Cardiff Breakfast Club 8th March – Graham Edwards, CBI Wales, Wales & West Utilities

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Business/Cardiff News, Cardiff Breakfast Club, Events
Tags: , , , , ,

Breakfast ClubCardiff Breakfast Club members were at the St David’s Hotel bright and early this morning to hear guest speaker Graham Edwards, chief executive of Wales & West Utilities (WWU) and Chairman of CBI Wales.

After leaving school at just 15, Graham worked his way through the engineering, manufacturing and utilities sector before becoming Chief Executive of WWU in 2005. He is now one year into his two-year tenure as CBI Chairman, and drew on his experiences in both roles to give his perspective on Wales’ business outlook and the CBI’s goals for the future.

CBI Wales comprises of some 210,000 businesses, from large companies to SMEs, and enjoys a ‘significant level of engagement’ with both the Welsh and the UK Government. Through regular meetings and open discussion, CBI Wales intends to work very much with the Welsh Government to see the ‘fruits’ of this engagement, and ‘galvanise’ Welsh business.

A ‘passionate Welshman’, Graham’s positive attitude and desire for Welsh to succeed was clear throughout. Wales makes a ‘small but significant’ contribution to the UK economy, with Graham immediately able to outline several ‘opportunities to improve’. Wales is one of the UK’s poorest regions on underlying productivity, and is ‘nowhere near’ the level of inward investment seen 10-20 years ago. Graham acknowledged that ‘underlying structural issues’ such as Wales’ rural areas and infrastructure problems must be factored in, but should not become seen as unavoidable or solely to blame. We are ‘fighting our corner’. With a trend towards decreasing private sector employment and increasing public sector employment, our public sector is growing at a significantly greater rate than other parts of the UK. Wales also has the UK’s highest positive trade balance. Importantly, Graham made it clear that ‘investors are out there – money is available’.

The ‘passionate Welshman’ returned to Wales 7 years ago, and found that ‘being outside Wales looking in’ gave him a renewed perspective on the nation’s position. He suggested that Wales needs to move away from an ‘obsession’ with comparison with the rest of the UK, and look instead for Wales’ own opportunities. Graham drew on the comments made by Edwina Hart AM at last month’s Breakfast Club on the upcoming round of EU funding, stating that we must use this money in as strategic and ‘mercenary’ a way as possible, to maximise its potential. The CBI’s work plan for 2013-14 outlines a number of areas of activity, with the need now to identify what ‘the big opportunities’ are – and to go out and grab them.

While it is good to aspire to be ‘better than everyone else’, Graham emphasised the need to get the balance right: by repositioning our focus, as well as capitalising on the CBI’s  excellent working relationship with Government and Wales’ ‘great entrepreneurial spirit’.

 

The next Cardiff Breakfast Club meeting will be held on the 19th April, with Sue Biggs, Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society. For information or to book, please contact Sally Taylor on 02920 549597 or at sally@petersenspr.com. 

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