Rural Wales- Time to meet the challenge 2025
A Strategy for the Future
This report makes the case for a renewed focus on a more coherent strategy to deliver
greater prosperity in Rural Wales, an area which covers three quarters of the land mass of
Wales. At the heart of the plan is a fresh emphasis on an ever more coordinated approach
to economic development in the region. No community, whether post-industrial or deep
rural can survive without an economic plan.
Building on existing initiatives, the time is right to revisit our policy for Rural Wales, its
market towns, network of small villages and coastal communities to consider once again
how the pressures of global change, and the changes that arise from leaving the EU can best
We would advocate developing a clear place-based policy to be determined and led by the
private sector, Welsh Government and local authorities following consultation with the local
population to address the spectrum of challenges which confront us in Rural Wales.
Brexit poses a significant threat, but also provides the impetus for creative thinking to meet
the challenges ahead. Rural Wales needs its own economic plan to match up to the success
of City Region propositions in Wales.
The purpose of this document is to propose ideas to the Welsh Government by individuals
and organisations who live and work in the region to establish a robust programme to
prepare for a post Brexit economy. Rural Wales will insist on its share of funding for
economic development from the Welsh Government, and will be careful to build on the
good work which is already being done. There is a need to develop a new partnership
between rural and urban Wales which recognises that they can benefit each other
need to develop an appreciation that inter-regional connections are critical rather than just planning
for urban and rural regions in isolation.
An integrated, coordinated approach is required across economic development, planning,
transport and public service provision, especially for small rural towns which are often the
economic hub of a much larger geographical area. Creative responses to the challenge of
austerity are already being explored to prevent the closure of public and commercial
services such as schools, libraries, banks and post offices in small towns and rural
communities. Our mission should be to encourage smart rural development which aims to
deliver a sustainable and inclusive economy. The rural economy must prepare for the shift
towards further automation and use of Artificial Intelligence and the possible reduction in
traditional roles, but encourage high tech high skilled jobs in the area. We must also take
advantage of the opportunities provided by increased leisure time and tourism demand as a
result of automation.
This document will set out some key recommendations, which will require the Welsh and
UK Government to intervene where there is market failure to enable the delivery of basic
public services and encourage investment. A minimum level of public service in rural areas
should be set out so that Government can be held to account and public expectations can
The objective will be to ensure clarity, simplicity, continuity, efficacy and flexibility. It has
been tested on organisations and businesses which flourish and those which struggle to
survive away from urban markets.
For many years we have attempted to create “can do” communities, but inertia and
conservatism have often won the day. It is easy to agree on things to oppose, but often
more difficult to deliver real support for the things that can deliver real change. We know
that the environment and landscapes of Rural Wales are treasured by so many people, but
they must not become the graveyards of good ideas.
A shift must occur which will allow a “can do” attitude to win out, a shift which will
overcome risk aversion and slow decision making, a shift which will work on the basis of a
presumption in favour of development and innovation. Environmental impacts and local
development plans need to be respected but adapted, where necessary, in a constructive
We would support the recommendations of the Marsden Report and on Future Landscapes
which has suggested that National Parks should “reform their purpose to be catalysts for
regional development in rural areas.” Scarce resources will require a streamlining of
planning which must focus on crisp and timely decision making supported by well-resourced
It is essential that there is a coherent and clear delivery plan where responsibility for
outcomes is fully established. Delivery should happen at as local a level as possible, and
working in partnership should be encouraged. However, careful monitoring of outcomes
and failure to deliver should mean that the responsibility will move up to a higher tier.
It is only through creating a vibrant economic environment are we likely to retain our young
people in rural Wales, providing affordable homes and to help preserve the Welsh language
which is a cornerstone of the culture of our nation.
A “made in rural Wales” economic development plan
The economic development plan should be one which is developed in Rural Wales, by Rural
Wales, for Rural Wales and cannot not be a plan which is imposed on Rural Wales by Cardiff.
To that end, a group of people with a track record of delivery in rural Wales has been
brought together to make some initial recommendations to the Welsh Government.
The Mid and West Wales Economic Forum is chaired by Assembly Member for Mid and
West Wales Eluned Morgan and membership includes:
Susan Balsom Director, Cambrian Mountains CIC, Trustee Artes Mundi
Melanie Doel Chair, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
Professor Medwin Hughes Vice Chancellor, University of Wales Trinity St. David
John Idris Jones Chair, Snowdonia Enterprise Advisory Board
Stan McIlvenny OBE Chair, Milford Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone
William McNamara CEO, Bluestone National Park Resort, Pembrokeshire
Glen Peters Managing Director, Western Solar Ltd
Huw Thomas Puffin Produce Managing Director, Puffin Produce, Haverfordwest
Stephen Thornton Public Affairs Manager, Valero Pembroke Refinery
Professor Elizabeth Treasure Vice Chancellor, Aberystwyth University
Eirwen Williams Director Menter a Busnes
Elinor Williams Regulatory Affairs Manager, Ofcom Wales
Town and Community Councils in Mid and West Wales have also been approached to ask
what their priorities are for rural economic development and these have been fed into this
These recommendations will be tested and developed further with local government
authorities in rural Wales, with community organisations and with anyone with an interest
in contributing to the debate; they will then be presented to the Welsh Government with a
view to informing its new economic development strategy. There will need to be buy-in
from the local communities and there will need to be a meeting between a bottom-up
community-based economic strategy and a more overarching strategy from above.
Rural Wales is large and diverse. We would recommend that the Welsh Government calls a
meeting of the Rural Development Forum of the WLGA to ask them to define what they
would define to be “Rural Wales” as local government will be key partners in owning and
enabling the rural development plan. This meeting could be extended to include other key
players in rural Wales.
The Case for Change – why a plan for rural Wales?
Vision for Rural Wales
Rural Wales should prioritise building on its natural competitive in order to provide jobs
with reasonable pay and ensure the wellbeing and provision of high quality services for its
Economic opportunities and high skilled training along with affordable housing must be
provided if young people are to stay and have a future in Rural Wales.
Rural Wales is an area of outstanding beauty with a high proportion of people who are
It has an established tourism industry and boasts key Universities in Aberystwyth, Lampeter,
Carmarthen and Bangor which along with Further Education establishments are key to
driving up the productivity rates in the area.
It has areas of excellent fertile land and sea which produce quality food and in Milford
Haven we have one of the best strategic ports in the United Kingdom.
Rural Wales provides a uniquely clean environment for business development and the
opportunity to use nature as an economically important resource. This offers a clear
marketing advantage for inward investment and/or relocation of modern businesses.
Rural Wales should embrace the opportunities provided by new technologies and the
provision of high speed broadband across much of Rural Wales to position itself for the
Government has a responsibility to step in and to make up for market failure in rural areas
in particular in relation to key infrastructure developments.
The Welsh Rural Economy
Low GDP figures
Wales lags behind other parts of the UK in terms of GDP, £18,882 for Wales, £26,577 for the
UK as a whole) and Rural Wales lags behind many parts of the rest of Wales (for example,
Powys’ GDP per capita is £16,596).
There is a need to recognise that measuring success should not be restricted to GDP figures,
and we need to be mindful of the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations
Act which states that other factors such as the environment, equality, prosperity, health,
global responsibility and cultural matters including the Welsh language need to be
considered in addition to raw economic data. It is essential that economic activity is
enhanced and expanded in Rural Wales whilst sustaining an environment where people can
live and work comfortably.
The Welsh Government has a plethora of economic development plans and programmes to
enhance economic activity. Recently however there has been a shift towards a place-based
approach to economic development with a focus on City Regions.
The rural economy is fundamentally different from the urban economy and rural areas face
very different challenges, needing a specific policy of their own in order to fulfil the
economic potential and future sustainability of rural communities.
Currently there is an assumption that economic development will take place in relation to
four regions. The Cardiff City Region, Swansea Bay City Region, the North Wales Economic
Ambition Board and the Growing Mid Wales Partnership Board. We would contend that
there are regions which overlap, but that a rural approach should include the growing Mid
Wales Partnership Board which is made up of Powys and Ceredigion, but that other local
authorities be asked how and whether they would like to participate in a rural development
Fundamentally however, there is a need for urban Wales and rural Wales to support each
In the past the financing of economic development in large parts of Wales has largely been
driven by EU funding channels. With the BREXIT vote there is real uncertainty regarding the
future of financing economic development with the exit of the UK from the EU in 2019
(although the UK Government has promised to honour funding streams until 2020).
Rural Wales, however, faces a double whammy compared to other parts of Wales as £350
million comes into Wales from the Common Agricultural Policy. Whilst in terms of GVA the
contribution of farming is relatively small (0.71% of GVA in 2015) the fact is that almost
60,000 (4.07% of regional employment) people are employed in the sector. Agricultural
funding is circulated widely in the local economy and sustains other businesses. Under the
bespoke model of an agreement that the Prime Minister has suggested should be developed
with the EU, there is very little chance that the UK will continue to be a part of the CAP,
therefore a major re-structuring of the way agriculture works must occur. Challenges in
terms of reduced subsidies, increased tariffs, increased competition from outside the EU
and increased paperwork demand that we re-think how we can reshape the agricultural
industry in Wales to ensure that it remains sustainable. There is a need to speed up decision
making and payments from the Rural Development Plan if we are to access all the money
allocated to rural Wales prior to BREXIT.
As well as agriculture, Rural Wales is home to many public sector institutions and
organizations that have benefitted hugely from EU programmes and funding over the past
30 years. Brexit will therefore impact greatly on their future plans, their employment
potential and the significant knock-on reduction in spend in the local rural economy.
One of the great advantages of EU funding is the fact that it takes a multi-annual approach.
This means that businesses and organisations can plan in the longer-term. The Welsh
Government will need to come up with a way to ensure that this longer-term planning can
continue and that economic development will not be stifled by annual budget rounds.
Insisting on a fair share for Rural Wales
Rural Wales faces different challenges from the rest of the country, and we must ensure
that we receive our fair share of funding from the Welsh Government.
There must be a recognition that it is far more expensive to deliver the same services in
rural Wales than in urban Wales. Assessments should be made as to whether Welsh
Government programmes and staffing are adequate to meet the needs of rural Wales and
to check to see whether Rural Wales receives its fair share from national programmes of the
Five Strategic Objectives
Building on the Infrastructure of rural Wales
Increasing rural Wales’ skills and productivity
Growing our businesses
Food, Farming and Forestry
Using the Foundational Economy to ensure local jobs are provided for local
Increasing visitor numbers, time spent in the area and amount spent
Building on the Infrastructure of rural Wales
There is a lack of equality in terms of private sector-led infrastructure developments in Rural
Wales As with other constituent parts of the United Kingdom, rural communities are at a
competitive disadvantage when compared with urban centres.
In relation to Broadband the Welsh Government has recognised this and has invested
heavily in the Superfast Cymru Broadband Programme, which will provide a 96% coverage in
Wales by the end of 2017. This is a real achievement and a competitive advantage for Rural
Wales compared to other UK areas and therefore Welsh Government needs to promote this
more robustly in their inward investment activities.
The Government, both UK and in Wales needs to recognise that in terms of mobile phone
coverage, the hilly and mountainous terrain of rural areas, the sparse population and
current planning restrictions mean that covering Wales is more difficult than other parts of
the UK. This translates as Wales needing 63 masts per million of the population compared
with 11 masts in England. Similar restrictions inhibit water and sewerage infrastructure.
In terms of transport, rural Wales has very little dual carriageway or motorway
infrastructure. It is largely linked through a network of Trunk Roads and category A routes
serviced by local authorities. Public transport is heavily subsidised and provided mostly by
buses, which often operate below capacity.
Rural Wales has three main ports (Milford Haven, Pembroke Port and Fishguard Harbour)
the Welsh Government must have a strategy to protect these ports in the face of the BREXIT
threat. We also have popular rail lines linking west to east and some coastal northern towns.
We would recommend –
Incentivising an infrastructure for electric vehicles to recharge across Rural Wales
and be pro-active in encouraging businesses and local government to take the UK
lead in rural areas to pilot the use of driverless electric vehicles (EVs), which will
eventually provide cheaper, more flexible public transport in Rural Wales.
Encouraging the Welsh Government and UK Government to put pressure on the
companies responsible for maintaining the National Grid to reinforce the network in
areas where the grid is weakest and economic development opportunities greatest,
especially where there is potential to harness renewable energy production and the
use of EVs.
Easing the requirements for planning to allow higher mobile masts to enable more
phone coverage and to encourage mobile providers to share masts.
Pressuring the UK Government for mobile phone masts to become a universal public
Increasing Rural Wales’ skills and productivity
Education, vocational training and lifelong learning are central pillars of employability and
sustainable enterprise development. Skills growth is key to stimulating sustainable
development processes and is essential to addressing the opportunities and challenges to
meet the demands of changing economies and new technologies.
Productivity rates in rural Wales depend ultimately on the number of people in employment
and how productive they are at work. According to the Office of National Statistics,
productivity levels in all sub-regions in Wales were below the average for the UK. The lowest
performance was the rural sub-region of Powys, with a level 35% below the UK average.
We would recommend –
Sustaining a focus on increasing the standards in rural schools, which are extremely
divergent and a recognition of the need for a support mechanism to meet specific
Encouraging closer collaboration between industry and local further and higher
education to ensure the skills being taught are those that are required.
That HE and FE colleges work with local businesses to offer more place-based
Facilitating technology education in the farming sector to take advantage of the
advances being made in areas such as precision agriculture
As the Welsh Government redirects the focus of Communities First, focusing on the
successes that can enhance skills and apprenticeships for people not just on place.
Government agencies should identify economically inactive individuals in the
poorest areas to receive individually tailored value explicit training vouchers
Promoting outreach from sectors such as food preparation, tourism, hospitality to
local schools, so that real-life experiences and application of skills can be seen with a
Recognising that providing courses such as plumbing and electrical engineering are
more expensive to provide in rural Wales and ensure that this is accounted for when
allocating Further Education resources
The Welsh Government explore whether there is merit in adopting a “Scotland Rural
College” web portal approach to ensure a single promotional focus for all relevant
rural courses and qualifications