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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 07:34 GMT
Be innovative, businesses told
Andrew Davies AM
Only by being innovative will Wales be competitive
Andrew Davies AM
Bosses have been urged to swim uncharted waters as Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies attempts to make Wales "a by-word for innovation".

He called for a push toward enterprise and risk-taking before mapping out the route to a more prosperous and cutting-edge economy in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Mr Davies' new three-year Innovation Action Plan - presented at a key conference outlining a new 260m innovation assault - will help firms exploit great new ideas, creating spin-off jobs, if it succeeds.

But Wales' foremost business academic said the minister was continuing to get his policies wrong with the latest golden jobs-creation programme, saying it was "repeating old mistakes".

He criticised continued emphasis on inward investment - the vogue idea of the 1980s which left many communities scarred after incoming firms fled a decade later.

Pushing envelopes

"It is only by being innovative that Wales will be a competitive and prosperous nation," Mr Davies said ahead of the Wales For Innovation launch.

His new policy of the same name, implemented by the Welsh Development Agency, ties up several existing programmes, like the Technium plan which clusters technology businesses at sector-specific sites around Wales.

Wales For Innovation plan
150m for Technium Centre 'innovation incubators' across Wales
60m to spin out ideas/talent from universities, creating commercial success
3m awareness campaign to deliver message
25m grant fund to streamline funding sources
15m to marry indigenous new technology with global partners
5m to boost specialist hands-on advice and support
Business owners are being be urged to "think outside of the box" and "push the envelope" - management-speak for taking risks to develop exciting new products.

Wales has been seen to lag behind other global economies in innovation, despite recent attempts at growing an entrepreneurial knowledge economy.

Newport web retailer BlushingBuyer.com and furniture designer Angela Gidden have been hailed as examples of entrepreneurs who have found fame with their radically different ideas.

Former Ford Motor Company manager Mr Davies will be judged on how successfully he can fire more of Wales' businesses to follow suit.

Success driver

But Wales' leading industrial academic, Bangor University professor Dylan Jones-Evans, got his criticism in early.

"Businesses are becoming increasingly disillusioned at yet more public sector initiatives that rarely reflect their actual needs," he said.

"This plan will spend 260m without putting any investment into getting the basics for innovation right, such as increasing the amount of R&D undertaken by both the public and private sectors.

If such initiatives did work, why has our prosperity as a nation, relative to the rest of the UK, been declining year on year?
Prof Dylan Jones-Evans, Bangor University
"If such initiatives did work, why has our prosperity as a nation, relative to the rest of the UK, been declining year on year?

"Most of the funding is being spent on new buildings called Techniums."

But, he said, the WDA was courting for the sites "migratory international businesses that will, as we have seen recently, run away at the first sign of recession".

That is the opposite intention of the plan, which aims to create a strong idigneous technology sector without foreign investment.

Complication

Federation of Small Businesses' Wales spokesman Russell Lawson said Tuesday's launch was merely a "rebranding" exercise with "no major changes" but plenty of red tape on the way to getting innovation grants.

"There are so many WDA initiatives now, it is very confusing for people on the ground; businesses just can't be bothered," he said.

"It is so complicated because there are five different sets of forms to fill in - it's absoluetly ludicrous.

He said the new plan "does not involve small businesses in any meaningful way".




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Wales' Technium future
03 Sep 02 |  Wales
Business brains begin to fire
31 Jul 02 |  Wales


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