UPDATED: Forget Meryl Streep, iron-coated PM David Cameron is now desperate to deflect any negative attention his party’s crippling austerity is having on the UK economy. So we see classic magician’s misdirection instead: a squabble with Argentina over The Falklands(!), threats to the very existence of the NHS, force the jobless and disabled to work for no pay at Tesco to get their benefits and tell Greece to behave with their economy or… what?
The opposition Labour party is equally in a shambles, sulking from a poll defeat in 2010, unable to find a credible and forceful leader and even though polls show them on a slight rebound, PM Cameron has little to fear. In Wales, they have a bigger mess. Labour is entering its 12th year leading the government yet during that time have bounced between announcing big economic development initiatives that go nowhere and thus deflect attention away from dismal economic results with even more magician’s misdirection.
Their ‘hip’ Twitter stream is filled with many announcements but unless you’re following, it’s like the metaphor, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Last week they announced with great fanfare 50 inbound jobs were coming to Wales from the USA. Upon further review, it’s 30 and the vast majority of those will be £17K per year call centre jobs. Checking with the company in the US there was no press mention at all (not even on their website) and one press release quote from the CEO. So the question is: if we’re making this big a deal about 30 jobs and they make no mention whatsoever, how bad are things? Very, very bad.
Yes, it was the 1st inbound US investment in 5 years. So you do celebrate, but for such a small amount you do so quietly because the fanfare (pages in Western Mail, BBC and every outlet trumpeting it), makes you look foolish. Why? For 30 jobs, you gave away £162,000 to bring them here? Who negotiated this and where, please, can I sign up for a similar deal?
Now before the “don’t be so negative, what would you do differently?” crowd launch in, take a step back. In November, as a private citizen frustrated with the continued implosion of business initiatives and somewhat heartened by a new Minister taking charge, I wrote asking for an appointment to speak with that minister because in a previous incarnation I had experience in economic development and was tired of watching the Welsh economy die a death of 1,000 cuts. If journalism is my blood, community service has been the bone marrow.
The minister was unavailable so I was passed on to a nice young chap who met with me, heard what we had done in the 1980s to sell and rebuild Cocaine Cowboy-controlled Miami, then went on 6-weeks of paternity leave. 3 months later, no surprise, it’s all ignored.
In the interim though and with much media fanfare a multi-page ‘plan’ was launched with a media walking tour on how to ‘fix the High Street.’ Like most WG initiatives, they can now put another graphically brilliant binder on a shelf next to the many produced by the WDA, Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, Ryder Cup, Business Golf Wales, International Business Wales, white elephant High Street killing development projects too numerous to list and move on until someone else raises a stink.
Nice work if you can get it.
Meanwhile the economy continues to decline because no one is ever held accountable for anything by voters nor do they ever demand a return on their tax investment. Last election less than 50% of them even bothered to show up and now we’re headed for the same collision course as Scotland with Westminster because 18%(!) of those who could vote in Wales said yes, to more devolution powers and to stay the course towards an independence that would bankrupt Wales inside of 6 months.
So here’s a plan. Stop the ‘for show’ events and instead embark on a real long-term professional fix of economic development. Take it out of the government, form a real private-public partnership, bring in a business and economic development pro and get real.
No more ‘for show’ executive junkets to far flung places involving free travel for politicians and business people. Everyone pays their way, works in a targeted, focused way and helps grow Wales 1st then their own business. No more quid pro quos, just focused hard work.
It worked 25 years ago in a city torn apart by drugs, crooked police, race riots and decrepit inner city structures. Yes they have nicer weather, but none of our history. It was a great team effort that brought in thousands of jobs, targeted businesses and industries and when finished ‘the team’ had built an airline hub, two sport arenas and teams, a global fashion trend hub, festival market, 50,000+ inbound jobs and partnership that negotiated real change and improvements to downtown, roadways and businesses that helped far more than 30 families.
Frankly, we would have been embarrassed to put out a press release for such a small number, mostly because we were focused on projects that brought 3,000 jobs at a minimum and we negotiated tough, but fair terms. That always trumps mock outrage when the horse is out of the barn, the jobs are lost and you misdirect the headline to read, ‘First Minister shunned by departing company’s refusal to meet.”
It’s way past time for everyone to grow up and get real about development. Wishing never makes it so.
UPDATE: Every time I am hard on the Welsh Government I begin to feel badly… then almost immediately get further affirmation they are deserving of public scorn and scrutiny.
This morning, the Facebook burning save the economy question of the day from First Minister Carwyn Jones? Should cigarettes be sold in plain paper packs?
How this solves the Welsh economic issues is beyond me and ranks right up there with the equally stunning day of debate a few months earlier… should the Welsh Government allow paddling in school?
This is why I wrote this article.
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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