NATO summit hosts tone down Welsh government criticisms

 

The witnesses were confident, even passionate; their message seemed clear. Wales risked missing out on the benefits of hosting this September's NATO summit.

So why have Celtic Manor Resort spin doctors spent the last 48 hours trying to play down what they told a committee of MPs on Tuesday?

Just to recap, this is what Ian Edwards, chief operating officer said: "I think the first minister has got to say to the prime minister, 'Look, we are 100 days to go; we've got nothing nailed down in terms of outreach programmes. How are we going to benefit from this?

"If we don't do it now and we don't line everything up we will miss that opportunity." He said Wales had done well out of the Ryder Cup at the resort, but could have done better. "We've got to learn the lesson from the Ryder Cup and make sure we don't make the same mistakes with NATO."

And this is what he said about air transport links: "At the moment it's more viable for us to have an alliance with Bristol Airport to put on an international campaign because they have more routes coming into Bristol than into Cardiff. How shameful is that."

Strong words. Committee member Tory MP Guto Bebb even tweeted during the meeting: Celtic Manor pretty clear that Visit Wales is not selling Wales internationally. Evidence from Celtic Manor management is a real critique of Welsh government."

So imagine the surprise when a statement from Celtic Manor resort dropped into the inbox on Tuesday evening. Mr Edwards said: "We are disappointed by the BBC's reporting of today's Welsh affairs committee which is very selective in its content.

"While we understand the nature of news reporting, the BBC has chosen to focus solely on our comments which were critical of the Welsh government. The committee in its entirety was actually an overwhelmingly positive discussion which MPs present described as 'inspirational'.

"In the interests of balanced reporting, we would expect the BBC to feature this more positive content which included our high expectations of the new leadership within Visit Wales."

Balanced reporting? Here's the Western Mail take on it. Call me old-fashioned, but I do tend to put the more newsworthy elements of the evidence nearer the top of my copy. Having re-watched the evidence in its entirety, I am confident it is an accurate reflection of what was said. Our reporting reflected the "overwhelmingly positive" approach of two dynamic witnesses fizzing with ideas on how to make Wales more competitive.

Some of it may have been less than positive - but don't shoot the messenger. Celtic Manor Resort director Simon Gibson told how Wales missed out on a share of £13bn from a sovereign wealth fund that, he reminded the MPs, could have paid to upgrade the M4. He compared Wales's preparedness unfavourably with Manchester.

Mr Edwards, you may remember, thought it "ridiculous" that Wales had a smaller stand at a travel convention than Yorkshire.

But back to the airport. Last night, an unsolicited joint statement was issued by Cardiff Airport and the Celtic Manor Resort. It too quoted Mr Edwards, who had used the word "shameful" when discussing the airport the previous day. Last night, he appeared to have changed his tone: "We have been encouraged by the progress made in turning around the fortunes of Cardiff Airport since its acquisition by the Welsh government. The Celtic Manor is working with the airport to support its development and we are united in our efforts to grow the Welsh economy and maximise the benefits brought by these major events when they take place in our country.

"Currently, Cardiff Airport and the Celtic Manor Resort are drawing up a joint partnering agreement to define and expand our relationship for mutual benefit, in line with our shared intention to contribute to a prosperous Welsh business landscape."

Airport chief executive Jon Horne was quoted as saying: "Cardiff Airport is working hard alongside all the agencies concerned to ensure that the airport is used to maximum effect for the logistical and economic success of the 2014 NATO Summit. The team at Cardiff Airport is delighted to be working closely with the Celtic Manor Resort in relation to this and on wider projects, having also enjoyed a great relationship in planning for the Ryder Cup that was held at the Resort in 2010."

There was no response to Mr Edwards's use of the word "shameful" even though the airport's spin doctor made clear the statement was in response to the BBC story featuring that quote. Today, she told me: "I haven't read the whole transcript".

The entire hearing is still online. You can judge for yourself whether we got it right or not. You may also wonder why Celtic Manor appears to be so keen to bury its criticisms of a government that will have a big say in its development plans and owns the main Welsh airport.

The Celtic Manor Resort executives are hugely successful in business. But in politics other rules apply - such as the one offered by Labour's Denis Healey. "First law on holes - when you're in one, stop digging."

 
David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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