THE RECENT conduct of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has led to fears that the future of the UK’s business relationships with Europe are of secondary interest to senior government ministers.
A strongly-worded statement from the CBI, warning policy makers to ‘focus on business priorities and put evidence above political ideology’ was greeted with Mr Johnson remarking ‘f**k business’.
Those remarks were preceded by the Foreign Secretary being recorded saying that the border with Ireland was a minor issue of little consequence in the context of Brexit.
The CBI subsequently suggested that it will ensure negotiators on both sides ‘are well equipped with the unequivocal economic facts’.
Whether the facts fit the Foreign Secretary’s preconceptions of what Brexit might mean for the UK’s businesses is open to question.
AIRBUS RAISES STAKES
A similar gap between reality and ideology was exposed by the warning from Airbus that – in order to continue to comply with the European regulatory framework – it might have to move its base of operations from Broughton in Clwyd, where it supports 6,500 directly employed jobs and businesses and the economy over a much wider area.
In the absence of a Brexit agreement, UK aerospace companies will not be covered by existing approvals. More than 10,000 original aircraft parts originate in the UK, the manufacture of which is covered by tight regulations requiring certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency. Should a single parts supplier not be certified, its parts cannot be installed and aircraft will not be delivered.
If a supply chain agreement is not reached with the EU, the consequences for the aviation industry selling into the EU trading bloc will be a disaster for the UK.
BUSINESSES TOLD TO BUTT OUT
However, the unwelcome intervention of facts in the Brexit narrative roused Health Secretary Jeremy (H)unt to tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr that talking about job losses risked undermining the government in its negotiations with the EU.
“It was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats, for one simple reason. We are in a critical moment in the Brexit discussions. We need to get behind Theresa May to deliver the best possible Brexit, a clean Brexit.”
Mr Hunt’s comments were supported by leading Brexit enthusiast Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, who also suggested that businesses warning the government based on their own detailed knowledge of the regulatory regimes under which they work were somehow placing the UK Government’s negotiating position – which is as yet both unknown and possibly undetermined – at risk.
The key economic issue for businesses is ensuring the sort of continuity in trading arrangements which secures jobs and encourages investment. Large businesses need a significant amount of time to make decisions on the allocation of resources, particularly in the face of unpredictable trade policy by twitter approach of the US Government. Short of certainty, and faced with a capricious transatlantic trading partner which scraps trade agreements and treaties at short or no notice, businesses are understandably twitchy about their inability to plan and the absence of meaningful interaction with them by the UK Government’s crack Brexit team.
In a carefully-phrased statement to MPs, Business Secretary Greg Clark told MPs: “Any company and any industry that supports the livelihoods of so many working people in this country is entitled to be listened to with respect.
“The government has been clear that we are determined to secure a deal with the EU that meets the needs of our aerospace firms and the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on them.”
IRISH TRADE KEY FOR WEST WALES
Meanwhile, businesses have struck back at the apparent indifference of the UK Government’s key Brexit ministers to the interests of businesses which stand to be affected directly should the UK reach no regulatory deal – or a poor regulatory deal – with the EU.
Business groups the CBI, Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Business, the Employers’ Federation, and the Institute of Directors are placing pressure on the government to reach agreement on trade, customs, and immigration.
Pembrokeshire’s MPs, Simon Hart in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire and Stephen Crabb in Preseli Pembrokeshire, are in an intriguing position over the issue of Irish trade.
With major ferry ports in Pembroke Dock and Fishguard, both Conservatives have a dog in the race to ensure that trade with the Republic of Ireland is at least maintained at current levels.
100,000 lorries were carried to Ireland via ports in Pembrokeshire in 2015. Any disruption of that trade, by the introduction of customs and immigration checks for example, would significantly reduce the attractiveness of west Wales’ ports to businesses trading with Ireland. That is not, however, a one way street. The Irish Government is also keen to maintain access to the UK as an access point to mainland Europe.
While the ports are not in themselves major employers, the ‘ripple effect’ of any loss or reduction in through traffic and any subsequent job losses could be significant. And concerns have been magnified by Stena’s decision to scrap a significant investment plan in Fishguard.
When we asked to respond to the Foreign Secretary’s views on the Irish Border issue and the importance of trade with Ireland to Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart said: “I have spoken (very informally) to [Boris Johnson] to make that point, which he says he recognises. The border issue might be minor in the overall context of Brexit but it is nonetheless very important.”
Stephen Crabb told us: “I have said right from the start that the issues over trade between the UK and Ireland, including the question of the Northern Ireland border, are some of the most complex and important of the Brexit negotiations.
“For us in Pembrokeshire it is important because of our trade links with Rosslare and I have raised this matter with Ministers in Ireland, the Cabinet in Westminster. The commitment that the Prime Minister has given that there will be no additional trade barriers for East-West trade between the UK and Ireland is crucial and reflects the points that I and others have been putting to her.”
Business rates relief scheme extended
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.”
Really Wild Festival returns
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01437 720392.
Work begins on new station at Bow Street
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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