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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Confused of Westminster and Cardiff

The announcement yesterday that the Welsh Development Agency brand name is to be scrapped and much of Wales' industrial policy torn up when the quango merges with the Assembly Government met with a predictable reaction in the chamber. Economic Development Minister, Andrew Davies, was grilled on the proposal. Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Mike German, in particular was scathing about the proposal in the chamber:

Michael German: I suppose that you could say that ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ does not have quite the same ring to it as ‘Welsh Development Agency’. While it is right that you are trying to promote Wales, there is widespread agreement—particularly in the overseas market—that the WDA is well-known and much appreciated as a brand. Surely there must some way to use the brand name to continue the good work that it has brought to Wales, without losing the objective of promoting Wales. Are the two not reconcilable?

and in the press:

Mike German, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly, said, "News that the WDA brand is to be scrapped amazes me. WDA is a world-renowned name. It is one of Wales' best-known brands. Any big enterprise entering into a merger would keep and develop its best brand names, not consign them to history."

Mr German, a former Economic Development Minister, added, "In Rhodri Morgan's haste to bring these bodies under Assembly control, there is a danger that Wales' reputation as a place to do business is done lasting damage."

His criticism however, met with a robust defence:

Andrew Davies: You could make the same argument about tourism: I have heard the argument from the opposition that the brand is the Wales Tourist Board and that we should protect it. It is not, and even the Wales Tourist Board would argue that. The brand is Wales. I hold to what I have said to you before. The WDA and the Wales Tourist Board and ELWa have done some extremely good work, but in terms of a new Welsh public service, a focus on promoting Wales overseas, and branding what we do within the UK and Wales, the brand is Wales, and not a particular organisational name or logo.

Michael German: If the brand is Wales, how will you use the word ‘Wales’ when you talk to companies? Do you say, ‘I am from Wales’? Perhaps you could explain it a bit more.

Andrew Davies: I am trying to make a distinction between the brand and the name or logo. I know that you are struggling with this concept, Mike, but that is the fundamental difference. When you were a Minister on an overseas visit, you did not promote a particular organisation. For example, in America you did not promote Wales as a location for inward investors—you sold or promoted the benefits of Wales—an excellent world-class workforce within the European Union—or you promoted Wales to visitors as a unique country with a unique culture. The overall brand is Wales, but the messages below that about the qualities that we can offer will be part of the marketing that we will devise.

So far, so good we thought. This was just one more episode in the drama known as "Rhodri's bonfire of the quangos", in which even those opposition members who support the concept in principle still have doubts about the process and some of the detailed proposals.

By the end of the day all that had changed. It had become apparent that it was not only the opposition parties who were concerned by this proposal, the Secretary of State for Wales also has serious reservations:

....the idea has already caused unease among senior politicians from all parties who worry the WDA's global reputation for attracting companies to Wales will be damaged.

Mr Hain said, "This is a world-wide brand, the most successful development agency there has ever been. The Welsh Assembly Government needs to think long and hard before considering whether to ditch it."

The WDA brand was known across the world and brought trade opportunities for Wales, he said. "I hope a way will be found in the reorganisation of economic policy and support, which I understand the reasons for, that the WDA brand will be kept."

I heard Andrew Davies on the radio this morning. Again, he put up a solid but unconvincing case for his proposals. However, this time he was treating the Secretary of State for Wales as a member of the opposition and it was clear that Peter Hain's intervention had put him into much difficulty as a Minister.

It is no longer enough for Andrew to hide behind the fact that this is a devolved matter and that the decision lies in Cardiff, he now needs to directly answer the criticism that the change will undermine the brand and weaken Wales' efforts to attract jobs and investment. The egg on his face has been thrown by his Ministerial colleague in Gwydr House.
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