Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bring back the WDA?

In today's Western Mail, David Williamson has raised an issue that I've always thought will undermine the memory of Rhodri Morgan's tenure as First Minister in the Welsh Assembly - the abolition of the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board in 2003. Today's report is based on comments made by Welsh economist, Brian Morgan. The decision, taken by a very small group, led by Rhodri Morgan, to abolish the WDA and WTB was politics at it worst - decision making making in secret, without research and discussion, and based on small minded prejudice.

I recall being in the old Debating Chamber when Rhodri Morgan dropped his bombshell - on the last day before the summer recess. I was genuinely shaken, both by the decision, and by how it had been done. I was even more shaken when all the other party leaders lined up to welcome the decision! It was left to Alun Cairns to stand up, with great bravery, and tell the First Minister how wrong he was. That was probably the day that I decided that Alun has the potential to become one of Wales' great politicians. The Presiding Officer also allowed me the opportunity to contribute. I accepted that the creation of a National Assembly, with 60 new politicians did mean that a review of how Wales promoted economic development and tourism was needed, but that to just announce that the WDA and WTB were being abolished, without any debate or discussion was not a sensible way to do things. Only later did we learn that not even Assembly Ministers or the leaders of the bodies themselves had been given any warning whatsoever. Rightly the Chief Executive of the WDA, Graham Hawker walked out next day. I still don't know why other leading figures did not do the same. But I suppose, the then chairman, Roger Jones had Rhodri Morgan over a barrel after Graham walked, and no-one knows how to negotiate with a man over a barrel better than the Roger. The now Sir Roger Jones stayed on - and to this day, I still wonder what the price was.

But the biggest price has been, and will continue to be paid by the people of Wales. I can see that there will be no meaningful debate of any sort until Rhodri Morgan has gone. OK, I know he's popular down at the Dog and Duck, and he has a fantastic memory for detail, and he tells a good gag - but some of us will remember him for much more than this. The most important challenge facing the National assembly when it was set up was to strengthen the Welsh economy, and Rhodri Morgan messed up - big-time. He will be remembered as the man who put his personal little prejudices before the economic interests of Wales. That's why I believe he will leave office as a failure.


Frank H Little said...

Surely a "bonfire of the QuaNGOs" was in the manifestos of the coalition partners, so it can't have been that much of a shock?

TCOAH said...

Sadly, I am inclined to agree with you Glyn, that great harm was done when the WDA and WTB were merged with the WAG givent that the Welsh economy "... has a GVA of just 74.5% of the UK average" and doesn't appear to be trending back up to the UK average.

There was a solution that the First Minister could have used to counter the awful decision to do away with the WDA and WTB - as explained in The Report of the Independent Task and Finish Group on Commercialisation in Wales. Available by free download from the Assembly of Wales web site:

Quote from an article authored by Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans: “Chaired by Simon Gibson – the chief executive of Wesley Clover – it concluded that Welsh universities were sitting on a “GOLD MINE” of intellectual property that could be commercialised, thus bringing enormous benefits to the economy of Wales.” (Emphasis added in capitals.)

In the report, and as noted previously by Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans, "... the potential to turn around the Welsh economy." And to be fair, this is something that I have harped on ad nauseum for quite some time now - and to be fair, I am probably one of Wales's foremost experts on International Intellectual Property given that I am from Wales (born in Cardiff) and work with a law firm I co-founded practicing IP in the Washington, DC metro area (having previously clerked at one of Chicago’s top IP law firms), and drafted and/or prosecuted 100+ patent applications (with an emphasis on helping individuals with little experience of this area) and authored appeals/legal briefs for some of the world’s largest chemical companies (with 50,000+ world-wide employees).

Here's just an example of what I mean … according to a recent article by Sion Barry in the Western Mail, “In terms of the number of patents granted in the year in Wales there were just eight of which seven were with Cardiff and one with Bangor. In 2006-07 all 27 patents were granted to Bangor, of which 24 were overseas.”

By way of comparison the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) got 142 issued patents in years 2006 and 2007 (the Boolean searches are shown below).

If Wales is going to build the Welsh economy it deserves and so badly needs for the people/families of Wales – then the WAG has got to show leadership and harness the ‘goldmine in IP’ as identified by

Year 2007 - MIT issued patents (USA only)
Results of Search in US Patent Collection db for:
(AN/((Massachusetts AND institute) AND technology) AND ISD/20070101->20080101): 142 patents.

Year 2006 - MIT issued patents (USA only)
an/(Massachusetts and institute and technology) and ISD/1/1/2006->1/1/2007
Results of Search in US Patent Collection db for:
(AN/((Massachusetts AND institute) AND technology) AND ISD/20060101->20070101): 142 patents.

Where “AN” = assignee of record; and“ISD” = issued patents

PS There's going to be (time permitting) a JV on this theme (co-authored with David Phillips) - so there will be more on this, also critical things like "continuation practice" for boosting Welsh knowledge industry firms; "12 month grace rule" for filing patents (in the USA) up to 12 months after initial disclosure or offer for sale (something that is very hard to do in the UK/EU), the huge opportunities offered by the provisional patent filing process, etc. etc.

Glyn Davies said...

frank - 'The Bonfire of the Quangos' was indeed in the Labour manifesto (and may well have been in the Lib Dem/Labour Coalition manifesto as well) - and I had anticipated change in the Quango arrangement. I would not have been surprised if the equivilent of a 'white paper' had been presented followed by consultation and debate. We have endless consultation on everything else. But No. Rhodri Morgan had it in for the WDA. It was personal. To this day we do not know how many were involved in planning what was such a huge change. It was rumoured to be less than 10. It was an act akin to how the political leadership in North Korea operates.

TCOAH - And to make things worse, the Assembly Government had underfunded universities since devolution - which was the main reason I so very reluctly supported my party's opposition to top-up fees. History may show that that too was a decision damaging to the Welsh economy.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Glyn and Wales has suffered from the fall out.
Rhodri's hatred of all things WDA goes way way back.
If we don't do something soon about getting our economy and business support out of WAG ,it will get worse
My other concern is that in England David Cameron is looking to abolish their RDAs .
Having worked with some of them ,yes there are a few that need a good sorting, but there are also some that are doing a fantastic job.

Snappy said...

"That was probably the day that I decided that Alun has the potential to become one of Wales' great politicians."

Ha ha ha ha ha!

You are joking, right?

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of economic activity in Wales comes from Small and Micro enterprises. Unless you are a Nissan or such like the WDA were worse than useless and a great drain on the influx of european money which should have been getting to the front line of enterprise in wales. You will not fond 1 advocate of the WDA amongst this group which provides roughly 80% of the GDP of wales. Other organisations like Business-Eye should follow these bodies to the graveyard of excessively beurocratic wastes of money who "achieve great success" in giving away free money whilst creating very little. Good ridance. I'm not surprised an accademic misses the business realities.

TCOAH said...

Glyn> respectfully, the reason that a single foreign university with fewer postgrads than Cardiff University and far fewer postgrads than all of the universities in Wales combined had 142 issued patents in year 2006 and 142 patents in year 2007 making for a total of 284 issued patents (just for the USA, this figure is probably around half of the total world-wide number of patents issued to MIT) compared with 8+27 = 35 issued patents (based on Sion Barry’s article published in the Western Mail on July 15, 2009) for all the universities in Wales combined (re: years 2006 and 2007) ... the reason is not linked to funding per se - as evidenced by the fact that, for example, Cardiff University is a world-class university for published research.

As noted by Simon Gibson, the Welsh universities are sitting on a goldmine of intellectual property - the problem then is not related to funding for research - but funding and leadership in patenting Welsh university IP.

If MIT, which also publishes a lot of science articles, can publish and file for patents and in the process building up enormous royalty revenues - then why is this not happening in Wales?

The answer is simple: WAG is not 'making it happen', which is unforgivable given the dire straits of Welsh families and youth in Wales in view of the high unemployment stats in Wales c/o such a low GVA rating for Wales (just 74.5% of the UK GVA average).

I really-really-really-really-really-really-really-really hope your party Glyn is taking notes on this issue Glyn. Because believe me, if your party does not take decisive action to fix the very low patent filing rate of the research universities in Wales then there will be lots of sparks from my camp.

This waste of Welsh university IP must STOP – as noted by myself and others, there is a solution to the appalling state of the Welsh economy: harnessing Welsh university IP. But like I said, I am not blaming any university in Wales – they are doing their job in terms of world-class publication rate; filing for patents requires leadership from the WAG. It is WAG that has the spending power and influence to change this appalling waste of Welsh IP. It’s not IP unless it is protected. Calling it Welsh IP is in a sense a misnomer since any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk over, distribute, sell “Welsh IP” without fear of infringement absent patent protection, which starts with filing patents!

WAG should not be comparing its performance on this front with that of England or Scotland, but instead with the entrepreneurial universities around the world like the main university in Singapore which also outperforms all of the universities in Wales combined in terms of issued patents even though Singapore was a third-world country just a few decades ago.

The issue is not funding, but WAG LEADERSHIP.

I -really-really-really-really-really-really hope your party takes note Glyn.

PS There's a university in the Chicago suburbs (near southside) which has LOTS more issued patents than all of the universities in Wales combined, and this foreign university doesn't even have an engineering faculty so it is doubly handicapped because at least two universities in Wales have huge engineering faculties/departments.

Anonymous said...

WDA back in the early part of this decade the Baglan Energy Park was anounced, creating an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 jobs, in reality, only a few thousand are employed in this park (probably <4,000) many of whom work for either the Local Authority or the Health Service. So the WDA hasn't actually created any "Work".

Regarding the WTB, what a crock of shit (excuse my French) but the Scottish Tourist Board and most of the Regional English Tourist Boards and light years in advance of anything WTB had to offer...classic example I, with my Wife went to Machynlleth, when I asked what is there to do in Machynlleth when I was in the Tourist Office there, the reply came back....."You could go to the pub"

I'm no fan of Rhodri Morgan, but I'm glad to see the back of the WDA and WTB; but it is unfortunate that these functions have come under the umbrella of the Parish Council on the Bay.

Anonymous said...

the whole quango argument will run long into the future, things need to be looked at again for sure, but the argument to remove the quangos I think was won by the time we did it.

Two points in your blog though shockme, Alun Cairns a great welsh politician, if thats what we have got as great,I will tear the Senedd down now.

and secondly Graham Hawker walking - I think good riddance and that tome having worked for the man shows why the quangos needed to go - he sat at the top of the demise of Wales only true FTSE compnay Hyder and lost the lot. How did we reward such failure, he becomes ceo of the WDA - questions neededto be asked of that appointment - and cometo think of it questions must be asked in any review of his successors appointment.

Glyn Davies said...

VM - I admit to not knowing enough about the RDAs, but they are set up as regional Assemblies, and are in effect another tier of Governemnt. Economic development is just one aspect of their work. If they were to be abolished I hope it would be done in a considered way.

Snappy - No I'm not joking. I can only tell you what I think. I believe that Alun will become MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, and will have a hugely successful career in the House of Commons. If I'm still blogging in 20 yeras time, I hope you will have the good grace to admit your mistake.

Anon - You have a point when you claim that too much money went into attracting major businesses - but a Quango operates within the restictions imposed by an annual remit letter. In the 80s and 90s, there was a lot of footloose international business, and large pockets of unemployment in Wales - and Government decide, whether rightly or wrongly that the emphasis should be on inward investment at that time - and I thought with great success. There would be a different strategy today because the opportunities are different.

TCOAH - I hope so as well. Simon Gibson was an effective member of the WDA - after my time there.

Anon - Not sure how much we disagree. I had no objection to reviewing the Quango set up - whih I thought inevitable after the establishment of the Assembly. Quangos have no inherent right to exist for ever, and need constant renewal to match the needs of the time. But it was madness to throw away two Welsh brands, the WDA nd the WTB, into which many millions had been invested. The remits and the make-up of the management could have changed, but the brand names should have stayed. And some of the responsibilities should not have been incorporated into the civil service. Some day some Government in Cardiff will establish a new quango (called something else of course) to harness the expertise of the private sector in the interests of the Weslh economy again.

Anon - I just disagree with you about Alun - and so do lots of others. Good politicians have little opportunity to shine in the Assembly because there has grown up a culture of focussing too much on the party leaders. We will just have to waut and see.

I'm not going to support any particular officer unless I have enough experience of working with them to judge - but in a Quango, anyone not thought to be up to the job an be fairly quickly replaced.

Anonymous said...

thats a very on the fence response to my coment on mr hawker glyn.
just on the face of it the basic facts - he was chief exec for some time of hyder, a major welsh company, and his leadership left that company in tatters. Should such a record be then rewarded by his almost immediate apointmnet to the wda ceo position.
It was like appointing the ceo of northern rock to a new building society.
It smacks of the old boy network and shows how the board of the wda needed to be reined in.