Wales Must Embrace the Olympic Spirit to Conquer Economic and Social Troubles; CALL TO 'LEARN LESSONS ON DELIVERY FROM UK'S SUCCESS'

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Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

TEAM GB's performance at the Olympics has fired hopes that Wales can overcome stark challenges revealed in statistics published yesterday and go for gold in education and entrepreneurship.

The research from the Office for National Statistics showed Wales had one of the lowest productivity levels in the UK and among the worst rates for children growing up in a workless household. The country also faces the challenges of caring for an older population.

People aged 65-plus made up 18.6% of the population in 2010 - higher than the UK average of 16.6% and all regions except the south-west of England (19.6%). It has the highest level of adults who have disabilities that limit their daily activities - 15.6% of those aged 16 to 64 in March 2011. But the dramatic improvement in Team GB's medal haul since its disastrous performance in Atlanta 1996 when it won just one gold has fuelled hopes that standards in education and enterprise can be transformed.

Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University, a world expert in management, said Wales must learn lessons from the successful delivery of the world's premier sporting event - not just the training regimes of the athletes who won 29 gold medals.

He said: "Manufacturing an event is similar to a manufacturing business or a service - it's a business and we did a fantastic job. What we have to do in my view is translate that into the workplace.

"Everybody says that the Americans have a can-do attitude.

We just demonstrated we can do all that."

However, he warned that major changes are required to establish key principles of leadership in wider society.

Arguing that the Games organisers were able to recruit and train thousands of volunteers because they believed their work was worthwhile, he said: "Maybe our problem in industry - and I say this as someone from a business school - is we are not producing the right kind of managers who encourage and deliver."

Britain's third-place finish in the medal rankings contrasts with the 2009 Pisa research which showed Welsh children ranked behind UK and international counterparts in reading, maths and science.

The ONS figures also show that in 2010 Wales contributed just 3.6% of gross value added as a percentage of the UK's output, behind Scotland (8.3%) and England (85.9%).

Wales is also under-performing in the personal prosperity rankings. The 2010 gross disposable household income per head figure of pounds 13,783 contrasts with pounds 15,342 in Scotland, pounds 15,931 in England and pounds 20,238 in London.

Wales had the third-highest proportion of children living in workless households of all the countries and regions in the UK in the fourth quarter of 2011 (20%) - ahead of 15.8% in Scotland and Northern Ireland and 15.7% in England.

The statistics also show the distance Wales has to travel in creating an entrepreneurial culture.

In 2010 business "births" accounted for just 8.5% of active enterprises. Only Northern Ireland had a lower rate at 7.8% in 2010. Wales' labour productivity rate of 83.9 out of 100 was, again, the lowest of a UK country in that year with the exception of Northern Ireland (81).

Former Labour Wales Office minister Wayne David said the Olympic success demonstrated how strategic investment and a sense of national purpose could combine to deliver a revolutionary improvement in performance. …