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Yesterday the Welsh Government's Council for Economic Renewal met to discuss the way forward for the Welsh economy.

Formerly known as the Business Partnership Council, it provides advice to help inform economic and business policies in Wales.

Under the Government of Wales Act 1998, the Government has a statutory duty  to consult with businesses where the exercise of its functions impact on them.

This duty to consult was strengthened by the Government of Wales Act 2006, which required Welsh Ministers to make a Business Scheme setting out how they proposed to consult with business.

The Council for Economic Renewal is made up of a range of business, social enterprise and trade union representatives and is chaired by the First Minister.

According to today's Western Mail, leading members include :

  • PAUL BYARD: Head of external affairs for manufacturing employers’ organisation EEF in Wales. Said earlier this year that the group’s membership had shown optimism that there would be future growth.
  • JULIE COOK: Wales TUC national officer. Has been critical of public sector job cuts, particularly for its perceived disproportionate effect on women.
  • HEATHER EASON: Policy adviser at Wales Social Partners Unit. Also a freelance translator who speaks fluent Esperanto.
  • IAN GALLAGHER: Policy manager for south-west England and Wales at the Freight Transport Association. Has called for a cut in tolls on the Severn crossing.
  • ALAN GARLEY: GMB regional secretary for Wales. Was prominent in the campaign to keep the Burberry factory in the Rhondda Valley open.
  • RICHARD HOUDMONT: Director for Wales and Ireland for the Chartered Institute of Marketing. A well-known business commentator and advocate of greater innovation.
  • RICHARD JENKINS: Director of FMB Wales. Has called on the Welsh Government to make stronger representations to Westminster for a reduction in the rate of VAT levied on repair and maintenance work.
  • MARTIN MANSFIELD: General Secretary of the Wales TUC. Recently reiterated his belief in the value of collaboration to help businesses through economic difficulties without job losses.
  • PHIL ORFORD: Chief executive of the Forum of Private Business. Said this year that small firms would continue to experience tough times due to reduced public spending, increased costs and late payments.
  • RICHARD PRICE: Planning and policy adviser for Wales for the Home Builders Federation. Said last week that many housebuilders were concerned about a eurozone fall-out.
  • NON RHYS: Policy manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales. Said earlier this year: “Our members have told us that they want to employ, but do not have the resources”.
  • ANDY RICHARDS: President of the Wales TUC. Has described public sector cuts as an “assault on our class designed to shift the blame for the economic crisis to the public sector”.
  • DAVID ROSSER: The director of CBI Wales, who has joined the Welsh Government on a six-month secondment. He is taking up the position of director of innovation and anchor companies within the Department for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science from January.
  • DEREK WALKER: Chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre. Has argued that employee-owned businesses can enjoy a “real competitive advantage in tough economic conditions”.
  • GARETH WILLIAMS: Chairman of the Institute of Directors in Wales. Called on the Welsh Government earlier this year to promote Wales internationally

A fuller list of normal attendees is available on the Welsh Government website. However, it is worth comparing this group to the Council of Economic Advisers which the Scottish Government has put together:

  • SIR GEORGE MATHEWSON (Chair) One of the most eminent Scottish businessman of his generation. His period as Chief Executive and then Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland inspired the transformation of the bank into a global success story. Sir George previously also spent 6 years as the chief executive of the Scottish Development Agency.
  • CRAWFORD BEVERIDGE, Executive-Vice President and Chairman of Sun Microsystems in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. From 1991 to 2000, Crawford Beveridge served as Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise. He brings a wealth of international business experience.
  • FRANCES CAIRNCROSS - Rector of Exeter College at Oxford University. Previously she worked for 20 years on 'The Economist' magazine. She chaired the Economic and Social Research Council for six years until 2007 and is a well respected author whose works include 'Costing the Earth' and 'Green, inc'.
  • PROFESSOR ANDREW HUGHES - Hallett Professor of Economics and Public Policy at George Mason University in the US and visiting Professor of Economics at the University of St Andrews. He specialises in international economic policy and has acted as a consultant for the World Bank, the IMF, the Federal Reserve Board, the UN, the OECD, the European Commission and central banks around the world.
  • PROFESSOR JOHN KAY - A leading economist and author. The author of several influential books, Professor Kay is a regular contributor to the Financial Times. He is a fellow of St John's College, Oxford and served as Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He has served as a Professor at the London Business School and the University of Oxford. He is currently a visiting professor at the LSE.
  • PROFESSOR ALEX KEMP - Schlumberger Professor of Petroleum Economics at the University of Aberdeen. He is a leading energy and taxation expert who has advised the World Bank, the United Nations, and individual governments around the world. In recent times, Professor Kemp has expanded his research to include the economics of renewable energy and how best to foster carbon capture.
  • PROFESSOR FINN KYDLAND - Henley Professor of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in dynamic macroeconomics in 2004.
  • JIM MCCOLL - Chairman and Chief Executive of Clyde Blowers - a company transformed under his leadership into a portfolio of global engineering companies. He also serves as Chairman of the Welfare to Work Forum which has seen 15,000 Scots enter employment.
  • PROFESSOR SIR JAMES MIRRLEES - Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University and distinguished professor-at-large at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sir James was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on economic models and equations about situations where information is asymmetrical or incomplete.
  • PROFESSOR FRANCES RUANE - Director of Ireland's Economic and Social Research Institute previously an Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin. She is widely published in the area of international economic and industrial development.
  • THE LORD SMITH OF KELVIN - Chairman of the Weir Group and Scottish and Southern Energy. He also serves as a non-executive director of 3i Group, Standard Bank Group and Aegon UK. Lord Smith chairs the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and also chairs the Smith Group, a group of dedicated educators and business and civic leaders who are determined to offer more opportunities to young Scots

With respect to all the individuals on the Council for Economic Renewal involved who are merely doing their job and have been invited by the Welsh Government to represent their organisations, this is like comparing Porthmadog Town FC with Man Utd or an X-Factor finalist with Bruce Springsteen.

In fact, I am at a loss to understand why the Welsh Government would set up a system to take  economic advice from a group made up largely of business representatives/lobbyists and trade unionists rather than a forum of leading businesspeople and international thinkers. Indeed, with the honourable exceptions of Gareth Williams of the IOD and Phil Orford of the FSB, there is not one individual on the Council for Economic Renewal who has operated at the coalface of business outside of Wales.

Does this merely reflect the lack of ambition in Wales compared to our Celtic Cousins? Why do we continue to be inward looking in everything that we do and revert back to the old committee style approach to everything? 

Surely we are better than that?

Wales could and should have developed a completely new way of thinking in providing economic advice to the government. In fact, if we need innovative new ideas and entrepreneurial plans to grow the economy during the next few years, then we should bring together entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators to achieve this. Indeed, on this blog, back in December 2006, I did suggest that: 

“the First Minister should urgently convene a summit of our leading businesspeople and entrepreneurs - such as Sir Terry Matthews, Sir Christopher Evans and Henry Engelhardt - to get their views on what is needed to kick start the Welsh economy.”

I understand that there is statutory requirement to consult with business groups but can't that be done in a separate form? If not, then the Council for Economic Renewal should have all the chairs of the nine industry panels - all leading business people in Wales - represented and reduce the trade union and lobbying groups representation to two seats each. 

Perhaps then we can finally come up with a more positive approach to sorting out the problems of the Welsh economy rather than the defeatist approach put forward by the First Minister yesterday.


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