SUPPORTING rural businesses remains one of the most important challenges in realising the potential of Mid and West Wales, Senedd Member Eluned Morgan told a group of industry leaders who gathered in Pembrokeshire recently.
The meeting updated on the progress made since the publication of Senedd Member Eluned Morgan’s influential Time to Meet the Challenge rural development strategy. Published in 2017, the document set several priorities to propel the economy of rural Mid and West Wales, whilst meeting the unique challenges that impact our coastal and rural communities.
The 2017 report set out a 6-point plan addressing a number of issues:
BUILDING ON THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF RURAL WALES
INCREASING RURAL WALES’ SKILLS AND PRODUCTIVITY
GROWING OUR BUSINESSES
PROMOTING FOOD, FARMING AND FORESTRY
USING THE FOUNDATIONAL ECONOMY TO ENSURE LOCAL JOBS ARE PROVIDED FOR LOCAL PEOPLE
MAXIMISING TOURISM POTENTIAL
Over the last 6 months, Eluned Morgan and her team have reviewed progress against the proposals of the original report. The meeting held at Blackpool Mill near Pembrokeshire’s Bluestone resort was attended by some of the prime contributors to the original report, including William McNamara (Bluestone), Eirwen Williams (Menter a Busnes), Elinor Williams (Ofcom) and Stephen Thornton (Milford Haven Enterprise Zone) to take stock of delivery and assess where the next focus for delivery needs to be set.
Significantly, economic and political factors such as the upheaval of leaving the European Union, the shift in resourcing to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, more recent higher interest rates and massive inflationary pressures have had a detrimental impact on making as much economic headway, as hoped.
However, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, Eluned Morgan MS reported that in spite of these challenges, the delivery review showcased substantial achievements in infrastructure, skills and productivity improvement, business nurturing, agricultural promotion, and harnessing the potential of the foundational economy and tourism.
Eluned Morgan said “Despite the fact that the economy of rural Wales has been battered by strong economic headwinds, it is heartening to find that there are countless examples in the updated document, which set out how economic transformation is underway in rural Wales.”
In 2017, there were hardly any Electric Vehicle chargers, but today, thanks to a multi-million pound investment by Welsh Government, there now 670 in the Mid and West Wales region. The development of a uniquely Welsh free port in south west Wales, underpinned by a £26 million investment by Welsh Government will create new jobs and investment opportunities at an important time for securing Wales’ position in offshore renewable energy generation.
William McNamara, CEO of Bluestone National Park Resort, said: “We were very pleased to welcome the committee to Black Pool Mill for such an important meeting. Businesses in rural Wales are a crucial part of Wales’ overall economy. They not only support jobs, they are the backbone of the rural economy and communities.
“Quite often our voice is lost amidst the urban areas of South Wales and so having a chance to highlight our views and discuss the economic matters that affect businesses and communities in rural Wales is vitally important.”
Since 2019, the Rural Bursary has helped to nurture young entrepreneurs in rural Wales. Mentoring support enables young people to find their feet in establishing their own business, ensuring that we retain next generation in our villages and small towns. For those seeking to study, financial assistance is in place to support students for their degree-related expenses, this year £100,000 has been awarded to students from rural areas.
The Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme is providing flexibility to local authorities to prioritise support for towns in need, leading to significant benefits for seaside towns. Moreover, the Welsh Government’s response to the discontinuation of the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund involved allocating £6 million over two financial years (2021-23) to bolster economic development and regeneration in coastal areas, focusing on job creation, protection, and high street rejuvenation.
In 2022, the Welsh Government announced a £1million investment in the Food and Drink Development Centre to support the development of the hydroponics industry in Wales with backing for projects in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
The Welsh Government has also offered funding for the development of extra care facilities and care hubs in rural areas. As an example, the Tŷ Gwyn Extra Care Facility in Ceredigion. Community housing organisations receive support and funding from the Welsh Government to take a lead role in developing these facilities.
The 2017 document laid the foundations for Welsh Labour’s Rural Manifesto published in the lead up to the 2021 election which placed a focus on supporting the rural economy across all departments and which has formed part of the current programme for government.
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