a model for sustainable development in the automotive industry in Wales?
The cluster theory attributed to Michael Porter has significantly influenced industrial policies in countries across Europe and North America since the beginning of the 1990s. Institutions such as the EU, OECD and the World Bank and governments in countries such as the UK, France, The Netherlands, Portugal and New Zealand have adopted the concept. Public sector interventions that aim to support cluster development in industries most often focus upon economic policy goals such as enhanced employment and improved productivity, but rarely emphasise broader societal policy goals relating to e.g. sustainability or quality of life. The purpose of this paper is to explore how and to what extent public sector interventions that aim at forcing cluster development in industries can support sustainable development as defined in the Brundtland tradition and more recently elaborated in such concepts as eco-industrialism and the ‘liveable' region. In this paper the cluster strategies that have been applied to the automotive sector in Wales are analysed. The paper includes a theoretical discussion on how the cluster concept has been applied to industrial policies, along with an empirical analysis of the application of the concept to the automotive sector in Wales. Specifically, the paper evaluates the "Accelerates" programme initiated by the Welsh Development Agency and elaborates on how and to what extent the Accelerate programme supports the development of a sustainable automotive industry cluster. The Accelerate programme was set up in 2000 by the Welsh Automotive Task Force under the Welsh Assembly Government. The Accelerate programme takes basically different two directions: The first one, which was the first to be launched, is concerned with the upgrading of existing supply chains in the automotive industry in Wales. The programme targets enhanced learning and process improvement in the automotive supply chain through co-ordination between companies and through training and upgrading of skills. The second direction is focussed on emerging technologies and niche markets, with the potential to provide the basis for a more sustainable automotive sector in Wales. The paper draws from a survey of Welsh automotive suppliers on the characteristics of the local business environment and innovation. On the basis of the survey it is concluded that the public sector has an important task ahead concerning the linkages between universities and local businesses. The universities were not considered by the participating companies to be important parts of the local business environment and inputs from universities did not appear to be an important source to access knowledge about new product development or new techniques in production, distribution or management. Both the Accelerate Wales and the Accelerate Cluster programmes target this issue by trying to establish networks between companies that can be used to supply knowledge from research institutions to manufacturing companies. The paper concludes that public sector interventions can make a difference in terms of enhancing regional development but the paper also concludes that the interventions tend to follow the development path of the established industry and thus tend to neglect long term sustainable development issues while failing to escape the traditional confines of regional industrial policy.