Committee: Wales should have a “Foreign Secretary”

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
Selling Wales to the World (pdf)
Published: 27th September 2018

“It is clear to the Committee that more can be done to sell Wales to the world in a strategic and joined up way. There are pockets of good practice that must be better aligned across portfolios – and accessible to more businesses – if we are to meet our potential in this area.”

 

– Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery)

1. A cabinet-level post for International Trade & External Affairs should be created

Foreign relations is a non-devolved issue, but AMs routinely ask questions on international affairs and there are some aspects of devolved policy areas that cross the boundary into “foreign affairs” – particularly international trade.

The British Council said it was “unusual” that Wales didn’t have a cabinet-level position for international affairs and called for a single overarching international strategy covering tourism, trade an inward investment. The Committee concluded that while there were a number of strengths in international affairs sitting across multiple portfolios there were risks in it “falling between two stools”.

The Committee recommended that Wales’ relatively strong performance in exports justifies a specific export growth strategy, while the FSB called for an inward investment strategy that supports the growth and development of the domestic economy, not the “here today, gone tomorrow” approach of the WDA days.

2. The Welsh Government’s overseas offices should be given a greater role

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said Wales’ 16 overseas offices “do not seem to have a tangible effect on exports” and evidence points towards poor performance in all countries with a Welsh Government presence. They called for the offices to be a key part of a broader trade and investment strategy.

The British Council and FSB both believed the offices were under-resourced; Wales has 3 offices and 5 staff in China, the British Council has 5 offices and 750 staff. The British Council said that Wales could do more to assert itself and get a greater presence within the UK Foreign Office network.

3. More joined-up support for tourism

Wales was said to be the “most tourism-dependent” part of the UK, yet still struggles to attract much more than 2% of the UK’s international visitors, compared to Scotland’s 5% and south-west England’s 8.5%. The FSB was also sceptical about the impact of hosting events.

The Wales Tourism Alliance said Wales’ “brand” has strengthened and consolidated, but many witnesses called for branding to better reflect modern Wales. Also, Wales very rarely gets a mention on British-branded tourism websites, particularly after a merger between Visit Britain and Visit England.

A number of recommendations were made, including visitwales.com having bookable products/visits, providing support to small businesses to collaborate to create tourism packages and better promotion of the Explore Wales rail pass to encourage international visitors out of London.

4. Don’t forget the impact of international students

16% of students studying at Welsh universities were from outside the UK in 2016-17 – lower than the UK total of 24%. A study in 2015-16 suggested international students supported up to 7,000 jobs and pumped £716million into the Welsh economy.

In July, the Welsh Government announced a £3.5million package for Global Wales to promote Welsh universities abroad, but witnesses said foreign alumni were under-used as a way to promote Wales and the successes of people who studied at Welsh universities.

The Committee also recommended an outreach programme by further education colleges to emerging economies to meet their vocational skill needs, after Colleges Wales told them some of the international success FE colleges were having as well as universities.

See also: State of Wales – Wales & The World

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