RURAL areas in Carmarthenshire are haemorrhaging young people as well as losing shops, banks, post offices and pubs, a local Government leader has said.

In the past few weeks, the issue has been highlighted with the announcements that both Lloyds and Barclays are to close their bank branches at Newcastle Emlyn, leaving the town without a bank and customers and business owners having to trek to either Cardigan or Carmarthen.

Cllr Cefn Campbell said around 1,000 young people per year were leaving the county, and that a large number of these were Welsh speakers from rural communities.

“De-population is an enormous challenge,” he said.

Cllr Campbell, Carmarthenshire’s executive board member for rural affairs and communities, also described Brexit as the “elephant in the room” which could be the “most damaging event” to hit the agricultural sector since the Second World War.

“We are still six months away and we are still, at this moment, no closer to knowing what kind of deal we will strike with the European Union,” he said.

“One thing is absolutely certain. If we crash out with no deal or a bad deal than the repercussions for the rural economy are likely to be disastrous.

“Forty per cent export tariffs on beef and lamb. That would be absolutely catastrophic for uplands farmers.”

He said 90 per cent of Welsh food and drink was exported to the EU and that Wales received £600 million per year in direct payments from Europe, which equated to 80 per cent of Welsh farmers’ net profits.

Cllr Campbell was addressing a rural affairs conference at the University of Wales Trinity St David, Carmarthen, where he explained that a rural affairs task group set up by Carmarthenshire council had been researching the issues facing the county over the past year.

The priorities that emerged were the need for more rural jobs, ensuring the future of the agricultural sector, and improved broadband, public services and public transport.

“These are the issues which we will be focusing on in the coming months,” he said.

Cllr Campbell said around 120,000 people lived in Carmarthenshire’s rural communities — around 60 per cent of the population — but that it was an ageing cohort.

“As older people move in to these areas, that puts additional strain on services,” he said.

Income levels in rural areas were low, he added, and affordable housing — like in many UK rural communities — was lacking.

He added: “It means that young families are unable to buy homes in rural areas.”

Cllr Campbell also said Carmarthenshire has been hit hard by the “austerity policy” coming from Westminster, with multi-million pound savings forced upon it.

“Hedges are not being cut, roads are not being repaired as often as they used to, but the financial limitations are having a great effect,” he said.

“Shops, banks, post offices, public houses are closing in our market towns. I know there are other factors — but it is sad to see the deterioration.”

He also said broadband speeds needed to improve, and told the audience he regularly had to leave his office at home and pop down his local Starbucks for better connectivity.

He said that 86 per cent of Carmarthenshire, according to BT’s infrastructure arm Openreach, had access to super-fast broadband against a 96 per cent target.

“There is a second roll-out that’s supposed to happen in the next few months,” he said.

Cllr Campbell said jobs could be created if more food produced in the county was processed there rather than being exported, and that tourism and leisure opportunities could be developed.

He said the county had a problem with agricultural pollution, but that it could be alleviated by a new slurry project involving Coleg Sir Gar and Swansea-based purification experts Power & Water.

He said the authority was committed to retaining ownership of its farms, but that the threat of a Brexit no deal or bad deal loomed.

“There would be a triple whammy — reduced subsidies, increased tariffs and more imports of low-quality products,” he said.

“I am sure for most of you in this room that this is not a future you want to see.”

Cllr Campbell said a positive aspect of Brexit would be a change in procurement regulations, which would mean more sourcing of local products for public sector institutions like schools and care homes.

He added that the council had pledged to build 1,000 affordable homes and that around half of them had been completed.

Cllr Campbell, who studied land management at university, described Carmarthenshire’s rural areas as unique.

“Together we can ensure we create sustainable communities for our children and children’s children,” he said.