Not enough is being done to help the economic recovery in rural Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will claim in their Assembly debate on Wednesday.
The Shadow Economy Minister, Eluned Parrott and Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, William Powell, will lead a debate calling on the Welsh Government to implement a three point plant to get the rural economy back on track.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on the Welsh Government to:
examine a community bank structure to sustain the presence of local banks in rural communities, and to work with credit unions to increase lending to businesses;
work with businesses in the agricultural, renewable energy and tourism sectors to identify ways to overcome barriers to increasing the supply of rural apprenticeships;
make universal access to broadband an obligation for providers and to work with Ofcom and network operators to investigate the shared provision of infrastructure in rural areas to maximise coverage.
William Powell AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Rural Affairs Minister said:
"As an Assembly Member that represents a huge rural region, I speak to many small and medium size businesses and they tell me that they feel that they are being left behind in the economic recovery. The rural economy faces significant challenges that urban areas do often do not encounter.
"Given Labour's lack of understanding about the needs and concerns of rural Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling on this government to implement a three point plan to give rural Wales a fighting chance of coming out of the economic downturn stronger. We want to see the Welsh Government examine how rural SMEs can have better access to finance, more apprenticeship opportunities and have increased access to the internet.
"In terms of banking services, rural Wales has endured a substantial number of branch closures. For our economy to grow it is essential that residents and small business owners have full and proper access to banking services just like any other part of the UK.
"Unfortunately, due to the rate of closures and a woefully inadequate broadband network, this is increasingly not the case - most notably across rural Wales. The Welsh Government must act swiftly to address this, and fully explore innovative options of branch management and ownership.
"It is a sad fact that Wales has a large proportion of premises in potential not-spots and the lowest availability of superfast broadband services. The majority of these premises are in rural Wales.
"Broadband is key to everyday business activities, from contacting customers, ordering supplies, sourcing new tariffs for energy and services or managing finances. Inadequate internet and mobile connections mean that many businesses in Mid and West Wales may be getting left behind, missing out on the benefits of being able to compete in new and wider markets.
Eluned Parrott, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister said:
"Jobs and economic growth remain a priority for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
"It is vitally important that all parts of Wales, urban and rural, benefit from the economic recovery. For that to happen, Wales needs an economic plan which recognises the specific challenges and opportunities in rural areas.
"The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that apprenticeships must play a key part in healing our economy. While there has been an increase in businesses expressing an interest in apprenticeships, this trend has been less apparent in rural areas. This must change. The Welsh Labour Government needs to be encouraging employers in all parts of Wales to take on apprentices and to show the benefits that this can bring.
"Sadly, according to Welsh Government statistics, the number of apprenticeships in Wales has decreased. We need to be giving people the skills that will allow them to build a career and become part of a high-skill, high-value economy in Wales for the future."