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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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Lidl branded best value as expanded store opens in Aberystwyth

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Lidl has been revealed as the cheapest supermarket in May, according to the latest monthly analysis from Which?.

Which? compared prices for a trolley of 20 items every day throughout May and found that on average, shoppers would have paid £22.66 at Lidl, beating the big four and Aldi to the accolade. Products checked included own-label products such as tomatoes and chicken drumsticks and branded goods such as Nescafé coffee, to see how UK supermarkets compared. The announcement recognises Lidl’s continued commitment to offering customers top quality products at great value prices as the retailer expands further into the future. Earlier this year, Which? named Lidl as the Cheapest Supermarket 2020, demonstrating that Lidl continues to offer UK shoppers consistently unbeatable prices.

The news comes as the supermarket expanded its operation in Aberystyth.

This pic of the new store was taken by Rose Voon.

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University to host industry summit online

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SUPPORTING industry’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic is a key priority for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

The University has a track record for working with industry through knowledge transfer, research innovation, workforce development and by providing a ready pipeline of skilled students and graduates, in partnership with employers.

In addition, UWTSD’s MADE Cymru initiative was established to support manufacturing industries in Wales to adapt to the challenges of Industry 4.0.

The initiative, funded by the EU via the Welsh Government, aims to support the economic recovery of manufacturers in Wales by offering part and fully funded training to businesses to upskill staff, as well as research and development that improves processes and products to reduce waste and costs.

In addition, UWTSD and MADE Cymru have organised an Industry Summit to be held online between June 8-10 to inform, engage and inspire businesses during this critical period of post-Covid recovery.

Expert speakers will be sharing their insights including James Davies from Industry Wales, Carol Hall, Regional Investment Manager, Development Bank of Wales, Chris Probert, Innovation Specialist, Welsh Government and Geraint Jones, Knowledge Transfer Adviser at KTN.

The line-up also includes Welsh manufacturers who will be sharing their own experiences, including Tim Hawkins, Managing Director, Markes International, Julia Chesney-Roberts, Commercial Manager, Riversimple, Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh and Jacques Bonfrer, Co-Founder and Team Lead, Bot-Hive.

There will be guest talks from circular economy expert Eoin Bailey and lean author Daryl Powell and an opportunity to find out about the range of services offered by the University.

Graham Howe, Executive Head of the MADE Cymru project at UWTSD says: “This Industry Summit aims to explore issues and challenges facing manufacturing in Wales so that we can work together with employers to find solutions. 

“We always start with asking a manufacturer what their biggest problem is today and look at how we can help them with it.

“We aim to unravel potentially confusing challenges like these. Our approach begins by looking at what companies need to increase their productivity and competitiveness.

“We aim to lead the businesses we work with through a journey of continuous improvement – a journey that makes the most of Industry 4.0 technologies and their ever-growing digital capabilities to help solve the specific problems faced by each company.

“All of the feedback we receive from businesses shapes our curriculum – we want to produce employable, digitally literate graduates who can contribute to their workplace from day one”.

Alison Orrells is CEO and Managing Director of Safety Letterbox and has been one of the organisations participating in the MADE Cymru initiative.

She said: “It was important to keep innovating and investing to set us apart and come out stronger. It’s been intense but we had a game plan – now it is all about business future-proofing, being agile, collaborations and being adaptable.”

Covid-19 has affected every part of a business and shifted the focus from production to survival.

UWTSD recently led a round table discussion with Welsh manufacturers about the future of manufacturing in Wales.

That discussion found that their outlook is positive about the future.

Manufacturers accelerated their adoption of new technologies to enhance and optimise production.

With many employees on furlough, managers took the opportunity to rethink and invest in better IT, particularly communications, training and diversified into new product areas. They looked to local colleges and universities to help shift perceptions of jobs in manufacturing and demonstrated the career opportunities and pathways available.

They also loosened their reliance on overseas imports and looked for suppliers in the UK to minimise future risk of disruption.

All sessions of the Industry Summit are free to attend and places can be booked on the UWTSD website: https://uwtsd.ac.uk/made/made-cymru-industry-summit/

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Casual and part-time workers: Most vulnerable to job loss

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A NEW series of reports that focus on the effects of Coronavirus on employment in Wales was published on Thursday, May 27, by Public Health Wales.

Young people, and those in precarious work have been identified as being especially vulnerable to employment changes caused by the pandemic, with mental wellbeing and struggles to find or keep work cited as major concerns.

Many young people are unaware of the support that is already available and how to access it, suggesting a greater need for organisations to engage with young people on a deeper level, to find solutions to the barriers they face for gaining good, fair employment –critical for people’s good health and wellbeing.

FURLOUGH HAD UNEQUAL IMPACT

Dr Benjamin Gray, Public Health Researcher at Public Health Wales, said: “18-29-year-olds are the age group with the highest proportion placed on furlough (41%) and 2.5 times more likely to have been placed on furlough than the 40-49 years age group and as such risk an uncertain future. Furlough could potentially mask a longer-term impact of Covid-19 on unemployment, and this is a concern, especially amongst this age group.”

Dr Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health with the Wider Determinants of Health Unit at Public Health Wales, said: “Young people have told us they have been hit by a multitude of factors that will potentially have long-lasting effects on their employment prospects.

“It’s not just about being in work, though. It is the nature, quality, and long-term prospects of that work – good, fair work, that’s so important for people’s health. We saw this impact play out in the study.

“Some working young people we heard from struggled with the impacts of work changes outside their control on their mental wellbeing, whereas most of those in stable employment generally felt well, supported by their employer, and confident about the future.

“We know that at UK, Wales and local levels there have been important actions taken to mitigate the impact of these employment changes. However, some of these are expected to come to an end.

“A clear message from our work is that it will take a range of approaches to support young people responding to the employment challenges of the pandemic, to improve health.

“Action can be taken at national, regional and local level. Employers, too, have an important role in helping young people into good quality work, and that includes public sector organisations.

“If we are to safeguard future health we will need to work collaboratively and effectively, involving young people.”

The reports are the first in a series of planned employment analysis by the Public Health Wales Population Health programme exploring the impact of Coronavirus on the Welsh labour market and will help inform policy and decision-makers.

Further phases of the research will look at how challenges could be addressed as the economy reopens and recovers, so that those most at risk of longer-term harm from the crisis can secure decent quality future employment, training, and education.

Key findings across the reports were:

•             Around a quarter of a million workers were employed in shutdown sectors in Wales (18 per cent of all workers) at the outset of the pandemic with young workers (aged 16-24) much more likely to be employed in shutdown sectors (36 per cent compared to 11 per cent of those aged 35-64).

•             Young people faced varied and complex challenges due to the pandemic. In addition to the challenge in gaining, retaining, and partaking in good, fair work, issues raised included the effects of the temporary lockdown, such as disruption of vocational learning and home-schooling, or exacerbation of pre-existing issues such as the nature of employment for young people, Brexit and reported lower uptake of universal credit.

•             Those who work in low-paid, insecure work have less protection and rights due to the ‘flexible’ nature of their jobs. Young people are chief among these due to the specific sectoral trends in employment contract types. These employment changes have also translated into significantly different impacts for distinct groups, with those living in deprived areas of Wales appearing to have fared worst.

•             There is substantial uncertainty about the future, especially when government schemes such as furlough come to an end as these cushioned the economic pain caused by the pandemic.

•             Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are likely to feel the effects for some time with concerns over scarring effects on job prospects and the potential for higher tax in the future to pay for the financial support schemes introduced by the Government during the pandemic.

•             While interventions are perceived by decision-makers and influencers to be available, apart from the furlough scheme, young people in this study did not, on the whole, appear familiar with them or accessing the support.

•             It will be critical to ensure young people are involved in the development of future support.

•             Evidence suggests that labour market policies can substantially impact the health of both the employed and unemployed populations in a positive way.

•             A range of policies are linked with improved mental and physical health outcomes, as well as reduced health inequalities; however, some, such as benefit sanctions, have been linked to either no health benefit or even harm.

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