Monmouthshire County council is one of the 10 councils involved in the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, a major project in investment and development of the area involved. There are many aspects to the deal, and even more to the structures of people involved in each of them. Where I try to report on particular elements, I shall endeavour to make that web as easily navigable as possible.
To begin with let’s look at the Metro project. This is a scheme to provide facilities to and around stations from Cardiff to Newport. In some literature the extent of the “Metro” status of stations ends at Severn Tunnel Junction. I have been assured, however, that Chepstow is included in this region. That means there are opportunities I can be chasing, for example, on station improvements and the establishment of Software and Cyber security academies. On those last I feel we are particularly well placed for, what with being mid ships between Cardiff and GCHQ. It could also offer career pathways and home based working opportunities.
This also fits with the greater aspiration of Monmouthshire to be at the global forefront of the digital sector. An aspiration that can be seen in the City Deal establishment of a £35 million Compound Semi-Conductor Cluster in the Newport Region, supported by industry and Cardiff University.
At first it may seem an odd aspiration, but look deeper and you see how well it fits with our county. We have a historical engineering pedigree, with shipyards and bridge building at its heart. We already have a great deal of expertise that commutes to other nearby centres (The defence industry in Filton, the steel industry in Newport) as well as native expertise such as microchip design companies in Chepstow. We are poised between two heavy weight I.T. game and media centres in Bristol and Cardiff. All of these, combined with the opportunities represented by the bridge tolls coming down make us perfectly placed to thrive in the sector.
What’s the biggest fly in the ointment then? Broadband. There is no way we can position ourselves as a digital powerhouse if we cannot connect the people who want to be part of it to the internet. We have a raft of issues in rural areas and towns. Welsh government targets for BT to install provision focus on number of homes connected, without quality or position taken into account. This is a major concern for Monmouthshire County Council and on Economic Development Select Committee I will be helping scrutinise the situation and try to find some ways forward.
The County has recently had great success upgrading technology and links to schools, with almost all schools now serviced by 100MB lines, even in rural areas. I am looking to learn from that project and push to get us the digital infrastructure we need to thrive.