The latest phase of the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund has benefited from the release of a further £100million from ministers within 72 hours of launch, due to a massive demand.
More than 6,000 grant applications from small and medium sized businesses and social enterprises were received within 24 hours of the launch on Friday – an unprecedented response, revealing the scale of the challenges facing Welsh businesses.
The Fund aims to complement and fill the gaps left by UK Government schemes such as the Job Retention Scheme, with grants of up to £10,000 for micro-enterprises and up to £100,000 for SMEs and a light touch appraisal system designed to get money to businesses with the minimum of delay – as well as a new loan fund administered by the Development Bank of Wales.
Less than three weeks since the First Minister announced the intention to create the Fund, the Welsh Government has released a further £100 million, taking the grant fund to £300 million. This will supplement this latest phase of support, providing non-repayable grants to microbusinesses, SMEs and those large businesses of critical, social or economic importance to Wales.
The Fund has been warmly received by trade union and business organisations, with the Institute of Directors calling it ‘very welcome news for business owners and managers who are desperate for all the help they can get at this difficult time’. The South and Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce has called ‘the rapid response to date’ of the Welsh Government in supporting the economy of Wales ‘impressive’. The Wales TUC welcomed ‘additional funding to address the gaps’.
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates said: “We knew that even with the help offered by initiative such as the Job Retention Scheme, there was a massive need for quick access to grant funding if Welsh businesses were to survive this unprecedented economic shock. Whilst in order to make the scheme quick and simple we needed to take tough decisions over eligibility – like requiring businesses to be registered for VAT as a way of having to check on their trading history – it is clear from the level of response received that the Economic Resilience Fund is plugging a gap in UK Government support and providing much needed financial reassurance to many businesses at this challenging time. We will continue to review support and consider how we can develop it over the coming days.
“The rate of applications has been massive and unprecedented. This is the second time in a matter of weeks that access to Welsh Government funds aimed at easing cash flow pressures for Welsh business have quickly reached capacity, and we have responded with pace to release a further £100m into this phase of the fund.
“In these difficult and demanding economic times we have worked hard to free up resources to create such a large Fund despite the huge demands on our budget, and to strike a balance between supporting as many enterprises as possible and making a meaningful contribution to each one’s survival, as well as asking each recipient to sign up to the principles of the economic contract.
“Though we applaud much of what the UK Government has done, there is an urgent need to see more of the promised lending guaranteed by the UK Government getting to the front line. The UK Government must continue to support and press the high street banks to be much more responsive to the needs of our businesses at this difficult time.”
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “The Economic Resilience Fund is part of more than £2bn of support that we have made available to help businesses and charities during these incredibly difficult times.
“We know that support for business is crucially important but whilst we are doing everything we can in Wales to plug any gaps and provide the best possible financial support to businesses, it is clear there are further steps that the UK Government needs to urgently take.”
The Economic Resilience offers financial support to help businesses, charities and social enterprises deal with the coronavirus crisis and will be vital in helping organisations manage cash flow pressures. It is a unique additional funding stream for Wales and was designed to address gaps not currently met by schemes already announced by the UK Government, Welsh Government and Development Bank of Wales.
The first stage of the Fund saw the £100 million Development Bank of Wales’ loan scheme fully subscribed in little more than a week. Applications are currently being processed and some businesses have already received funding. It is anticipated that the Development Bank will have processed all applications received within the month.
To ensure that money reaches businesses as quickly as possible more than 120 additional Welsh Government and Business Wales staff have been diverted onto processing applications and supporting businesses and organisations in this latest stage of the Fund.
First Minister to set out first steps out of lockdown
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will lift the “stay at home” requirement in Wales from tomorrow, and replace it with “stay local”, as part of a careful, cautious and phased approach to relaxing coronavirus restrictions, First Minister Mark Drakeford will announce today (Friday, Mar 12).
From tomorrow (Saturday, Mar 13), four people from two households will be able to meet outdoors to socialise, including in gardens. In addition, outdoor sports facilities, including basketball courts, tennis courts and golf courses, can reopen, and indoor care home visits will restart, for single designated visitors.
From Monday, all primary pupils and those in qualifications years will return. Schools will have the flexibility to bring year 10 and 12 learners back and more learners will return to colleges.
There will also be flexibility for in-school check-ins for all other pupils. All learners will return after the Easter break.
Hairdressers and barbers will re-open for appointments from Monday.
From 22 March non-essential retail will start re-opening gradually as the restrictions are lifted on what can be sold in shops which are currently open. Garden centres will also be able to open. All shops, including all close contact services, will be able to open from 12 April – the same date as in England.
The First Minister will say: “We are taking a phased approach to unlocking each sector – starting with schools. We will make step-by-step changes each week to gradually restore freedoms. We will monitor each change we make, so we know what impact each change has had on Wales’ public health situation.”
The First Minister will also announce an additional £150m to support businesses affected by ongoing restrictions.
Proposals being explored to improve broadband in some areas of Ceredigion
Several areas of Ceredigion could soon have access to some of the fastest internet speeds in the UK following a number of suppliers proposing Fibre to the Premises projects (FTTP) across the County.
This comes following a pilot project launched by UK Government last year, the Broadband Upgrade Fund. Through the hard work and dedication of several Community Coordinators and with the support of Ceredigion County Council Officers, suppliers have outlined plans to make ultra-reliable and gigabit-capable full fibre broadband available to hundreds homes and businesses across Ceredigion.
A number of communities have been identified by private suppliers for developing potential schemes, and work will be underway in the coming months to further explore and plan developments in the following areas: Llanrhystud, Llanon, Cross Inn, Pennant, Cilcennin, Bethania, Penuwch, Llanwnnen, Llanybydder, Cwrt-Newydd, Tan y Groes, Penrhiw-pal, Ffostrasol, Beulah, Sarnau, Tresaith, Cefn Llwyd, Rhos y Garth, Llanfihangel y Creuddyn, Ystumtuen, Aber Ffrwd, Cwmrheidol, Pontarfynach, Ponterwyd, Pontrhydfendigaid, Goginan, Bow Street, Tal y Bont, Clarach, Borth, Tre’r Ddol and Eglwys Fach.
For each community project area, a Community Co-ordinator has been identified to help facilitate proposals between the private suppliers and local community. The Council encourages everyone to check with their local Community Co-ordinators to confirm if projects will be taking place in their area and if they are eligible to access improved services. Residents and businesses in neighbouring communities can also be included if there is enough demand and are also encouraged to enquire with the local co-ordinators.
Eligible properties within project areas can be upgraded by suppliers through the use of the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme provided by UK Government in addition to the Welsh Government ‘Top Up’ Fund. This means that eligible residential properties and business properties can claim up to £3,000 and £7,000 respectively for the cost of upgrading their current broadband connection. Property owners are not required to contribute to upgrade to FTTP infrastructure, though will be required to pay the usual monthly costs associated with other broadband connections. The more properties sign up to the scheme, the larger the fund available to meet the infrastructure costs.
Councillor Clive Davies, Digital Champion for Ceredigion County Council provided his support for the proposals being developed, stating that “Full fibre or fibre to the premises is more reliable and resilient with consistent speeds. With large lengths of copper cable ceasing to be used over the coming years it is important that as many people and businesses in Ceredigion take up this opportunity. Fibre provides future proofing, capable of meeting growing data needs from new technologies as well as home working and schooling demands”.
“It is important to note that residents and business in these areas have to be proactive to engage with their local co-ordinators and register their interest in the schemes proposed. The Council cannot recommend or support individual projects from private suppliers, but our officers can ensure you are put in touch with the local Community Co-ordinators”.
These countywide fibre projects will be managed and deployed through private suppliers and once members of the public and businesses are aware of range of suppliers now operating in their area through their Community Co-ordinators, enquiries should be directed to them. Council officers will also continue to be pro-active in supporting and providing advice where appropriate.
Further information about the work of the Council and a useful guide to help improve connectivity can be found on the Council website: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/coronavirus-covid-19/5-steps-to-better-connectivity/
For more information, or to find out who your local Community Co-Ordinator is, contact email@example.com
MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion
BEN LAKE MP has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s financial support package for businesses and self-employed workers in next week’s Budget as many struggle to stay afloat during continued lockdown restrictions.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is to set out the UK Government’s budget on Wednesday 3 March, almost a year since the last Budget on 11 March 2020.
To help businesses and our local high streets over coming months, the Ceredigion MP has called on the Chancellor to extend the lowered rate of VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism for a year to March 2022 and to extend the business rates relief package.
Mr Lake also called on the Chancellor to retain the furlough scheme for the duration of pandemic restrictions, as recent figures show more than 178,000* in Wales are still receiving government help from the CJRS. He also urged the Chancellor to expand the existing eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in order to offer some help to the many individuals who have not received a penny in Government support thus far.
Ben Lake MP said: “For many businesses and self-employed workers, the financial support government has offered over the last 12 months has been a lifeline. Now, as we are finally starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, we cannot remove this lifeline prematurely. Extending this help for a little longer, and expanding the criteria to help those that have been excluded thus far, would offer small businesses the support they require to ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic.”
Many businesses who are still not open due to lockdown measures are also now expected to start repaying their Bounce Back Loans. This is despite their situation largely remaining unchanged since they took out the loan, or in some unfortunate instances, worsened as they have not yet been able to trade.
UKHospitality has estimated that the hospitality sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans.
Mr Lake said: “It is important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so – once they have ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery, and the integrity of our financial system.
“We remain in the early stages of a vaccine-led recovery, and it is likely that we will have some form of restrictions for many months to come. Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away the investment taxpayers have made in the last year, and potentially our economic recovery.”
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