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Launch of Investment Fund for Wales provides £130m boost for small businesses

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THE BRITISH BUSINESS BANK is launching its new £130 million Investment Fund for Wales today (23rd November), unlocking additional funding to help smaller businesses to prosper and thrive.

The fund will drive sustainable economic growth by supporting new and growing businesses across the whole of Wales through investment strategies that best meet the needs of these firms. It includes a range of finance options with loans from £25,000 to £2 million and equity investments up to £5 million to help small and medium-sized businesses start up, scale up or stay ahead.

The Bank’s Investment Fund for Wales will be the first solely UK government-backed investment fund for smaller businesses in Wales, helping to increase the supply and diversity of early-stage finance by providing options to firms that might otherwise not receive investment. Funding is designed to help businesses with activities including expansion, product or service innovation, new processes, skills development, and capital equipment.

Three fund managers have been appointed to manage the fund. BCRS Business Loans will manage the smaller loans part of the fund (£25,000 to £100,000), FW Capital will be responsible for larger loans (£100,000 to £2 million) and Foresight will manage equity deals (up to £5 million).

Louis Taylor, Chief Executive of the British Business Bank, said: “Wales is a nation of innovative smaller businesses. These start-ups, scale-ups and established businesses often require initial, or further finance, in order to launch, to maintain momentum, or to develop their full potential.

“This fund, which has been designed specifically for Welsh businesses, is intended to further address the challenges of access to finance and to provide opportunities for business talent in Wales to grow, to develop and to thrive.

“Over the past nine years we have supported thousands of Welsh businesses across urban and rural Wales and with the launch of the Investment Fund for Wales we will be able to go further and deeper, to support hundreds more as they continue to contribute to the ongoing sustainable success of the wider Welsh economy.”

Welsh Secretary David TC Davies said: “I’m delighted to see the UK Government backing this £130m Investment Fund for Wales. We are a nation of entrepreneurs and this fund will provide much needed finance for start-ups to turn their great ideas into a business. The fund will also support smaller businesses who need support to expand and grow.

“This new source of financing will help the UK Government deliver on our priority of creating jobs and driving prosperity in Wales.”

The Investment Fund for Wales is the fourth in a series of six new Nations and Regions Investment Funds being launched by the British Business Bank and follows the launch of The Investment Fund for Northern Ireland earlier this month, The Investment Fund for Scotland in October and the South West Investment Fund in July. A total of £1.6bn has been committed to the new funds to drive sustainable economic growth and break down barriers in access to finance.

Among the Welsh businesses to already benefit from the British Business Bank’s support is Feral Pig Wines, a wine shop selling locally produced Welsh wine on the grounds of acclaimed boutique hotel, Llys Meddyg in Newport, Pembrokeshire.

The business received a £10,000 Start Up Loan from the British Business Bank in February 2023.

Owner Dave Cushley, a trained sommelier and former restaurant manager at Llys Meddyg, said: “I simply wouldn’t have been able to secure funding without the British Business Bank. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to start my own business and open the shop.

“The Bank wasn’t only useful in terms of money – the Bank’s mentoring support was invaluable. My mentors offered security and gave me that level of exposure financially, which I wouldn’t have wanted with anyone else. I would have been terrified.”

Following today’s launch, the British Business Bank will be holding a series of information roadshows aimed at people working in the small business finance ecosystem including enterprise agencies, advisers, accountants and more. The first of these will be held in Llandudno on 20 February 2024 with additional sessions held in Aberystwyth, Swansea and Newport later that week. An online version of the session will also take place on 7 December 2023 at 11.00am.

To find out more and apply for funding, visit: www.investmentfundwales.co.uk

Business

Another ‘first’ for west Wales brewers Evan Evans

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AWARD-WINNING brewers Evan-Evans will launch the first Welsh zero alcohol cider at the Royal Welsh Show next week.

Blended and bottled in Llandeilo, the zero alcohol drink will be part of the hugely-popular RedHog cider brand.

“We pride ourselves in being an innovative brewery here in Llandeilo and we are delighted to be showcasing the new zero alcohol RedHog at the Royal Welsh in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells,” a company spokesman said today.

“Our RedHog wild cider is already a great hit with consumers. It is a subtle blend of delicious ciders from the Welsh borders. 

“The Buckley family has been brewing since 1767 and there are seven generations of brewing passion and expertise in the heritage of the Evan Evans brewery.

“Down the years, we have earned a reputation for quality beers and ciders. We also boldly go where other brewers fear to tread in developing new products. We get great feedback from our customers and they are hugely influential in telling us what drinks they like.”

The Evan Evans spokesman added: “Our new zero alcohol cider will help appeal to younger drinkers and those who love the taste of a great and refreshing cider.

“We are launching two new zero alcohol flavours – RedHog Medium Dry Zero, and RedHog Summer Fruit Zero.

“There is huge demand for zero alcohol products and we at Evan Evans have spent the last two years perfecting the Reverse Osmosis (RO) process for the dealcoholisation of cider and beers.

“We are the only Welsh company currently using the process. RO gives us the opportunity to retain and build flavours while stripping out the alcohol.

“We have spent a lot of time developing taste profiles, and getting the products right. Too often, the complaint is that zero products lack taste. These ciders are excellent, exciting, and provide a very real alternatives for designated drivers and customers who do not wish to drink alcohol.”

The RedHog zero alcohol drinks will be available from early next week from the brewery Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, or Castell Howell Foods in Carmarthen.

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Steel industry faces turning point amid planned blast furnace closures

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THE CLOSURE of the UK’s last remaining blast furnaces has sparked significant debate and concern. As Britain plans to shut down the last blast furnace at Port Talbot and the two still in operation at British Steel in Scunthorpe, many are questioning the implications for the country that invented modern steelmaking.

The transition from traditional blast furnaces, which produce “virgin steel” by melting iron ore with coking coal, to electric arc furnaces (EAFs), which recycle scrap steel using electrical currents, is at the heart of this debate. Virgin steel production is notoriously carbon-intensive, while EAFs offer a more environmentally friendly alternative, aligning with Britain’s net-zero laws.

Critics argue that the UK will become overly dependent on steel imports, which could be problematic in times of international conflict. However, this argument fails to acknowledge that the UK’s virgin steel production is already heavily reliant on imported materials such as iron ore from Sweden, Brazil, and Australia, and coal from various parts of Europe. By shifting to EAFs, the UK would instead use domestic scrap steel, reducing reliance on foreign materials.

It was once true that EAFs could not produce advanced steel grades, but technological advancements have changed this. For instance, the finest grades of steel for aircraft landing gear and nuclear submarines are already produced in UK EAFs. While some argue that certain steel grades still require virgin steel, others in the industry believe EAFs can meet all steel production needs with the right materials.

Tata Steel UK’s plan to replace Port Talbot’s blast furnaces with EAFs could significantly reduce carbon emissions. While there are concerns about the economic and employment implications of this transition, it also presents an opportunity to recycle the 7-8 million tonnes of scrap steel the UK currently exports annually.

Despite these benefits, there is unease about the rapid closure of all UK blast furnaces. This drastic shift may lead to unintended consequences, especially given the high energy costs in the UK. If electric arc steel production proves more expensive, it could drive up the cost of steel, making imports from countries with less environmentally friendly practices more attractive.

Additionally, the UK’s steel strategy appears conservative compared to pioneering efforts in countries like Sweden, where hydrogen DRI plants are being developed, and the US, where electrolysis is being explored for steel production. The UK, once a leader in industrial innovation, risks lagging behind by committing solely to EAFs.

While the closure of the UK’s blast furnaces represents a significant step towards reducing carbon emissions, it also underscores a broader issue: the need for a more ambitious and innovative approach to steelmaking. The country that once spearheaded the Industrial Revolution must now rise to the challenge of leading the next wave of industrial innovation.

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Calls for extra charges for holiday let owners to be relaxed

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A CALL for an update on Pembrokeshire County Council’s position on a potential relaxation of the ‘182-day’ rule, allowing self-catering accommodation to avoid paying a council tax premium is to be heard later this week.

Last year, the rules on holiday lets in Wales changed; Welsh Government criteria saying holiday lets must be filled for 182 days a year – up from a previous 70 – in order to qualify for business rates rather than pay second homes council tax.

In Pembrokeshire, second homes, and self-catering businesses not meeting the criteria, are now paying a 200 per cent council tax premium in the county, effectively a treble rate of council tax.

At the July 18 meeting of full council, a question submitted by leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy will be heard, a follow-up from a previously submitted notice of motion where he had called for a relaxation in the ‘182-day’ rules in the county.

Cllr Murphy will ask: “At full council on October 12, 2023, I submitted a Notice of Motion (NoM) requesting that PCC use its discretionary relief policy regarding the current 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering accommodation and reduce the eligibility criteria to 140 days in support of the tourism industry.

“This NoM was debated by Cabinet on Dec 4, 2023, where it was not adopted but would be reviewed in 12 months following the impact of legislative change where evidence to support potential change to the 182-day occupancy rule will have been gathered.

“Furthermore, Cabinet stated they would write to Welsh Government to highlight concern over the 182-day occupancy rule and to be provided with information on how the current regulations are working both in Pembrokeshire and the rest of Wales, to support a review in 12 months’ time.

“Nine months have elapsed since this NoM was presented to Council in Oct 2023 and seven months since Cabinet debated it with two recommendations and this question is submitted in two parts.

“Can Council be provided with an update of what data has been obtained since Dec 2023 to examine the impact of the 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering properties in advance of a review to be completed by December 2024 prior to any decision over what level of second home council tax to be levied for 2024/25 as it may be necessary to consider a reduction to support an industry under pressure?

“Have PCC received a reply from WG with regards to the concerns raised with regards to the 182-day rule and its impact on the Pembrokeshire tourism industry?”

Cllr Murphy’s questions will be heard at the full council meeting.

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