Defending International Business Wales

Last month, the Welsh Liberal Democrats accused the Assembly Government of a ‘culture of shocking spending excess’ when a Freedom of Information request showed that credit card bills totaling more than £700,000 were run up by officials of International Business Wales (IBW), the Assembly’s overseas investment arm whose role is to attract business into Wales as well as increasing the country’s exports and promoting Welsh business abroad.

This shows a complete lack of understanding by politicians over the costs of working overseas, as these businesspeople have clearly suggested in the Western Mail last week.

In possibly the worst environment for getting inward investment projects into Wales, IBW is punching well above its weight. This is at a time when we are facing the worst recession since the Second World War.

In particular, the team based in North America is doing a fantastic job in promoting Wales in the run up to the Ryder Cup in 2010.

Only recently, IBW arranged the largest ever trade mission to the USA which resulted in 80 businesses being given access to opportunities that will, over time, bring millions of pounds into the Welsh economy.

Its work has resulted in companies across Wales gaining access to markets that will lead to Welsh products and services being sold across the world and, consequently, the creation of much needed new jobs back home.

Rather than getting on with their main job, which is to increase the prosperity of Wales, IBW staff are now faced with a range of internal inquiries and audits which is a direct result of the Liberal Democrats’ fuss over the cost of travel and subsistence, which they claimed was exorbitant.

What did the politicians expect?

IBW staff are dealing with executives from some of the top companies in the world. Did Assembly Members expect staff to fly across the USA in economy and then take those executives out for a MacDonald’s? It demonstrates a level of naivety about the world of business investment that beggars belief.

Do politicians, many of whose record on expenses leaves much to be desired, actually think that flying across the world on business for your country is a holiday? Don’t they realise that when officials get to their destination, they don’t have the luxury of two weeks on the beach to get over their jetlag and that they will have to walk straight into a meeting. In many cases, they are competing against other countries which have no problems at all in ensuring that they fully support their own inward investment operations?

When you are pitching Wales against larger and better resourced countries, it is critical to give a professional image of our nation and its businesses to secure inward investment and export deals. No one in their right mind would want an IBW official to arrive jetlagged and distracted when pitching for projects that are worth millions to the Welsh economy.

Having been on trade missions with the IBW team, I have nothing but admiration for their professionalism and hard work. They are doing their best for the Welsh economy at what is a difficult time for any development body and I am confident that they will bring in investments that will create hundreds of well paid jobs over the coming months.

To have Welsh politicians question their integrity in doing their jobs undermines all the hard work they have undertaken on behalf of this country.

Worst of all, it sends a message to the rest of the world that Wales is shut for business and that we simply do not want to put in the effort and investment to bring their companies and jobs to this country.

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