Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
200. Good morning, Mr Hicks. I do not know who
wants to lead but if you could introduce yourselves and tell us
what Click-Cymru is and what Hicks Randles does, I would be very
(Mr Guest) Good morning, Chairman. Thank
you for inviting us. My name is Roger Guest and I will be supported
by Lindsay and Paul so it will be not a double act but a triple
act. Thank you for inviting us to the Committee. First of all,
I would like to tell you something about Hicks Randles. I will
ask Lindsay Hicks, who is our senior partner, to say something
about Hicks Randles and the things we do here in North Wales.
(Mr Hicks) We are a four-partner firm of chartered
accountants based in North East Wales employing something like
30 staff and we cover 1,200 to 1,300 clients. We are very diverse.
We cover all sorts of manufacturing, people who import, people
who export. We feel we are very close to the heartbeat of businesses
in North Wales and in Cheshire. We like to get involved in the
businesses, helping clients run their businesses, making decisions
with the clients who run their businesses that aid in their development.
That perhaps is enough about the firm.
(Mr Guest) Thank you, Lindsay. Chairman, we realise
time is limited so I hope that our letter to the Committee helps
give a flavour of how Click-Cymru was born. I will put a little
bit more detail on the bones of that. About a year ago we launched
in partnership with CELTEC, that is the local training and enterprise
council, our innovative bizwebwales concept. We launched that
at the St Asaph CELTEC offices and we were very pleased to have
David Hanson, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, to do
that launch. He was joined by Chris Ruane and we were delighted
to have them both there. Chris came to us at the close of that
launch and mentioned the ex-pats database which he had and could
we do anything through bizwebwales and the answer of course was
yes because we see bizwebwales as something that is different
and something that will help the business community and we are
always keen to put something back in. So we set about with Chris
looking at how from the coalface we could actually do something
for Wales. It has ended up with a letter which Chris sent out
through the database to ex-pats across the United States of America,
the Pacific Rim and Europe and we had an excellent response. The
response that we had was quite interesting. We decided from that
there were things that we could do. Perhaps there were things
that were not being done because of constraints on public expenditure
and we could add value and we therefore looked at developing Click-Cymru.
The rest, as they say, is history. That is where we are now. We
take a targeted approach at helping small to medium-sized businesses
(because that is where we believe our expertise is) develop international
links. We are looking at the cultural side and we will tell you
later about genealogy. We have got involved in the Objective 1
process which we can say a little bit about later on. That is
a very brief summary of where we are at the moment. Progress in
our terms in the private sector is perhaps not as fast as we would
like. We move at the pace of the public sector and that to us
is a disappointment on occasions.
201. Could you give us an idea of the number
of people who have used Click-Cymru, the number of hits on the
(Mr Guest) The number of hits, as it were. I will
ask my colleague Paul Selwyn-Smith to give you some answers on
that. Paul is a partner in Hicks Randles and he is our technology
expert as well.
(Mr Selwyn-Smith) The point that I would like to make
is that the web site we have at the moment is very much regarded
by us as a pilot. There is a limit to what we can do with the
resources that we have available and we have not been able to
devote a great deal of time to promotional activities. Having
said that, the state we are at now is we have a list of round
about 1,200 e-mail addresses to which we send round about once
a month an e-mail, a newsletter, which gives views about what
has been happening in Wales which we think will be of interest
to the recipients. When that e-mail newsletter goes out every
month we tend to get quite a good response to that either by e-mail
or people who visit the site to find out more background of stories
in the newsletter. We get quite a good response at that time.
Then it tends to level off a bit and quieten down until the next
newsletter comes out. We are at the stage where it is still very
much a pilot. We are getting good responses and we are getting
some useful feedback. We had feedback from one individual in the
United States looking to set up a small business in Conwy and
we were able to put him in touch with some of the local sources
of help and, as far as we are know, he has set up now over here.
So little stories like that give us a little bit of a boost and
make us want to continue. But, as I say, there is really a limit
as to what we can do at the moment using our own funds. We have
not to date had any public money whatsoever for what we have been
doing. We are a commercial organisation and there is only so far
we can go with the funds that we have available.
202. You say "there is hard evidence to
underpin the view that Wales is coming from behind in the promotion
and awareness stakes". Why do you think this?
(Mr Guest) I think the evidence is there. Can I take
maybe a softer example of how that is coming across to us. Part
of our Click-Cymru research has led us to work with the National
Library of Wales with Andrew Green and his team there. When talking
about expatriates expatriates are only there because their roots
are in Wales. One of the things that has concerned us is that
the use of the Internet and the fantastic possibilities that now
presents for Wales does not allow those expatriates to come and
search their heritage and their roots. Againand I hope
Chris does not mind me using the examplewe were talking
with Chris about how we could work with the National Library to
do this. The Scots promote themselves very well. As the First
Minister said when he gave his evidence to the Committee, there
are a lot of Micks and Paddies, but not so many people of Welsh
descendence. I would dispute that and say that maybe the Welsh
descendants go back four or five generations but they have no
means of tracing their heritage except by manual means at the
moment. Our Celtic cousins, the Irish and Scots, have gone along
the road to developing genealogical services that feed into other
areas. We do not do that. It is very difficult to get any funds.
There is a document here which is produced by the Heritage Council
for Ireland which shows how they have done it. So Wales is not
promoting itself to its people in that sense, the people out there
in the world and there is a big hole. Those people would actually
come on to the web site to search their genealogy, but that would
be a gateway, Chairman, to them buying into other services that
we have here in Wales. For example, you have just had evidence
from the International Eisteddfod. That might be a link. There
is the National Eisteddfod. There are many other things that we
could point to. That is one area of evidence. The other area of
evidence is, of course, there is a Celtic Festival we are told
in Brittany which takes place each year. Up until recently Wales
has been very much the poor relation there in promoting Wales
at the Festival. There is small attendance from pockets of activity
in Wales. I do gather from discussions I have had this week with
the Cultural Division in the Assembly, as a result of a link that
we had with Dennis Turner at the International Trade Division
who passed on our details to them, that something is being done
about that for the coming August. We wait with interest to see
what is happening there. For example, Lindsay discovered when
he was out in the USA talking to David Williams of the Wales North
American Chamber that there is only one person in the Welsh Tourist
Board representing Wales in the USA and he works out of New York.
Again, an example there. I know from a previous job that I did
some time ago that the embassies and consulate offices do an excellent
job worldwide. But I have experienced working in Europe with trade
missions and have been in Europe when the Scots and the Irish
have been really very dominant and I knew Wales was not. That
is not the fault of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I
think there is a lot there that could be done so, yes, there are
203. We have been told by many people that one
of the problems faced by Wales is the lack of a large expatriate
population of the kind Scotland and Ireland have. In the light
of this, how effective a strategy is targeting Welsh ex-pats abroad?
Have we got the numbers out there? Is it worth the time and effort
in contacting those people?
(Mr Guest) I think, yes, we have got the numbers out
there. I cannot remember the numbers for the USA but it is about
four million in the USA alone.
(Mr Hicks) We integrated very well. We integrated
so well into America that whereas the Irish and Scots have kept
to their own communities, the Welsh people who went over there
integrated far better. There are a lot of people in the US who
do not realise they have got Welsh roots. How we get at those
people is another problem.
204. That figure you quote there is based on
a tick box for being Welsh or whatever nationality you claim descendence
from in America. You are saying that four million people tick
that box and say "I am of Welsh ancestry"? That is showing
a commitment, an awareness, is it not?
(Mr Guest) I think there is a potential. I think the
more we create an awareness the more likely the people who are
not ticking the box at the moment will do that. It is about building
the profile. This is why if you talk to David Williams and his
team, as Lindsay has done in the States, David and his team are
very keen to get that message across and are looking to us to
give them the tools to do that in some way. They are business
people who have extensive links in the US and together with events
like the Cymnfa Ganu which we know is taking place in California
this coming year and the work of our colleagues in Wales International
who are members of Click-Cymru, there is a whole range of people
who can get to this major figure, if that is the case, of the
four million people who are not ticking the box but certainly
would if we told them we were here.
(Mr Hicks) It is one further way, is it not, of promoting
Wales? Why not start through the Welsh ex-pats because at least
they have got some feeling for Wales?
Mr Ruane: It is an under-used resource and there
is a lot of goodwill we could tap into. To quantify it, in money
terms it would cost us millions to buy and it is on tap.
205. You have told us that CELTEC is your only
public sector partner. What do you think are the benefits of private
sector-led initiatives and what more could the Government, for
instance, do to encourage such programmes?
(Mr Guest) We have been very fortunate to have the
support of CELTEC from day one starting with bizwebwales and that
has been absolutely excellent. Sadly, we have struggled to get
the support of the other public agencies. It was some time before
we could get a positive response from the Wales Tourist Board,
which we eventually did, and it was a considerable amount of time
before we could get a response from the Welsh Development Agency.
When we did get it, it was slightly negative but we are now assured
by the Chairman that they are very keen to work with the Click-Cymru
and the expatriate community. I think the role of the private
sector brings perhaps a different angle. We bring a business role
there and if we are going to strengthen the economy of Wales,
we understand how the problems of the smaller businesses, who
do not have the money and the resources perhaps to access the
big trade missions which go out through Wales International, and
we can listen and feed that back into the process. We can also
come up with innovation and new ideas which have not been done
before where we see the gaps in talking to our own client base
across North Wales, but also the private sector always wants to
move ahead quickly and do things because if we do not move ahead,
the public sector does play an important role but it tends to
get locked up in committees and debates and meetings. It is about
getting on with it and I think the role of the private sector
is forward looking and it is delivery orientated. Maybe we can
bring that skill to the party on occasions.
206. What do you think the Government can do
to encourage such programmes?
(Mr Guest) I think there is an awful lot the Government
can do. It is difficult when you think about the possibility of
changing primary legislation. Maybe it is not about that. Maybe
it is about empowering the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if
there is an example there, where maybe you could use the consular
teams on the ground to have a country focus. I know that they
have to perhaps be fairly even-handed but it is an education process
that we need through our offices on the ground to say we understand
the needs of Wales which are different to Scotland and Ireland
and England and is that a way of doing it? Do you actually have
a team of people you can second to certain key places? Are they
drawn from the public sector and the private sector? There are
a lot of things the Government can do to strengthen our role out
there through our gateway processes which are the consular offices
perhaps and also through the use of the Internet. Paul will tell
you we have talked about Cymru.com.
(Mr Selwyn-Smith) There is one concept which is worth
exploring, I think. There is the possibility of new top-level
domains coming in now, as they are called. We are all familiar
with .co.uk and the dot-com but there is a possibility that additional
types of domain could appear. The idea we had was why do we not
look at the possibility of "dot-cym" so that Welsh businesses
can advertise the fact of their nationality directly through their
web site address. That is one example where there might be possibilities.
It is quite an expensive process to set up something like that.
It is not something that a private sector organisation would consider
but something which as a partnership is achievable.
207. Do you think that the advent of the National
Assembly for Wales, ie devolution, has changed the perception?
We are talking about "the Government" here but we have
had the National Assembly for Wales now and do you think that
has changed the situation?
(Mr Selwyn-Smith) I think so very much. I think there
is a tremendous resurgence in Wales of the idea of the Welsh nationality,
if you like, and the very existence of the Assembly is a good
plus point for promoting Wales and I am sure that the Assembly
will be doing as much as it can to promote Wales internationally.
I certainly think that that will change the way things are looked
208. Mr Guest, you touched earlier on the problems
you were experiencing with the WDA and WTB. Could you tell us
a little bit about those difficulties and why you think that was
(Mr Guest) Yes certainly. When the Click-Cymru partnership
team was formed in the summer we wrote to the then Chief Executive
of the Agency asking could we talk about Click-Cymru. That was
in July. That was both agencies, the Tourist Board as well. It
took over three months to get a response to that letter. We only
got a response from the Welsh Development Agency in the first
instance after three months through people chasing them up. Assembly
Members chased them up, Chris chased them up on occasions for
us, David Hanson chased them up, and it was very difficult to
get a response. When we finally did get a representative of the
Agency to a meeting in Cardiff on 27 November that was a very
negative process for us. It was not a helpful attitude that we
had at that meeting and, needless to say, we have now had assurances
from Sir David Rowe-Beddoe that they do wish to work with the
expatriate community and they do wish to work with the private
sector. Having said that, Chairman, there are many positive aspects
of the Welsh Development Agency. As an organisation we do work
for them. We have just been awarded a contract to chair the new
Automotive Forum Appraisal Panel which is another part of the
Agency which is excellent. We do have very good contacts with
development people there because we do have companies that do
expand. We have an example at the moment of a company who have
just received excellent support from the Welsh Assembly Industrial
Development Team who have gained grants for a major expansion
of their operation in Denbighshire. It is not all bad news is
what I am saying, but it has been very bad news in terms of Click-Cymru
and it has caused us to question the amount of effort that the
whole team have put in, particularly Hicks Randles. We did write
to the Wales Tourist Board at the same time and again it took
several months to get a reply. We had a positive meeting with
the Board's Chief Executive in Cardiff which was good. Having
said all that, in context, maybe the reason we did not get a good
response is the attitude of why should the private sector be telling
the public sector what is needed, but that is about partnership,
is it not? If we are going to move forward we have to move forward
in partnership and maybe one agency should be charged with the
job of promoting Wales in a more definite sense. I am pleased
to learn that the Assembly have a cultural division and perhaps
it sits there. Or maybe the WDA are the right people to be given
a new role in addition to their inward investment role and in
addition to their new role of enterprise which they inherited
from the TEC to strength their network through their offices across
the world. So there are lots of things there, Chairman.
209. Could I come in on that, Roger. The WDA
in the past, as far as inward investment is concerned, have in
the main dealt with larger corporations or larger bodies.
(Mr Guest) Yes.
210. Do you think that they have the right attitude
to dealing with the voluntary sector out there, so to speak, the
expatriate communities that run on the back of volunteers where
your approach has got to be totally different? You have got to
be quite aware and quite gracious in your approach with those
(Mr Guest) Yes, you have. I would say at the moment
they are lacking those skills. It is very much a top-down approach
they have. Successful inward investment in Wales has been excellent,
but it is all about the bottom-up approach and you have got to
listen and it should be the bottom-up approach. You have got to
listen to those groups and you have got to understand where they
are building to. You have got to be sensitive in your approach
and work with them in partnership otherwise they will walk away.
211. And not wait four months to reply to a
(Mr Guest) And not wait four months to reply to a
212. You began to tackle this question but I
would like to give you the opportunity to expand on it. You have
mentioned that UK Government could help with perhaps better access
to consulate offices. Are there any other things you think the
UK Government or UK Government agencies could be doing to help
(Mr Guest) I read with interest the discussions the
Committee had with Sir David Wright from Invest UK. I personally,
if I can divorce myself from the current role, had experience
of the Invest in Britain Bureau in the past and to my mind they
never promoted UK plc in certain regions as strongly as they could.
I wonder whether the new organisation will still do that or whether,
as Mrs Betty Williams said, as we now have the Assembly and that
is excellent, that perhaps the UK Government should be giving
the Assembly more teeth to promote Wales? I do not know what the
real answer is, but I do think the Committee needs to look in
depth at the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the
role of Invest UK, and the role of the Assembly and to see how
that can be strengthened, Chairman, and move together in partnership.
That is where I think the hub is; the spokes will then fit into
213. That is interesting. That is a message
that we have been getting both over the last couple of days and
previously in this inquiry, but it is a message that could perhaps
create its own problems in that people are telling us the partnership
is not strong enough between Wales and UK agencies, whether it
be is tourism, economic development or whatever, and at the same
time saying Wales should have a stronger separate voice. One can
see that squaring that circle is a huge challenge.
(Mr Guest) It is a nightmare.
214. I think my question is do you recognise
that if we do head down that road of Wales and Welsh bodies having
a greater role abroad there is a potential for confusion and competition
within the UK which Wales might not necessarily be the main beneficiary
(Mr Guest) I would say that is probably very true.
The only way to think about that is maybe using the networks that
Wales has. We keep using David and his team in the United States
of America but they are a very good example of how maybe we could
strengthen the message coming from targeted groups like that.
There will always be the competition between the regions of the
UK and that is helpful for UK plc but it is not healthy if it
is the numbers game we are playing for Wales, and my concern is
how we strengthen that for Wales really. It is like an engine;
you can only fine tune it so far. If I can come up with an answer
I will come up with one.
(Mr Selwyn-Smith) One possibility that perhaps could
be explored is better sign-posting from UK Government organisations
through to the relevant organisations in Wales, Scotland, whatever.
I was looking at the Open Government web site this morning which
is an excellent site, and an awful lot of work has gone into putting
the Government on the Internet which is excellent, but I was looking
for a link to the Welsh Assembly on the UK Government web site.
I tried looking under `W' for Wales. No, it was not there. I tried
looking under `A' for Assembly. No, it was not there. I finally
found it under `N' for National Assembly along with the National
Blood Service and the National Crime Squad, so it is not terribly
well sign-posted. If there could be a link on the home page of
the main Government web site "here is the Assembly site"
and "there is the Scottish Parliament site". Similarly,
with sites like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office site, if there
could be some thought given to how they could link through to
the people in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament who
are promoting their own countries separately, that is something
that can be done quite simply and at no great cost and I think
there would be some benefits for other countries there.
(Mr Guest) On our partnership we have S4C Television,
they are doing a lot of work, as I know HTV have and I am sure
BBC Wales are as well, to promote Wales in their way. We have
got some powerful media in the United Kingdom. I see the development
of broad band multi-media which might be another way of promoting
ourselves. There are many avenues, I think, but you are right,
Mr Caton, it is about getting this hub right and getting the spokes
working with it.
215. Bar some notable exceptions, practically
all of our witnesses have not mentioned the Internet. Obviously
those that did mention it seemed to be very impressed with it
and how they were getting their business or whatever promoted
through it. Do you think Welsh business should be making greater
use of the Internet? There is probably an obvious answer to that
one. Is there any way the Government could help in allowing or
promoting business to use it?
(Mr Guest) I think there are many ways, yes. As you
can see, we would not be sitting here today if we had not seen
the benefits of the web for Hicks Randles and for Wales, but it
is very difficult to get SMEs to focus on issues of that nature
when each day they are running faster to survive, but it is the
way forward, communications are the way forward, and I think there
is lots that can be done. I am quite excited by the launch of
CETW. Lindsay, Paul and I went to Llandudno last week to the launch
of the All Wales Council for Education and Training, the new body
which is forming up. There are big human resources development
issues in Wales. Is that the way forward? Do you channel the large
budget CETW are going to have in helping SMEs to use the Internet
more positively to learn about it making things accessible? We
heard from S4C television that NTL were offering to support an
Objective 1 project with set-top boxes so that you do away with
the exclusion issues of not being able to buy a PC. There are
lots of things agencies can do to do that. We need to do it quickly,
otherwise we will get left behind, but in a targeted way.
216. A final question from me; have you had
any involvement in setting up Objective 1 projects?
(Mr Guest) Yes.
217. Particularly in relation to overseas trade
development and how have you found the process?
(Mr Guest) Yes. We have most certainly because that
is the purpose of Click-Cymru. We want to access with partnerships
Objective 1 funding to take it forward in a structured way. Can
I say, Chairman, that if NASA had been organising Objective 1
then perhaps the rocket would have well and truly been off the
launch pad. In Wales' case from the private sector we perceive
that it is on the launch pad, the fuel is in the tanks, but they
have lost the matches to light the burners at the moment. Maybe
there is more to be done. It is a big job and seven years is a
blink. It goes very fast and we are already biting into it. We
have had first-class support from John Clarke and the team at
WEFO but they appear to be vastly under-resourced and they do
need the tool kit to be able to do the job. I do not know whether
you have had access to the Programme and Monitoring Committee
which has finished its report which has looked at reviewing the
procedures that they are operating under and making them more
slick. We are hopeful that we will be able to gain some funding
for Click-Cymru through Objective 1. If we do not get that green
light, and we have been permanently on amber for the last few
months, as a commercial operation there is not much more time
we can put into it. I am sure Lindsay will bear that out. It would
be a great shame if we were to lose the benefits that we have
already gained. There are good examples of private sector-led
initiatives like better Business Wales with BT and the HSBC Bank
and others. We hope Click-Cymru is now ranked as one of those.
We hope the private sector unit that WEFO has just set up will
be empowered to work with people like ourselves because our belief
is that Objective 1 will not work unless we can get the private
sector involved, whether it is us or whoever it might be. It just
will not work. Yes, we have had experience, it has been very good
but it is a very frustrating process and we are losing time.
218. Thank you for that warning. Thank you for
coming here this morning.
(Mr Guest) Thank you, Chairman. Thank you for inviting