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to fast broadband and mobile telephony should be their top priority. It isn't rocket-science. But our Cardiff-centric political establishment just fobs us off with platitudes and pious hopes.” Simon Thomas was as trenchant

‘Having a very low income blights people’s lives’: Dr Victoria Winckler

small and medium sized firms – many in the tourism industry – who are losing money every year due to poor transport connectivity, especially in rural parts of Wales. “In the long term, we must look to

improve links between the north and south, and to the west, but we also need to develop a public transport network which is fit for purpose.” Federation of Small Businesses

Wales Head of External Affairs, Ben Cottam, addressed the transport issue and also the broader one of communications: “We know that there are particular economic challenges in rural parts of Wales. Whilst many of the challenges are similar to those faced elsewhere, they may be more keenly felt in rural areas. “There are continuing issues around

infrastructure in our rural communities, with businesses in rural Wales not having the same access to the same public transport services or broadband and communications infrastructure as other parts of the country. “We also know that self-

employment is higher than average in the more rural areas of Wales. Those who are self-employed can face particular problems. They may not enjoy the terms and conditions available to employed workers and may find themselves working long hours, at rates equivalent to below the minimum wage, to support themselves and their families. “Given that these issues are so

prevalent in parts of south west and west Wales, it would be good to see measures to address them brought forward as part of the Swansea City Deal.” Neil Hamilton provided a typically

acerbic observation: “We don't want to turn our small towns into mini- cities. But small, well-focussed road improvements and a few more mobile phone masts can make a big difference. Throw a pebble into a pond and the ripples radiate outwards. Better communication is the key to unlock the door to economic revival.”

BROADBAND Neil Hamilton again: “The US

Government will put people on Mars quite soon but the Welsh Government can't even ensure reliable internet access in West Wales. Universal access

in his criticism: “In rural West Wales, one thing above all others stops local small business from growing, and that is the ineffective telecommunication resources that are available in the region. In the 21st Century, where a large percentage of business is done online, it’s unforgivable that so much of West Wales is untouched by fibre- optic broadband and strong telephone signal. “It was a Plaid Cymru Manifesto

pledge to look to develop a publicly or mutually owned broadband network, ISP and telecommunications company. A company that would offer access to all mobile networks in Wales on a roaming basis in order to overcome the notspot problem in Rural Wales. Following research, we set a

credible target of ultra-fast broadband to all Welsh homes by 2025. “Rural west Wales is crying out for

creative and forward-thinking pledges such as these. Unfortunately for West Wales, we have an ineffective Labour Welsh Government who seem to think that Wales ends at Carmarthen. The only way to reduce poverty in Rural west Wales is to invest in its people. I will work tirelessly to push the Welsh Government to recognise the issues that face rural Wales.” A spokesperson for the NFU

expressed exasperation about the paucity of rural broadband coverage: “There are still too many examples where farm businesses are disadvantaged in comparison to their more urban counterparts. Poor rural broadband severely inhibits farmers’ abilities to diversify, effectively market their businesses online and carry out their day-to-day business, such as registering cattle movements and filling in funding support applications, many of which are now exclusively online.” Speaking to The Herald, FUW

President Glyn Roberts said: “Rural poverty also shows in the lack of broadband services available to our remote communities. The range of services and opportunities which are exclusively available through the internet has grown exponentially over the past decade, and access to broadband is now regarded as a necessity by the majority of UK businesses and households. “The number of important

government services and requirements which can or must be accessed online has also grown significantly, and include: VAT returns, Basic Payment, Greening and Redistributive Scheme applications and Rural Development Programme claims and applications, including for all five Glastir schemes. “However, this year, large numbers

have faced financial penalties and losses due to their inability to access the internet and assess detailed BPS information. “Those who have no choice but

to access the internet via satellite or mobile networks pay many times more

than those with access to conventional broadband (for example, satellite broadband can cost from £30 to £100 per month depending upon data usage). “The FUW believes that farm

businesses represent the single most disadvantaged industry in terms of poor broadband availability. Access to broadband and decent mobile phone coverage is critical in helping Wales become the rural economic powerhouse it needs to be in a world post-Brexit.”

FOOD PRODUCTION “There is no getting away from the

fact that this has been a difficult year for the industry with low prices in the dairy and red meat sectors contributing to an average fall in farm incomes of around 25%,” NFU Cymru told us. “That said, we still firmly believe

that farming is the cornerstone of our rural communities in Wales and agriculture has a lot to offer both socially and economically. Farming employs around 58,000 people in Wales and agriculture underpins the Welsh food and drink sector, which is worth £6.1 million to the Welsh economy. “We are also concerned about the

closure of many high street banks. Many banks are encouraging their customers to use online services, but with poor broadband in rural areas this is simply not possible. “When farm businesses are

successful, they spend locally and are economic drivers for the surrounding rural communities. We want to see farm businesses and rural communities thrive, but this will be difficult while there is a lack of parity to the infrastructure enjoyed by those in urban areas.” FUW President Glyn Roberts

said: “Our farming businesses provide stability for the rural economy, income for our children and our families and hold communities together. However, the average 2015-16 net Welsh farm income was just £13,000 - putting farm incomes considerably below the average minimum annual income. “The loss in farm incomes have

a wider impact - this is not just about farming; it is about the wider recognition of how Farming Matters, where supply chains are involved, how money circulates in the local economy, where people survive, where profits are made, communities are sustained and our culture continues to thrive. “We need to nurture our farming

sector to ensure that money keeps flowing through the rural economy and through that we protect and improve domestic food security. Look at these farming incomes, the hours our farmers put in every day, every week - many exceeding 60 hours a week; they are producing wonderful food that we all enjoy and their input to the local rural economy cannot be underestimated.” Neil Hamilton looked to the future

and highlighted a determination to focus on a more bespoke approach to agriculture: “Leaving the EU means we can revitalise farming in rural Wales. Let's focus subsidies on family farms and the uplands instead of huge agri- businesses and rich landowners.

“Farmers have had to diversify to

survive but, despite huge amounts of taxpayers' money, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy has done little to boost rural income-levels. Now, we can tailor-make policy to Wales' particular needs. "The EU wrecked once-thriving

small ports by opening our seas to foreign fleets which denuded our seas of fish. Now we can revive Welsh coastal fishing too. “Governments can't create wealth.

They impede it with endless red tape, form-filling and box-ticking. Out of the EU, we can axe excessive rules and regulations, making it easier to start and run small businesses in ‘remote’ areas like ours. “Actually, it's Cardiff that's

‘remote’ - remote from the realities of country life.”

EDUCATION William Powell was the only

respondent to our queries who looked at the issue of education in isolation: “Since 2011, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have sought to highlight the effects of poverty on educational attainment, by persuading Welsh Government to introduce the groundbreaking Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG), for those pupils entitled to free school meals. “In its early evaluations of this

policy, Estyn has identified the policy as making a real difference - and because it is based upon individual entitlement, rather than a critical mass of poverty in a given area, it is a useful tool for addressing the effects of rural poverty. However, given the chronic problem of under-claiming of free school meals by parents in rural areas, we need to redouble our efforts to increase take up. “I know that my Welsh Liberal

Democrat friend and colleague, Kirsty Williams AM, has this important issue on her agenda as Cabinet Secretary for Education in the new Welsh Government.” William Powell continued: “I

know that the Towy Valley has suffered repeated blows in recent years - and, as a result of relentless and misguided policies, pursued by Carmarthenshire, the Cilycwm Ward has seen three rural primary schools - at Cilycwm, Llansadwrn and Llanwrda - ripped from the heart of their communities. This, taken together with the disastrous closure of Ysgol Pantycelyn in

‘The Welsh Government care little for Rural Wales’: Simon Thomas

Llandovery, has led to a deep sense of distrust and alienation. We need to bridge this, and spend time actively listening to our communities, so that this folly is not repeated. Put simply, our rural communities deserve better.”

ANSWERS We asked the Welsh Government

to respond to our questions on rural poverty - in particular the issue of service poverty (e.g. banking, broadband, public transport) experienced by West Wales' population. A Welsh Government spokesperson

said: "We are carrying out a wide range of actions that support our rural communities. This includes, through our partnership with BT, rolling out superfast broadband to nearly 600,000 premises across the country, focusing on areas which would not otherwise receive it. “Last year we launched our EU-

backed Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme, which offers key investment funding to help prevent and mitigate the impact of poverty in rural communities. “In recognition of the difficulties

rural communities face, it includes a specific focus on improving access to services, promoting digital inclusion, reducing fuel poverty and tackling in- work poverty. “We consider the best means

of tackling poverty in rural areas is through a mix of place-based and universal programmes. This allows us to reach as many people in need of support as possible, gives us the best chance of improving outcomes, and helps generate maximum value from what are limited resources.”

Ben Cottam, FSB: ‘Continuing issues around infrastructure’

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