Monday, 17 January 2011

Does the Welsh Economy have an image problem?

Another week and yet another bad news story for the Welsh economy on the front page of the Western Mail.

This time it is the news that Welsh businesses have failed to win a major slice of the many contracts coming out of the 2012 Olympics.

The reaction to this was a predictable mix of some saying it amounted to general anti Welsh bias in England whilst others laid the blame with Welsh business for not being good enough or not interested enough.

Without further information it is difficult to tell whether Welsh businesses simply did not go for the contracts, went for them but were not good enough or were intentionally or unintentionally discriminated against.

If it is that we did not go for the work we only have ourselves to blame.  If we were not good enough that is disappointing but something that can be resolved, particularly if we are able to get a more pro business Government in the Welsh Assembly. (And the powers to reduce the regulatory burden of Welsh businesses)

The other option is that Wales and Welsh businesses have reputational issues over the border.  The anecdotal evidence that I have from friends in England is that Wales is still regarded as a Socialist Union controlled no go area for business.

The Not the Nine O'Clock News "Failed in Wales" sketch still seems to sum up the Welsh Economy to many English people and we need to get past this if our economy is to make real progress.

The problem of branding is a major one and not easy to remedy.  It is also one which is the responsibility of the Assembly Government as it is very difficult for businesses to group together to run an international advertising campaign.

The effect of a good advertising campaign should not be underestimated.  The series of excellent Welsh Tourism campaigns have helped change the perception of a holiday in Wales from "an unfriendly place where they all start speaking Welsh once you walk in" to "a beautiful vibrant Country with fantastic food, castles, beaches and places to stay."

The success of the Welsh tourism campaign is evidenced by the number of other parts of the UK which seemed to have copied the same formula.

We need a similar message to be coming out from Wales on business to show that we are hungry for investment and pro business.

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