Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:35 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:35 pm, 10th July 2017

On behalf of my Plaid Cymru colleagues, may I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your election as a Deputy Speaker? We are looking forward to working with you and serving under your guidance for the duration of this Parliament.

I will keep my contribution short, because, to all intents and purposes from a Welsh perspective, this is an enabling Bill. We broadly welcome the provisions outlined in it, which provide powers for Welsh Ministers to award business rates relief to properties used to facilitate the transmission of broadband and mobile communications. This is at least one step in the right direction for my constituents, who have seen little digital dividend from the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on broadband and mobile signal to date.

I do, however, have some concerns about the UK Government’s strategy of incentivising only the most advanced technology. As I understand the Bill, the plan in England is to provide 100% business rate relief for technology that supports 5G and ultrafast broadband. As we heard in an earlier intervention, that has a budget of around £60 million, which equates to Barnett consequentials for Wales of around £3 million, and that will just go into the general Welsh Government pot. If I have one message for today’s debate, it is that it is vital that the Labour Welsh Government ring-fence that cash so that that money is not spent on pet projects.

Some 40% of my constituents are unable to access high-speed internet, and an even greater proportion are unable to get a 3G or 4G mobile phone signal in their homes. It is clear that we have a selective connectivity problem in Carmarthenshire. There is no doubt that that is holding back Carmarthenshire and the Welsh economy. We have no hope of making progress in developing our economy unless we can get to the bottom of the telecommunication infrastructure problems we face. If we were able to do so, I am confident that we would have a bright economic future in Carmarthenshire and in Wales, due to the incredible natural assets we have as a county and a country.

I am fortunate enough to have been born and raised in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and I have no hesitation in saying that. We have a range of incredible leisure activities. One of the things that I think we will see in the modern workplace is that work and leisure time will become compressed, with people looking to set up their businesses where their leisure activities lie. Those who like horse riding, cycling, mountaineering, canoeing or surfing will find all those incredible leisure activities in abundance in Carmarthenshire, and I am confident that if we were able to deal with the basic telecommunication infrastructure problems we face, we would be able to put forward a very attractive economic package for investors and people looking to set up their businesses in our beautiful county.

While I urge the Welsh Government to use the powers and the Barnett consequentials awarded to them through the Bill to incentivise connectivity improvements in Wales, I call on Welsh Ministers to take an alternative approach to that put forward by the UK Government. It is vital that future investment, at a bare minimum, should enable rural Wales to reach a level playing field, before we start subsidising the most advanced technologies. The connectivity inequality in our nation needs to be eradicated, not entrenched, but I am afraid that we have seen the Government and providers concentrating investment over recent years on easy hits—on the large cities and the large towns in my country—while the more rural areas have been deliberately left behind.

The Welsh Government, via this Bill, must now use these powers and consequentials wisely. Rather than only incentivising the most advanced telecommunications technology, it is time that something drastic was done to incentivise the building of telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas such as the communities that I am very fortunate to serve in Carmarthenshire.