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A vital link: Eluned Morgan welcomes Business Exchange

PUPILS in Wales are set to benefit from a new platform that will link thousands of Welsh employers with schools, to facilitate ongoing opportunities for engagement with employers.

The national careers advice service has launched a pilot ‘Education Business Exchange’ – a platform enabling employers to work directly with schools to provide bespoke experiences for pupils.

Employers that sign up to the exchange will provide detail on activities they can offer for pupils, and how far they are prepared to travel. Activities could include short or longer term work experience, taster sessions or outreach visits, guest talks at schools, as well as masterclasses or workshops.

Schools will then be able to search the online portal and select businesses based on bespoke criteria, including local authority area and type of activity, all in line with their own needs and preferences.

For example, a STEM teacher looking to bring to life classroom learning could search the portal for a local engineering company, or a media studies teacher could source a digital media company to bring to life classroom teaching.

The programme, was launched earlier this week at Bishop Hedley school in Merthyr along with GE Aviation, will be piloted initially in 8 local authority areas, with a target of 62 schools.

It is anticipated that, once rolled out, more than 13,000 employers will have registered for the Exchange, resulting in thousands of new, bespoke opportunities for pupils.

A UK-wide ‘Making the Grade’ report, commissioned by charity Education and Employers, demonstrates the value of employer engagement, finding that:

  • 9 out of 10 secondary school teachers (93%) say that work experience and employer-related activities can help students to do better in exams.
  • Teachers also said that one in five pupils (20%) in a typical year group today have positively benefitted from these activities in school.
  • Successful work experience placements are believed to have the greatest impact on improving academic attainment, with over a quarter of teachers ranking it as their first choice. This is followed closely by employer-led sessions such as career events with employee volunteers.
  • Over half of teachers felt academic achievement can be improved by helping students understand the relevance of education to employment, as well as exposing students to new role models through employer engagement.

Graham Bowd, chief executive at Careers Wales, said: “There has been much debate about the need for young people to engage with employers in Wales, and schools’ capacity to facilitate more interactions between pupils and employers, and the value of pupils interacting with businesses has never been clearer.

“The Education Business Exchange supports a broader engagement agenda. It will allow a range of quality opportunities, including giving smaller employers, who may not previously have been able to offer the traditional week’s work experience, an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to young people’s understanding about the world of work.

“Our Education Business Exchange is aiming to link the worlds of education and business and introduce businesses directly to pupils in schools. It will allow a wider range of engagement with learners by employers and in a more co-ordinated and meaningful way.

“The portal will help plug any gaps in provision and has the potential to bring consistency in approach across Wales, embedding employer engagement throughout the curriculum in a streamlined and efficient way.”

Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan said: “The Education Business Exchange will provide a vital link between schools and employers, opening up new and exciting opportunities for young people and employers alike. Bringing employers and young people together is vital to helping students understand the skills and experience they need to gain in order to move forward and succeed in the world of work.

“I know many employers are eager to engage with their communities and provide opportunities for young people. As it is rolled out across Wales the Education Business Exchange has the potential to improve the links between schools and employers, for the benefit of all involved. I wish the project every success.”

Sarah Davies, GE Aviation Wales HR Coordinator said: “Working collaboratively with the education system is essential in building a strong and diverse workforce, and forms a talent pipeline into the business here at GE Aviation Wales.

“Our aim is to combine skills sharing and curriculum support in order to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). We are working to bridge the UK STEM skills gap while fostering enthusiasm for jobs in these industries, and we believe that working together with schools is a key way to achieve this.”

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Business rates relief scheme extended

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A further £23m in business rates relief: Announced by Rebecca Evans AS

WELSH GOVERNMENT Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans AS, has extended a business rates relief scheme.
In a written statement to the Senedd last week, the Minister announced a further twelve months’ support for all retailers in Wales with a rateable value of up to £50,000.
As a result, the Welsh Government will now provide over £1/4bn in rates reliefs for businesses.
The additional money will be fully funded by the Welsh Government and will provide support of up to £2,500 towards the rates bills for retail properties with a rateable value of up to £50,000.
It will reduce rates bills to zero for retail properties with a rateable value up to £9,100 and reduce bills by £2,500 for properties with a higher rateable value.
As well as supporting retailers on the high street, the scheme will continue to support retailers in other locations. Ratepayers benefitting from the relief include those with occupied retail premises such as shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and wine bars.
A further £2.4m will be allocated to local authorities to provide additional discretionary rates relief for local businesses and other ratepayers to respond to specific local issues. This funding will be provided through the local government settlement, taking the total being provided to local authorities for discretionary relief to £4.8m for 2020-21.
The scheme will continue to be administered by local authorities on an application basis and operates in addition to other support provided by the Welsh Government. This means that while local authorities will collect the business rates, at a cost to the local Council Taxpayer, they have little or no say in how the money collected from business rates feeds back into or supports the communities from which it is collected.
While the Welsh Government continues to tinker at the edges of business rates, as The Herald reported before Christmas there is a widespread call for the whole system to be overhauled.
In November, the Treasury Select Committee published its report on business rates.
It acknowledged the burden the current regime poses for businesses of all sectors and sizes and that it is no longer fit for purpose. It also agreed that business rates deter investment.
One solution, a commercial landowner levy based on the land value of commercial sites rather than their capital value, would shift the burden from tenants to landlords. Such a radical reform seems highly unlikely as long as the Treasury has its hooks into the billions raised by business rates. In practice, unless regulation was strict, it would enhance the desirability of obtaining tax benefits by leaving commercial sites vacant.
At the last election, every political party agreed that business rates needed reform.
Labour’s Mid and West Regional AMs Eluned Morgan and Joyce Watson welcomed the announcement.
They said as well as supporting retailers on the high street, the scheme will continue to support retailers in other locations including restaurants, cafes and public houses.
Eluned Morgan AM said: “Across Wales, 15,000 small and medium businesses will be supported in the new financial year”
Joyce Watson AM said: “I welcome this latest announcement to support local businesses. It will reduce rates bills to zero for retail properties with a rateable value up to £9,100 and support of up to £2,500 towards the rates bill for retail properties with a rateable value up to £50,000.”
Dave Matthews, who runs the Oasis bookshop in Whitland welcomed the continued support being offered saying: “We are very happy about this continuation. Oasis is much more than a shop in Whitland, it’s a drop-in centre for the community too. What makes what we do sustainable is the fact that our business is supported by this continued rate relief.”

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Really Wild Festival returns

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A FESTIVAL that celebrates all things inspired by nature and rural life is returning to St Davids on Saturday, May 30.
The multi-award-winning Really Wild Food and Countryside Festival will be held at Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre from 10am-5pm on May 30, returning to the site where the event originated in 2004.
Founded in 2004, the Festival is a friendly, informal and fun event that celebrates rural life, food and country crafts. It also provides producers and growers with the opportunity to showcase their products to businesses and visitors.
Oriel y Parc Manager, Claire Bates said: “Spaces will be allocated to stall-holders on a first-come, first-served basis. To maintain the original ethos of the festival, the products on display or for sale will need to include ingredients from the wild or have a very close connection with the countryside.
“We’re committed to hosting an event that minimises our impact on the environment and are encouraging stall-holders to reduce or reuse non-biodegradable plastics wherever possible.
“Application forms are now available for producers, businesses and charities who wish to attend the event. Please note the deadline for applications is April 1.”
The festival will be held in and around the Oriel y Parc grounds and will be free to enter, with a small fee for some activities.
For more information including booking forms for concessions and exhibitors visit www.orielyparc.co.uk/reallywild.
To discuss your application email reallywild@pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk or call 01437 720392.

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Business

Work begins on new station at Bow Street

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TRANSPORT for Wales has begun work on the new £8-million railway station at Bow Street in Ceredigion.

Opening to passengers in 2020, the station, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport, will include park and ride facilities, cycle storage and a multi-modal transport interchange. The scheme is being delivered by TfW, Network Rail and Ceredigion County Council.

Part funded by the Department for Transport via the New Stations Fund , the new station will provide a link to the national rail network for the community of Bow Street for the first time since the former station was closed in 1965. This will transform transport for local residents, providing links for employment and educational opportunities. Through providing alterative travel, it will also help ease road congestion on local roads supporting the sustainability agenda.

Located close to the UK Innovation and Research Campus that is being developed by Aberystwyth University, the station will provide access between the site and the University’s main campus in Aberystwyth itself.

The station will be served by trains on the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, and will be the first of several improvements to services on the line as part of TfWs transformation of the Wales and Borders rail service.

Bow Street will benefit from the introduction of brand new trains and an hourly weekday service from 2022, and other stations along the line will benefit from investment as part of TfWs £194 million Station Improvement Vision.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport, said:

“Our vision for railways includes the opening of new stations and the improvement of connectivity across all regions in Wales. This is the beginning of delivering that ambition. Bow Street Station will improve links to employment, business, education and leisure facilities in Mid Wales.

“We have been clear about the need for greater investment by the UK Government so we welcome this funding from the Department for Transport, which sits alongside our own funding. We look forward to further joint working and investment from the UK Government, which has responsibility for rail infrastructure under the current devolution settlement, to improve rail infrastructure in all parts of Wales.”

James Price, Transport for Wales CEO, said:

“I’m delighted that work has started on the new station at Bow Street as it’s an important part of our plans to transform transport throughout the whole of Wales.

“This is the first station we’re building since we took over the Wales and Borders rail service, and we’ve committed to at least five further schemes, demonstrating our commitment to investing in connecting communities throughout Wales to the rail network.”

Claire Williams, Community Rail Officer said:

“The Bow Street Interchange project will make the railway more accessible for passengers from all over the county as well as reducing the amount of congestion on the roads within the area, therefore reducing the carbon emissions which of course is fundamentally better for the environment. The Cambrian Railway Partnership is proud to have been involved in this project from its inception and look forward to its opening later this year.”

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