Rural Wales has been “written off” by Westminster as an area with no potential, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson, Ben Lake MP has said.
The Ceredigion MP led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday on the future of the rural economy in Wales and urged the Westminster Government to recognise the potential of rural Wales and to commit to a “growth deal” designed to meet the needs of the rural economy.
The UK Chancellor announced in his budget statement last week that the Westminster Government would “begin negotiations towards growth deals for North Wales and Mid-Wales.”
Ben Lake said if a growth deal is compiled, it must not “mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals.” He said Wales must move away from the mind-set of building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in one corner of the country, and instead pursue “opportunities and prosperity for all parts of the country.”
Mr Lake urged the Westminster Government to use the growth deal to invest in broadband and mobile data infrastructure and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
Mr Lake said:
“The development of the rural economy should form an integral part of an economic strategy for Wales if we are to avoid building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in a few areas – or in one corner – of the country. We need look no further than the UK economy to appreciate the consequences of focusing attention and investment on one region at the expense of the rest. We must avoid adopting such a mentality in Wales, and instead pursue opportunities and prosperity for all parts of our country.
“Buried in the Chancellor’s statement, we were told that: “[The Westminster Government] will begin negotiations towards growth deals for North Wales and Mid-Wales.” Given their track-record of delivering on their promises to Wales – in recent years we have seen the promise of electrified railway lines fizzle out, and a hesitancy to commit to a tidal lagoon – this, no doubt, carefully worded sentence does not fill me with confidence.
“Nevertheless, I will certainly make sure the Chancellor is held to this announcement, and is not allowed to forget about it. Although I am loath to celebrate an economic policy that gives prominence to an unnatural, and in many ways awkward, geographic region, I appreciate that a growth deal for “Mid-Wales” could be a real opportunity for some rural communities that have suffered chronic underinvestment and neglect by successive governments. It is important, however, that if a growth deal is compiled, it cannot mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals.
“Ceredigion is in the UK’s ten worst performing constituencies when it comes to broadband speed yet despite the clear need for investment in Wales, the UK Government recently chose only to invest in improving broadband infrastructure in the other three UK countries. According to Ministers, the decision on where to invest was based on how likely they believed the investment would stimulate economic growth.
“It would appear that Westminster has written off rural Wales as an area without potential – an area that won’t be successful even if it had an effective infrastructure, an area that is simply not worth it.
“A growth deal for the Welsh Midlands, if done properly, could begin to address the issues currently plaguing rural areas. It could concentrate on improving connectivity, and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“We have to make rural Wales matter. It has always been important to us, but with Brexit on the horizon and seemingly no sign of imminent progress, it is now becoming a matter of urgency that we make ourselves heard.”