Tories promise to bring back Welsh Development Agency

Tories promise to bring back Welsh Development Agency

The Welsh Conservatives say they will re-establish the Welsh Development Agency if they win the next Senedd elections.

Russell George said bringing the business quango back would give Welsh firms a “much-needed cutting edge”.

The WDA was a major Welsh agency responsible for encouraging business growth in Wales from the 1970s through to when it was abolished.

Its functions were taken over by the then Assembly government in 2006.

Welsh Conservatives said the proposal would appear in their manifesto for the Welsh Parliament elections, and comes after a respected world economic development organisation made a similar recommendation last year.

Created in 1976, the WDA was responsible for business finance and grants, encouraging investment and overseeing the use of derelict land.

It was believed to have brought in £12bn of investment into Wales and created hundreds of jobs.

But it was not without controversy, including over a lack of transparency and some of its investments.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan scrapped the organisation in 2006 along with two other Welsh bodies, in the belief the organisations were not efficient enough.

That decision was criticised by former WDA chairman Sir Roger Jones back in 2011, who said civil servants did not have the necessary skills to attract inward investment.

In an article for the Institute for Welsh Affairs, Mr George said: “Our aim would be to create a more nimble, agile, and dynamic business entity – a one-stop shop – to respond to the needs of firms large and small after the pandemic.

“Its reintroduction would give Welsh firms a much-needed cutting edge as we seek to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Brexit, and would build capacity in a creaking economy in desperate need of a turbo-charge.”

It is not the first time the idea has been mooted ahead of a Senedd election.

In 2016 Plaid Cymru said it would revive the Welsh Development Agency to attract more companies to invest in Wales.

Last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said Wales should re-establish a development agency.

The wide ranging report said the Welsh Government has a tendency to work in silos and that there needs to be more co-ordination between different parts of the Welsh Government and incentives to work together.

It said an agency should be set up with enough staff, money and decision making powers to support regional development and decide investment.

A Plaid Cymru spokeswoman said: “If the Welsh Tories are truly serious about improving Wales’ infrastructure, they should urgently ask the Chancellor why Wales isn’t receiving its Barnett consequential from HS2”.

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