Who’s breaking down the digital barriers in Wales?

The first report produced by the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW) was published in December 2020. It examined Digital Communications Infrastructure in Wales and made 14 recommendations to the Welsh Government.

Welsh Government has since responded to the report and has recently published the results of actions on one of our recommendations; namely, to establish a new ‘barrier busting’ taskforce, with a set of clear objectives. 

NICW welcomes the publication of this report and the commitment it shows from the Welsh Government in addressing issues raised by the Commission. Task Force members are sharing opinions, intelligence and data, in itself a good outcome and one we hope continues beyond the formal constitution of the group. These task force actions and recommendations need to be implemented with a shared sense of urgency on the part of industry, Government, and local authorities. 

However, it is unclear if, as a member of the Task Force, Welsh Government is committing itself to resolving the issues identified, such as revising and reviewing planning guidance, or if this is a further document for Welsh Government to consider before action is taken. 

However we observe that there does not appear to be any mechanism against which progress on the work will be monitored and reported. Similarly, there are no ‘owners’ of the actions or deadlines attached to the work. We therefore recommend owners and stakeholders for each action are identified with clearly defined timescales.

NICW would like to see a quantification of the cumulative effect of what is being proposed on digital infrastructure deployment in Wales. What difference will the delivery of actions recommended by the task force make to digital infrastructure across Wales and to the lives of people in Wales? NICW’s new remit includes integrating the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in its operation. We therefore, recommend that prioritisation of actions is undertaken against the Future Generations Well-being Goals, and is measured accordingly.

Improving communication about the benefits to citizens is mentioned; we support the recommendation of establishing digital champions within Local Authorities, as it will help coordinate collaboration between the private and public sectors. However, we would like to understand how the private sector can contribute to educating and promoting the benefits of digital infrastructure to end users.

The report states that resource in the sector was outside of remit, but resourcing activity is clearly an issue for some aspects, particularly those in local authorities. If out of scope for the Task Force, where will resourcing be addressed? For example, a review of TAN19 has been long called for, but the new Code of Best Practice largely replaces this.

Each devolved nation has its own permitted development ‘limits’ and perhaps a unified approach across all nations should be adopted, both to share resources and to stop ‘one upmanship’ with UK nations being played against one another, constantly reviewing to keep up.

The task force recommendations do not address some of the more fundamental issues covered in the NICW report, such as Wales not having enough public funds to support fibre to every home; and many households having to wait years for fibre when other steps could be taken in the interim. We challenge the Welsh Government and the task force to investigate and recommend solutions from the private and public sectors to bridge the gap in funding and to quantify how this will unlock tangible benefits

NICW will continue to monitor the implementation of all our recommendations and look forward to engaging with Welsh Government colleagues and the digital industry sector in the future.