon which we hope the next generation of energy industry is built and along with it, the next generation of energy jobs.”

Cllr Rob Stewart, Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Deal’s Joint Committee said: “The City Deal is making significant progress in its ambition to grow the economy and create employment opportunities in Pembrokeshire and across the region, with a focus on the energy sector and renewable technologies. We welcome BAM Nuttall onboard to construct the workboat pontoons and slipway at Pembroke Port, which will help regenerate the port area and support the wider blue-green energy economy. This exciting development, coupled with the recent approval of the City Deal Skills & Talent pilot project which will deliver essential skills in the renewable energy sector demonstrates that we are focused on lowering carbon emissions, supporting floating offshore wind and growing our young talent to support this sector.”

Civil engineering firm BAM Nuttall has been appointed to construct the new slipway and workboat pontoons.

Ian Hubbard, BAM Regional Director for Southern England and Wales, said: “The Port of Milford Haven has a vision for the regeneration of Pembroke Dock and BAM is delighted to play a role in that. The Port is ideally suited for servicing wave, tidal and wind power and this latest investment will help to improve the facilities on offer to the growing offshore renewables industry. BAM will be employing a mixture of local and specialist labour to deliver its works, so this contract will create jobs in the Pembrokeshire area as well as helping to modernise the port facilities.”

Important step: Representatives from across the region came together to celebrate the start of the construction of a new supersize slipway at Pembroke Port which will provide maximum flexibility for the launch and recovery of marine energy devices and vessels.

Pictured: Will Bramble, Pembrokeshire County Council Chief Executive; Ian Hubbard, BAM Regional Director for South England and Wales; Tom Sawyer, Port of Milford Haven Chief Executive; Pamela George, Mayor of Pembroke Dock Town Council; Jonathan Burnes, Swansea Bay City Deal Programme Director; Cllr Paul Miller, Pembrokeshire County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change.  

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Major boost for Wales’s full fibre broadband ambition as provider Ogi ramps up roll out across south Wales

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OGI – Wales’s leading home-grown broadband provider – has ramped up its drive to bring ultrafast Gigabit-capable connectivity to communities across Wales. Thirty-eight of the country’s most iconic towns and villages are now set to benefit from the latest phase of Ogi’s initial £200m investment.

Extending its roll out to Bridgend, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf – Ogi will begin work in some of these areas immediately. Today’s announcement brings Ogi’s ultrafast services to a total of seven Local Authority areas, marking a gear-shift in the company’s potential reach.

Ogi launched onto the scene just over a year ago, kick-starting work on its £200 million plan to bring full fibre connectivity to traditionally underserved communities.

This latest milestone in Ogi’s growth sees the company accelerate its ambitious programme – taking coverage to 80,000 premises.

Showing no signs of slowing, staff numbers have gone from 20 to almost 140 in 18 months, with the business opening four new regional offices in Newport, Tongwynlais, Cardiff and St Clears, supporting more staff to live and work locally.

Ogi’s efforts to improve broadband access come as the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee calls on the Welsh Government to do more to help rural communities access better connectivity. In fact, today’s announcement puts Ogi on course to bring fibre to a third of all premises in Pembrokeshire.

Beyond rural settings, the latest roll out sees Ogi extend its footprint to bigger, post- industrial urban areas like Bridgend, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf. And, with the company’s work injecting around £6m into places like Haverfordwest, plus an estimated economic impact worth up to five times the initial investment, today’s news will bring a welcome boost to local economies across the region.

Just 1 in 3 premises in Wales currently has access to full fibre-optic connectivity, with Britain in general lagging behind many European countries, where coverage can be as high as 90%. Ogi’s latest plan will help to close the UK’s digital divide in areas that are often labelled as ‘left behind’.

Announcing the ramp up, Ogi’s Chief Executive Officer, Ben Allwright, said: “Ogi is leading Wales’s digital revolution by bringing full fibre infrastructure to areas that really need it.

“These iconic communities are bursting with innovation and creativity – and they deserve the best connectivity to help them realise their potential. As we’re seeing in places like Pembrokeshire, only Ogi can make that access a reality. Our networks are enabling businesses to thrive, wherever they are based; helping people to work closer to where they live; and families to experience the best possible home entertainment.”

Supporting the latest announcement, Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, said: “The impact of fast, affordable broadband for homes and businesses across Wales cannot be underestimated.

“Ogi is helping to deliver that standard across south Wales, supporting Wales in its drive to become a digital nation.”

Surveying work is already underway in many of these areas with activity due to ramp up at street level over the coming weeks and months. Homes and businesses in many of these communities will be able to access Ogi’s ultrafast service from as early as this September.

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