By Denis Campbell
Congratulations, you won. You have no more bottom line to manage or expenses to cut so time to focus on swiftly building Wales’ top line. One only need walk past your constituent office in Bridgend to see that 1 in 4 storefronts lay empty (or leased by charity thrift shops). Economic growth is job one across Wales. So please listen as you told the BBC Labour now must do.
Platitudes for your predecessor will fade faster than the sun sinks below the horizon today. Your current lot reminds me of my own native land. Today, President Obama has an overfilled plate, no shortage of critics and a plethora of plan strangling crises.
Wales cannot continue with 70% of its jobs, economic development and growth controlled by and coming from the public sector. Without a robust private sector generating jobs and wealth while building things of value, you and your government are destined for failure.
So strap yourself in and place the cries for additional Assembly powers on the backburner. You will earn those powers by demonstrating an ability to lead the nation out of recession. Devolution then is a basketball ‘slam-dunk.’
Sir, it’s time to start from scratch. Build yourself an economic ‘War Cabinet.’ Shake things up and make Assembly members and indeed everyone in government accountable for providing real Return on Investment for every penny requested and the government spends.
To heck with Sir Humphrey’s “Yes, Minister” caustic warnings. 1st Minister, it’s time to be ‘courageous! And here are a few places to start:
1. Scrap International Business Wales
Admit defeat and start over.
• Fire those responsible, bring in professional business creation management and give them a real ‘build/develop business and jobs in Wales ‘or else’’ mandate.
• Cancel and claw back the remaining ½ of the £3 million pound PR contract to develop business in ASEAN nations. We have no business going there with nothing real to offer and no real restrictions/demands on that contract.
• Demand IBW cancel their January and February 2010 taxpayer funded junkets to the failing economic state of Dubai(!). While the Arab Health Trade Fair and Gulfood are no doubt good programmes, what can Wales sell at either? Welsh cakes as yummy Ramadan fast-breaker will not work. Too, what can we sell in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, China, Tripoli and Istanbul? Why are IBW not focused on expansion with traditional trade partners and industries?
• Please look at the IBW travel schedule, budget, ask questions and demand answers. They are going to Vancouver 1-month after the Winter Olympics (lucky for them or imagine the furore) but scheduling reps to three different parts of the globe simultaneously in the same week?!? (March 21-28, 2010 has events in Istanbul, Vancouver and Barcelona.) How can any one agency cover three global events/trade missions on three continents at the same time meaningfully?
• Where is the focus on countries/sectors where Wales has existing relationships and a chance to compete with cheaper labour and a trained workforce, perhaps even as a gateway distribution country to the EU/US? Our aerospace industry contributes aircraft components to Airbus and will that sector create enough jobs to justify a weeklong junket to the Singapore Air Show?
2. Lean on the Cardiff Council to dismiss the head of Cardiff and Co for gross dereliction of ego.
• Aside from taking credit for every major development in the capital city from the Ashes to St. Davids and claiming bus adverts are an in-kind donation from Cardiff Bus, what kind of ego must one charged with bringing business to Cardiff have to place their own photo on the side of a Cardiff city bus? How exactly are bus side adverts going to help Cardiff attract business? And from where will it come, Barry? Sully?
• Then there was last week’s kerfuffle over credit taken for The Business Partnership, an organisation which they had no involvement in yet had an article in the Western Mail with a photo larger than the editorial?
• There are 13 double decker buses in the Cardiff fleet of which 4 or 5 carry Cardiff and Co adverts. Those life-sized and beyond bus posters normally cost £10K per year per bus so the impression of waste is already there if one does not know it is an in-kind donation. (Despite Cardiff Bus’ chief PR flak, who is also a board member of Cardiff and Co, insisting through an underling that “there is no story there because it was an in-kind donation” it does not make the question of appearance and search for real meat behind claims any easier. I offered to let her write the story instead and I would just put my name on it. Oh, no wait, that’s already been done.)
So can you please Mr. Jones insist that ego and hubris be removed from all of Wales’ business development? Will you also insist that quasi-governmental organisations focus less on in-kind PR press valuation boasts and more on bringing real, meaningful jobs with real, measurable financial results to Wales?
Besides, those valuation models are very old and do not take into account the media carnage in an industry losing 30% of its readers/viewers annually. Eventually 100% of zero will be…
3. Cardiff Airport
Can we, to borrow a noted US campaign phrase, put any more ‘lipstick on that pig?’ Shiny white paint, new Departure Hall and a new façade does not a vibrant functional air hub make.
• I encourage you sir to pay out of your own pocket to take a business trip to Amsterdam and challenge you to spend less than £300 pounds on roundtrip airfare (especially now that KLM is down to 3 flights a day from 4). Without competition flight costs have tripled.
• If perennially ‘teetering on the brink’ BMI finally go under this spring, you can effectively close or rechristen it as the booze-charter gateway it is. Most business travellers will be driving to Bristol and Birmingham because they have no choice.
• 40-minute drive to Cardiff and no motorway access aside, we’ve been told for 2-years now that great things are coming from this new management team. So far the solution seems to be as with other WAG initiated business development programmes… redesign your brand, get a new font necessitating printing of business cards and stationery and re-do the website.
Is someone whispering “Field of Dreams” like in Rhoose as they did to Kevin Costner in the film? “If you build it they will come?” Well this ain’t Kansas Toto. Flights reduce in frequency whilst costs rise and thus drive traffic down.
4. Pass a Welsh version of Florida’s stringent Sunshine law
One where all business with the Welsh Assembly Government must be conducted openly and fairly. Sunlight is a great disinfectant. Due to cruel geography we see less of it in Wales (at all levels).
• With government operating openly in the sunlight and the public seeing AND having a chance to meaningfully react to contracts before they move forward, you will go a long way to destroying this nation’s ‘small-ball playing’ parochial image and bring investment and jobs needed to grow.
• Streamline the Senedd mother-ship monolith and get everyone moving at the speed of business:
• Abandon e-mail responses saying we will get back to you within 7 working days.
• Set up a rapid response network for capital infusion projects and
• Ensure investment moves rapidly and cuts through red tape if jobs are being created.
5. More than others in your party merely trying to get event tickets, fear a real national embarrassment come October when the Ryder Cup comes to Wales.
Is this, after all these years of preparation, the best Wales can do?
• One rebuilt M-4 interchange and five small 4-star hotels already fully booked? Captains of industry and heads of state are coming to Wales for the event. Not many will stay here because once you get past the host venue, The Vale Hotel, St. David’s, Cardiff Marriott and Hilton… the drop-off is precipitous.
• I’d suggest investing in a few nearby meadows, buy a windsock, paint several large landing circles, get an ATC licence to operate an airfield for 10-days and launch helicopter/limousine service to and from London’s 5-star hotels. Don’t think the CEOs of most industries have not already done that rather than expose their bosses to the level of service we see regularly.
6. Appoint a true development “Czar.”
You need a professional business person to advise you vs a political appointee. Their remit needs to be to bring all economic groups together, cut duplication of effort and together attract business and work with Assembly members to bring needed infrastructure updates and tax relief to large companies locating jobs in Wales.
• Bring back a public/private partnership to develop business. Wales was well served when the Wales Development Agency (WDA) was a working group with a functioning and functional private board.
• Take economic development away from the Cabinet Secretary for Transportation’s remit. Why business growth and development are not important enough for their own Cabinet slot beggars belief.
7. Finally, it’s Time to check all egos at the door.
From IBW to Cardiff and Co to the Assembly and MANY points in between, there is no shortage of personalities in Wales with high ego strength. It’s time to trade that for real strength and results.
When 43 high-ego musicians and artists descended on a recording studio in Los Angeles in 1985 to record the single ‘We Are the World’ for African famine relief, producer Quincy Jones made but one request, “Check Your Ego at the Door otherwise this cannot work.”
1st Minister Jones, you need to make the same demand of those trying to solve this important issue and pound the table for real results from those representing this country abroad and bringing business back. No economy can sustain itself without private wealth and job creation. Wales has huge disadvantages out of the gate and, paradoxically, no shortage of people willing to bend your ear to tell you how good we already are doing.
Please do not listen to them sir, they know not of what they speak. The Dutch have a great phrase to describe what it is they are selling to you, “gebakken lucht.” That quite literally translates to “baked air…” and it only floats so far.
Good luck, sir, you will need lots of it.
Denis G Campbell is the author of 6 books including 'Billionaire Boys Election Freak Show,' 'The Vagina Wars' & 'Egypt Unsh@ckled.' He is the editor of UK Progressive Magazine and provides commentary to the BBC, itv Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and others. His weekly 'World View with Denis Campbell' segment can be heard every Thursday on the globally syndicated The David Pakman Show. You can follow him on Twitter via @UKProgressive and on Facebook.
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