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Brexit – a new dawn for Welsh agriculture?

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Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 09.44.56THE WEATHER was perfect for the Royal Welsh Show – golden Mid Wales sunshine tempered with a welcome mist of drizzle on the final day, to dampen the Llanelwedd dust. 

Strong entries in the livestock classes, the wheat futures market firming up, and, due to the combination of a lower sterling rate and the recent end of Ramadan, fat lamb prices stronger than they have been in recent years. No wonder, then, that Brexiteer AMs such as Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies, and UKIP supremo Neil Hamilton were bestriding the Showground, talking of unparalleled opportunities, with Welsh farmers unshackled from the unloved clutches of Brussels bureaucracy. I dare say that a few pints of Fosters were downed at the Young People’s Village, to celebrate the opportunities of reconnecting with our Commonwealth cousins.

However, such optimism, especially amongst those who campaigned with zeal for Brexit, did not reflect the wider mood that I encountered, talking with Farming Unions and ordinary farmers and growers from all parts of Wales. Rather, I found a genuine apprehension out there about what the Brexit vote means for the future of farming, so central to the prospects for our wider rural economy. Surprisingly, it was the contribution of two, until recently obscure, MPs that crystallised their concerns.

In the last Welsh Questions before the House of Commons Recess, Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, hailed the Brexit vote as an opportunity to reassess the public support for agriculture, especially at a time of fiscal stringency. Also, with a hint of dog whistle politics, Mr Lucas referred to ‘prosperous farmers’ who could surely cope without public subvention. While Mr Lucas was doubtless appealing to his own immediate core voters in thus caricaturing farmers, the wider farming community cannot afford to ignore his contribution. Indeed, given the Brexit vote, which it seems that many Welsh farmers supported despite the warnings of the Welsh Farming Unions and agricultural economists, it is inevitable that the debate on farm support, and the payment structure for environmental goods and services provided by farmers, will intensify.

Perhaps of greater significance to farmers in Wales were the recent comments of the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, a veritable lioness of Brexit, whose rise to DEFRA Secretary after her abortive bid for the Conservative leadership has been meteoric. During the Referendum campaign, Mrs Leadsom commented: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.” Alongside her call for the repeal of the Hunting Act and her crusading support for fracking, these remarks certainly single out Mrs Leadsom as a ‘red meat eater’ – but have served to send shivers down the spines of farmers and environmentalists alike. As early as 2007, Leadsom argued that ‘subsidies must be abolished’ in an article on how to rejuvenate British farming, so at least in this respect, there is some depth to her views, if not her analysis.

In the economic conditions that now confront us as a country contemplating the reality of Brexit, pressure on the public purse will be more acute than ever before. Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader, Mark Williams MP, and I launched the ‘Not a Penny Less’ campaign on farm support at the Royal Welsh – and are already tapping into a rich vein of support. This was boosted by a visit from Federal Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron MP, on the final day of the Show. It is now more important than ever for all farmers to engage in the public debate, so that there is a better understanding of the vital contribution that they make as custodians of the land, both in terms of maintaining biodiversity, but also to the whole tourist sector, such a critical part of the wider rural economy.

However, more important than anything for Welsh farming is securing long -term access to the European Single Market for our quality farm exports – and making that an essential element in the permanent post -Referendum settlement. A Seminar on Welsh Upland Farming hosted at the Show by Aberystwyth University reminded us of the consequences of the withdrawal of public subsidy for farming in New Zealand. It is not the butterflies that have suffered, but rather animal welfare standards, as well as formerly thriving villages and market towns turned to ghost towns. Whilst the positives of a vibrant New Zealand agricultural sector are often cited, the consequences of such huge scale ranch farming would destroy our pattern of community life in Wales, with the Welsh speaking upland areas suffering worst of all.

The farmers with whom I spoke at Llanelwedd agree with the stance of both FUW and NFU Cymru. We urgently need fresh leadership from Welsh Government ahead of any triggering of Article 50 to leave the European Union. Central to that is the reassertion of the vital role for tariff free access to the European Single Market. The industry needs also to engage with the environmental sector – and the wider public – to stress the critical importance of food security, as well as the public benefits in terms of biodiversity and flood risk management that flow from maintaining human scale family farms. Only proportionate farm support systems from the public purse will safeguard this for the future.

Another reason for genuine leadership on these issues from Welsh Government, from the First Minister down, is the danger of agricultural policy being repatriated from Brussels only for vital powers to be retained at Westminster. This concern has been raised by voices as diverse as Penri James of Bangor University, constitutional expert Sir Paul Silk and well known Radnorshire farmer and commentator, David Hardwick. Despite disquiet about Welsh Government agricultural policy over recent years, in terms of RDP/ modulation and the challenges of bovine TB eradication, it would be a strange definition of progress for EU Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan to be replaced by Mrs Leadsom. But then, the best outcome for the future of Welsh Agriculture looks rather like Norwegian style EFTA membership, with tariff free trade, free movement of people and a full contribution to the EU budget, just no influence on the rules. Those in Wales who have delivered Brexit for our rural communities really must be careful what they wish for.

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Council recognised for its work on domestic violence

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In the last year nearly 2,880 people in Carmarthenshire reported being a victim of domestic abuse.

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has once again been recognised for its work to combat domestic abuse.

It has achieved the White Ribbon UK accredited status for the second time running and departments will continue to work to raise awareness around domestic abuse and to contribute to ending male violence against women.

In the last year nearly 2,880 people in Carmarthenshire reported as being a victim of domestic abuse.

The White Ribbon campaign is a global initiative that encourages people, especially men and boys, to individually and collectively take action and change the behaviour and culture that leads to abuse and violence.

Domestic abuse affects both sexes with the largest number of violent incidents involving men against women. 

To show its commitment County Hall in Carmarthen will be lit up in purple on White Ribbon Day on November 25 and the White Ribbon flags will be flying in council buildings at Llanelli and Ammanford.

A message will also be printed on staff payslips signposting them to support channels.

Carmarthenshire County Council Cabinet Member for Communities and Rural Affairs and Chair of the Safer Communities Partnership, Cllr Ann Davies, said: 

“I am pleased that we were again successful in receiving accreditation from the campaign and recognising the work we have done and also plan to do going forward as part of our commitment to ending domestic violence. The figures in the last 12 months are still too high and that is those that have come forward to seek support. The pandemic has seen a significant rise in the number of referrals so it is vital that we do whatever we can to encourage people not to remain silent and speak out and seek support.”

Support and advice for anyone affected by domestic abuse is available by calling Live Fear Free on 0808 80 10 800.

For local advice you can contact Threshold (Llanelli) on 01554 752 422; Calan DVS (Ammanford) on 01269 597 474 Carmarthen Domestic Abuse Service (CarmDAS) on 01267 238 410 who provide support to both men and women 9am-5pm.

More information on the campaign can be found on the White Ribbon website

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Let’s get digital – Ceredigital

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Internet of Things

A NEW section, ‘Ceredigital’ dedicated to digital services, is now available on Ceredigion County Council’s website.

Ceredigital aims to provide clear information upon how digital technology can be used to support business growth, the economy, the quality of life for residents, tourism and the environment.

It covers a range of work and projects that the Council is currently involved with to improve the provision of digital technology across the county.

Information on the following services is included in the new section:

  • Broadband
  • Mobile
  • Digital Skills
  • Public Wi-Fi

It also includes information on the creation of a LoRaWAN network that the Council has been creating across the county which will accelerate the ‘Internet of Things’ innovation within the region; an open network used to improve business efficiencies.

Councillor Clive Davies, Digital Champion for Ceredigion County Council said: “Having access to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband and mobile connectivity has quickly become essential for everyone. The last two years have seen more people working from home than ever before, and the only way many of us have kept in contact with friends and family is through online catch-ups. It can be confusing and time consuming when you have connectivity issues and don’t know what support is out there.

“I’m very happy to announce that this new section is available. This resource can assist residents and businesses in finding out how to improve connectivity, funding that is available to do this, brushing up on digital skills, as well as providing details upon fixed and wireless projects that are currently being undertaken with Ceredigion.

With a county-wide LoRaWAN Internet of Things network, the largest in Wales, now is the time to focus on data innovation. This is no longer the gift of large organisations, or so called “Smart Cities”, we have the solid foundations of a rural smart network available right now, that can enable data driven decision making to take place right here in Ceredigion, enabling efficiency savings, and new product offering and opportunities as we recover from COVID-19”.

So, if you or your business is not reaching its digital potential for one reason or other, head over to Ceredigital to see what options are available to you right now.”

The new Ceredigital section can be found here: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/business/ceredigital.

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Helping you to make a difference in your community

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Ceredigion Rural

THE CYNNAL y Cardi Local Action Group is launching a new Grant Fund, as part of the Cynnal y Cardi LEADER scheme, which will support small scale LEADER activity in Ceredigion.

The fund will provide small-scale financial revenue to support pilot projects, feasibility studies, facilitation, networking activities and training and mentoring ideas. Applications are welcomed from organisations in the third, public and private sectors. They must meet the criteria and priorities of the Local Action Group.

The Grant Fund will focus on the following priorities from the Cynnal y Cardi Local Development Strategy:

  • supporting activity with the aim of strengthening opportunities for developing Ceredigion’s circular economy
  • supporting early intervention for the development of pre-commercial activity with the aim of developing entrepreneurial activity
  • strengthening community resilience activity with a focus on the role of Town and Community Councils in supporting and engaging with their communities
  • developing opportunities for re-engaging people and reinvigorating community activity following COVID-19 and piloting innovative uses for community facilities

The Cynnal y Cardi LEADER Grant Fund, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council, is supported through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Councillor Rhodri Evans, Cabinet Member with responsibility for the Economy and Regeneration, said: “We understand that COVID-19 has made the past two years a tough time for the county, and in light of the pandemic, the priorities for Ceredigion’s Local Development Strategy have been reviewed in September 2020. This new grant scheme provides opportunities for us to tackle the issues and build on the opportunities following COVID-19 within our communities in order to strengthen our resilience. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity.”

The first closing date for submitting your applications is 17 January 2022. Submissions are welcome in Welsh or English. You will need to discuss your ideas with the team. Contact the team by email at cynnalycardi@ceredigion.gov.uk or visit www.cynnalycardi.org.uk for more information.

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