THE COST of living crisis has seen businesses faced with soaring energy costs and the price of goods and fuel spiralling.
Independent businesses have been hit hard by the crisis – especially coming off the back of the coronavirus pandemic – and face a dilemma over how much of these increases they are forced to pass onto their customers.
Jack Slocombe, co-owner of Quarters Coffee in Millennium Walk, said they had seen their energy bills triple in recent months, while footfall in the city was down.
“Everyone’s been affected by it,” he said. “It’s every sector. But unfortunately the hospitality sector is going to be the first place people are going to cut back.
“Rent is going up and energy are going up and the cost of goods is going up – milk is the most expensive it’s been.
Jack Slocombe, co-owner of Quarters Coffee, said he was optimistic despite rising costs.
“We’ve had to make changes to the business as we don’t feel like we can pass all these costs on. If people are already thinking they can’t afford the luxury trade, we’d only be adding to that with price increases.
“I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of Newport. But we don’t have the financial clout of one of the big chains. This is family-run – I run it with my wife. I think people enjoy seeing that.
“We’re optimistic as we have such fantastic customers. For us as a business we’re not about trying to put cash in the till, but we want to help build a community as well.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we enjoy.”
Mr Slocombe said he thinks people are more willing to support independent businesses after the pandemic, having built up relationships with the owners and seeing how their support affects them.
“It’s a shame seeing offices and businesses closing down,” he said. “It has a knock-on effect on us too. I’d like to see more traders in the city.
“The reality now is that in five years’ time, people will want to come to the city centre and see all the independent businesses they go to now. But to do that, we’ve got to support them now.
“Covid helped a lot of people’s perception of supporting local because they saw they impact of that.
“I feel like Newport does support independents very well. It will be nice to see many businesses thrive.”
Will Green, co-owner of Rogue Fox Coffee House in Clytha Park Road, said the rising cost of stock was “concerning”, but said he had faith the community would look after the city’s independent businesses.
Will Green, co-owner of Rogue Fox, said Newport was a safe haven for independent businesses.
“I don’t think we’ve been hit as hard as some people have, but we have definitely noticed the difference from our energy bills going from £2,000 a year to £5,000 a year,” he said.
“Also with the stock we use. Cooking oil has gone from £20 to £40 in the last couple of months, and coffee has jumped to about £150 a month.
“It’s a little bit concerning. At the moment we haven’t made any changes to our prices. We’ve historically raised our prices maybe once a year to help combat that.
“We’re here to serve the community and the community has always looked after us.
“Newport I’ve always seen as a safe haven for independent businesses. A few have shut down recently which is a little bit scary.
“We always have faith in our community of coffee drinkers. We did it with Covid. We were closed for 12 weeks when we opened up we saw a lot of faces again.”
Poppy Morgan, manager at Holy Cheesus, just over the road from Rogue Fox, said their costs had tripled in the past six months, but also spoke about the benefits of supporting independent businesses.
“Usually as soon as summer’s over we see a spike in custom but it’s not been the same this summer. We’ve seen a decline,” she said.
Poppy Morgan, manager at Holy Cheesus, said independents offer people a ‘much nicer experience’.
“We see our regular customers – they have stuck with us – but footfall has declined.
“The price of a box of cheese has tripled in the past six months. So we’ve increased prices but you can’t keep doing that. You can’t charge £10 for a toastie.
“I know the major supermarkets and traders are losing a little bit of money, but independent traders definitely need people’s support at the moment. Especially as we’ve only just bounced back from Covid.
“We rely on our regular customers. It’s about keeping a good rapport with them. We try to do a little bit extra for our customers.
“They are going to have a much nicer experience catering for everyone’s individual needs rather than treating everyone as a consumer.”
Bakehouse Cakes opened on Bridge Street four months ago. Owner Neil Evans said he had seen the costs of ingredients rising sometimes daily.
However, he said he felt that people would rather support an independent business over a larger chain.
“I do my shops after I finish in here,” he said. “It goes up daily sometimes. The cost of ingredients is sometimes more worrying that energy costs as you don’t want to pass that on.
Neil Evans, of Bakehouse Cakes, said the cost of ingredients was rising sometimes even daily.
“All our stuff is made fresh in store every morning. It just tastes better.
“We try to keep prices as competitive as possible. Some things are more expensive but people understand for anything freshly made, you pay a little bit more.
“I think people really want to support [independents]. A lot of our customers would rather come to us than walk to some of the bigger places, as they know we are making everything fresh.”
Independent businesses have been “the growth sector in Newport” over the past few years, Mr Ward said, and supporting them now was the main way to ensure they survive.
“Independent businesses are the lifeblood of any town or city centre, and Newport is no different,” he said.
“We have some fantastic independents in the city centre – ranging from bars to bakers, hotels to hairdressers, coffee shops to clothes stores, and everything in between.
Kevin Ward, manager of Newport Now BID, said independent businesses were the lifeblood of town and city centres.
“Independents have been the growth sector in Newport over the last three years, despite all the problems caused by the pandemic and now inflation and the energy crisis.
“The simplest way of ensuring our independents survive is to use them and support them.
“The majority of BID members are independents and we offer a wide range of support services to help them during both normal and the more extraordinary times we have experienced over the last two to three years.”
“The BID also provides a graffiti removal service, daytime Street Ambassadors six days a week and a new Night Ambassadors service on weekends, and we are about to rent two vacant retail units in the city centre to use as pop-up shops to encourage more independents into the city centre,” said Mr Ward.
“All of our services are free for BID members and our aim is to continue to find as many ways as we can to help businesses in the city centre.”
A Newport City Council spokesperson said it was important for people to continue to support independent businesses, but added that more support was needed from the Welsh and UK Governments to help during the cost of living crisis.
“Newport City Council supports small businesses in the city with both practical and financial assistance, recognising they are vital to the success and prosperity of the city,” they said.
“It is also important that local businesses are supported by local people and we urge people to shop and dine out locally, and use local traders, wherever and whenever possible.
“Businesses need regular customers – ‘use them or lose them’ has never been more true.
“This year, the council’s unique city centre rates scheme gives eligible businesses a 25 per cent reduction on their rates bill on top of the Welsh Government’s rate relief for retail, hospitality and leisure outlets.
“This means that many city centre business will only pay 25 per cent of their business rates this year.
“A scheme providing business grants to small and medium sized businesses has been running for several years and last year the council launched its most generous package of support.
“The council and UKSE also jointly administer the business support grant scheme which helps to launch many new ventures each year and aims to create local jobs.
“However, the future remains uncertain for all businesses as they, and their customers, deal with increasing cost-of-living price rises. The council is also likely to face significant financial challenges in the coming months.
“It will continue to look for ways it can assist local businesses, but more government funding will be essential.
“While the UK and Welsh governments are providing packages of support to business and residents, the council believes this needs to go much further.”
The UK Government last week announced an Energy Bill Relief Scheme, to provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers – including all businesses, charities, schools and hospitals.
It will apply to energy usage from October 1 to March 31, running for an initial six month period for all non-domestic energy users – and the support will automatically be applied to bills.
Today, we’re stepping in to protect businesses, charities and public sector organisations from record high gas prices.
Just as we’re doing for consumers, this new scheme will keep energy bills down from October to provide additional peace of mind.https://t.co/suiGLY56UF
Prime minister Liz Truss said: “I understand the huge pressure businesses, charities and public sector organisations are facing with their energy bills, which is why we are taking immediate action to support them over the winter and protect jobs and livelihoods.
“As we are doing for consumers, our new scheme will keep their energy bills down from October, providing certainty and peace of mind.”
A GWENT business which employs more than 50 people is celebrating a quarter century in South Wales.
Energizer Auto UK, which produces 700 automotive fragrance and appearance products from fuel additives to car wash products across 43 different countries, is celebrating 25 years at its base in Ebbw Vale.
Economy minister Vaughan Gething visited the facility to celebrate their birthday and reaffirm its partnership with the Welsh Government.
Mr Gething said: “Supporting businesses like this one to adapt, grow their workforce and develop skills is essential to our ambitions for a more prosperous Welsh economy post-pandemic.
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething at Energizer Auto UK picture: Welsh Government
Economy Minister Vaughan Gething at Energizer Auto UK picture: Welsh Government
“The Flexible Skills Programme is central to this.
“The Welsh Government is committed to changing people’s lives for the better and ensuring no one is left behind.”
The Flexible Skills Programme helps employers develop their staffs technical, professional and leadership skills.
Energizer works with Coleg Gwent to create new work experience and job opportunities in the local area and has links with the Valleys Innovation Showcase for Technological Advancement (VISTA) to share best practice with local employers.
Mark Thomas, plant manager for Energizer said: “With so much uncertainty and volatility in the current economic climate it’s great to be celebrating this significant milestone.
“The team in Rassau have worked hard to increase efficiency while becoming more responsive to fluctuations in demand, this has led to considerable growth over the last two years.
“With the advent of this growth the plant has had to adapt and change.
“The Welsh Government’s Flexible Skills Programme has been an important part of upskilling and preparing the workforce.
“On behalf of Energizer and our staff I would like the thank the economy minister Vaughan Gething for making time to visit our site, marking 25 years of operations in South Wales.”
A TECHNOLOGY entrepreneur from New Inn says he feels “humbled to be among the elite” after selling his business for more than £1 million.
Stuart Arthur set up Arthurly in late 2018 as “a boutique tech consultancy firm” which acquired clients in the government, health and regulated sectors.
“I gained some good early traction and picked up a number of long-term contracts, which is where TPXimpact decided to make a move for my business, with the deal going over the line in 2020,” Mr Arthur said.
Arthurly was acquired by TPXimpact for around £1.5 million.
Mr Arthur now works as a CTO – chief technology, or technical, officer – for TPXimpact.
“The work I’ve done includes setting up an academy that helps people develop a career in software,” he said.
He has now been announced in the running for two major industry awards -the CIO 100 and the UK IT Awards.
Reflecting on his journey, Mr Arthur said: “It feels surreal to be where I am now.
“To be recognised among the elite technology professionals in the UK, it’s very humbling to compare against when I started out.
“Equally, it’s given me the motivation and belief to go bigger and better in the future.”
Mr Arthur says he is “just a normal person from very humble beginnings, born and raised in Cwmbran and Pontypool by my mum and grandparents”.
“I’m still young and learning a lot,” he said.
“My goal is to keep inspiring and helping the next generation of diverse talent and I’m proud that a lot of the people I have hired live in Wales.”
THERE is nothing like getting lost in a good book.
So says Joanna Harries, one of Opera Prelude’s Young Artists, who will be giving a lecture recital on the subject of books and opera in Henley next week.
The mezzo-soprano was born in New Zealand and raised in South Wales and has been a bookworm as far back as she can remember.
She recalls: “I was the kid who was trying to read under the bed covers and not show that my light was on, reading way past my bedtime.
“I used to go to the library and I would try to read the books on the way home. My mum would be like, ‘Pay attention to where you’re going, look at the road!’
“I briefly studied English at university, before switching to music, so I have a long-held interest in books and words. Sometimes the world of a book is just much better than real life.”
Joanna, a recent graduate of the National Opera Studio, is making her debut in the 2022/2023 season with Opera Rara and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Finocchini in Offenbach’s La Princesse de Trébizonde, Contessa Ceprano in Rigoletto for Opera Holland Park and Lucinda in La forza dell’amor paterno for the Barber Opera.
So how do you turn a novel into an opera? “It’s quite a big task to undertake but I think it’s really interesting to do,” she says. “They’re two quite different types of art. Opera is a collective, communal experience, whereas reading is a solitary, personal experience.
“They’re quite different but it’s interesting seeing how one story transmutes across. How do you keep the same feel even though it’s a completely different format? Inevitably there’s change. You’ve got to cut things and decide what to focus on.
“One of the big questions which I think is really interesting is if you’re turning a character from a novel into a character from an opera, what does that character sound like in song? Do they have a high or low voice? When we’re reading, we have such strong visual images of characters.” Joanna will be talking about adaptations of tales such as Little Women, Mansfield Park, Great Expectations, Alice in Wonderland and Robinson Crusoe.
She particularly enjoyed Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.
“One of my favourite childhood books was Little Women, partly because there’s a character called Jo, who is a bookworm and doesn’t want to marry, or at least didn’t initially.
“She’s very forthright in her opinions and I was like, ‘oh, it’s me!’ There’s something about recognising yourself in a book.”
Joanna says her lecture recital will be a relaxing and uplifting event.
“There will be live music as I’ll be singing in-between things and I do some nice colourful slides. And did I mention that there’s tea and cake during the coffee break?
“The last one I did, I had several people come up to me afterwards saying they were new to opera. If you get the chance, anyone who hasn’t been to an opera should just go.”
• From bookshelf to opera stage — the classic novels transformed into operas with Joanna Harries is at Christ Church, Reading Road, Henley, next Friday (September 30) from 11am to 1pm. Tickets cost £30. For more information and to buy tickets, see operaprelude.org
Serious allegations have been aired during multiple inquiries into Australia’s largest casino groups.
Star Entertainment has until tomorrow to ‘”show cause” about why it should not lose its NSW casino licence
Star and Crown Resorts have been exposed for a long list of breaches of the law, particularly with money laundering
State and federal regulators have indicated they do not intend to pursue individual casino executives
Crown Resorts was found in the Bergin inquiry to have facilitated money laundering and partnered with operators that had links to organised crime.
Star Entertainment was found in another inquiry to have let patrons use credit cards to move money for gambling out of China, disguising the payments as ‘hotel expenses’ and sending false documents to banks.
But no single staff member, executive or board director of either Crown Resorts or Star Entertainment has faced a civil or criminal sanction.
Corporate regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and regulators in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have not laid charges — and are unlikely to do so.
“It’s really extraordinary that no individual has been held accountable,” said Dr Charles Livingstone, one of the nation’s foremost gambling researchers.
Dr Livingstone holds strong views about individual culpability.
“Clearly, individuals have been complicit in these companies’ breaches of regulation, Australian law, state law and, in some cases, international law, and haven’t been held to account.
“So it’s hard to know what you would have to do to be held accountable”
The recent inquiries have found Crown Resorts unsuitable to operate casinos in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. Under new ownership, Crown Resorts operates casinos in each of these states.
No charges have been brought
WA’s regulator, the Gaming and Wagering Commission, is still reviewing the findings and recommendations of the Perth Casino Royal Commission. In a statement, it noted there will be no charges against individuals.
“The … final report does not identify findings against individuals that at this stage contain sufficient evidence for prosecution to be mounted under the existing regulatory arrangements,” it says.
In a statement, NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) chief commissioner Philip Crawford said new laws meant the commission could hit casino operators with fines of up to $100 million, 10 times the previous maximum.
But the legislation has a lot of caveats. It doesn’t allow for “disciplinary penalties” to be dished out to former board members, staff or executives.
“There is no express provision in the act for disciplinary action to be taken against a former close associate,” Mr Crawford said.
So, anyone in trouble needs to simply quit their job at the casino and the problem disappears, a fact that goes some way to explaining this statement from Mr Crawford:
“To date, no civil or criminal action has been taken against individual former directors or executives in relation to casino inquiries.”
Victorian regulator’s shortcoming exposed
The shortcomings of the regulator in Victoria — where Crown operates one of the largest casinos in the world — were exposed at its royal commission.
Managers at Crown Resorts misled, threatened and pushed back against Victoria’s gaming regulator when it tried to get the company to tighten anti-money laundering protocols, at one stage even threatening to call the state’s gaming minister, the inquiry heard.
The regulator was disbanded and replaced by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission. The VGCCC has already used its power to impose larger penalties, hitting the casino with a $80 million fine for a scheme that shifted money from China and broke both Chinese and Victorian laws.
Deputy chief executive Scott May said that under Victorian laws, staff, executives and board members of Crown need to be of “good repute, having regard to character, honesty and integrity”.
He declined to point to a single individual or investigation, citing the need for strict confidentiality. But in his statement, he noted the same quirk of law that exists in NSW: quit your job and you’re probably fine.
“During the course of our investigations there was significant change in key staff at the Melbourne casino, which resulted in resignations. Where this occurs, those persons are no longer associated with the casino, surrender their casino special employee licences and cannot be associated with the casino.”
If those staff wanted to be re-employed by the new owners they would need to be approved by the regulator with “rigorous probity assessments which would consider any information concerning the person identified during previous inquiries”.
In a statement, the corporate watchdog ASIC confirmed an investigation into The Star and its board commenced in March 2022.
“ASIC has been closely following the inquiry into The Star as well as carefully considering the evidence before it, its findings and The Star’s response to those findings. ASIC’s investigation into The Star continues, and therefore ASIC will not be commenting further on this matter at this time,” the statement said.
In March, the regulator’s chair Joe Longo said dropping charges against 10 unnamed former Crown directors and senior executives was the “right call”.
“The evidence, the age of the matter, the knowledge of the directors at the time and in all the circumstances there wasn’t an actionable case against the directors.”
Casino bigwigs in court
That’s not to say that associates of casinos haven’t seen the inside of court rooms.
Corporate watchdog ASIC wanted Crown director Harold Mitchell fined and banned from being a company director after it accused him of breaching his director’s duties and other offences under the Corporations Act during a negotiation for broadcast rights for Tennis Australia.
While other bodies such as state-based police forces may take action against individuals, gambling regulation experts view this as unlikely.
The only real prospect of danger for any casino associates who are alleged to have facilitated money-laundering is financial crimes agency AUSTRAC.
The body works to stop criminal groups from “washing” ill-gotten gains to look like legitimate earnings, and to prevent the financing of terrorist groups.
In 2018, the Commonwealth Bank was hit with a $700 million fine for money laundering reporting breaches.
That was topped in 2020 by a mammoth $1.3 billion fine for Westpac after more than 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering laws, including facilitating hundreds of customers whose money transfer behaviour exhibited tell-tale signs of engaging in overseas child exploitation.
The civil penalty proceedings are over “alleged serious and systemic non-compliance” with Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) laws.
AUSTRAC boss Nicole Rose said Crown failed to meet its obligations, saying that made it and Australia’s financial system vulnerable to criminal exploitation.
“AUSTRAC’s investigation identified poor governance, risk management and failures,” she said.
So far, no individuals have faced prosecution over the failings.
Coonan accused of re-writing history
The most substantial penalty has been paid by staff who have stepped down or resigned from executive roles and board positions. There has been extensive turnover at both Crown and Star. Crown has new owners and is no longer listed on the stock exchange.
Former Crown Resorts chair and Howard government minister Helen Coonan spoke to The Australian earlier this year, appearing to be seeking to vindicate her position.
“I paid my dues,” she told Tansy Harcourt, explaining the tumultuous period.
“The easiest thing for me to do would have been to walk away and not take on the whole remediation of Crown, which was a super serious experience, but I had the courage of my convictions”.
Ms Coonan was on the board for a decade, was chair of the board and took over the role of chief executive in early 2021 after then-CEO Ken Barton stepped down when the Bergin Inquiry found the company was “unsuitable” to have a casino licence in New South Wales.
Ms Coonan had conceded in her evidence to the Bergin inquiry that Crown had facilitated money laundering, but put it down to “ineptitude”.
The company was subject to the NSW inquiry and royal commissions in Victoria and Western Australia and multiple takeover bids, at the same time as dealing with the building of its Sydney casino and the COVID pandemic.
“Nobody remembers who the individuals are out there, day after day, trying to bail water out of a difficult vessel,” Ms Coonan said.
In the article, this interpretation was described by an unnamed board member as farcical.
“It’s about being revisionist and that’s just bullshit … being on the board as long as she was, makes her part of the problem.”
Ms Coonan denied that in the article.
“This was a board where information was withheld by senior management on material matters – and you can’t know what you don’t know,” she said.
A pub landlord attempting to stop Britain from running out of Nigels staged a festival for men with the name – and hundreds turned up.
Nigel Smith, 59, held Nige-fest last night – gathering hundreds of Nigels from all over the world together for a pint. The entertainment was provided by musicians called Nigel, and attendees brought photo ID and signed the “the book of Nigel” kept at the Fleece Inn, in Bretforton, Worcs.
Nigel came up with the idea after the name became officially extinct according to new birth records in 2016 and 2020. The landlord broke the world record for the largest gathering of Nigels after 432 joined him for a pint in 2019.
He was hoping to break his own record last night – but this year, 372 Nigels turned up for an evening of Nigel-themed refreshment. The oldest Nigel in attendance was an 84-year-old who came from America for the event. The youngest Nigel was in his 30s.
Others travelled from Los Angeles, Florida and Texas to Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Spain. Entertainment was provided by other Nigels – two DJs, an MC, a comedian, a busker, and even a group of Morris dancers all called Nigel as well. The second ever ‘Nigel Night’ raised more than £3,000 for British Heart Foundation. Pub landlord Nigel plans to host it again in 2025.
Nigel said: “It was absolutely brilliant. We had a fantastic time. It was like we all had known each other forever, but obviously we didn’t. It was a great feeling of all of us getting together and celebrating our Nigel-ness. Times are pretty difficult at the moment for many of us so it was great to be able to get together for a party. We just had a jolly fine time.
“Tradition is something you do twice, that’s the rule, and we shall do it again. I think we’re encouraged enough to say every two to three years, we’ll do it again, definitely. We had people from all over coming to the event. Our friend from Texas – Texas Nigel – came for the second time, only to be joined by another Texas Nigel.
“One Nigel came from the Isle of Wight so we had to give him an award for the longest travelled Nigel in the UK. People who came this time heard about us three years ago and put it in their diaries.
“We were running shuttle buses from our local town and hotels so that all the Nigels who had travelled were able to get here and perhaps enjoy a beer or two and not have to drive home. We had a 14-week-old puppy called Nigel as well, which was nice – but he didn’t say very much!
“We are uniting Nigels from all across the world, and we would like to reach out to and invite all Nigels – and all non-Nigels – to come along and join us next time in 2025.”