FOCUS WALES: Independent means - Culturally, industrially and economically, Wales is moving out of England’s shadow and making the world aware of the unique opportunities that exist in this vibrant corner of the UK. Robert Gray reports

’Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh,’ so sings Cerys Matthews on the title track of Catatonia’s album International Velvet.

’Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh,’ so sings

Cerys Matthews on the title track of Catatonia’s album International

Velvet.



It seems this is a sentiment shared by much of the population of

Wales.



There is an almost palpable sense of pride in Welsh culture at the

moment, a feeling that it is in vigorous good health.



This positive view of Wales has extended beyond its own borders. Bands

like the Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Stereophonics have put

Wales on the map musically in a way that has made the old cliche of male

choirs at the coal mine appear irrelevant and anachronistic. Evergreen

entertainers like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, plus opera sensation

Bryn Terfel, have exulted in their Welshness to an adoring older,

audience, and a global audience at that.



Suddenly, the red dragon is hot. And Cymru is cool. The forceful

impression is that Wales is on the up.



That impression has been heightened by the establishment of the National

Assembly and this year’s Rugby World Cup (see panels). ’There’s an

atmosphere of a new Wales on the back of the turbulence of the past 20

years,’ says Shandwick Cymru director David Chapman. ’Cardiff is taking

its place as a European capital.’



Indeed, Cardiff’s staging of an EU summit earlier this year together

with the birth of the Assembly have put it on the European political

map.



Although Cardiff is not a huge city - it has 300,000 inhabitants, just

over 10 per cent of the total Welsh population of 2.9 million - its

profile has never been higher and is continuing to grow.



’Part of the problem we’ve had in the past is that lots of people from

overseas haven’t been sure where Wales is and where it fits in with the

rest of the UK. Any country needs a vibrant capital to succeed,’ says

Quadrant PR senior partner Bill Jenkins.



Cardiff has boomed in recent years. The Cardiff Bay Development

Corporation, a Quadrant client for the past 12 years, has overseen a

massive revitalisation in the city in one of the largest redevelopment

schemes in Europe.



Some pounds 1.5 billion in public and private sector money has been

invested in regenerating 2,500 acres of city centre land, a site

stretching for eight miles along the waterfront. A once bleak, run-down

area that was known as Tiger Bay or the Docks has become the thriving

urban centre of Cardiff Bay, with the new assembly building at its

heart. Next March will see the grand opening of the Cardiff Bay Barrage,

a pounds 200 million engineering scheme. And demand from commercial and

leisure occupiers for the area is strong.



’Southern Cardiff used to be a no go area for professional people, but

now they are flooding there,’ says Mike Smith, who has been chairman of

the Wales group of the IPR for a dozen years.



Bell Pottinger Good Relations Wales managing director Noreen Bray says

Cardiff now has ’so much going on’ with investment pouring in and plenty

of new development coming out of the ground that ’it has changed beyond

recognition in the last 10 years’. Golley Slater PR MD Martin Long adds:

’The whole idea of nationhood gives more confidence.’



But confidence is one thing, actual economic success and prosperity

quite another. Wales is by no means the economic blackspot it was in the

past - and indeed is still perceived to be in some quarters.

Nevertheless, it still has its problems. Unemployment at 7.8 per cent is

higher than the 5.9 per cent level for the UK as a whole. Moreover, the

ardent pursuit of pounds 1.3 billion in EC Objective One funding, made

available to Europe’s poorer regions, illustrates that the

revivification of Wales still has a way to go.



Longat Golley Slater feels there is a pressing need to develop more of

an enterprise culture in Wales. Others believe that while Cardiff’s star

is on the rise, other parts of the principality may not be in line for

such a glittering future. Smith: ’All of the growth and development is

concentrated along the M4 Corridor, so that’s a problem,’ says

Smith.



Beyond its borders, Wales still has some perception problems in need of

resolution. Welsh Development Agency media and communications director

Bet Davies confesses that: ’There’s still a perception among people I’d

expect to be better informed of Wales as a country of industrial

dereliction, high unemployment and empty pits.’



Certainly there is a lot of hi-tech production now. Far East-based

companies, in particular, have invested heavily in manufacturing

facilities. Sony, for instance, first began manufacturing in Wales 26

years ago. Today it employs 4,500 people at its plants and indirectly is

responsible for many thousands more jobs.



Yet although the commitment to Wales of Sony and companies like it is

welcomed enthusiastically, it must be said that there is some

disappointment that few corporations are prepared to move their

headquarters functions to the principality. Jenkins, for one, has hopes

that longer term the assembly will put Cardiff and its environs into

contention as a headquarters location.



Should that become the case, there would be obvious benefits for the

local PR community. Headquarters usually contain an organisation’s

marketing department, and close proximity to these is undoubtedly a

major advantage for consultancies.



For the moment, the establishment of the assembly has been a boon for

public affairs practitioners, with consultancies and in-house operations

springing up in the city. Perhaps, though, Cardiff’s sloughing off of an

historic inferiority complex will see other kinds of PR agencies setting

up.



One hopes, however, that the lesson of the late-1980s will have been

learnt. Then, encouraged by boom times, a number of English agencies set

up shop in Wales. A few subsequently retreated licking their wounds,

finding it was not so easy to pick up business as they had hoped.



The conclusion reached in some quarters was that they had shown

insufficient commitment to the marketplace. So, for any agency now

contemplating expansion into Wales, the conclusion is clear:

half-hearted attempts to build a business are likely to come unstuck,

even in good times.



And make no mistake, these are good times. Chapman argues that there is

demand from clients both inside and outside Wales. Among those in the

first category, there is fresh confidence in ’dealing directly with

other countries.’ While for those outside looking in, there is increased

need for ’access’ to decision makers, businesses and consumers.



’There is going to be more business that is generated in Wales or has a

direct interest in Wales and so will need to work with companies that

know Wales well,’ says Citigate Wales consultant Mark Evans.



Chapman adds: ’We have clients that have come through because they want

to extend their interest into Wales. The assembly has made a big

difference. Wales suffered an inferiority complex in the past but not so

much now.’



Quite how far self-determination and self-confidence will develop in

Wales cannot be predicted at this stage. But as that phrase oft applied

to devolution issues has it, the genie is now out of the bottle.

Trailing in its wake will come demands for further autonomy and

decision-making powers.



’Wales is going to follow in the wake of Scotland,’ says Smith. ’The

more Scotland flexes its muscles, the more Wales will say ’me too’.’



That may be no bad thing so far as the local economy is concerned. It is

also sure to lead to more work for consultancies in both a lobbying and

issues communication capacity as business and pressure groups seek to

realise their aims.



The launch of a Welsh edition of the Mirror newspaper further underlines

the re-flowering of national identity. As does the revival of the use of

the Welsh language, which a generation ago appeared as though it might

be in danger of dying out. Now it flourishes alongside English in the

Assembly.



The Western Mail recently ran an article questioning whether the ’cool

Cymru’ phenomenon was overblown and on the wane. Few, though, subscribe

to this view. A combination of devolution, the Rugby World Cup and the

’cool Cymru’ cultural wave have played a part in creating a new, more

positive image of Wales.



HTV Wales head of press and PR Mansel Jones says: ’I sense, as someone

who deals with people outside of Wales, that the perception has

improved. The view people have of us now is getting close to the right

one. It isn’t a land of coal mines anymore.’



Welsh Context managing director Huw Roberts adds: ’There’s no doubt at

all that Wales is riding high and there’s a cultural and social

dimension to that. One of the things people are trying to guard against

is that it becomes a one-city state like Ireland, where Dublin has got

overheated.’



That may well become a genuine problem. Yet even if it does, the up-side

is that it will prove what a long way Wales has come in a few short

years and help in laying to rest some of the hackneyed and outdated

perceptions of industrial decline that still dog its image.





RUGBY AND ITS MONUMENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO NATIONAL MORALE



On New Year’s Eve, rock giants the Manic Street Preachers will play live

to thousands of adoring fans. On the first Sunday of the new millennium

thousands of Christian worshippers will sing hymns with gusto as they

are filmed for an edition of the BBC’s Songs of Praise. What connects

these two highly disparate musical events is that they are to take place

at the same venue: the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.



The Millennium Stadium, in all its architectural glory, was officially

opened on 26 June for the Wales versus South Africa rugby match. More

importantly, though, it was the prime venue for the Rugby World Cup,

staging the official opening of the tournament on 1 October and the

final between Australia and France on 6 November.



The new stadium cost pounds 120 million to develop, pounds 47 million of

which came from the Millennium Commission. Its grandeur could not fail

to be impressed on television viewers of the World Cup across the globe.

Among the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world, it is the

only stadium in the UK with a retractable roof. Moreover, it is able to

seat 72,000 spectators, compared to the 53,000 capacity of the old

Cardiff Arms Park stadium.



’The Rugby World Cup was the first time ever that Wales has been

projected worldwide and the fact that the stadium is state-of-the-art is

bound to have an effect,’ says Welsh Rugby Union media and PR manager

Lyn Davies.



Bell Pottinger Good Relations Wales managing director Noreen Bray agrees

with Davies that the Millennium Stadium is a ’visual symbol of modern

Wales’. Its sleek and tasteful design coupled with its scale - at 93

metres high it is the tallest building in Cardiff - are a wonderful

advertisement for the reinvention that has been taking place across the

principality.



On top of this, its flexibility means it should attract all sorts of

events to the city, as its grass pitch is removable, on 7,800 pallets to

allow for major exhibitions, festivals and concerts.





WELSH LOBBYING IS STILL VERY MUCH A GROWTH INDUSTRY



To a large extent, the National Assembly for Wales is still finding its

feet. A turn-out of just 46 per cent of the electorate to vote for its

60 members was an inauspicious start, and since the assembly was

formally inaugurated by the Queen at the end of May it has failed to

capture public imagination.



The imposition by Labour of Alun Michael as First Secretary over Rhodri

Morgan, who was more popular at grass-roots level, has engendered some

cynicism, while the quality of debate within the chamber has also been

criticised.



However, once matters of process have been clarified the expectation is

that the assembly will begin to become more effective in key areas.



’It isn’t true to say it’s not a legislature,’ says Welsh Context

managing director Huw Roberts. ’It just legislates at a different point

in the cycle. Its weaknesses are more to do with a lack of experience

and a lack of confidence, particularly among its officials. It’s not a

pale shadow of the Scottish model.’ Jon Townley adds: ’We will begin to

see Wales going its own way on health, education and economic

development. These are obviously the big issues.’ Townley is voluntary

sector assembly liaison officer at the Voluntary Sector Assembly Centre,

a body funded by the National Lottery Charities Board with a remit to

give advice to voluntary sector organisations. There is clearly a great

deal of interest in this quarter, as there is in the commercial sector.

Bell Pottinger, for instance, says it now has 16 clients making use of

its assembly monitoring service.



Strong interest in the assembly has seen a handful of public affairs

specialists springing up in Cardiff confident that their services will

be in ever greater demand.



GJW Cymru director Mari James, who played a prominent part in the

creation of the Assembly as vice-chair of the Yes for Wales referendum

campaign, feels that the way in which the Assembly operates presents

many opportunities for lobbyists, in particular through interaction with

its policy-making committees.



’In Wales there is much more access to policy development than in

Westminster,’ she says. ’Inclusiveness is an over-used word in Wales,

but that’s because that’s the way it is.’



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