AN INVESTIGATION by broadband comparison website, BroadbandChoices, which analysed almost four hundred UK council websites and Ofcom performance statistics, has revealed that many councils have missed their own targets and deadlines for improving broadband connectivity in their areas.
And only one of Wales’ 22 councils – Newport – has hit the target; while nine have no plan at all.
The research reveals that many councils fall drastically short of targets set to provide superfast connectivity. Just 12 out of the 391 UK Councils analysed have reached 95% levels of superfast broadband penetration or higher, the UKs target. It also revealed that only 7 councils in the UK have met the targets for broadband speeds they set themselves.
The latest analysis from BroadbandChoices highlights how much work must still be done by Councils to provide sufficient connectivity to all homes and businesses in the UK, regardless of location.
With broadband speeds affecting small businesses, rural communities and those who work from home, internet speeds have a significant impact on productivity and can cost businesses money, time and even customers or clients and are costing businesses thousands in lost productivity.
The average percentage of premises with superfast broadband speeds has been revealed to be just 58% based on Ofcom’s report – nearly 40% lower than the 95% UK-wide target. The research also reveals that almost a quarter (24%) of councils don’t have a publicly available strategy when it comes to broadband.
After reviewing 391 council plans for broadband outlined on each council’s website and comparing them with actual broadband performance levels as compiled by Ofcom2 the research also revealed that the percentage of premises with access to superfast broadband ranges from just 11% in some jurisdictions, to 98% in others. This dramatic discrepancy in connectivity means some council areas have 87% fewer homes able to access superfast broadband yet no clear plans in place to improve performance.
The research exposes how the majority of councils in the UK under-estimated how long it would take to make superfast broadband available to premises within their borough. Sixty-seven councils were found to have failed to meet the targets they set themselves within the timeframes they identified.
The findings suggest that many councils in the UK have failed to make superfast broadband a priority. Surprisingly, 122 councils have information about plans to extend broadband penetration on their websites but exact details regarding reach and performance are inadequate. Broadband Choices research found vague claims in an unquantifiable format or without a specific target date for completing the work. Meanwhile, many other councils failed to even reference broadband on their websites.
The volume of ongoing council plans demonstrates that many councils are still working towards achieving widespread connectivity in their areas, and that more work still needs to be done to reach the UK Government target of 95% coverage for superfast broadband, despite some reports that it has already been achieved.
Vix Leyton, home comms expert at Broadband Choices said: “This study demonstrates that while many UK councils have active plans in place to improve connectivity for their residents, very few have succeeded in actually meeting their targets. Meanwhile, areas with the most need have councils who are failing to recognise good internet connectivity as a strategic priority.
“Whilst our research gives a broad stroke picture of the UK by comparing council intention to reported performance, a lot of consumers are still in the dark when it comes to the actual service and speed they will personally receive until after they have signed up for a deal. Broadband Choices has been lobbying for some time to inform consumer purchasing, using things like the postcode checker tool, to ensure that in the face of different reports about performance they will get a clear and honest picture of the position their home or business is in.
“Access to technology is a staple requirement and reliance on high-quality connectivity will only increase. That’s why we’re helping to educate consumers so they are better aware of the broadband available in their area, and what plans their local Council has in place to keep up with technology. Councils should have their plans and target deadlines clearly outlined on their website for constituents to see, and if targets haven’t been met this needs to be addressed and reviewed, and residents are entitled to know why.”
“The lack of superfast broadband has a combined impact on productivity and communication, which is a real concern, translating into a loss for small businesses, and communities. Councils need to do more to improve connectivity to protect the productivity of the UK workforce.”
New drive supports women entrepreneurs
ECONOMY MINISTER, Ken Skates is calling on the business community to support a new initiative aimed at increasing the number of women entrepreneurs in Wales and providing them with the best possible support.
The Welsh Government’s new Supporting Entrepreneurial Women programme was informed by the work of a panel of experts, convened in 2017 to consider how best to encourage, develop and support female entrepreneurship in Wales.
The panel, chaired by Helen Walbey, considered an array of academic evidence and literature on women in entrepreneurship, spoke to a range of businesswomen, representative groups and partner bodies, and aligned its work with the principles of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme which is championed by Be the Spark in Wales.
The result is a new Framework for Supporting Entrepreneurial Women in Wales and a Good Practice Guide to inform how the Welsh Government and business community works to drive the number of women entrepreneurs in Wales.
The Welsh Government have also responded by publishing the Business Wales Action Plan which identifies 10 specific ways in which the Welsh Government and business community can improve. From providing more gender focussed business support and confidence building, increasing the number of female business advisors and mentors in Wales and promoting the career successes of prominent female entrepreneurs including through business awards, the action plan aims to create the right environment in which female entrepreneurs can prosper.
There is also renewed focus on engagement with women entrepreneurs to understand the barriers they face, improved availability of finance options with no restrictions that unfairly affect women, and a Good Practice Guide that encourages business support organisations to adopt ways of working that support female Entrepreneurship.
The Economy Minister launched the Framework, Good Practice Guide and the Action Plan at a celebratory event in Capital Law. This will be followed by regional events, jointly organised by the Welsh Government and Lloyds Bank, to ensure that business groups right across Wales are aware of the new resources and their role in supporting female entrepreneurship.
The Economy Minister said: “The underrepresentation of women both as business owners and at a senior executive level is well evidenced and there is no doubt the gender gap is hindering women from achieving their full economic and personal potential.
“Our Economic Action Plan focuses on creating the right environment to enable entrepreneurs to prosper and grow and obviously this must apply to women, just as much as men.
“The work undertaken by the panel of experts recognised the progress that we as the Welsh Government and business representative groups have made in recent years in supporting female entrepreneurship – but the message is clear. We must do more, and with Brexit presenting challenges of an unprecedented scale, now more than ever we need our best talent around the table.
“I call on the business community and financial institutions to work with us to adopt a more gender focussed approach to their work. I hope they will use our new Framework and Good Practice Guide to ensure they play their part in building an environment where women entrepreneurs are encouraged and properly supported to reach their full potential.“
Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip said: “All women should be given equal opportunities and representation at the most senior level. Helping to understand and remove barriers that women face in entrepreneurial opportunities will support the potential growth of women in business. Through this support, we hope women will be more fairly represented and can flourish in the business sector.
“Although, there is still so much more we can do to achieve better gender equality, this initiative will help women to achieve their full potential and to move away from the underrepresentation of women at senior roles.”
Local companies aim for export boost
LOCAL food and drink companies are preparing to attend one of the world’s largest food trade events in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 17-21 February. Held at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Gulfood will attract over 98,000 visitors over the five days, welcoming more than 5,000 exhibitors from 193 countries showcasing products across 8 primary market sectors.
Supported by the Welsh Government, 14 Welsh companies from across the food and drink sector in Wales will be present under the Cymru/Wales banner all looking to promote their products and increase their export markets.
The Welsh companies exhibiting include Llaeth y Llan/Village Dairy, Rachel’s, Dairy Partners Ltd, Daioni Organic, Fayrefield Foods Ltd, Calon Wen Organic Dairy, The Lobster Pot, Ty Nant Spring Water, Euro Foods Group UK, Prima Foods UK Ltd. Alongside these, representatives from Castle Dairies Ltd, Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotions Wales, Dunbia and Village Bakery Ltd will also form part of the Export Visit.
Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, believes that it is vital for the industry to take advantage of such opportunities to continue to develop global markets: “Our food and drink sector is one we can rightly be proud of and we need to ensure that everybody knows about it. It is important that we maintain our visibility and showcase our innovative products at key global trade events.
“We are committed to supporting Welsh businesses having a presence at events such as Gulfood, as it is crucial in giving ourselves a strong platform to sell Welsh produce around the world. With Brexit approaching it is more important than ever that we champion Welsh produce and support food and drink businesses in every way we can. We need to help them build relationships with businesses in their sector so they can learn about new technologies, explore foreign markets and be competitive in their industry.”
A company looking to make an impact and will be introducing their Afternoon Tea range at Gulfood is Llanelli’s Prima Foods.
Their classic British gluten-free afternoon tea range features both mixes and ready to bake goods, to include Scones, Choux Pastry and Belgian Chocolate Brownies.
Massimo Bishop-Scott, Head of Innovation at Prima Foods said: “Afternoon teas have seen a bit of a resurgence and are an incredibly popular menu offering. They attract consumers outside the normal lunchtime/dinner eating occasions which provide incremental revenue for restaurants and hotels.
“We spotted that there was a gap for great tasting gluten-free offerings on the afternoon tea menu and set about making products that tasted just as good as the gluten-containing equivalent. A number of our customers in the UK have been so impressed with the taste and texture of our products that they have replaced their existing gluten containing range with our Chefs Promise range.”
One company looking to build on its existing links with the UAE is leading organic milk producer Daioni Organic from Boncath.
In June 2018, they began working with Truebell, their exclusive distributor to the UAE and have launched into Carrefour and Choithrams with other retailers to follow throughout 2019.
In 2018, Daioni launched a new iced coffee latte which they will be presenting at Gulfood for the first time this year.
Chief Operations Officer at Daioni Organic, Daniel Jones said: “We have seen high growth in the overseas markets in the past couple of years, particularly from the Middle East and Asia. We see this expansion as well as our presence at Gulfood, as a great opportunity to enter growing markets and to invest in our existing relationships.”
Construction output falls
RISING costs and uncertainty relating to Brexit are to blame for the sharp drop in output growth in January 2019, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in response to the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index data (PMI).
The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) Construction Purchasing Manager’s Index incorporates survey results provided by construction firms throughout the country.
A reading above fifty suggests the construction sector is expanding, while a reading below fifty suggests the construction sector is in contraction.
The January 2019 PMI data revealed a fall from 52.8 in December to 50.6 in January, against the neutral reading of 50.0. January data pointed to a loss of momentum for the UK construction sector, with business activity growth grinding to its weakest for ten months.
All three categories of construction output recorded weaker trends than those reported in December.
Residential work was the strongest performing area, although the latest expansion was only modest and the slowest seen since March 2018. Civil engineering activity increased marginally, with the rate of growth much softer than December’s 19-month high.
Commercial work was the weakest performing area of construction output in January. Latest data indicated a decline in work on commercial construction projects for the first time in ten months. Anecdotal evidence suggested that Brexit-related anxiety and associated concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to weigh on client demand.
New business growth eased to an eight-month low in January.
Construction firms widely commented on softer demand conditions and longer sales conversion times, reflecting a wait-and-see approach to spending by clients. Concerns about the near-term outlook for new projects resulted in more cautious staff hiring policies at the start of 2019. The latest survey pointed to the slowest rise in employment numbers since July 2016.
However, construction firms remain positive about the outlook for business activity in 2019. Around 41% of the survey panel anticipate a rise in output, while only 16% forecast a fall.
Optimism had, however, fallen month on month. Large-scale civil engineering projects were cited as a key source of optimism, while Brexit uncertainty was the most commonly cited concern.
Tim Moore, Economics Associate Director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey: “UK construction growth shifted down a gear at the start of 2019, with weaker conditions signalled across all three main categories of activity.
“Commercial work declined for the first time in ten months as concerns about the domestic economic outlook continued to hold back activity.
“The latest survey also revealed a loss of momentum for house building and civil engineering, although these areas of the construction sector at least remained on a modest growth path.”
Duncan Brock, Group Director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply said: “The sector suffered a sharp drop in output growth in January, and the softest rise in purchasing volumes since September 2017, as Brexit continues to hamper progress and dampen client confidence.
“The biggest shock came in the form of job creation which has managed to suffer the slings and arrows of Brexit highs and lows with solid hiring since the referendum result. Employment rose at the slowest rate since July 2016 and with optimism also in short supply, the sector only needs a small nudge to tip it closer to a recession.”
Commenting on the results, Brian Berry Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “The latest PMI data show a slowdown in growth in construction with business activity growth easing to its weakest for ten months. The ongoing political uncertainty is partly to blame for this setback.
“Political uncertainty is the enemy of construction firms that rely on the spending power of homeowners to commission home improvement projects. The UK is set to leave the EU next month, and yet we are still none the wiser about what the future holds. Given these intense headwinds, it should not be surprising that the sector suffered such a sharp decline.”
Mr Berry continued: “Alongside the political uncertainty, the cost of doing business is also rising for construction firms up and down the country. Material prices have been rising steadily since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum.
“Looking ahead, material prices are expected to continue to cause a headache for the construction industry with recent research from the FMB showing that 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months. What’s more the construction skills crisis means that key trades are extremely difficult to recruit and the upshot of this is rising wages in construction.
“Tradespeople know they can command higher salaries than they did previously as workers are scarce, and this means a squeeze in margins for firms. This will only worsen if the post-Brexit immigration system that the Government has planned goes ahead.
“If the sector isn’t able to draw upon crucial EU workers of all skill levels, who have so far served to mitigate this shortage, the slowdown of growth will continue.”
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