Wednesday 20 September 2023

Reflections on Wales Innovation Week in London

Palace of Westminster
Claude Monet


Jane Lambert

One of my favourite YouTube channels is Ben Llywelyn's. He is an American by origin who has learnt Welsh and settled in Wales.  He makes videos about Wales, its history and languages, mainly but not exclusively Welsh.  As a Cambriophile and a student of Welsh, I often watch his channel.

He  has recently published a particularly interesting video called "How do we save Welsh Devolution from killing itself?" He argued that sections of the public are losing interest in politics because none of the parties that are likely to form a government represents their views.  The Labour Party and Plaid Cymru, the only parties likely to form a government in Wales, are essentially social democratic with very similar outlooks.  Liberal Democrats are also inclining towards the left and the Conservatives are increasingly populist.  The absence of a moderate right-of-centre voice has allowed parties like Reform UK and UKIP  to win seats in the Senedd.  So, too, has a party called "Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party",

Llywelyn contends that those parties have managed to gain a foothold because there is in Wales no credible right-of-centre counterweight to Plaid Cymru and Labour as in other countries including most of the rest of Britain.  He suggests that the only way to create a moderate right-of-centre voice is to expand the professional and managerial classes in Wales. That requires the development of knowledge-based businesses with well-paid jobs in such industries as financial services, telecommunications and computing.  Only when there is an aspiring, entrepreneurial, property-owning class in significant numbers in Wales will changes in policy be possible.  

I abstain from commenting on Llywelyn's political analysis because I do not live in Wales but I have held a similar view on economics for many years.   I have visited Northwest Wales regularly all my life,  Throughout that time I have seen its industries decline and some of the best and the brightest of its young people leave the region.  Since 2018   Menai Science Park ("M-SParc")  and the Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre have begun to arrest and even reverse those trends.

In M-SParc is coming to London - Mae M-SParc yn dod i Lundain, I announced that M-SParc would host a series of events in London.  These would range from a reception in the House of Lords to a coding class for the students of the London Welsh School.  I attended the reception and most of the Digital Wales events.

The reception took place in the Attlee and Reid Room in the Palace of Westminster between 15:30 and 17:00 on Monday, 11 Sept 2023.  Guests were welcomed by Pryderi ap Rhisiart, Managing Director of M-SParc and Lord Wigley.  I knew quite a lot about Lord Wigley's political career but nothing about his business acumen.  In his speech, he mentioned that he ran a business in Llanberis that had created 400 jobs. Other speeches were delivered by the Vice-Chancellor of Bangor University. the Secretary of State for Wales, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Welsh Government and Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation.

By far the most interesting speech was Prof. Badyal's, He discussed the plan to expand Wales's scientific capabilities.   In describing that plan Prof Badyal discussed the efforts of other small countries such as Israel and Singapore. There was no formal Q&A but as I had been sitting quite close to him, I buttonholed him to ask why Wales fell behind all the nations and regions of the UK in the number of patent applications except Northeast England and Northern Ireland (see Table 2.1a: Patent applications, publications and grants1 by region).  I also suggested to him that the Lambert Toolkit precedents should be updated and that Welsh businesses and academics might like to make their own Toolkit.   I renewed those observations in the panel discussions at the Digital Wales event the next day, 

If Prof Badyal's speech was the most interesting Dame Ottoline's was the most flattering.  She described the University of Bangor as a jewel in Wales's crown and M-SParc as its most glittering.  I was personally heartened by the Secretary of State's approval of the UK's rejoining Horizon Europe   He explained that he had been a brexiteer during the referendum campaign but nevertheless favoured a good relationship with the EU.

The reception was attended by representatives of Wales's other science parks.  Just before the event, I met Rhian Hayward, Chief Executive Officer of Aberinnovation who had chaired a conference at Aberystwyth's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences on 13 March 2019 at which I delivered a presentation and others from Aberinnovation in Victoria Gardens.  Inside the Attlee and Reid Room, I met representatives of Bangor, Swansea, Wrexham Glyndwr and other Universities, Menter Môn, AMRC Cymru, business angels, private equity investors and many others who are promoting knowledge-based industries in Wales.   All those meetings took place over sandwiches, cakes, tea and later wine,   The reception was an excellent start to the next 4 days of talks and networking.

The following day I attended Digital Wales in the Welsh Government's offices at 25 Victoria Street.  The event consisted of four sets of presentations and panel discussions on the topics of leveraging data, cybersecurity, smart towns and digital creativity and an indication of the good things to expect at Wales Tech  Week which is to be held between 16 and 18 Oct 2023 at the International Convention Centre, Wales just outside Newport.  This was an opportunity to see many old acquaintances such as Tom Burke of Haia, Carwyn Edwards who must take much of the credit for the success of the Digital Wales event and Richard Scott formerly of GlobalWelsh as well as make many new connections. Sustained by endless supplies of bara brith and Welsh cakes we covered a lot of topics in just 5 hours of talk,

Welsh Innovation Week continued for another two days with discussions on energy, trade and investment at the Welsh Government office and a reception hosted by GlobalWelsh on the theme "Connect to London", I would happily have stayed for the whole week had been free to do so.   

If the objects of the exercise were to establish new connections, renew existing ones and raise the profile of the M-SParc and  Aberinnovation science parks, their tenants, the Welsh universities and other participating institutions in London, the week was a great success. The economy of rural Wales is changing thanks in part to such initiatives as the science parks and the Pontio Centre,  Whether that will bring about the social and political changes for which Ben Llywelyn hopes remains to be seen.   Anyone wishing to discuss this article may call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

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