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Food networking event invites traders from across south west Wales

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TRADERS are invited to showcase and sample the top tastes of south west Wales at a food networking event next month.

The Supplier to Buyer food and drink trade show returns on Wednesday, 13th March, 10am to 3pm, organised in partnership between Pembrokeshire County Council, Carmarthenshire County Council, Cywain and Visit Pembrokeshire.

Spaces are limited and suppliers are asked to place an expression of interest as soon as possible via the link below.

Taking place in the stunning setting of the National Botanic Garden of Wales greenhouse, the event is expected to attract producers, wholesalers and distributors from across south west Wales and offers an opportunity for talented local producers to showcase their products and services.

Pembrokeshire County Council Food Development Officer Joe Welch said: “It’s a great opportunity to increase the cross border trade opportunities and showcase current, new and additional ranges and services to the hospitality, retail and tourism businesses of the south west Wales area.

The Council’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Paul Miller, who is also Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change, added: “This is a great example of partnership working across south west Wales. I would urge traders to get involved and hopefully make lasting connections that will benefit all parties going forward.”

The event also offers a chance to network with others in the food industry, with a dedicated area available for business meetings.

Exclusive ‘Preparing for Supplier to Buyer’ and ‘Sealing the Deal’ webinars will be provided to all booked stallholders at no extra charge by Cywain.

Alex James, Cywain Manager, said: “Cywain are pleased to be working in collaboration with partners in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to support this supplier-to-buyer event. This will be a great opportunity for food and drink businesses from both counties to showcase their amazing products, create new connections and develop sales within the tourism and hospitality sector.”

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy – Cllr Ann Davies said: “This is an excellent opportunity for food and drink makers in Carmarthenshire to promote their produce and develop relationship with others within the sector to enhance their own businesses.”

Emma Thornton, Chief Executive Officer at Visit Pembrokeshire, added: “Visit Pembrokeshire is delighted to be supporting this year’s Supplier to Buyer food and drink show this year.   
“Enjoying local food and drink and local produce is very important to our visitors and this event presents a wonderful opportunity to showcase the best of our local producers to buyers across South West Wales; a great event to make new connections.”
Spaces are limited and priced at £50 each. Every confirmed booking will receive a standard table space, lunch and drinks throughout the day.

An expression of interest is to be made via the link: https://forms.office.com/e/9chMcAQnX9

Business

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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Business

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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Business

Concerns over risk to public funds in TVR deal

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TAXPAYERS could face a multi-million-pound bill after the Welsh Government spent more than £14m on a failed attempt to attract sports car manufacturer TVR to Wales.

Adrian Crompton, the auditor general for Wales, said the Welsh Government spent £4.75m buying the former Techboard factory in 2021 and £7.6m on refurbishment.

TVR received a £2m five-year loan and a £500,000 investment from the public purse, with the aim of creating 150 jobs and building 2,000 sports cars in Ebbw Vale by 2020.

But at the turn of 2024, the carmaker confirmed it no longer wants to lease the factory – or locate production in Wales – after announcing a new base in Hampshire.

Mr Crompton, who oversees the annual audit of some £24bn of public money, said selling the building for a market value of about £7.5m would net taxpayers a loss of £4.85m.

In a letter dated July 12, he told a Senedd committee that ministers have been trying to find an alternative tenant since November, with TVR paying a £322-a-month rent in that time.

Mr Crompton wrote that the 180,000 sq ft factory – which could generate an income of about £735,000 a year – has attracted some market interest but no formal offers.

Wales’ auditor general said Welsh Government officials’ advice was not to award a contract for the factory refurbishment in advance of a lease agreement with TVR

But he told the public accounts committee: “In August 2020, the minister wrote to TVR telling them the Welsh Government would progress refurbishment with or without them.”

Refurbishment of the factory, which was initially expected to cost £4.5m in 2017, was finally completed in July 2023 with the budget having ballooned to £7.6m.

Taxpayers could be on the hook for a botched investment in the company’s shares, the letter revealed, despite TVR being deemed a high-risk business at the time.

The Welsh Government bought 3.3% of the sports car manufacturer in 2016 but the public’s stake in the company has since more than halved to 1.6%.

TVR received a multi-million investment as part of a joint venture with Ensorcia, a lithium-mining business, which diluted the Welsh Government’s shareholding in 2021.

In May, ministers received external advice about the TVR stake – including a lower valuation than paid in 2016 – and secured an option to sell the shares back to the company.

Officials are now preparing ministerial advice for a decision on whether to sell the shares at a loss or retain the investment in the hope the price increases.

Mr Crompton said TVR breached loan requirements in September 2016 because it had not secured a promised £5.5m private-sector investment to start production.

He added that TVR negotiated extensions to the Welsh Government’s loan default requirement, which otherwise would have led to early repayment in full

In April 2022, TVR paid the Welsh Government £4.3m, covering the £2m loan and accrued interest, which released the company from a requirement to base itself in Wales.

Mr Crompton wrote: “The Welsh Government had to extend the loan repayment period but still achieved a return on investment when TVR eventually repaid it….

“Full repayment has now removed the conditions that were originally attached to the loan.”

In his briefing, the auditor general said he reviewed Welsh Government support for TVR after receiving correspondence that expressed concerns about the risk to public funds.

Mr Crompton pointed out that the public purse will have incurred further costs in terms of officials’ time over many years, external advice and professional fees.

Ministers’ attempts to woo TVR coincided with the failed £425m Circuit of Wales project.

The proposals for a motor racing circuit in Blaenau Gwent collapsed in 2017, with Ken Skates, then-economy minister, refusing to underwrite a £210m loan.

In 2020, Mr Skates wrote off nearly £15m related to loans for the Circuit of Wales after failing to claw back taxpayers’ money.

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