A year in the life of the Secretary of State for Wales
Alun Cairns writes for the Wales on Sunday
The last 12 months have allowed me the opportunity to experience the very best of this country - to connect with every corner of Wales, to savour its culture, its history and its people.
I have experienced first-hand the euphoria of a stunning Welsh Euro 2016 Championship campaign which galvanised the country in celebration. Yet I have also been humbled in remembrance visiting the site of Mametz Wood where thousands of Welsh soldiers advanced 100 years ago in the bloody Battle of the Somme.
I have visited many companies - large and small - and have seen for myself that they aren’t simply surviving, they are thriving.
From oyster farming in the Menai Strait, to helping AB InBev brewery in Monmouthshire make 264,000 pints of beer, I have been privileged to sample the drive and determination of the Welsh workforce helping to put our country on a sound footing to economic growth.
When I stepped into the role of Secretary of State for Wales 365 days ago, I did so with a vision to foster a Welsh nation which is ambitious, confident and more outward looking than ever before.
One year on, Wales is in a real position of strength to become just that.
We are seeing the fastest growth outside London and, over the past year, the employment rate has grown faster in Wales than any other region of the UK.
The Welsh economy has already acquired an international reputation for excellence. But while many people, places and businesses are flourishing, opportunities and growth are still spread unevenly across the country.
That is why our new modern industrial strategy has been launched, and why I hosted the first Wales Business Export Summit in Cardiff earlier this month. I want to ensure every area of Wales can make the most of the opportunities ahead.
On the challenge of devolution I have been going even further, overseeing historic changes to how Wales is governed.
A new chapter in Wales’ constitution was written in January as the Wales Bill received Royal Assent. It is a settlement that will stand the test of time and delivers what I always intended - a clearer, stronger and fairer devolution settlement for Wales based on a reserved powers model.
We also saw a historic, needs based funding deal secured between governments in Cardiff Bay and Westminster, guaranteeing long term financial security for Wales.
The signing of the Cardiff City Deal last year has provided a real springboard for other regions of Wales to come forward with their aspirations for growth. My next priorities are to secure the Swansea Bay Region City Deal, as well as a growth deal for North Wales linked to the Northern Powerhouse.
Infrastructure is also key to our ability to succeed. On the challenge of modernising our infrastructure, I have laid down the challenge to the major mobile operators to reduce mobile not-spots across Wales with a deal to guarantee voice and text coverage from each. Modern Wales is entitled to modern infrastructure and I am determined to make it happen.
I was delighted to welcome the Transport Secretary to Wales at the start of the year to announce the reduction of Severn tolls. The Severn Crossing is a vital investment artery into Wales and our commitment to cutting the tolls is a clear demonstration once again that Wales is open for business.
Taken together these achievements take us one step closer to achieving this Government’s vision of building a country that works for everyone.
But these achievements have only been possible due to a maturing and positive relationship between UK and Welsh government ministers.
And at this momentous time, it is more important than ever that we face the future together as a strong United Kingdom. This great Union has been the cornerstone of Wales’ prosperity in the past, and its preservation will be at the heart of everything this Government does.
There is no denying that we are living through an important moment in our country’s history.
But I will not waste a second in getting on with the job - providing leadership to make sure that Wales is in the strongest possible position to prosper when we leave the European Union, to support jobs and growth and to make sure that the UK Government continues to deliver for the people of Wales.