This article was originally written as a commentary to the news of the expansion of the Business Wales programme.
Another announcement on business support from the Welsh Government, another quote on “new jobs”. One wonders what these “new jobs” will be. With little disclosed in the way of economic impact analysis or strategy, it is difficult to attest to the validity of any claim of the value of these to the Welsh economy – let alone if such support is the most appropriate use of public money. Similarly, if a nation’s economic position could be improved through public money alone, we’d be well off in Wales given the billions of pounds that have been thrown in our direction. Sadly, the latest ONS figures remind us all too well of how Wales’ attempts to address its economic woes have failed and I’m hoping those behind the scenes in Welsh Government won’t be happy if most of the opportunities this support creates are in vulnerable, low-paid roles.
Earlier in the year I co-authored a report entitled “Wales: Time for a realistic perspective” in which my co-author and I discuss various factors we believe hold Wales back. Among these is the lack of dissenting or critical voices in Wales, and I find this particularly true in the context of business support, where a number of people have expressed their concerns to me but fear doing so publicly. Their comments suggest that business support in Wales favours stultifying conformity over entrepreneurial flair, and rewards those adept at form-filling over those who simply want to get on with creating and running businesses. Moreover, decisions on support seem to take an age. There’s also precious little to indicate that the Welsh Government has acknowledged or addressed such concerns in a timely manner. Business support therefore seems to be the very antithesis of what’s required in an increasingly dynamic and global market place.
Of course, any business support policy has to be viewed in the context of broader government policies and, in the case of infrastructure policy – a vital, core component of a vibrant economy – Wales is found wanting. To date, progress has been minimal, and the indecisiveness of the Welsh Government together with a lack of cohesive planning both impact the economy badly and render smaller scale business support policies impotent. Put another way, a prescription of a few energy drinks and little else will not ameliorate the long-term health prospects of a patient whose arteries are clogged.
It needn’t be this way. In “Wales: Time for a realistic perspective”, we call on those in politics to bridge the divide between the parties and the divide between Westminster and Cardiff. It has to be recognized that many of the solutions to Wales’ issues are apolitical and more than one four-year Assembly term will be needed for progress to become apparent. Decades of economic decline in Wales will not be reversed through political sizzle and so-called business support from a government that appears to be more obsessed with hubris than the changes, decisions and bold policies that are required to create a prosperous nation.
The discussions around the Wales Bill and more generally around devolution create opportunities too, provided the parties involved view such discussions in the context of opportunity and challenge and not, as is frequently the case, through the lens of grievance. Wales has an enormous amount to offer and there are many successful, innovative businesses of all sizes: for such success and innovation to become the norm rather than the exception though we need a wholly different approach to state intervention. The worn, tired policies seen in Wales have failed to deliver progress and far from creating a dynamic, entrepreneurial nation, have perpetuated a lethargic, statist one. I won’t wait with bated breath for the results of the expansion of Business Wales, that’s for sure.