Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus i chi gyd – Happy St David’s Day to you all!

Today we celebrated St David’s Day with our annual St David’s Day Business Breakfast. We heard from Nan Williams, chair of Global Welsh about the international opportunities for Wales and how to amplify Wales’ presence globally.

So much has changed in Wales since we celebrated St David’s Day together last year. It’s been a year when we have all adapted our ways of working and of doing business. We’ve also had to adapt how we live our lives.

As the 12-month landmark since the start of the pandemic approaches, it’s worth recognising the huge economic and human cost that we have sustained. It’s also right to remember those that we have lost.

With the vaccine now being successfully rolled out, all our minds are turning to the recovery phase – with renewed positivity, and some trepidation too – as so many businesses across all sectors have been impacted. We all hope that the next 12 months bring renewed hope, recovery and a return to normality.

I know from conversations with many businesses that accountants have played a big part in supporting struggling enterprises over the past year. The support has varied from guidance for people navigating the business support packages available; advice on cashflow projections and tax; and helping businesses pivot to new activities. For instance I’ve seen finance professionals help businesses take responsibility for procuring PPE in the NHS, and supporting a brewery that shifted from a traditional model to selling entirely online. All of which was achieved while supporting clients to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU at the end of 2020.

My own organisation, ACCA, has also used insights from members to advise the Welsh and UK Governments on a range of Covid-related issues, including lobbying HMRC on delaying the date for self-assessment, on extending business support packages, and also on the challenges of Brexit preparedness. We’ve also provided a whole host of advice and support for our members and students, not only through sector specific guidance but on important issues such as well-being and resilience, digital skills, sustainability and diversity and inclusion.

The Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience and Reconstruction Mission, published last week, sets out the basis for economic recovery. This includes an emphasis on green reconstruction, investment in people and skills for the future and on digital transformation – all important areas for us at ACCA, and for our members and students. The report also places an emphasis on access to finance, and this will involve a key role for accountants. And with reconstruction in mind, it is good to know that our country has a worldwide reputation for enterprise and great ideas which brings investors and employers to our shores.

A recent example came lately when I was contacted by a colleague from Malaysia. He called first of all to let me know he had been watching Hinterland, the terrific Welsh TV crime drama during lockdown, and was really enjoying it. And secondly that he’d seen a TedTalk by Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, and was inspired to see whether any similar work on sustainable development could be done in Malaysia. I was able to put him in touch with the Commissioner’s office, and we hope that Malaysia will be able to follow the lead of Wales in promoting sustainable development and well-being at a national level.

These are great examples of how Wales can be promoted on the world stage, and of how connections and communities can support this important work.

I am certain that in the months of recovery to come Wales will continue its long tradition of operating internationally – Wales has a long tradition of operating overseas –  from the export of coal and steel in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to compound semiconductors, cybersecurity and fintech clusters in the twenty first century, with new high growth and value sectors and companies operating from Wales.

Wales has produced world-renowned cultural exports such as Dylan Thomas, Shirley Bassey and the Manic Street Preachers, and world famous sporting stars such as Gareth Edwards, Gareth Bale, Geraint Thomas and Jade Jones. We have universities and colleges that are building international research and teaching partnerships. The value that comes from these activities goes far beyond the financial – it helps to build Wales’ reputation internationally.

Anyone who travels overseas – when Covid permits – recognises the benefits that come from international partnerships and collaboration, and the mutual support and shared learning that comes from working across continents.

The Welsh Government’s International Strategy and the related Action Plans place a strong emphasis on promoting Wales on the global stage, on increasing international exports and attracting inward investment.

According to ONS figures, only 4% of the business population of Wales is involved in exporting goods or services, and a large proportion of our exports comes from a small number of large companies. As is well-known, the Welsh economy is comprised of a high percentage of small and medium sized firms, and therefore increasing the percentage of SMEs involved in exporting goods and services offers a real opportunity for growth.

The Welsh Government rightly recognises that international relations aren’t the sole responsibility of government. It places an emphasis on using all avenues to promote Wales on the world stage and to emphasise Wales’ role as a globally responsible country. We can all play a part in this, as members of the business community.

We hope to see many more examples of Welsh enterprise emerging in the coming months. Then perhaps we can allow ourselves a little optimism, and hope that by St David’s Day 2022 we will be looking back on a year when the Welsh economy bounced back stronger than ever from the ravages of Covid-19.