The man from Admiral (chief operating officer and executive director, David Stevens) hit the nail on the head when talking to the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry (last week) on inward investment about attracting and developing start-up businesses in Wales. Wales should chase and help to develop young businesses rather than spend time and money chasing big international firms. Start-up enterprises are more valuable to the Welsh economy and less likely to up sticks and pull out in times of economic austerity.
David Stevens from Admiral rightly pointed out that companies with their HQ's and senior management teams based in Wales were more valuable than "off-shoots of big companies based elsewhere". He also pointed out that "Businesses with only 'muscle' in Wales are more likely to withdraw in hard times or if cheaper location options emerge," and that targeting "glossy" adverts to attract "sexy sectors" of industry was not the best strategy for boosting investment. The importance of good infrastructure was highlighted, including railways, with the man from Admiral saying he supported the electrification of the Great Western rail line to Swansea. At present the UK Westminster government only plans to electrify the line as far as Cardiff.
There has been fat to much focus on attracting large scale single enterprises, which promise much but deliver significantly less than anticipated. The LG development near Newport, is a good example of an expensive disaster / fiasco [please take your pick] which promised the usual total of 6,000 jobs - accrued significant public funding - committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague, yet never delivered anything like what was promised.
Anyone (even a Tory) with half a brain or even half an understanding of the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies at the time that might has hesitated, but not the then Tory Government. Anyone with a partial understanding of where technological developments in relation to PC monitor screens were going, would have put their hands up and said hang on a moment - but not obviously not in the the corridors of power in Cardiff.
A combination of what can best be described as fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and a forthcoming Westminster election led to one of the spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made, something that ended up costing us millions of pounds worth of public money. The old WDA has in truth not really consistently delivered anything like long term economic stability and much needed long term job opportunities to our communities that it should have done considering the amounts poured into it.
How well any of this will go down with the dinosaurs making the decisions in WAG is another matter. In the last Government in Cardiff, Plaid's Ieuan Wyn Jones (AM) then Minister for Economic Development tried to change things and to focus on growing indigenous businesses. The Plaid driven One Wales Government made efforts to think and act differently when it came to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises, which are the only real thing that will put wealth into our communities, and develop and sustain longer term employment possibilities.
The lazy half-baked Brit Civil service / WDA continues to favour the option of attracting branch factory operations (some of which are only here for a relatively short time) which does little to develop our economy. We need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on attracting and developing start-up companies and smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our country and our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.
It's to early to tell whether Carwyn's Labour Government is capable of thought (let alone action) inside or outside of the box. One thing is true though, more of the same old twaddle from Whitehall and Cathays won't do at all, vastly expensive one egg, one basket schemes to generate the standard 6,000 jobs, just won't do.
The London based political parties, when they needed the votes talked the talk but have delivered little, rapidly abandoning any election promises that may have been made to Welsh voters. With a new government in Cardiff (even in times of austerity) we don't need talk, we need concrete steps to encourage growth, boost our manufacturing industry, support and grow our small to medium sized enterprises, otherwise it will just be a case of same old, same old combined with ill thought out out public sector cuts which will do nothing to boost our communities and our economy.