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Politics

Development Bank ‘not a guaranteed solution’

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Lloyds: In Llandovery

A NEW report by a think tank has assessed the potential of a public development bank for Wales to boost lending to firms and promote economic development locally.

The report by the Public Policy Institute for Wales describes evidence that ‘bank branch closures are having a negative impact on individuals and businesses in Wales, but more specific research is need to ascertain what impact bank branch closures is having on individuals and communities. Finding out the extent to which vulnerable areas are affected by bank branch closures can also help identify which specific services can be provided in the future.’

The report states: “However, even the most extensive public banking model, opening community banks would not be able to replace the branches that have been closed in Wales in recent years.”
On ways to protect banking services it comments: “A public development bank is potentially useful option, but not a guaranteed solution.”

Plaid Cymru Mid and West AM Simon Thomas said: “We need action from Governments in Westminster and Wales on bank branch closures.

“It is unacceptable that the bank network is being stripped from rural Wales. We cannot have a gap in the banking services available to rural and urban Wales.

“Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts has called for a change in the law to protect the last bank in town. We are now seeing often in our communities from Llandysul to Llanidloes towns left without a bank.

“While bank branches are expensive to maintain and are used by fewer people in the past they are still an important resource. The report highlights research by the Federation of Small Businesses that bank branch closures affect small businesses in rural communities, as they are more likely to require cash purchases than in urban areas.

“High street banks have a duty to consult effectively with the local community over closures. While banks are private companies making commercial decisions, in effect access to banking is essential for modern life and participating in democracy.”

“The Labour Government in Cardiff Bay should be looking at how other financial institutions like Finance Wales and credit unions have a role to play. Other ways to protect banking services for small businesses and individual customers like developing the services provided by the Post Office will be hampered by the closure programme of successive Westminster governments of different political colours.”

The report identifies problems with lending to small and medium sized businesses, automation has made banks more geographically and operationally distant from small businesses.

Bank closures contribute to this problem according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “The rapid pace of bank branch closures across the UK presents some very real and tough challenges for small businesses. FSB members highly value the face-to-face interaction they receive in-branch, particularly when making complex financial transactions, with staff who often have a greater understanding of their business and the local economy. In addition, many of our members deal heavily in cash and cheques and need access to over-the-counter banking facilities on a regular basis.

“Small businesses are keen to embrace the opportunities of the digital economy. However, barriers towards digital inclusion, such as unreliable broadband connectivity, and a lack of confidence in using digital services creates serious challenges. These are some of the reasons which explain why the protection of in-branch banking is so important for financial inclusion.”

Large banks were three times more likely to shut a branch in Wales than in London and the south east of England, and five of the top ten areas affected by the 600 branch closures in Britain in 2015-2016 were in Wales – Powys, Denbighshire, Gwynedd, Conwy, and Carmarthenshire.

The FUW is particularly concerned as internet banking is not always an option in rural areas; many people will not have an appropriate internet connection- if they have a connection at all, and especially the elderly may not be familiar with IT and the process of doing their banking online.

Speaking earlier this summer, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The closure of rural banks has a detrimental effect on rural areas, as they serve not only villages and small towns but many of the neighbourhoods in surrounding areas, as well as providing employment to local people.

“Closures are a great loss to residents and local businesses, particularly the elderly or residents who are unable to travel to the nearest town. The closures will of course also affect small businesses, as they will have to travel further afield for their banking needs.
“In addition, internet banking is not always an option in rural areas; many people will not have an appropriate internet connection if they have a connection at all, and especially the elderly may not be familiar with IT and the process of doing their banking online.
“For many telephone banking is impractical, as they prefer to deal with their personal finances on a one-to-one basis and mobile banking is limited in many rural areas. It is worth considering as well that some people may not be able to get to mobile banks during the short time they are present in villages.
“With more and more rural services and businesses being closed down, we must also acknowledge that it is becoming less and less attractive for young families and indeed business owners to remain in the countryside.
“If the problem of rural depopulation is not addressed with some urgency it could have severe consequences for our rural communities and with that also our rural economy.
“It is clear that if we want to ensure that Wales develops its full potential in being a rural economic powerhouse, we must make it attractive for working families to stay and also encourage vital services like business banking to remain available in our countryside.
“The provision of acceptable broadband services is an increasingly critical part of meeting the needs of rural Wales.”

A report from the British Infrastructure Group found nearly a quarter of Welsh constituencies appear in the worst 20 constituencies in the whole of the UK for broadband speed.

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Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.

Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.

VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.

£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.

A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

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Politics

Diverse voices but unity of purpose – a sustainable future for food production in Ceredigion.

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Cardigan XR have been delighted by the reception to the People’s Assembly held on line on Tuesday 23rd and attended by over 150 people. It has led to a surge of positive feedback from people who would seldom be in the same meeting; retired and busy farmers, ecologists, smallholders, politicians, horticulturalists, food advisors and vendors. Topics were diverse, but all centered on the importance of agriculture and land use in its widest sense and how the current system might be made more sustainable in Ceredigion. Attendees listened to introductions from Elin Jones MS and from XR Aberteifi who co-hosted the event, followed by short talks from the NFU, FUW, an ecologist, organic horticulturalists, the RSPB, Welsh food representatives, water and flooding, and Ben Lake MP.

For many, the People’s Assembly was their first experience of Deliberative Democracy. They welcomed the opportunity to listen to experts and then form into small groups so that the opinions of each individual could be listened to. The 17 groups discussed: ‘What might a sustainable farming system in Ceredigion look like? how might we get there?’ They noted their detailed answers and chose their main points to report back to the main meeting. There were many recommendations covering a very diverse field; education through to easier entry into farming. The results are still being brought together but will be made available shortly. It is planned that the results will be sent to all participants, Councillors, Members of the Senedd and anyone else who wishes to see them. ” This is what open democracy is about. Now we need to build on it to make real and lasting change for a sustainable future. Similar assemblies can help us to build consensus in our urgent need to find a way forward to halt dangerous climate change.” said Sarah Wright, co-host from Extinction Rebellion.

Many attendees expressed their feeling that this was just the beginning of the journey and that there is a need to keep the doors open to positive discussion. Clearly there is a lot more to be said and many attendees elected to stay on and keep talking after the official Assembly ended.

Elin Jones MS said
If we’d organised a public meeting to discuss sustainable agri in a village hall somewhere between Llanon and Llanarth then we’d never have got 150+ all in one place, with great speakers, breakout to small groups and all over in 2hrs. But it happened tonight on Zoom in Ceredigion.

A constructive meeting with diverse voices but unity of purpose – a sustainable future for food production in Ceredigion.

Start of a very useful discussion. Start of a great conversation. And action.
Diolch i’r trefnwyr, XR Aberteifi, i’r NFU, FUW, CFfI, Ben Lake, cynghorwyr, ffermwyr, cynhyrchwyr, gwerthwyr, a phawb. Cychwyn trafodaeth fuddiol iawn.

If you would like an emailed copy of the many ideas from the People’s Assembly, please contact Cardigan Extinction Rebellion on cardigan@xrcymru.org

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Politics

Joyce calls for action on illegal scallop dredging

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Local MS Joyce Watson is calling for increased monitoring and enforcement to tackle illegal fishing activities around the Welsh coastline.

The Marine Conservation Society confirmed reports of people exploiting the lockdown period through a range of illegal activities. Due to the challenge of social distancing on boats, the normal monitoring of the coastline has been restricted during recent months.

Mrs Watson, who has campaigned over this issue over many years, raised this issue at the Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee (25 June 2020).

Speaking later, Mid and West Wales Member of the Senedd Joyce Watson MS said:

“I was disgusted to hear that as many as 30 scallop dredgers have been spotted, potentially within marine protected areas.

“This could do untold damage to our marine environment. It can take up to 15 years to recover from just one trawl by scallop dredgers in marine protected areas.

“This behaviour also damages the local fishing economy. It is particularly unfair on those who play by the rules at such a challenging time.

“Unfortunately because of a lack of direct on-the-water evidence, prosecutions may be difficult in these cases.

“Therefore I plan to call for a return to effective monitoring and enforcement as soon as is possible.”

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