Poor broadband growing worry for local farmers

FUNDING for our forests, animal health, the environment and fisheries, and for food and farming is all to be slashed by the newly restored Stormont Executive. 
 On top of that, a new digitalisation plan by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) could see farmers here in Fermanagh disadvantaged due to the county’s poor broadband coverage. 
Local MLA Rosemary Barton hit out at the proposed cuts during a debate on the issue in Stormont last week, during which she noted the “overall financial trend from the present net provision in DAERA is downwards.” 
“It is unusual that areas where we would assume there should be attempts to improve and increase input, like forestry, animal health and the environment are all on reduced budgets,” she said. 
Instead of the proposed cuts, Ms Barton suggested DAERA looked internally to make savings: “The Department has a very high level of staffing within its resource costs, with 71 percent of the Department budget on staffing. 
“While I fully understand the need for staff and the work they carry out, as they are largely a frontline service, it is vital that the level of staffing undergoes a detailed review, including assessments made on the balance of staff between senior management and frontline staffing.”
Ms Barton also noted the Department of Finance had agreed a multi-million pound package for a DAERA digital transformation programme, which she said would only work if broadband provision was also improved. 
“There are a significant number of areas in my constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and I’m sure in many other constituencies as well where there are very poor broadband speeds and in some cases no broadband accessibility,” she told the chamber. 
“It is unfair to expect the rural community and particularly farm businesses to manage their business by digital methods if the core infrastructure is not available. 
“It is like expecting to travel to London at short notice from Northern Ireland, but all airports are closed.”

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