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Costs rise but Welsh builders boom

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Survey results positive: FMB urgest caution on future threats

SMALL and medium-sized (SME) building firms in Wales enjoyed strong growth in the final quarter of 2017, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Cymru.

Key results from the FMB’s latest State of Trade Survey, which is the only quarterly assessment of the UK-wide SME construction sector, include:

  • The pace of growth among Welsh construction SMEs quickened in Q4 2017 compared with the previous quarter;
  • Fewer construction SMEs predict rising workloads in the coming three months, down from 41% in the previous quarter to 38% in Q4 2017;
  • 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months, up from 82% in the previous quarter;
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 63% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners;
  • Nearly two thirds (61%) of construction SMEs expect salaries and wages to increase in the next six months.

Ifan Glyn, Director of FMB Cymru, said: “Growth among Welsh construction SMEs has now risen for five consecutive quarters. Wales was the only home nation in the UK to experience a faster rate of growth in the final quarter of 2017 when compared to the three months to September. These results are particularly pleasing, and perhaps even surprising, given that rising costs and ever-worsening skills shortages continue to burden Welsh firms. However, there is certainly no room for complacency.

“The skills crisis is getting steadily worse and this is having a knock-on effect on rising salaries and costs. More than two thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and this has increased by nearly 10% compared with the three months leading up to September of 2017. The salaries for these scarce skilled tradespeople have rocketed. What’s more, almost 90% of firms believe that material prices will rise in the next six months and this, coupled with a rise in wages, will see firms’ margins squeezed.”

Glyn concluded: “The Welsh Government has set an ambitious target to build 20,000 affordable homes and while the results of the FMB’s research are mainly positive for Wales, it does expose these continuing threats which could undermine these plans. With Brexit on the horizon, we should be aware that the skills shortages could be exacerbated in the coming months.

“Although EU migrants only represent a small proportion of construction workers in Wales, we know that London is heavily reliant on these workers. Indeed, half of London’s construction workers were born outside of the UK.

“If London and the wider South East continue to suffer skills shortages, tradespeople from Wales may choose to work across the border after being tempted by the prospect of higher wages. It is therefore equally important for construction firms across the UK that the Westminster Government treads carefully and delivers a responsive and flexible immigration system to replace the free movement of people. Anything less will be a cause for alarm for the Welsh construction sector.”

The report was compiled by Experian and in Q4 2017, 338 construction SMEs responded to the survey. The results reflect balances – ie the number of firms reporting a rise in workload against the number of firms showing no change or a fall. This gives a qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, overview.

Experian offers this explanation: “Balances reflect the percentage of responses reporting higher workloads against those reporting lower workloads. In some cases, though the chart suggests activity has fallen strongly, a large proportion of respondents indicated there had been no change in workloads compared with the previous quarter.”

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Retail premises now required to take extra measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus

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New requirements have now come into force that require retail premises to take additional steps to protect workers and customers from coronavirus.

The additional measures were already guidance, but are now legal requirements. This includes businesses selling food or drink for consumption off the premises. These legal requirements include the need to:

  • Ensure systems are in place for controlling entry to the premises and to limit the number of customers in store at any one time;
  • Provide hand sanitisation products or hand washing facilities for the use of customers when they enter and exit the premises;
  • Introduce measures to sanitise any baskets, trolleys or similar containers provided for use by customers on the premises;
  • Remind customers to maintain a distance of 2 metres between each other and to wear a face covering by:

o   Displaying signs and other visual aids throughout the premises;

o   Making announcements on a regular basis;

  • Undertake and record a specific assessment of the risk of exposure to coronavirus at the premises and in doing so consult persons working on the premises or representatives of those persons (where a business employs five or more people);

All premises are still required to take all other reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, such as:

  • Changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
  • Controlling use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
  • Controlling use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
  • Otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
  • Installing barriers or screens;
  • Providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment

The Regulations and guidance may be found at Coronavirus legislation and guidance on the law on the Welsh Government website: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-legislation-and-guidance-law and also guidance to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public: https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-minimise-risk-exposure-coronavirus-workplaces-and-premises-open

 

Useful posters and guides are available from Business Wales website: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/tool-kit. A COVID-19 risk assessment template is available from Health and Safety Executive – What to include in your COVID-19 risk assessment: https://www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/assets/docs/risk-assessment.pdf

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Nick Ramsay MS: Freeze welcome but doesn’t go far enough

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BUSINESS rates in Wales will not be subject to an inflationary increase in 2021-22 Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has confirmed today. Freezing the multiplier next year will help support around 54,000 ratepayers across Wales, who are not already receiving 100% rates relief. This takes the total amount of savings businesses have received on their rates bills to more than £90 million from 2018 to 2019. Earlier this year the Welsh Government also announced a rates relief package worth £580 million to provide businesses with the support they needed to survive the pandemic. Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We recognise the pressures that businesses are facing and we are continuing to explore the support measures we can put in place to help businesses cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the end of the EU transition period. “The announcement I have made today provides businesses with the reassurance that they will not see an increase in their business rates liabilities next year.” The Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Finance – reacted to the announcement.Nick Ramsay MS said: “The continuing health emergency produced by the Covid pandemic remains grave, yet the economic emergency we’re going through is still bringing about a different, but equally devastating effect. “The announcement is, therefore, welcome but doesn’t go far enough. “Welsh Conservatives outlined earlier this year our vision of how to rebuild the economy, which will require the next Welsh Government to utilise tax powers in innovative ways. “We have pledged to create ‘Business Rate-Free Zones’, where all businesses would be free from paying business rates for up to three years, and to scrap business rates for all businesses with a rateable value of under £15,000 outside of these zones. “Sure, the business-rates freeze from the Finance Minister is a step in the right direction, but I – and undoubtedly many businesspeople – am left feeling no real sense of assurance from her announcement.”
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Improvements required at five takeaway premises in Ceredigion

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PROPRIETORS of five takeaways in Ceredigion have been warned that their businesses may face closure if they fail to take reasonable measures to provide or require the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings by persons working on their premises.

Premises Improvement Notices have been served on the persons responsible for these takeway premises in Ceredigion:

–          Cardigan Arms Fish & Chip Shop, Cardigan

–          Express Café, Aberystwyth

–          Domino’s, Aberystwyth

–          Hot Dumplings, Aberystwyth

–          and Star Fried Chicken and Pizza, Aberystwyth 

The improvement notices require the businesses to ‘provide or require the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings by persons working on the premises’ and warn that failure to comply with the notices can result in a premises closure notice being issued. The premises were issued with the notices following coordinated inspections by Dyfed-Powys Police and the Public Protection Team at Ceredigion County Council over the weekend.

Businesses should ensure that they are aware of the requirements under the Regulations for individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public areas, and also for regulated premises to take all reasonable measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as providing and requiring the use of face coverings. Whilst face shields do offer some protection for the user against transmission of coronavirus, they are not considered to be ‘face coverings’ as they merely shield rather than actually cover the mouth and nose.

The Public Protection Team will continue to carry out unannounced inspections of premises and the non-compliant businesses may be issued with premises improvement or closure notices.

Information for businesses is available on the Council’s website: Supporting Ceredigion’s Economy

Any business who is unsure of their responsibilities in relation to face coverings is urged to check the Welsh Government website.

Any business that requires further information or guidance can contact the Council’s Public Protection Team on 01545 570881 or email clic@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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