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Welsh business confidence soars despite February’s output decline

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WELSH business confidence has surged to its highest level since November 2021, despite facing output challenges in February. This optimism in the private sector shines against a backdrop of modest economic contraction, according to the latest NatWest Wales PMI® Business Activity Index. The index, which dipped from 49.9 in January to 47.5 in February, highlights a modest reduction in activity – marking the most significant decrease since the previous October. Notably, this places Welsh firms alongside those in the North East as the joint-lowest performers in the UK, primarily attributed to subdued customer demand and ongoing supply chain difficulties.

Despite a continuous ninth-month decline in new orders, February saw the slowest pace of this downturn, with some businesses noting early signs of recovering demand conditions. However, the enduring cost-of-living crisis continues to suppress sales, creating a fractional downturn in new business that contrasts with a modest expansion across the UK.

Remarkably, February witnessed a significant uplift in business confidence among Welsh private sector companies. This renewed optimism, the most robust since late 2021, aligns closely with the broader UK trend. Businesses are buoyed by prospects of product range extensions, customer base expansions, and anticipated stronger client demand.

However, Welsh firms reported a seventh consecutive month of workforce reductions, although the rate of job losses has slowed considerably, marking the softest drop since August 2023. Despite efforts to enhance efficiency and manage costs by not replacing voluntary leavers, the reduction in staff numbers remains significant, outpaced only by Yorkshire & Humber across the UK.

Furthermore, Welsh companies have seen an ongoing decrease in outstanding business since May 2022, with February’s contraction marking one of the sharpest declines. This reduction in backlogs of work underscores the broader challenges faced by the region’s private sector.

On the inflation front, Welsh firms experienced an accelerated increase in average cost burdens during February, with input prices climbing due to higher raw material costs and rising wages. This upturn in inflation, although less severe than the UK average, was the sharpest since May 2023. In response, Welsh companies raised their selling prices significantly, with service providers leading this charge as they passed increased costs onto customers.

Jessica Shipman, Chair of the NatWest Cymru Regional Board, reflects on the dual nature of the current economic landscape for Welsh businesses. While acknowledging the sharper fall in output and the weight of supply chain issues on production capacity, Shipman highlights the fractional easing in the decline of new business and the buoyant business confidence. This optimism is underpinned by strategic expansions and marketing investments, despite the uptick in inflationary pressures driven by higher wage and imported goods prices. Shipman notes the continued trend of cost-cutting through workforce reductions, even as business confidence strengthens and the pace of job shedding eases, signalling a cautious yet hopeful outlook for the Welsh private sector.

Business

West Wales firm fined £75,000 after man killed by escaped cow

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A WEST WALES company has been fined £75,000 following the death of a 75-year-old man, Huw Evans, who was killed by a cow that had escaped from a livestock market. The incident occurred on November 19, 2022, at Whitland Livestock Market in Carmarthenshire, operated by J.J. Morris Limited.

Father-of-two Mr Evans was crossing the junction at North Road and West Street in Whitland when the cow, which was being auctioned, escaped from the market pen. The animal attacked Mr Evans, knocking him down and trampling him. He suffered multiple injuries and was airlifted to the University Hospital of Wales, where he succumbed to his injuries six days later.

A worker from J.J. Morris Limited was also injured during an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the cow. The cow eventually made its way towards Whitland Rugby Club and a railway line before being subdued and put down by Dyfed-Powys Police.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation into the incident and found that J.J. Morris Limited had failed to implement essential physical control measures to prevent cattle from escaping. The HSE concluded that the company’s risk assessment was inadequate, referencing control measures that were not in place at the market.

J.J. Morris Limited, based in Haverfordwest, admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £5,047.55 in costs by Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, June 20.

In court, Mr Evans’ son, Dafydd, expressed his grief, saying: “Dad was my best friend, and I miss him terribly. He was taken from us too soon. Losing dad has had a tremendous effect on both myself and my brother. Because of this incident, dad’s grandsons will never fully know him personally, and he will not see them grow up.”

Following the hearing, HSE inspector Rhys Hughes remarked, “This tragic incident was foreseeable and preventable. The risk posed by cattle escaping from the livestock mart should have been identified, and effective control measures implemented. The case highlights the importance of following industry guidance, which is readily accessible and outlines the requirements to safely manage cattle.”

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Business

Tata workers call first strikes in 40 years to stop steel destruction

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HISTORIC strikes in Port Talbot as Labour vows emergency talks with Tata after general election

Around 1,500 Tata workers based in Port Talbot and Llanwern will begin all-out indefinite strike action over the company’s plans to cut 2,800 jobs and close its blast furnaces.

The strike action, which begins on 8 July, will severely impact Tata’s UK operations. It is the first time in over 40 years that steel workers in the UK have taken strike action.

The escalation in industrial action comes after the workers, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, began working to rule and an overtime ban on Tuesday (June 17).

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Tata’s workers are not just fighting for their jobs – they are fighting for the future of their communities and the future of steel in Wales.

“Our members will not standby while this immensely wealthy conglomerate tries to throw Port Talbot and Llanwern on the scrapheap so it can boost its operations abroad. They know South Wales is ideally placed to take advantage of the coming boom in green steel – if the right choices are made.

“The strikes will go on until Tata halts its disastrous plans. Unite is backing Tata’s workers to the hilt in their historic battle to save the Welsh steel industry and give it the bright future it deserves.”

Labour has called for Tata to halt its plans and wait until after the general election to engage in talks with the government, saying there is a ‘better deal to do’. Labour has pledged £3 billion for UK steel if elected next month, a commitment secured by Unite. Labour has also made emergency talks with Tata a priority if it wins the election.

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Amendments submitted for holiday chalets scheme at trout fishery

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Amendments to a scheme granted by Pembrokeshire councillors last year after being repeatedly recommended for refusal have been submitted to county planners.

Last summer, Pembrokeshire councillors backed plans for holiday chalets at a trout fishery, despite them being recommended for refusal on multiple occasions.

Plans to provide nine accommodation cabins and ancillary works at a former fishery business at Millbrook, Manorwen, Fishguard, were backed at two meetings of Pembrokeshire County Council planning committee, despite them being recommended for refusal.

The application was backed for a second time at the committee’s May meeting, after a ‘minded to approve’ decision at the previous meeting.

The decision, a departure from the adopted Local Development Plan, meant the application would need to be referred to full council for a final decision.

Officers had repeatedly recommended Messrs L & C Williams’ application  – diversification of an existing agricultural holding and trout fishery business – be refused on the grounds it would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the character and appearance of the countryside.

The application was then considered at the July 2023 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, with a recommendation that the council did not endorse the resolution of the planning committee on the grounds it went against Development Plan policies which directed that planning permission should not be granted.

The application was conditionally approved by 48 votes to eight, with one abstention.

The applicants have now submitted amendments to the granted scheme, asking for revisions to the plans to include a lower carbon footprint through air-source heat exchangers for both heating and hot water and the use of solar panels.

It also includes the need for addition excavations needed and hopes to make it more disability-friendly.

The amendments will be considered at a later date.

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