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First Minister to set out first steps out of lockdown

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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.

Business

Proposals being explored to improve broadband in some areas of Ceredigion

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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 digidol@ceredigion.gov.uk

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MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion

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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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£3.8m to upgrade local gas network

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WALES & WEST UTILITIES says it is continuing its work to upgrade the gas pipes supplying homes and businesses across west Wales and has announced a £3.8 million investment programme for 2021.

The work, which will see 19km of gas pipe upgraded, not only keeps the gas flowing safely today, it also prepares the gas network to transport green gases like hydrogen and biomethane. Converting the existing safe and reliable gas network to run on green gas will help communities across Wales and south west England play their part in a green future and getting the UK to Net Zero.

Rob Long, Wales & West Utilities Chief Operating Officer, said: “While most of the gas network is underground and out of sight, it plays a central role in the daily lives of people across west Wales. Whether it’s heating your home, making the family dinner or having a hot bath, we understand how important it is for your gas supply to be safe and reliable and there when you need it.

“Our investment in local communities is essential to keep the gas flowing to local homes and businesses today, and to make sure the gas network is ready to transport hydrogen and biomethane, so we can all play our part in a green future.

“And it will make sure that we continue to support communities through Coronavirus, keeping the gas flowing so local people are safe and warm.”

Wales & West Utilities look after the pipes that keep the gas flowing to heat the homes and power businesses of 7.5m people across Wales and south west England. They operate the gas emergency service, connect new homes and businesses, and upgrade the gas network so it’s safe today and fit for a green future.

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