(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)
Yesterday, AMs took the opportunity to discuss the Economy & Infrastructure Committee’s inquiry into “Selling Wales to the World” – summary here.
Seeking new links
Committee Chair, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) said with Brexit approaching it was more important than ever to sell Wales to the world.
He was pleased the Welsh Government accepted the Committee’s headline recommendation of creating a Cabinet-level post with responsibility for external affairs and international trade – though it would be down to the next First Minister to make a decision.
The Committee also had concerns over the level of support offered to small and medium-sized companies who have the ambition to export. Were they on the Welsh Government’s radar? There was also criticism of the performance of Welsh Government overseas offices.
“Witnesses were unable to point to the impact the overseas offices have had on export. In fact, witnesses were unable to even define the role of them. The level of resourcing and personnel varies greatly from office to office, and there appears to be a lack of links between offices and local authorities, which could support each other, of course, in this area of work.”
– Chair of the Economy & Infrastructure Committee, Russell George AM
The Chair also repeated long-standing calls for air passenger duty to be devolved, with the Welsh Affairs Select Committee at Westminister launching an inquiry.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said the report offered “valuable advice” going forward, but it was a familiar story.
“In many ways, we can see this as the story of this Government across many portfolio areas: lack of strategic thinking, not enough thinking strategically, not as much joined-up working as we’d like to see, only pockets of good practice here and there.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
He cited the Scottish Government’s much stronger strategic vision and a much stronger brand, while the UK Government has actively tried to marginalise Welsh branding. He hoped the new First Minister will take the recommendation of a Cabinet-level post seriously to provide more joined-up thinking which has clearly been lacking.
Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) stressed the importance of an export strategy, though there were already a number of companies in or near her constituency – particularly in the food and drink sector – which were benefiting from Welsh Government support. However, she called for a change in focus with regard to tourism.
“….work that Visit Wales does around its various themed years is very exciting, but I do wonder if annual shifts of focus are the right way to build brand identity. Perhaps we need to think about a more long-term theming to really build that globally recognised Welsh brand.”
– Vikki Howells AM
A vital part of our agenda
Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said international engagement was vital and the Welsh Government will do everything it can to maintain a strong relationship with the European market after Brexit. On expanding markets, he had this to say:
“I’m pleased to be able to say that we are allocating resources from the £7.5 million business resilience fund recently approved through the European transition fund to support campaigns and activities that help companies to establish the traction that they need in new markets, and that positions us, I think, to keep Wales’s international profile as a location for investment strong and positive.”
– Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates
He supported the “themed year” events for tourism, saying it provided a stronger and clearer proposition for Wales. In a couched warning, he called for the opposition to recognise that if an external affairs ministerial post is created, they’ll incur higher travel and subsistence costs – something often the target for freedom of information requests.