The Westminster Welsh Affairs Committee is correct when it says that Wales was ‘slow to adapt’ to changes in the international market for overseas investment. There is much truth in the Committee's labelling of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as a ’golden age’ for attracting foreign business investment thanks to a combination of grants, land and relatively cheap labour costs.
The Committee is also correct to say that successive governments reacted far too slowly to new emerging challenges from Eastern Europe and more distant competitors. Wales paid the price for that complacency as between 1998 and 2008, some 171 foreign-owned sites closed, with the loss of 31,000 jobs, mainly in the manufacturing sector.
The economic development model as practised by the Westminster Government (and the Welsh Office) well before 1997 and by the Welsh Government before 2007) was fundamentally flawed at a very basic level – it was short term and fundamentally dependent upon a combination of relatively cheap labour and other inducements that could never compete on a truly level playing field.
For too many years economic development (from the 1950's onwards) was focused on one-off large scale developments - what can be best described a single egg solutions, which promised much and deliver significantly less. The assumption, not entirely incorrect, may have been that other smaller business would develop supply materials, goods and services to the primary larger employer – this happened in part, Llanwern Steel works being a reasonably good example.
The problem was that if the larger industry suffered a downturn or caught cold then the smaller firms would suffer with varying symptoms of pneumonia. The focus should have been on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants and also trade with each other and other local firms.
The LG development near Newport, was a good example of this - promising the usual total of 6,000 jobs – it accrued significant public funding (committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague) yet never delivered anything like what was promised. Most economists (even Conservative ones) should have had serious concerns about the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies and a basic understanding of where technological developments in relation to PC monitor screens were going, enabling them to say hang on a moment.
A combination of 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..
European funding opportunities has been seriously squandered, where are the physical assets, by which I mean the things you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail and road), broadband infrastructure, etc - that bring long term benefits to our communities. How much money has been scammed (and scammed may be the key word) into dubious training programmes and questionable educations programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy?
What was called in some circles the Plaid driven One Wales Government (2007 – 2011) at least made significant efforts to think and act differently when it comes to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises. Simply going out to attract branch factory operations for a relatively short term period does not help develop our economy it merely seeks to repeat the mistakes of the recent past, but, of course Labour (New or Old) is far happier living in the past than in Wales.