Page last updated at 21:00 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Labour rivals' business strategy

Student engineer at Swansea University
The three leadership candidates agree on making use of university ideas

BBC Wales business correspondent Nick Servini on the economic policies of the three candidates for the Welsh Labour leadership.


Whoever succeeds Rhodri Morgan as First Minister next month will have the economy at the top of their agenda.

What's striking about the manifestos of the candidates, Carwyn Jones, Edwina Hart, and Huw Lewis, is how much agreement there is on many of the economic challenges facing Wales.

The truth is you cannot get a cigarette paper between many of the economic policies announced by them. The same themes pop up with regularity. The only differences are differences in emphasis.

A regular theme is greater co-operation with universities.

This is about turning the ivory towers into places that generate real wealth in the real economy. It's being talked about increasingly by politicians and it's the one thing mentioned by all three Labour leadership candidates.

In his manifesto, Carwyn Jones mentions research and development, while Edwina Hart speaks of making use of the "ingenuity of our researchers" and Huw Lewis talks of developing "networks around universities".

I think the problem with Wales is that most of the commercialisation from our expertise takes place outside Wales
Prof Richard Davies, Swansea University vice-chancellor

A huge amount of work already goes on in this field, but reports in recent years suggest there is still plenty to do.

Those reports have spoken of the cultural gap between higher education and business, and universities being stuffed with good ideas rotting on the vine.

There are all sorts of ways that ideas from students can benefit the Welsh economy.

They can start up ventures themselves but more likely is the prospect of large multi-nationals being attracted to Wales by the talent on offer. That creates jobs and supply chains.

The vice-chancellor of Swansea University is behind plans for a new science park which he believes will create at least 10,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

Student engineers at Swansea University
Ideas commercialised in Wales will benefit its economy, experts say

Prof Richard Davies is confident that a long term trend can be reversed.

He said: "I think the problem with Wales is that most of the commercialisation from our expertise takes place outside Wales.

"So when we're working with Rolls-Royce, when we're working with BAE Systems, when we're working with large companies elsewhere in the UK or elsewhere in the world, the expertise and the innovative ideas from Swansea are being commercialised, are creating wealth, but they are not creating jobs here in Wales."

Some of these past difficulties have been well documented.

Simon Gibson, chief executive of Wesley Clover, which invests in new technology firms started up by graduates, is one of those who says that things need to change.

'Gather dust'

He said: "If we get it right, we'll create ideas here, which can be exploited here, which means that we'll set up companies here, which means that their profits stay here, which means that the wealth stays within our economy here in Wales.

"And that's got to be the objective."

No-one denies there are great ideas developed in our universities. The challenge is making sure the best of them don't gather dust in the corner of a lab.

In other areas, Carwyn Jones and Edwina Hart focus on the need to move to an investment rather than a grant-giving culture.

Edwina Hart goes one step further by saying that if any firms receive financial assistance they will be expected to commit to good employment practices.

Huw Lewis has stressed the importance of transport for the economy, while Carwyn Jones has emphasised the importance of the larger firms, because it is those companies which have the big research budgets.




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