Indycube New Year’s Day blog

You’ll find this post over on too

On St David’s Day this year indycube will celebrate its sixth birthday. For anyone who has set up in business, they’ll tell you that just getting to six is a major achievement. I agree – it’s been hard work, but I’m not complaining – I’ve never enjoyed work so much. As many people know, my job basically involves chatting to people over a coffee, or if I’m really lucky a beer or two. Not bad, eh? Even better, I get to have these conversations throughout Wales. Over the past six years, I feel like I’ve become more Welsh – in my outlook, my motivation and my passion. I’ve come to understand what ‘Hiraeth’ means. It may have taken me 40 odd years to ‘get it’, for sure, but it’s definitely been a journey worth making.

As we turn the corner into 2016 we have over 25 spaces in our network, with a further handful agreed to open before the end of February, and we are represented throughout the entire length and breadth of Wales. I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved, but I want indycube to do more, and we need help to do that.

Our focus hasn’t changed since the day we opened at Culverhouse Cross – we want to change the way Wales does business. We’re not happy, that for too long Wales has languished at the bottom of economic league tables, and we’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of trust shown in our own capacity to build a more prosperous Country. What’s happened is that most of us have become used to seeing Wales’ economic policy being skewed by certain interest groups, whether they be international mega-businesses taking grants for creating poorly paid jobs; those moneyed or society types whose voices can have an undue influence on Ministerial ears; or the same old consultants peddling business support, that, given Wales’ GVA performance, evidentially has never worked (doesn’t stop them being paid, mind). Even more concerning is that we’ve collectively abdicated our responsibility to change things ourselves; we expect politicians and civil servants to have the answers. I think it’s fair to say, they don’t, so frankly it’s over to us, all of us.

It became apparent that the only way we were going to achieve our aim, was to encourage our users to do what they do best – run their businesses, but to do it from within their own communities. That doesn’t mean encouraging freelancers and micro-businesses to travel miles to one of our spaces; quite the contrary, we’re bringing spaces where you can work alongside others, to every part of the Country. At the same time, we’re seeing the strength of our network grow, as associates link up between spaces – it’s actually what we’re good at in Wales – real, uncontrived, PRollocks-free networking. We’re a people-centric Country, and trying to be something we’re not, is, at best, a waste of time, energy & money. At worst it represents a huge lost opportunity.

So today – as we prepare to enter a new year, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a few things that I don’t do enough. Say thanks, update you on our plans and, as I’ve alluded to, ask for some help.


Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has ever used Indycube. We’ve had well in excess of 1,500 people through our various doors over the years, and I hope, for however long they stayed, the experience was worthwhile. Many have stayed with us for a long time now, and have become our strongest advocates. I’m hugely grateful for their support and patronage. There’s also a long list of individuals who’ve been remarkably influential in our progress – they’ve challenged, cajoled & questioned me over the past few years, and I’ve done my level best to listen. You all know who you are 🙂

Secondly, I wanted to tell you a bit about our future plans. There’s quite a lot going on in the coming few months, so read on….

We’re giving Indycube away

Most of you will be aware we’re a social enterprise – a Community Interest Company, limited by shares. This has been the perfect corporate vehicle for us to come this far – it’s light touch, the company needed to be able to push on without being held back by too much intervention. I know we wouldn’t have got to half the places we have, had I needed ‘Board’ approval every step of the way. However, Indycube was always ‘owned by the community’, but in legal terms was being held by myself, Tristan Phillips & Kev Moss (our first two, and continuing associates).

We now think the time is right to pass the ownership fully on to the community. On the 23rd December we ‘pushed the button’ to start the process of mutualising Indycube, and on our sixth anniversary, St David’s Day 2016, we’ll convert (subject to regulator approvals etc) from a Community Interest Company (CIC) owned by Kev, Tristan and myself, to a Community Benefit Society (CommBen) owned equally by the members.

From March 1st, if you either live, work or have an association in Wales, you can become a member of Indycube, and be part of our future. You’ll take an equal right in the decisions of the company; electing the Board, agreeing strategic plans & helping the emergent network grow. We want anyone who wants to, to be able to join, so we’ve set the membership levy at only £1 per month. You don’t have to be a user (although they’ll be very welcome) to join. Essentially, if you agree that the status quo just isn’t delivering for Wales, come and be part of something that, with your input, might just work.

For those business anoraks amongst you, the business model we’ve chosen is a type of co-operative. We’ll become a Community Benefit Society, and will therefore be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). We’ve chosen the cooperative route for a romantic reason too – the founder of the cooperative movement, Robert Owen was born in Wales (Newtown) and for many years cooperative organisations were the lifeblood of communities across Wales. We’re keen to replicate the same with our mutualisation.

Price Increases

From March 1st, one thing we’ll be doing is changing our pricing structure. In general our prices will rise, and we’ll be introducing a completely new pricing option (half-timers). Our website will display the new prices, alongside the current ones, so everyone will be aware of what’s happening. 

This is the first time we’ve raised our prices since we started up (it works out at the equivalent of a 3% rise per year), and although we’ve done this reluctantly, it’s important that we ensure the prices paid by our associates matches the costs we expend in order to run the network. I’d hope we can maintain these new prices for the next six years. That’s the plan! But more importantly, this is the last time we’ll take this decision alone – next time this will be agreed upon by the members.

During February, we’ll be working with our current associates to change them over to the new prices. We hope all our associates will understand, and recognise that with desk day prices from marginally over £5 per day, and never exceeding £12 a day, we really do offer exceptional value. More than that we offer the chance to work alongside others and let serendipity do the rest.

The new prices effective from March 1st 2016 are set out here (all attract VAT, currently at 20%):

  • Pay-As-You-Go – our most flexible option will be £12 per day.
  • Part-Time Associate* – £60 per month for 5 days.
  • Half-Time Associate* – £100 per month. 10 days a month working out at £10 per day.
  • Full-Time Associate* – £180 per month. Your own desk, as and when you need it. This averages out at £8 per day.
  • Company rates – teams of between 4 & 8 Full-Timers can take advantage of these special rates – 4-6 desks – £720, 7 desks – £820 & 8 desks – £920. These prices gives an average desk day price of between £5 & £8.
  • Registered Office only – one business registered office is available to Part, Half and Full timers. All subsequent businesses registered will cost £240 pa. Anyone who just needs a registered office can choose this facility on a stand-alone basis for £240 pa.
  • Meeting Room – meeting room hire over 2 hours (which is included in all rates), stays the same and is chargeable at £35 (1/2 day) and £70 (full day).

The Plan for 2016

We want to continue to grow the network, such that freelancers and micro businesses can access like minded people to work alongside, within, at worst, a short drive from home. That doesn’t mean all the spaces need to be 3,000 sq ft offices – far from it, you’ll start to see indycube spaces in smaller locations with maybe 5 or 6 deskspaces in them. We’re planning to find larger spaces that can act as a hub to these smaller satellites.

This continued and accelerated growth will mean we need a few more people to join the team over the next year, but we’re going to be doing that from within our own (still limited) resources – we’ve never believed what we do should be supported from the public purse, particularly when other priorities are so pressing. Many others disagree with this view – could it be, that more often than not, they are beneficiaries of said public sector largesse? Keep an eye out for job opportunities as they arise – I promise they’ll be challenging and rewarding.

Indycube Ventures will continue to support high growth potential businesses to develop, and that opportunity will expand as indycube moves into parts of Wales we’ve not reached before. We’ve already started conversations with those who can help develop the support provided, and we’ll be moving ahead with those in the early part of the year.

And finally…..

I hope you join us (and/or stay with us) on the next leg of our collective journey. I genuinely want to cede control of indycube to a team I’d like to join. We’ve worked hard to get the organisation to the position that it can deliver for Wales, but now we need to realise that ambition – and for that we need you. 

I’m free to chat through anything I’ve written above; the price changes, the mechanics of becoming a member of the new indycube Community Benefit Society when it goes live, or even your interest in jobs that currently don’t exist. If you don’t have my number, best bet is to get in touch via Twitter @markjhooper

Thanks for reading this – Here’s to a wonderful and happy New Year. 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i Bawb!



#War #NotInMyName

This post that a friend sent me sums things up perfectly. Whoever the teacher is, thanks. Whoever the 13yo is, now that’s an analogy 

 As a teacher I would like to pass on the following wisdom from an 13year old who I teach-“Is the Prime Minister an idiot? Because even I know that when someone hits your friend with a stick, you don’t hit everyone in the playground with a stick. You take the stick away. And you find out who gave them the stick in the first place. And you find out where he got the stick. And clear up the sticks so nobody else can be tempted. Everyone gets angry. But if they don’t have a stick then their anger isn’t as dangerous.”

I congratulated her on her wisdom.

“Sir. It isn’t wisdom. It’s obvious. If I gave someone a stick to hit someone with id be expelled. And imagine how much trouble id get in if I SOLD them the stick!!”

Barry Town United v Aberdare Town – a real football match for the community.

I’m an ex Cardiff City fan, who spent most of my formative years watching the Bluebirds home and away – a devotee of the Church of Ninian Park. My first match was in the 75/76 season, and I went with my uncle and my grandad, and stood on the Bob Bank. They stood alongside their mates, who debated the bad decisions, castigated the lazy player, and jumped high in the air when we occasionally scored. I can’t for the life of me remember who we were playing in that first game, and I’m sure I was more fascinated by the various chants and songs that reverberated around the rusty ground. The smells we’re all OXO, cigarette smoke, stale beery blokes, and the odd whiff of piss. Despite all that, the 6 year old boy from Barry was hooked. For the next 38 years, variously as a season ticket holder or not, I was never far away from the footy. More accurately I was never far away from Cardiff City – I had no second team, unlike most of my friends – just Cardiff. In all those 38 years we lurched from poor, to reasonable, but mostly we were a second tier team, but I really didn’t care. I was a committed ‘City ’til I die’ kinda guy.

Then the ‘football finance revolution’ started to kick in, and my passion for the game ebbed. I kept my season tickets going, but felt less and less like going. I tried to do something about it – I helped establish Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, but increasingly my heart wasn’t in it. City’s first season in the top flight in my lifetime proved to be the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Bluebirds, and last season I found myself giving my tickets away to friends rather than going myself. The final straw came when I was a guest of a friend watching Gloucester City play Worcester City (a local derby). Gloucester play at Cheltenham Town’s ground at the moment, but I found everything about the match more enjoyable than my visits to the Cardiff City Stadium – the atmosphere, the banter, the amount of families in attendance, and the affinity between the players and the fans – the fans’ favourite was also a local secondary school teacher.

My long marriage to Cardiff City AFC had ended – there wasn’t anyone else involved; I’d stopped loving them…. They weren’t the team I knew at the start – they’d lost their soul.

Modern football had lost its soul – when family members took their youngsters to the game; when players came from local schools to represent their boyhood team; when dodgy burnt burgers were the best fare on offer; and when Cardiff City were more interested in their supporters from Canton, Llanerdyn, Merthyr & Barry, rather than those from Malaysia or elsewhere.

Yesterday, I watched Barry Town United take on Aberdare Town in the second round of the Welsh Cup. I met Barry’s real ‘Gavin’, Hammers supporting Andy Green for a couple of pints up the Tynny (Tynewydd Inn) beforehand. Both of us chatted through our first experiences of watching Barry. Mine was just prior to my inaugural visit to Ninian Park, and I remember getting Jimmy Andrews’ autograph – the Cardiff City manager of the time was scouting for talent in Barry. My last visit to watch Barry Town was probably the first round proper of the FA Cup when they played Reading at Jenner Park. That was an age ago – I was still in school.

This match against Aberdare Town in the Welsh Cup was Barry’s first back at their home, Jenner Park, since the installation of the 3G pitch, and a bumper crowd of 446 turned up to watch. Given we’d met for a drink beforehand, we hustled in at one min to two, and paid the turnstile man (who’d sold out of programmes) a fiver each. Here’s the first thing I noticed….

People knew each other – Andy chatted to about twenty people before we got to our seats. One of them, Terry is Barry Town’s bugler. Not only that, he sold the raffle tickets, and I even spotted him offering Damon Searle a reviving sweet when he came off towards the end of the match (to be fair, Damon had put in a shift, and looked like he needed a mars bar!)

 Next thing – Kids were everywhere – some even in their Halloween costumes. They weren’t all watching the game; some of them seemed to be playing their own games of tag, rather than watch the match unfolding in the sunshine. Families were there supporting the local team. People were friendly, and there was more singing than I heard at the Cardiff City Stadium last time I went.

It wasn’t all about the game on the pitch was my next observation – there was a parade of affiliated football teams, girls (kitted out in Argentina-esque strips), boys and the disabled team at half time, and they seemed to lap up the applause as they walked around the running track. When I popped to the clubhouse for my OXO, a coffee for Andy & a couple of Kit-Kat Chunky bars (oh yes!), the team behind the counter were excellent, and I could pay for the cuppas & snacks from coins in my pocket rather than needing to take out a second mortgage as often seemed the case at Cardiff City.

 Then to the game itself. Barry Town United may have a relatively short history, but Barry has a rich footballing heritage stretching back over 100 years. Jenner Park has seen the likes of Porto, Aberdeen & Reading visit amongst others. But yesterday a record was broken. It was the first time a Barry Town player scored five goals at Jenner Park in its history. Barry’s No. 9 James Dixon, a worthy man of the match winner was given the honour of being substituted just before the end so he could enjoy the standing ovation from the fans. Well done to the manager, Gavin Chesterfield for this well deserved accolade.

Nine goals in any game represents great value for my fiver, but the whole match was of a pretty decent quality too. I’m not sure Aberdare were five goals worse than Barry – sure the better team won, but they were worthy opponents, unlucky to be playing against a team, whose centre forward seemed to be able to score at will. The pitch performed well, with 3G pellets rising from every bouncing ball or scraping of studs.

As we were buying our raffles tickets from Terry at the final whistle, Andy asked what makes fans stick to clubs. For me, I was taken in by the sense of community spirit from all involved – from the hard working club secretary, David Cole who was the best dressed steward at the game, the team on the pitch, the ladies selling the Kit-Kats, the programme editor, to Terry the bugler/raffle ticket salesman/sweet giver outer. Being part of a community is what I once felt at Cardiff City, but no longer.

You’ve got me Barry Town United at the first attempt – if I can help in any way, just ask (I can’t bugle, mind!)

Because we’re worth it…… Stop the Welsh Jobs Dowry

In times gone by, a bride-to-be’s family would negotiate a dowry, so that the husband would agree to marry their daughter. It was an important consideration as to which woman the groom would marry. I wonder how these women felt – arguably their future life was as much to do with the amount of money her father was prepared to give, as it was the person she was, and was becoming. For me, I would find that deeply hurtful. It seems the same thing is happening to us as a Country today. Welsh Government Ministers from Carwyn Jones down are falling over themselves to pay foreign companies to take us on. These ministers are paying big foreign companies a dowry for our workers.

Every single time we pay somebody to set up in Wales, a little more of our pride gets wiped away. Because unless we pay them, they won’t come here and employ us; because they don’t actually think we’re better than someone else, somewhere else. Well I think we’re better than that, and I’m also completely unconvinced by the economic argument behind doing it too.

Here’s why…

First off, they don’t need the money. Loads of these foreign companies can afford to make these investments from their current resources – they don’t need our money. If they think our workforce is good enough for their investment, they’ll invest in us. If they need a massive (in terms of our meagre cash resources) financial incentive to come here do we really want them here? Are they after us, or just our money?

The Welsh Government have recently announced the following four Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) agreements, and they exemplify the point perfectly:

We (I use ‘we’ as ultimately it’s our money, spent on our behalf, by those we elect, for our collective benefit) have just invested £14.7M in Ford so that they’ll build their new engines in Bridgend. Ford’s latest market cap stands at $61BN. They’ve been in Wales for a while, I accept, but why do they need our money to ensure the overall investment went ahead?

On the 6th of October Edwina Hart announced we were investing £1.4M to support CapGemini (a consulting firm) in creating of 100 jobs in Treforest. The company’s latest net worth is €13.9BN. They too don’t need our money to make this investment.

Here’s a biggy! On September 10th, Sony, with a market capitalisation of ¥4.3TN (yep that’s Trillions of Yen), announced that we had just lent it £1.1M for a new addition to their Pencoed facilities, just outside Bridgend. This one is a loan, but surely there’s no case that Sony needs our money more than hard pressed public services, or even owner managed businesses across the Country.

And then this week, First Source Solutions, an Indian company (capitalised at 22BN Rupees) were given more of our limited cash to add call centre staff to its Cardiff operation. We don’t know how much we gave them, as neither the Company or the government were prepared to say – I wonder, are they running scared of justifiable criticism? Hiding the facts is poor government, as it suggests the officers and ministers don’t have full confidence in the decisions they have made. Perhaps they’re right not to be confident.

There have been others, and there will be more.

Secondly, we need to find wealth creators rather than job creators. Simply put, wealth creators will also create jobs (often higher value jobs too). On the other hand, job creators will never create wealth. Any wealth created on the backs of these Welsh workers doesn’t stay here – it travels straight over the Severn Bridge, on to Heathrow and onwards to a far flung part of the world. I’d call this exploitation – and the fact we encourage and fund it ourselves would be laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic.

Lastly, these huge businesses are highly susceptible to world market movements, and will, with limited warning simply up-sticks and go. The recent FSB Wales report ‘What Wales Could Be’ called for support to be focused on grounded, rooted, local businesses, to encourage them to grow to be the mid-cap businesses of tomorrow. I absolutely agree.

The politicians who take these decisions need to be held accountable. The officials who negotiate the deals too. Their focus on FDI is keeping Wales poor, and is wrong minded. Worse still, it shows they don’t believe we’re good enough to succeed without this ‘dowry’. That diminishes self-belief and hurts our collective confidence.

Some of us believe we’re worth it.

FFS – The FSB deserved better than they got tonight

Tonight I joined 150 small business owners to hear FSB Wales launch their manifesto for the next Welsh Assembly term 2016-21. One could argue that the five year period ahead for Wales is the most critical there’s been since devolution – the world economy in turmoil, the environment remains under severe threat, global populations are in transit, and inequality is rising – I could go on. It’s fair to say, the world of the next five and a half years will be unpredictable, at best.

Five politicians were there to debate the manifesto. Rhun Ap Iorwerth, Plaid economy spokesperson; Mark Isherwood, a late replacement for the Conservative’s spokesperson  

 William Graham; Eluned Parrot holding the brief for the Lib Dems; Mark Reckless, onetime UKIP MP; and Ken Skates, a deputy minister and the architect of the Labour Manifesto for the election in May.

To set the scene for tonight’s debate the FSB Wales team commissioned a report ‘What Wales Could Be‘ by Manchester based academics, CRESC. Although criticised by some vested interests, many (including me) think that the report represented a significant, evidence based body of work that should be considered by the political parties. Although often critical of current and historic Welsh economic policy, this was far from a negative report. More so, it offered fresh thinking on a number of key areas, including, importantly, how we should do more to support grounded, locally created mid-cap businesses rather than this preoccupation with encouraging foreign direct investment into Wales – the profits of which get spent in some far flung part of the globe – anywhere but here in Wales.

The report isn’t that long, yet only one of the five politicians on the stage tonight had even bothered to read it (Mark Reckless had read it). Organisations, like the FSB are trying to influence Welsh policy makers not because they enjoy the sound of their own voice – they do it because they represent a body of people whose voice is valid, and have something to say. In this case it’s those of us running small and medium sized businesses. Current economic policy generally isn’t working for this bunch – and we had some suggestions to improve things, but the politicians wouldn’t know, because they hadn’t read the suggestions.

The audience tonight was hoping for more. We hoped that when the panel opted for generalisations rather than forensic specifics, there would be some true inspiration and ideas. Instead we listened to bland and banal soundbites – thank goodness for the wine.

The Welsh economy deserves better than the scant regard these politicians showed towards the FSB this evening. The FSB deserve support in this endeavour, which is one reason I, and Indycube will be joining them tomorrow morning.

#JezYouCan – 3 things Jeremy Corbyn could do now that’ll help him (clue – it doesn’t involve pandering to the media)

I’ve never voted Labour, and probably never will. I’ve also suggested, in the aftermath of the General Election that Labour will disappear as it’ll take too long working out where it’s going. So why am I interested? Because, for the first time in a long, long while the electorate is being confronted by a politician of principle, whose rough edges are yet to be smoothed out, and actually says what he believes. That is refreshing.
Here’s my three things:

1 – stay authentic – Corbyn won his mandate because he was himself. Everyone knows he didn’t want to sing the National Anthem, everyone knows he won’t want to kneel before the Queen when elevated to the Privy Council. Why, because he’s a republican. He was respectful during the singing of the anthem; he didn’t hold a placard, or sing ‘The Red Flag’ in competition. Jeremy should stick to his views, otherwise he’ll find the slippery slope to ‘triangulation’ and ‘plausible deniability’ also become the road to nowhere, and quickly. After all it’s not as though he’ll ever get the Daily Mail or Daily Express supporting him, so worry less about what they’ll write. I’d also be tempted to ignore those from the left leaning papers who are distraught that Corbyn won, and want to encourage the managerial, media-savvy style – it’s as if they’ve forgotten the almost 60% vote Corbyn achieved already.

2 – get hold of the Parliamentary Party – most of those ‘colleagues’ behind Corbyn are quite obviously not supportive of him. Serving as a shadow minister is a privilege – if seasoned politicians like Owen Smith can’t find a way not to completely disagree with their leader at the first opportunity, they should be sacked. The benefit cap is clearly something Corbyn doesn’t agree with; Smith could have said lots to put off Evan Davis in his BBC Newsnight interview, but didn’t. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been chosen to serve in the shadow cabinet, but irrespective, he should go swiftly.

3 – spin won’t win – we know Jeremy isn’t slick so when he’s quite obviously listening to the spin doctors from Millbank, it really shows. They’re wrong; they’re wrong for the electorate who just voted Corbyn in and they’ll eventually be wrong for the rest of the U.K. too. So when Jeremy gives the Member for Pontypridd his marching orders, he should send these doctors of the black arts with him. They’ll make noise, lots of it, but with four and a half years before the next Westminster election, there’s a lot of time for their shrill cries to be forgotten.

If I’m honest, I expect Labour (& Corbyn) to do the exact opposite of these, and my prediction of the demise of the Labour Party as an significant electoral force will become ever more likely.

Wales and its economic coral reef 

I spent today as a guest of the New Economics Foundation & NewStart magazine who are roving a bunch of UK cities, trying to get behind the potential for alternative economic models. The debate in Cardiff was fascinating, and you get the real sense that ‘revolution is in the air’. This is my contribution to the magazine’s output for Cardiff. It really does resonate after today’s meeting.  
I’m an optimist for Wales. I’m not sure you could find someone more optimistic about the future of the Country, whether that be in the capital city, Cardiff, or one of the numerous towns and villages in which Indycube is based. The reason is, I’m convinced Wales will be one of the countries at the forefront of the new economic model that is shaping up, but it won’t be an easy transition.

The superfast transmission of information, data, ideas and ideals has transformed the world in which we live – in fact we’re in the middle of the fastest revolution to ever hit the human race, and the impact will be world changing. Whether that manifests itself in political upheaval across Europe, stock market crashes in China, or tech bubbles in Silicon Valley – these changes will, I think, change the face of our economies for ever, and eventually for the better.

The journey from old economy to new will be most difficult for those who benefit most from the status quo; Big Business and Big Politics. Fortunately, in Wales, we’ve not been home to either. Our businesses are more often small & community centric, and our politics have historically been centred around values and beliefs, rather than slick marketing machines. Wales is, like other small countries, perfectly positioned to try out new ideas, and take risks.

Three key aspects of this new economic model are:

  1. Small is the new big – the mantra of globalisation is being turned on its head. In Indycube, one of our Cardiff based businesses recently beat SnapFish (part of multinational HP) to a contract, and they sit at three desks in one of our shared offices. There’ll be many more like this over the coming months and years.
  2. The way we work has changed, and wilł continue to do so – we’ll never get jobs for life again – we may never get jobs again. The gig economy is here, and increasing rapidly – you’re more likely to be freelancing one week, traveling the next and volunteering the week after in the future than you are working for one employer.
  3. Future Economic Value isn’t all about GDP or GVA – increasingly people are feeling disillusioned with the economic model that has held sway for the last 200 years. Wealth and happiness aren’t all about the bank balance. Just ask someone nearing the end of their lives – they’ll tell you life is about human connections – that’s where real value lies.

Wales’ new economic development will be more akin to a successful coral reef. A coral reef thrives when its individual coral polyps are left to develop in their own way. We need to allow each of our communities to be the best it can be, and not some limp copycat of somewhere else. We encourage our children not to compare themselves with others, and yet with our communities, for too long, we’ve tried to be things we’re not. So often I’ve heard others tell me we’re on the verge of creating Silicon Valleys – I’m sure they believe their own hype that by simply adding an ‘s’ it will be so. Silicon Valley exists – let’s not bother trying to make our own copy, not least because by the time we do it, the world will have moved on to its next unicorn producing centre of activity.

What are we good at in Wales? Close knit communities, family, non-conformist spirit, natural environment, water (it rains a lot, plus we’re surrounded on three sides by the sea)?? Let’s make these the strengths we build our economy on. They’re not all about money, and that’s how it should be.

The problem with this strategy is that it is uncontrolled, and uncontrollable. But the future that I envisage is just that – the only thing that is predictable, is that the world will be unpredictable. Those communities that thrive on chaos and change will be the economic winners this century. To be a thriver, you’ll need your community around you – you’ll need other people to rely on. In terms of work, you’ll need your community of coworkers, and that’s what we’re helping to develop across Wales.

#BarryIs – the aftermath

#BarryIs – the really good news, is that we’re gonna do it again!!

I’ve just got back from a lovely afternoon, talking all things #Barry with friends. Some of whom, I’ve only just met today, but friends nonetheless. We covered a lot of ground, and over the coming week or so, we’ll get to writing it up (I’ve a co-conspirator Emma Evans, who managed magnificently to keep us on track, and on purpose….

There were four things that immediately came to mind, and I wanted to share them with you;

1 – first and foremost, the regeneration that really takes hold and matters means something to people. Barrians who joined us today (whether they’ve been here a lifetime or a couple of years), described their affinity to the town with sincerity and passion. They love Barry!

2 – secondly, there was recognition that Barry’s history is still quite young. It essentially didn’t exist 150 years ago, but is now Wales’ largest town. I loved it being compared to a forest that has grown up very quickly. Regenerating such a forest needs some strong trees to help new saplings grow…

3 – we (collectively) need to become ambassadors for the town and spread the good news about just how good the place is. There seemed to be a real opportunity to do more shouting about the best things in the town. I’m going to start this by shouting out about the fantastic group of people who got involved today – you (Graham, Louise, Dai, Nick, Shirley, Emma, Gareth, Richard, Andy, Phil, Ian & Martin) are top Barry Bods – bendigedig!

4 – finally, it is clear we aren’t starting from a blank sheet of paper. They’re are loads of good things going on, and the final parting shot comes from Louise who said “I’m convinced it’s not about money.” I agree with that entirely. The future of Barry’s regeneration will be about the spirit of the people – the pioneers.

As I said at the start, we’re going to meet again. Next time we’re putting on our walking boots (well trainers or daps if I’m honest), and will be walking around the town, together. Keep your ear to the ground to find out where and when, and please do join us.

You can follow us on our brand new Twitter feed @barry_is_ and please do use the hashtag #BarryIs when you spread the news (which I hope you will). I’ve also just set up a blog page at

How to waste public money – let the Welsh Government Economy & Enterprise Minister invest it for you

We’re chasing the wrong Dragon in Wales at the moment, and it’s high time it stopped.

Today we’ve heard of yet another business in Wales that had recently announced a major funding injection from Welsh Government and is now on the brink of going ‘pop’. Universal Engineering in Llantrisant announced with great Ministerial fanfare that they had negotiated £2M of public funding to support their expansion as they were so confident of the future. That was the middle of February this year. They have called in the administrators and it’s only August.

This raises two important points. Firstly, what, if any due diligence was undertaken by Welsh Government officials in making this decision, and how honest the grant applicant was in relation to the health of the business at the time of the application.

When I’ve previously been critical of this type of investment, I’ve been chided by some who suggested that this risk taking by government is what they should be encouraged to do, not be cowed into a risk averse corner.

The investments are wrong for two key reasons:

1- more often than not the public money is not being invested alongside risk capital, from private investors or institutions. These guys get it wrong too, I agree, but they’re often risking their own money in the deal; they have ‘skin in the game’. Their reputation or kids inheritance will depend on them choosing winners over losers.

2- the investments are made on the basis of jobs created. This may create PR opportunities for the Minister, but do very little to generate wealth in our communities. Jobs will be developed on the basis of wealth being created, not the other way around.

Those who follow these public investments will have noticed a number that have gone to the wall recently. These failures are dreadful news for the employees of the Companies themselves, and the local area in which they’re situated. The fact that our public monies are also being lost alongside the jobs just makes matters worse.

Mrs. Hart, you prided yourself in being an interventionalist when you announced your impending retirement recently. Well it doesn’t look like it has worked. You’ve either got an incompetent team of senior officials in your department or you’re making over-riding judgements from your high office. Either way, save us some money between now and May 2016, and go now. And on your way out take the bureaucrats who made these godawful decisions with you.