We'll Still Deliver the Goods for North Wales; businessPROFILE Business Correspondent David Jones Talks to a Man Charged with Making a Success of Big Changes at the North Wales Economic Forum

Article excerpt

Byline: David Jones

HE'S a founding father of the opto-electronics industry in North Wales but there's no doubt that Trefor Jones will need all his business acumen and political guile if he is to make a real success of the new challenge he faces.

Jones - former chairman of St Asaph based Pilkington Optronics and deputy chairman of the Welsh Development Agency - is chairman-elect of the North Wales Economic Forum.

He takes over the chairmanship from WDA chairman Sir Roger Jones at the end of March as the forum, a grouping of local authority, business and other organisations, strives to regain an even keel after a government shake-up threatened at one stage last year to blow it seriously off course.

Doubts had arisen about the future of the forum after April this year when the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales Tourist Board and ELWa, three key members of the group, merge with the Welsh Assembly Government.

Possible loss of both its secretariat and a slice of its funding were worrying enough, but perhaps even more damaging would have been the loss of business intelligence from the WDA, which has facilitated and informed much of the work of the forum over the past decade, and a lack of involvement by the top echelons of the Assembly.

The portents last autumn didn't look good, with rumblings from Cardiff that the Assembly wanted to cast the four economic for a in Wales, including that based at St Asaph, adrift, leaving them with no direct advisory input into the workings of the new economic development and transport department.

Then economic development minister Andrew Davies decided just before Christmas the Assembly would after all play a role, but not as a full member. Instead it will take observer status, giving the forum a free hand to continue lobbying government and others.

"From April we will all enter new territory and there is a terrific challenge facing all the partners, including the Welsh Assembly Government," admits Jones.

"It's a new world. We do not know how it is going to work out. But it was very gratifying that Andrew Davies has decided there should be participation by his department in the new arrangements. It is clearly an example of the Welsh Assembly Government listening to local opinion.

"Maintaining the continuity and the spirit of co-operation is going to be extremely important over the next phase in the development of the WAG and its economic department."

WAG has said it will continue the funding previously provided by the WDA, WTB and ELWa but undertake a review of the new arrangements, including presumably its observer status, in about a year's time. Does that leave a doubt about the future?

Jones says: "Twelve months is not a long time. However, given good will and a commitment by all partners to work together, I cannot see why in a year's time there should not be a strong desire to keep the forum going. …