The Welsh Davos?

Sarah Morse reports on a three day symposium which has brought global economic experts to Wales.

Some of the world’s leading thinkers on the success of regional economies are in Portmeirion to discuss what Wales can do to boost its economy.

The three-day Symposium, convened by Gerry Holtham, organised by the Learned Society of Wales (Wales’s first national scholarly academy) and supported by Bangor University, is examining the scope for regional economic development in a globalised economy, where many businesses are footloose, and government policies are often restricted to territories.

The experts will discuss some of the most intractable economic problems that are found in regions with economies rooted in decaying or defunct ‘heavy’ or ‘extractive’ industries. These are regions which have been stripped of earlier competitive advantages by the advance of technology and globalisation, and whose relative income has fallen.

The Symposium will be discussing a series of questions: How can broadly-based economic development be achieved in regions or countries which are largely branch economies attached to much larger regions? Such economies/countries/regions enjoy fewer independent policy levers than larger autonomous states. The region or country may be a small part of a larger currency union and/or lack many fiscal powers, such as control over personal or corporate tax rates. It may also lack regulatory controls, for example, over company take-overs.

The Symposium is bringing together some of the academic world’s prolific thinkers to review and discuss pressing issues affecting small regions around the globe, but most importantly, issues that are affecting us here in Wales.  There has been a general global phenomenon of some equalization of global incomes as developing economies benefit from trade and the free movement of capital to take on many activities, especially in manufacturing, formerly carried out in richer countries. The same phenomenon has seen increased inequality in those richer countries as employment has tended to polarise into more highly skilled activities and low-paid personal service activities with some loss of skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing employment. These developments have frequently had a regional dimension with highly-paid jobs in finance, business services, design and analysis becoming concentrated in some areas, generally not those where the loss of manufacturing, mining and heavy industry jobs have been greatest. This symposium will addresses the particular policy issues faced by such regions and explores the elements necessary for their successful adaptation

Gerry Holtham has gathered an impressive roster of speakers: Professor Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Center for International Development and a Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University is joining Professor AnnaLee Saxenian of the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, Professor Ron Boschma of Utrecht University, Bridget Rosewell of Volterra Partners, Professor Ken Mayhew  of the University of Oxford, Professor Ron Martin of the University of Cambridge, Professor John Kay of the LSE and around 30 others.

To host such inspiring thinkers and economists on home soil is something of a coup, not least because we have the chance to learn from international viewpoints and take away lessons that can be applied to Wales, and the final session of the Symposium, led by the Welsh Government’s Chief Economist, Jonathan Price, will reflect on the outcomes of the discussions, and their relevance for Wales.

The IWA, along with the Learned Society of Wales, is tweeting from the event and you can follow the discussions under the #regeconomics hashtag

Sarah Morse is Executive Officer for the Learned Society of Wales.

4 thoughts on “The Welsh Davos?

  1. In accordance with the best traditions of Welsh hospitality, we should welcome ‘the Learned’ – and their tourist money – and hope they enjoy their conference in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. If they do, and tell others, that will be of some benefit to our economy. However, the solution to our basic problems is not yet another meeting of ‘the great and the good.’ Both the problems and the possible solutions have been blindingly obvious for some time, not least in some of the articles and discussions on this website. What is now required is not more talk about ideas, but the leadership to select the best of those ideas and to act decisively on them – the very thing we all know is simply not going to happen.

  2. There is not enough intellectual discussion in Wales which has led to a somewhat poor standard of public debate, compared with, say, Scotland.

    This is an important development in policy formation that should be warmly welcomed since it puts the Welsh economy in its international context and not just the narrow confines of the UK.

    The difficulty we face is that we have a risk-averse Government in Cardiff Bay that is focused on day-to-day delivery but lacks a strategic vision, something that emerged from the Constitutional Convention. In order to move the Government away from such a conservative position, it needs intellectual weight combined with political will. This symposium takes us a step forward in that direction.

  3. JWR I fear you may be proved right that our political leaders will not rise to the challenge. But does that mean our academics should not try to muster the best possible advice? And beware of the blindingly obvious. It was obvious that the Maginot line could repel the German army and it was obvious that the sun went around the earth……

  4. Its interesting that the ‘expert’ from Harvard University thought that we should have a WDA if our economy was able to compete with a)other regions of UK,b) other counties e.g.R o I etc etc. The one we did have was ‘culled’ by the nationalist/socialist regime after devolution for welsh ‘political’ reasons,and its function transferred to the civil service,but well under political ‘control’. There was to be a ‘bonfire of the quangos’,and it took place to a limited extent,however the numbers of ‘quangos’,or favoured organizations has mushroomed under welsh labour,bit only as long their as they support current ‘orthodoxy’ in this region of the UK!!

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