Productivity: Rural Areas

Part of RAF Valley: Funding and Employment – in Westminster Hall at 5:15 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 5:15 pm, 14th October 2020

Thank, you, Ms Ghani. It is kind of you to call me in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Scott Mann on securing it.

My constituency is heavily rural. We have seven livestock markets and only four supermarkets. We have no district general hospital, no motorway and limited train and bus services, but the digital divide, as has come up in the debate, is the most significant factor holding back the vast capacity for rural productivity that exists across the UK. Specifically, the lack of high-speed broadband that plagues a large proportion of my constituency limits businesses’ and households’ capability to get connected. In the age of e-commerce and online learning, not being able to get online can mean not being able to reach full potential either as a business or as an individual. It certainly holds back the many tourism businesses in my constituency.

In Sennybridge, in my patch, only 50% of households have superfast availability, which is well below the 95% average across the United Kingdom. Sadly, we in Wales have a Welsh Labour Administration, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, who do not value rural areas. Investment in superfast broadband has been concentrated in the urban south Wales valleys, and sadly it does not reach up into my constituency in mid-Wales. I was therefore overjoyed in March when the Chancellor reaffirmed the Government’s plan to invest £5 billion to help to build gigabit-capable networks throughout the UK by the end of 2025. I encourage the Government to ensure that that capacity is built without delay. I support the comments of my hon. Friend Simon Baynes about BT and Openreach, but I urge the Government also to do what they can to support small and medium-sized enterprises in that space, so that there is real competition in the broadband roll-out sector.

Our levelling-up agenda depends on ensuring that households across the UK, even in the most rural areas, have access to superfast broadband, so that we can close the digital divide and take full advantage of rural productivity capacity.