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‘Radical intervention’ needed as one in seven Welsh high street shops empty

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As a new report reveals one in seven Welsh high street shops lie empty, a Welsh Government Minister admits that radical intervention is needed to save Wales’ town centres.

The report by Wales’ Auditor General has prompted calls for action by the Welsh Labour Government.

Reasons for the decline of the high street have been attributed, by Adrian Crompton, to changing consumer habits and expectations, advances in technology, past policy choices, and measures taken to counter the spread of coronavirus.

A second report ‘Small Towns, Big Issues’ follows an in-depth study of three Welsh town and city centres – Bangor, Bridgend and Haverfordwest. It was led by Professor Karel Williams – a professor at Manchester Business School.

Both reports conclude that town and city centres are at the heart of Welsh life but addressing the challenges they face requires ‘imagination and ambitious leadership’, backed up by ‘co-ordinated, cross-government decision making’.

Specific recommendations for both Welsh Government and for local authorities include everything from access to public transport and effective promotion of town centres to the simplification of funding streams.

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Lee Waters MS

Welsh Government Minister, Lee Waters MS admitted that “We need joined-up intervention to lift town centres, and an effort to tackle out-of-town development, if we are to succeed in turning things around”.

The minister also stressed the need to focus on dealing with out of town developments.

“Town and city centres are the places most of us can walk to, or get public transport from, and they provide common access points into many transport routes,” he said.

“We want better jobs and services in town centres where people can access them without needing to get in their car.”

“Both reports make clear that we have all failed to control out of town development and we need to mobilise alliances for change in our town centres to turn things round.”

At an event in Bangor, Mr Waters unveiled a new Town Centre First plan, meaning that town and city centre sites should be the first consideration for all decisions on the location of workplaces and services.

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He also announced the establishment of three sub-groups, one of which will lead on finding ways to incentivise town centre development but also disincentive out of town development. A second group will look at how funding offered under the Transforming Towns programme can be simplified. The final group will look at planning and engaging with communities so that they have a say in what happens in their town.

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Paul Davies MS

Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Economy Minister Paul Davies MS said: “It is a sad fact that the traditional high street has been struggling over the last few years as we change the way we shop, but this report is a much welcomed wake-up call for those with the ability to put change in motion.

“Politicians of all hues are constantly trying to keep banks and cash machines in our towns, for example, but it’s just as important to address what can be done for the future to aid our economic recovery and support jobs.

“Measures such as scrapping car parking fees, abolishing rates for small businesses, and introducing job support schemes to help micro businesses grow are other proposals we hope the Welsh Government look at, in addition to the British Government’s Community Renewal Fund.

“However, it is undeniable that the pandemic has played a part in harming the high street. Given the distinct actions of the Welsh Labour Government to counter coronavirus and their effect on the economy, this only further demonstrates the need for a Wales-specific Covid inquiry.”

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(Lead image: Kaique Rocha / Pexels.com)

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Free marketing support helping hundreds of Swansea tourism businesses

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Close to 200 tourism businesses in Swansea are now being given a helping hand to raise their profile across the UK and beyond, thanks to free marketing support.

An £80,000 Swansea Council scheme means that fees will be waived again – for a third year – so tourism and hospitality businesses can continue to feature on the official Visit Swansea Bay destination website at no cost until March 2023. 

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These businesses can also benefit from a series of marketing campaigns designed to encourage new visitors to Swansea, Mumbles and Gower.

It’s one of many schemes being funded by the council’s £25m Economic Recovery Fund to support businesses and communities throughout Swansea to help them recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Swansea Council has also offered tourism businesses the opportunity to improve their visitor offer with a Tourism Support Fund launched in October. This fund is now fully committed after a very positive response from local operators who wished to enhance their business in order to be able to attract more visitors.

Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Investment, Regeneration and Tourism, said: “Tourism makes a significant contribution to Swansea’s economy, so we’re determined to do all we can to support the sector during the extremely challenging times of the pandemic.

“Since we first waived fees at the beginning of the pandemic for tourism businesses to feature on visitswanseabay.com, over 70 additional businesses have signed up for the service. This means close to 200 tourism businesses are now benefitting from not just more exposure but also inclusion in our year-long destination marketing campaigns, including new social media and video on demand TV advertising referring back to the website for more information.

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“Figures show the Visit Swansea Bay website generates many millions of views a year, so this presents a great opportunity for tourism businesses to further raise their profile as we head towards the critically important Easter and summer seasons for the tourism sector.”

Businesses benefitting from the website fee waiving include the El Pescador Restaurant and Bar on Trawler Road, as well as the King Arthur Hotel in Reynoldston, Gower.

King Arthur Hotel

Carly Shapton, of the King Arthur Hotel, said: “Given the impact Coronavirus has had on hospitality since March 2020, the support from Swansea Council through waiving the Visit Swansea Bay partnership fees has been very much appreciated.  

“The weekly email updates, press and journalist visits, and in particular the ‘late availability’ section on the Visit Swansea Bay website, have been very useful. This has given our business an extra boost during what have been a difficult few years.”

Swansea Council has now committed over £13.6m to more than 50 projects as part of its Economic Recovery Fund. Other schemes covered by the fund include free bus travel initiatives, the provision of free outside public space use for businesses to expand, and the installation of extra Christmas lights in the city centre over the festive period.

Also covered by the fund is a new Energy Awareness Hub on Nelson Street. Commissioned by the council and run by the Environment Centre, the hub aims to help local people cut their fuel bills by providing free, accessible and independent support.

(Lead image: Swansea Council)

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Swansea investment management firm second award in 4 months

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Swansea-based Crossing Point Investment Management has been crowned best ESG Investment Management Firm in the UK Finance Awards 2021.

This is the company’s second award win in four months, after it was crowned best discretionary fund manager (DFM) for the South West and Wales region in the 2021 Citywire Adviser Choice Awards in September.

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Tomiko Evans

Founded in 2018, Crossing Point manages clients’ investment portfolios using various strategies. Its Green Path portfolios, which won it the award, focus on investments guided by environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.

Crossing Point’s investment strategies are rooted in academic research carried out by Tomiko Evans, the firm’s managing director and chief investment officer, and Crossing Point’s investment manager Mike Buckle, who is a Professor of Finance at Swansea University.

The UK Finance Awards, hosted by SME News, champion and recognise those in the financial services sector who have shown industry excellence over the past year.

Now in its third consecutive year, the awards focus on small and medium sized companies in the sector. The winners are chosen on merit alone.

Tomiko Evans, managing director and chief investment officer and Crossing Point Investment Management, said: “We’re delighted to receive this award, which highlights our commitment to providing ethical investment options for our clients.

“Socially responsible investment (SRI) and the use of ESG investment criteria to guide investments has moved into the mainstream.

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“There is now overwhelming evidence that sustainable investment can deliver comparable returns with traditional investments and offer opportunities for outperformance based on reduced risk.

“This award recognises the importance of this growing sector, and our place within it.”

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City council urges more businesses to apply for COVID support funding

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Over £2.8m worth of emergency Covid financial support has been provided to more than 1,000 Swansea businesses and charities since a new grant scheme went live earlier this month.

The scheme – funded by the Welsh Government and run by Swansea Council – covers retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses, charities and not-for-profit organisations impacted by Wales’ move to alert level two in late December. 

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Eligible businesses as well as those in their supply chains which are liable to pay non-domestic rates could be entitled to grants of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000, depending on their rateable value.

The council is now calling on all eligible businesses which have yet to apply to submit an application form by the deadline of 5pm on Monday February 14.

More information, eligibility criteria and registration and application details are now available on the council’s website.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Swansea Council Leader, said: “Our officers have already processed close to 1,000 successful applications, but we’d urge any eligible business or charity that’s yet to apply to get their forms in before the application window for this support closes.

“We’re aiming to process fully completed applications within seven working days, although applications that require further checking or supporting evidence will take longer to assess.

“This is among many ways the council is working with the Welsh Government and other partners to support our businesses during these extremely challenging times.”

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An emergency grant scheme is also now available for Swansea businesses in the leisure, tourism, hospitality and retail sectors that do not pay business rates.

Funded by the Welsh Government and run by Swansea Council, the Emergency Business Fund grant scheme is aimed at helping support businesses impacted by current Covid restrictions which are not eligible for the Economic Resilience Fund.

Covering business impacted from Monday December 13 to Monday February 14, online applications are now open which cover two levels of grant award:

  • A £1,000 cash grant payment for hospitality, tourism, retail, leisure or related supply chain businesses which do not employ anyone apart from the owner, and do not have a property
  • A £2,000 cash grant payment for hospitality, tourism, retail, leisure or related supply chain businesses who employ staff through PAYE (in addition to the owner)

Also covering freelancers in the creative sector, both these grants are aimed at supporting businesses with an annual turnover of less than £85,000.

Businesses which may be eligible are asked to visit the Business Wales website where the eligibility checker must be completed before applicants are able to access the application form.

All applications for these grants must also be submitted by 5pm on Monday February 14.

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