Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
MP, MR BRIAN
WILSON, MP, DR
MP, MR ALISTAIR
280. A lot of the evidence we have taken, including
the oral evidence from the First Minister, has focused on the
idea that Wales does not get its fair share of inward investment,
overseas trade and so on when compared to the rest of the UK.
British Trade International told us that they had no formula for
assessing whether different regions of the UK were getting their
fair share of inward investment. Do you think such a formula can
be devised or does the Government have one?
(Dr Howells) It would be very difficult to devise
such a formula. You can devise tables and say Wales received £X
billion of inward investment last year and the year before that
and so on. I shall give you an example of why I think it is difficult.
What has happened in recent years is that I consider the really
valuable investment has been going into the south east and the
Thames corridor and that is because we are getting knowledge-driven
industries going in there. Their success or failure is quite difficult
to measure. They are going there for all kinds of reasons and
it comes back to the point I made earlier. All this has to do
with how Wales presents itself in terms of its education, in terms
of its communications, in terms of its skills, its industrial
infrastructure and so on. If Wales presents itself as attractive
enough, it will not have difficulty in attracting inward investment.
After all, Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is only 160 miles from
London. Newcastle is twice as far, Edinburgh and Glasgow are much
further again. Geographically Ireland is way out on the fringe
of the European Union. So we are very, very close to some of the
biggest markets anywhere in the world. I do not think we fulfil
our potential in that respect; we do not have a strategic and
sharp enough view of what we have to do as a country in order
to attract that inward investment and grow our own businesses.
Remember this. The most vibrant part of the whole of the British
economy is along the Thames corridor. All of us in this room who
live in Wales know it and see it as we have seen those headquarters
and plants spread from the west of London out towards Bristol
and luckily over the Channel and along the M4 corridor. There
is no excuse for it really. We are not geographically isolated.
What we are is still confused about what makes economic success
and in my view it is a job you have to do yourself. Do not expect
Westminster to do it. Those days are long gone. I think that we
have to re-invent ourselves, create the infrastructure which is
going to make us irresistible as far as inward investment in Wales
is concerned. If we cannot do that, then we will continue to bumble
along in the way that we have done for the past 30 years.
281. I hear what you say and agree with it.
However, clearly British Government and agencies do have a role
to play, that is the very reason you are here today. From your
own submission we learn that Invest-UK attracted 757 projects
to the UK in 1999-2000 but only 45 of those came to Wales. It
is those sorts of figures which make people think that perhaps
we are not getting a fair share and perhaps agencies like Invest-UK
are not always pointing possible investors in our direction.
(Dr Howells) I do not think that is true. I know it
is not true from my own experience abroad. We have two DTI Ministers
now who are from Wales; people may have noticed. Believe me, if
we were trying to influence the way in which people made decisions
about where they are going to come to, or where they are going
to invest, then I suspect that even if I did it unconsciously,
I would be leaning in favour of Wales. That is not the point.
The point about the way in which our agencies work is that they
are customer driven. There are places in Kent for example, much
closer to London than Wales is, where they cannot get investors
to go. Sometimes it is a factor X. Maybe it is to do with the
way in which the economy has changed in that area. Maybe there
are shadows of problems in the recent past hanging over them.
In the end, you cannot push customers. I should love to see industry
going to mid-Wales for example and down further into the west
and into the north west of Wales, because their economies have
hardly begun to scratch their potential. The reason they do not
go there is because that is not where customers want to go. Somebody
mentioned, quite properly in my view, the problem of not having
a busy airport. We have a first class airport, but it is not a
first division airport. If you look at the way in which Manchester,
for example, has decided that it is going to be something more
than a third tier airport, we ought to have learned from that.
I notice, something which troubles me a great deal by the way,
that Bristol airport now has a new terminal which is very nice,
very good to travel out of, they have started to expand their
destination base and we ought to be looking very, very carefully
at these factors. Invest UK certainly do not discriminate between
any areas. They will try to guide people to where we are strongest
in terms of our skills bases and our education system. I do not
think we play to our skills in Wales. Somebody said something
to me the other day which started as a joke, "What do you
have more of than anything else in Wales?". I said sheep.
He said, "Where's your centre of wool and sheep excellence
in terms of what you do with the products which come from sheep?".
I had not thought about that before. We do not have one. We are
hopeless at playing to our strengths and trading on our strengths.
What we are looking for all the time is another big coal industry
or another big steel industry which will somehow move in and transform
the Welsh economy. It is not going to happen. A lot of those projects
you mentioned are small, they are knowledge driven, they are computer
based. Those are the ones which create employment and which are
going to grow in the future and, much more importantly, are going
to underpin economic achievement as far as this country is concerned.
282. From what you say about being customer
driven, is it fair to say that you consider thinking in terms
of fair shares for bits of the country is a wrong way of looking
(Dr Howells) Yes, it is a wrong way of looking at
it. The idea of trying to shove a business into mid-Wales, a white
van business for example, which might need excellent communications
to deliver products bought through the internet; they would find
it very difficult to make ends meet in mid-Wales with the state
of the roads at the moment. We have to be realistic about this.
We cannot tell people where to go. The world is full of footloose
capital looking for a home, looking for the best returns on capital
and if we do not understand that, if we assume that somehow we
can force people to go here and force them to go there, the only
way to do that would be to bribe them with huge amounts of money
and we have seen with Valeo recently and other firms where that
Mr Caton: I would like to open up the discussion
about Valeo, but a group of local MPs are coming to your Department
to discuss the problems of Valeo later.
283. We took evidence from Sir David Wright,
the Chief Executive of British Trade International. He told us
that whether British Trade International suggest a prospective
investor goes to one part of the UK or another depends largely
on that client's business needs. Where the DTI promotes Wales
abroad, it tends to be as part of wider exercises promoting the
UK as a whole. If Wales's profile is already lower than that of
other countries in Great Britain, is there a danger that it is
getting swamped in a UK-wide approach?
(Dr Howells) If it is lower. I do not accept that
premise. The profile is what you make it, that is what companies
have to deal with every day of the week. If their profile drops,
if their reputation declines, they are going to lose business.
The very idea somehow that Sir David or anybody else is going
to say they will not push them towards Wales because it does not
have such a high profile, to me is just nonsense. Wales has done
very well from inward investment over the past 20 years. One of
its great strengths has been that it has a reputation still as
somewhere where education is important. We have good communications
west to east, lousy north to south. We are not far away from big
markets. We are members of the European Union which is another
very important one. May I say that I remember going to Taiwan
to try to find out why the world's largest manufacturer of television
tubes decided to locate in Lanarkshire and not in Cardiff next-door
to the new glass factory which was going to supply all of its
components. In other words, they were ready for the next 20 years
to load glass products onto the backs of trucks and send them
400 miles to Lanarkshire to be put together. They said that when
they got to Britain a Scottish Minister came to meet them at Glasgow
airport. They said your Minister, who was a member of a different
political party at the time, could not even be bothered to come
out of the Welsh Office and cross the road to the Temple of Peace
to meet them. They also told us that the whole of the package
was very important. Locate in Scotland had put together a superb
package which meant that they had room to expand, they had guaranteed
good education for their children, very close links with universities
and a lot of those were lacking at the time in the provision made
by the WDA. If you are asking me why that company decided to locate
in Scotland, it was not because of the higher profile of Scotland:
Scotland were offering them a much better deal than they got in
284. I can assure you that the Committee did
go to take evidence from Locate in Scotland as part of a previous
inquiry and was very impressed with their approach. What would
you therefore recommend the WDA does that it does not do already?
(Dr Howells) First of all it has to be humble enough
to learn from other agencies. I happen to think that WDA has done
a very, very good job in balance over the past 20 years for Wales,
but it still has a lot to learn and the world moves on. Its relationship
with the Assembly at this point ought to give it enough creative
drive to make those leaps forward. Now is the time to do it. If
we let it go much longer, then do not forget this: there are now
new regional development agencies in England and some of them
are very big. Some of them have populations bigger than Scotland,
Northern Ireland and Wales put together and they are going to
be big players in trying to attract footloose capital into their
regions. We have a doubly difficult job at the moment. My view
is that to look for dole-outs and subsidies from the Westminster
Parliament would be the kiss of death. We have to be creative.
We have to play to our strengths and realise we have a new competitive
field in which we are involved.
285. If you were the Minister for Economic Development
in Wales what would your priorities be?
(Dr Howells) It would certainly be to try to continue
the transformation of the Welsh economy and to make sure that
we understand the significance of the great changes towards knowledge
driven industries. I am not sure we have understood that yet.
We are beginning to understand it. We have more universities per
head of population than any other part of Europe. We do not use
our universities in the way that we should as centres of excellence
and innovation. We have a long way to go yet. We are still looking
for quangos to save us.
(Mr Wilson) To reinforce some of what Kim said, the
figures quoted for Invest-UK are only a part of the story, or
the Invest in Britain Bureau as it used to be. I would imagine
the majority of projects which go to Wales, as in Scotland, are
direct links between the inward investment agencies in Wales and
Scotland and the companies; that they have been out in the field
targeting their own companies. The role of Invest-UK is to attract
investment to the UK generically and then make sure there is not
wasteful competition between different parts of the UK. It is
worth remembering that for these 20-odd years, in the case of
Scotland 25 years, we have had the bonus of having an agency which
is working specifically for Scotland as well as the UK effort
and you have the same in Wales. So we are both well ahead of the
field in terms of the combined effort to get inward investment
into Scotland and Wales. The point Kim makes is very timely, because
that is now changing, because of the RDAs in England. There is
no future in complaining about the generic UK effort, increasingly
it is going to be the value which is added by the regional or
national agencies to that overall effort. May I very briefly comment
on Mr Caton's question about making sure of an even spread of
inward investment. It just is not possible because this is a buyer's
market. In every one of these cases it is not only different parts
of the UK which are possibly competing against one another but
every one of these inward investors is coming to the UK or any
part of the UK because we are part of Europe. Therefore we are
competing against the rest of Europe every time to attract these
inward investments. The idea that we can say Wales does not have
its quota this year, would you mind going to Swansea, is a dream
world and it just cannot happen. Every area within the UK and
the UK as a whole has to fight its corner in a highly competitive
market and that can only be done by the sheer professionalism
286. May I say I agree entirely with what Dr
Howells said about the knowledge based industries. He has hit
the nail on the head there. We can actually learn a lot from the
Irish experience. There is a better linkup between industry and
universities in Ireland and very often European funds come in
as well. They are being creative in that regard. We do have some
good universities in Wales which need to be brought closer into
matters. Referring to what Dr Howells said earlier on that we
should not wait for Westminster to do it, we have to do it ourselves,
raise the profile and so on, in light of that is there a continuing
role for the UK Government in promoting trade and investment or
should the whole matter be transferred over to the Assembly and
(Dr Howells) No, Brian Wilson has made it very clear
and this is my personal view now, that the very idea that we should
have to go to the expense of setting up what would essentially
be trade missions or embassies throughout the world would be mad.
We have some terrific embassies. We have less successful embassies
as well in terms of the support they give to trade but generally
we have some very good ones. We have to ride on the back of those.
Whether we shall continue to do it in the way we have done in
the past is hard to say. There is a lot to learn from the way
in which Ireland has approached this and other areas, especially
Catalonia. I know that when the Secretary of State went out there
he was very impressed with the way they performed the very difficult
trick of on the one hand being part of the image of Spain, which
has this beautiful new logo since the Barcelona Olympics, it brands
itself very well, it is an economy which is starting to run again
very well now, so it rides that one, but it also says, hey, we
are a very special place within that. I suspect that is the way
to do it. We have had this discussion many times. In your own
constituency people who worked at Trawsfynydd nuclear power station
probably ran the most successful magnox that was run anywhere
in the world for a very long time. It amazes me really that we
can be so frivolous with the skills they have built up by assuming
that it is quite right they should be dispersed and that there
should not be a special targeted effort on perhaps a new role
they could fulfil, but which calls upon those tremendous skills
they have built up over that period. We have been very frivolous
in the way we have used the skills, because we are one of the
oldest industrial nations on earth. We ought really to play to
our strengths and understand that we have a great reservoir there,
if only we can tap it properly.
287. This question might have already been answered
in part but may I ask it? Does British Trade International have
any specific targets for promoting trade and investment in different
parts of the UK as well as for increasing the total amount of
overseas trade and inward investment? If it does not, should it?
(Mr Wilson) I would question whether that is British
Trade International's role because of the point I made earlier
about there being a dual effort between British Trade International
and the agencies which pre-dated devolution. I apologise but I
inevitably refer back to the Scottish experience more than to
my present role. For instance, Scottish Trade International, when
I was there a couple of years ago, set a target to increase the
number of exporters in Scotland to X thousand over a three-year
period. That clearly is a job for Scottish Trade International,
it is not a job for British Trade International. The same would
be true in Wales. I think the answer to the question is no, that
we can set UK targets and attain them but really this is added-value
effort within the nations and regions which are more relevant
to meeting specific targets there. All we can ensure at a UK level
is even-handedness and to make sure that exactly the same opportunities
and facilities are available to companies and individuals in every
part of the UK. It is in that, if anybody feels aggrieved, that
we should look at these complaints. Certainly in Scotland you
would find an awful lot of companies who look mainly to the DTI
and to British Trade International rather than to the Scottish
agencies just because of the nature of their business and the
places in which they do business. I am sure it is the same story
in Wales. In general there is a pretty high satisfaction level
in the service which is provided.
288. Following on that point and also referring
to what Dr Howells said about wanting to see industries moving
up to mid and north west Wales, where historically it has not
been happening in any degree, surely imposing targets as such
would assist because then that is a positive target to work to,
is it not?
(Mr Wilson) With respect, it is an internal Welsh
matter. The point of contact of the great majority of companies
which might go to these parts of Wales would be with the WDA rather
than with Invest-UK. When I was a Scottish Industry Minister I
asked Locate in Scotland to set up a rural section specifically
in order to try to counter this problem. It was a very divisive
point within Scotland and there was this great image of Locate
in Scotland doing a wonderful job, bringing in industries, but
there were huge parts of Scotland which said they had never seen
any of it. Therefore we tried to counteract by saying there should
be a refocus and they should remember there were parts of Scotland
which had never had any inward investment. That has been quite
successful. It had nothing to do with the UK level, it was entirely
something which was done within Scotland.
(Dr Howells) I have drawn a little map for myself
about the way the system works and if you look at the structure
we have British Trade International and one of its arms is Trade
Partners UK and they deal with outward investment and trade development
which is something we have not spoken about yet. It is how Welsh
firms find markets abroad. Then we have Invest-UK which deals
with inward investment; it was formerly the Invest in Britain
Bureau. Welsh Trade International is the devolved partner of both
those arms. There is a strategic committee which is called the
Committee on Overseas Promotion (COP), and the WDA are members
of that committee. These arguments, theoretically at least, ought
to be fought out within that structure. I think Brian Wilson is
right. There is BTI, just like its counterparts in Spain or Italy
or Germany or France, which is saying we are a good place to come
to. Within that they ought to be able to say that if someone is
looking for a rural location with a good university, think about
Bangor, or wherever. That is the way it ought to work. I am pretty
confident it is working that way, but then we come back to those
impediments I spoke about earlier, our communications and so on.
289. That is very helpful; thank you very much.
One final question for the Secretary of State. In your opinion,
should targets for inward investment in Wales be incorporated
into the Wales Office's Service Delivery Agreement?
(Mr Murphy) No, I think that what my colleagues have
said is absolutely accurate. We have to be very careful about
putting in artificial targets, which that could well be. The general
way in which we approach investment, which Kim has just referred
to in detail, in partnership with the Assembly, is by far the
best. I am not so sure that targets are the answer.
290. Can we turn to tourism now? We were told
by the British Tourist Authority that only four per cent of visitors
to the UK come to Wales. In fact it is actually only two per cent
if you exclude those entering the country via Irish Sea routes.
I certainly do not think that figure is acceptable. Do you?
(Mr Howie) It is a low figure compared to the numbers
coming into Britain generally which is 25.4 million per year.
But the British Tourist Authority is working as an equal strategic
partner with the Wales Tourist Board to increase the awareness
of Wales and to enhance its image. As far as I am aware the Wales
Tourist Board think that BTA is doing a good job. I can say that
because I have been involved in a review of the BTA and the first
stage was published in January this year. The Wales Tourist Board
said that it was getting value for money from the BTA. They are
working well together but much more needs to be done to try to
educate more people to what Wales has to offer.
291. The Assembly itself now has responsibility
for the Wales Tourist Board. It has had its budget increased in
its long-term projections quite significantly. Are you in fact
involved intimately with the Assembly in trying to promote Wales,
because they do have a tourism strategy?
(Mr Howie) We are involved inasmuch as we are in touch
with Assembly colleagues to see what they are doing and to tell
them what the tourism policies in England are. It is the British
Tourist Authority which has direct contact with the Wales Tourist
Board, so we work through them.
292. Most of us in Wales feel that a lot of
tourists spend time in London, Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon. If
you actually added all those up, it would make the number of visitors
going to Wales look extremely insignificant. What are you trying
to do about that to try to redirect tourists in our direction?
(Mr Howie) What you are saying is true. The majority
of overseas visitors to this country come to London in the first
instance and it is when they get here that it is the job of the
BTA and others to educate them as to the other interesting attractions
and scenery and everything else that Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland has to offer. Whereas 50 per cent or so come to London
on their first visit to Britain, repeat visitors tend to go further
afield. It is there that we manage to capture visitors to go outside
293. We had a visit from a lot of travel writers
from America to Cardiff not so long ago. They were very enlightened
and they also got value for money. It come back to the issue of
the airport. Undoubtedly barriers are put up by international
airlines that you cannot use Cardiff airport, in spite of it having
a runway which is perfectly adequate to take jumbo jets etcetera.
When is this cartel going to be bust which is preventing proper
international travel coming to Wales? Are you working on that?
(Dr Howells) Certainly. As a resident of Pontypridd,
I am appalled at the way in which our tourism industry has been
run over the years. It has been run by amateurs. Without becoming
personal, it is literally true that the people appointed to chair
the Tourist Board in Wales have been amateurs. It reached the
heights of absurdity when we had a fantastically expensive advertising
campaign, where we had people like Anthony Hopkins standing on
deserted hillsides or deserted beaches where it looked as though
it was about to rain. They were lovely pictures but who is that
going to attract, apart from anoraks? It is not going to attract
anyone. The fact is that it has been run for the Cardiff North
literati who have some idea of what Wales is and they have wasted
every opportunity. The truth is of course that Wales ought to
be one of the tourist gems of Europe. It is one of the most stunning
countries anywhere in western Europe and we have not even begun
to tap its potential because it has been run by amateurs.
294. I agree with everything Dr Howells has
said. May I go back to what Mr Howie said. It may be why we have
one of the problems. You are saying we get the tourists here and
then it is up to the tourist boards to send them out. Do we not
need to be tackling the tour operators? We had this in evidence
from the British Tourist Authority: the London experience is often
not a good one for tourists. The medium-priced hotels are not
very good, everything costs a heck of a lot more. Should we not
be looking for the first part of the tour package to be outside
London, then they can finish off their holiday for two or three
days in London? Let us get them out to Wales and to the other
beautiful parts of Britain first and let them finish off in London.
(Mr Howie) Ideally that is what we should all like
to happen. We are promoting regional spread to try to get people
across the country because London is quite congested with tourists.
The BTA are using their influence with operators to do this and
in fact they may have shown you some of the brochures which they
have produced, which are very positive images of Wales along with
England and Scotland. I think they are working hard to try to
get people to think of travelling outside London. I have to say
that I was in the United States at the BTA's office a couple of
months ago and it was quite clear that people over there, and
I am sure in many other countries, do not quite understand the
composition of Britain. They have heard of London, they might
have heard of Stratford, but they have not heard of many other
places. It is important to get them over here in the first place.
It is then on the second or third visit that we are more likely
to get them to go further afield. That is the reality of it.
295. With respect, should it not be happening
over there? Should there not be a promotion video for England,
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? Surely it is when people
are planning their holidays. If I were to fly to the States, let
me tell you now that I am not a very orderly person, but I would
not land in Washington and then decide where I am going. I would
have some inkling of where I am going before I go there. What
you have just said sounds a bit strange to me.
(Mr Howie) If I may explain further. The BTA are certainly
promoting all parts of Britain and their tourist literature abroad
does contain all that and also they have a very sophisticated
website, which is accessed in 27 different overseas countries
in the languages of these countries. That will give detailed information
of all parts of the country, not just London. What I was trying
to say was that despite all that information, people usually for
the first time want to come to see the main sites. We probably
all do when we go to countries for the first time. It is only
after getting into the country that you realise there are many
more aspects of it you would like to visit. It is not that it
is getting neglected in any way, in fact it is quite the reverse,
Wales is getting promoted quite extensively.
296. Does that not fly in the face of the evidence
we have that most American holidaymakers have one holiday in Europe
and that is it? That is once in a lifetime. The figures show that,
do they not? That tends to undermine what you have just said.
(Mr Howie) That might go for Americans but it does
not necessarily go for Europeans.
297. We are talking about the States now. This
is the example of the States.
(Mr Howie) If that is what the figures say. It is
not saying they exclusively come here (London) because the Americans
come to Britain mostly for the tradition and Wales offers plenty
of that. It is the question of trying to capture them and trying
to get them to travel as far as possible on their first visit.
298. With respect, it is rather complacent to
say that. I have just made that point to you that unfortunately
American visitors do a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the UK. You
have just said you will try to catch them the second time round.
They have London and perhaps up to Stratford and next time round
they go to Wales, but that is a strategy which unfortunately cannot
succeed from the evidence we have. It cannot be right.
(Mr Murphy) That is absolutely right. If you do go
on holiday you plan your holiday beforehand and you decide where
to go then. The point Mr Livsey made about the American writers
is a very interesting one. They clearly saw something happening
in Wales which was different. In a post-devolution United Kingdom,
in a post-devolution Wales, where the height of the consciouness
of this being a separate place with separate language, separate
institutions, all the rest of it, does actually mean that more
people now are going to be aware of Wales as a holiday destination.
When you add what Kim has said, that it is a very lovely place
to go on holiday anyway, despite the rain and it rains a fair
bit in Pontypridd I guess, as it does all round, nevertheless
there is no question in my mind that since devolutionI
am meeting the Minister of Tourism later on this afternoon from
the Assemblythere has been a change in all this and it
will be a change for the better as we go along.
299. It might be an idea if the Minister had
the figures. We did see some of the promotional material when
we met BTA representatives last week in North Wales. Perhaps there
is a good reason for the Minister to have a look at that so-called
BTA literature which is sent abroad. Maybe it is not quite up
to what we should like it to be. I put it as mildly as that to
(Mr Howie) Certainly.
(Dr Howells) The act has improved a great deal now
over the past couple of years in Wales, there is no question.
They are starting to take it much more seriously than before.
It might be something to do with this incredible psyche we have
in Wales which is that real employment is coal mines, car factories,
steel works, and pretend employment is tourism. Nothing could
be crazier really.