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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Questions over quango replacement
Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business editor

Thirty years after its birth, one of Europe's best known economic development agencies - the WDA - has gone out of existence.

It now sits, along with another abolished quango, the Wales Tourist Board, in a new super-ministry called the Department of Enterprise, Innovation and Networks.

But will it be more enterprising and innovative than what it's replacing?

Some key sectors in the economy still don't know.

The three quango logos
Three quangos are disappearing on 1 April

The Welsh Development Agency has left its mark on Wales - hundreds of factories and a reclaimed landscape. Along with the Wales Tourist Board (WTB), it's projected Wales onto a world stage.

Born in 1976, the WDA has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and secured billions in investment. It even enjoyed the praise of prime ministers, with Margaret Thatcher claiming it was doing a marvellous job.

But even as it was announcing its greatest apparent coup - bringing Korea's LG to Newport - the tide was turning.

LG's promises never materialised and since then we've seen many foreign firms leave.

In July 2004, the Welsh assembly government accused the WDA of going off in a different direction from what ministers demanded, not working well enough with other agencies and being unresponsive to business.

It was to be merged with the WTB and brought under the wing of the assembly.

'One-stop-shop'

Andrew Evans has seen at first hand some of those problems. He owns the St Brides Hotel in Saundersfoot, which is currently undergoing a 5m expansion.

He pays tribute to the WTB and the WDA for making it all possible, but he says they could have worked much better together.

"The two agencies were working at a different pace, with different budgetary procedures. It would be good to get a one-stop-shop where things are more in sync," he said.

But will we get something better? There are worries that coming into the assembly will impose a civil service mentality onto these agencies, making them too cautious and risk-averse.

The marina at Burry Port
The opening of Burry Port marina was the WDA's last act

Some in key industries are also saying there's been too little information about what to expect, leading to hesitation amongst potential investors.

Bob Croydon, senior partner with international property consultants King Sturge, says: "There are people who've been talking to the WDA for months or years about investing in Wales.

"But some of them, including myself, haven't been told what to expect from Monday 3 April - who to call for example, and whether they'll be dealing with the same people.

"Some investors are sitting on their hands waiting to see what will happen before they commit. There's a danger they may invest elsewhere."

The opening on Thursday of a new 100-berth marina in Burry Port was the last hurrah for the WDA, which helped secure funding for it working with the WTB and the Wales European Funding Office.

Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies - now the minister for enterprise, innovation and networks - says schemes like this are already benefiting from the more joined-up approach that the assembly government has been advocating and that this will only get more obvious with the merger.

He says there will also be continuity.

"Business should be reassured that they'll be talking to the same people when the WDA becomes part of the new department for enterprise, innovation and networks.

"And over time they'll be getting a better service. We've agreed with business a number of key performance indicators so people can judge how well we're doing."

Getting a balance between continuity and reform will be a challenge. From Monday, people will be watching to find out whether changing a system that's been in existence for thirty years will have been worth it.


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