IsWales Hurt by theWDA a's Demise? or Was It Time to Do Things Differently? Five Years after the Abolition of the Welsh Development Agency, and with Calls for Reform of the Assembly Government's Economic Development Policy, Aled Blake Asks a Range of Business Figures for Their Views

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

IsWales Hurt by theWDA a's Demise? or Was It Time to Do Things Differently? Five Years after the Abolition of the Welsh Development Agency, and with Calls for Reform of the Assembly Government's Economic Development Policy, Aled Blake Asks a Range of Business Figures for Their Views


David Rosser, director of the CBI Wales Is it missed - yes, by many, and more so in some areas than others. The property community probably feels this the most with many commenting on an approach to site development that is less proactive. But it would take a policy U-turn of unprecedented proportions for the current Government to reinstate anything like the old WDA and move economic development to an external body. The business community needs to get on with it and make its case ever more robustly to the Assembly.

As devolution progresses and the Assembly acquires more powers, business support will become less important than some of the decisions in other areas: different building regs, planning procedures, skills support, waste rules.

Business support is a very wideranging term. The largest flagship companies generally speak highly of the support offered by WAG when they have a crisis or opportunity - usually grant assistance. And there needs to be some general advice made available to those interested in starting a business for the first time. In between fall most companies, most of the support types, and least light! Everything from export trips to equalities advice. And a lot of money is spent on it and a huge number of people employed. A searchlight needs to be shone on this area to find out what companies really value and, where support is valued, does it make a real difference to their economic performance - is it an investment by the taxpayer which generates a good return? Whether merging the WDA into the Assembly was a good or bad thing is a pretty sterile debate. It must be evident that Wales' economic performance is not turning around - it was actually getting worse compared to the UK before the recession. There is no evidence that bringing economic development into the Assembly, but largely carrying on as we were before, is making any difference. Now is surely the time to think again about what is really needed.

Verdict: Merger was bad

Helen Thomas, partner, Capital Law The demise of the WDA was ill thought out. Removing the quasi-autonomous status of its activities by simply "merging" it with the Assembly caused enormous expense for Welsh taxpayers and created a layer of bureaucracy unsurpassed in its ability to block, delay or otherwise scupper private sector property development.

It's a crying shame, but sadly typical, that history repeated itself and lessons were not learned from the wind-up of Cardiff Bay Development Corporation and before that the Land Authority for Wales.

Staffed by property entrepreneurs with quasi-private sector powers, those bodies, along with the WDA, achieved so much in regeneration of post-industrial Wales.

There is much work to be done in Wales. Regeneration of the Valleys remains a high priority, but we no longer have a regenerative body. The Assembly has other priorities (many of which it is discharging well) and it's obvious that the economic regeneration of Wales through investment in property and attraction of inward investors has stalled.

Other areas of the UK have development agencies that are empowered and very active, but we are not represented by a dedicated development agency and the likely result is that inward investment will be attracted elsewhere. In my view, the Assembly will scratch its head and wonder what went wrong.

Verdict: Merger was bad

Richard Houdmont, director for Wales of the Chartered Institute of Marketing

There are a lot of people going around saying it's a terrible thing that the WDA has gone, but was the WDA as wonderful as it has been built up to be? The fact is that when the WDA was in existence we went from being second worst performing economic area of the UK to the worst performing. On that count, it doesn't sound like the enormous success that some believe.

People say that the WDA had a strong brand and was internationally recognised. …

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IsWales Hurt by theWDA a's Demise? or Was It Time to Do Things Differently? Five Years after the Abolition of the Welsh Development Agency, and with Calls for Reform of the Assembly Government's Economic Development Policy, Aled Blake Asks a Range of Business Figures for Their Views
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