Debate Inward Investment in Wales

Mark Drakeford: I want to contribute briefly to this debate and to suggest that the framers of the motion have fallen into the same trap that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee had opened up and fallen into before them. The trap is simply this: to confuse and muddy up two issues that are of very different scale and substance. The important issue is that of inward investment and how it can make a more significant contribution to the future of the Welsh economy. The trivialising point is the one that attempts to link all that to the fate of the Welsh Development Agency. It is a trivialising point for at least two main reasons. First, it ignores the conflicting evidence that the Welsh Affairs Committee received about the record and effectiveness of the WDA. On the very first page, the first witness who gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on that topic, Dr Ball of Swansea University, reflects on ‘the most frustrating 10 years’ that he ever spent ‘working for the Welsh Development Agency.’

He goes on to say that, ‘it did not have appropriate policies; it was poorly managed and led; it did not have clear objectives’.
‘it did not have appropriate policies; it was poorly managed and led; it did not have clear objectives’.

‘It was an organisation ready for change. There were some serious flaws in the WDA, and I readily admit that.’

It is perfectly possible to take different views on the subject, but the evidence, at the very least, is too ambiguous and contested to support the sort of hyperbolic language used in the motion. The second reason why the WDA point is a trivialising one is because it fails to see the wider context within which the abolition of that organisation took place. By the end of the first Assembly term, and following the publication of the Richard report that followed soon after, it was entirely clear that while political devolution had taken place, there was substantial work still to complete in the democratisation of the administrative state here in Wales. In his statement to the Assembly on 14 July 2004, the then First Minister made it clear that the primary and compelling case for reform was to bring the quangocracy in Wales within the new patterns of accountability that this institution represents.

Lloyd-George said of the then Conservative Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, that he looked at politics through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe. This motion looks at economics through the wrong end of the democratic telescope. I am pleased to repeat what I said in my evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee that, of course, the future of inward investment to Wales is not a matter that lies solely and entirely in the hands of the Welsh Government. There are many other partners that contribute to that. However, the Minister who is responsible for economic development matters and for the responsibilities that were previously discharged through the WDA reports to the Assembly. That is her primary democratic forum in which to be held to account for those responsibilities. The future of inward investment is very important, but we will not shape that future by advocating a return to ways of doing things long left behind by the advent of devolution.