IF 2011 was the year of political change in Wales then 2012 must be the year of changing fortunes for the Welsh economy.
The last 12 months in Welsh politics were remarkable. Referenda, Assembly elections, the fall and rise of political careers, a maturing of devolution with new powers for the Welsh Government, and the launch of a commission to examine fiscal devolution and accountability.
If these events are to have real significance outside the political bubbles of Westminster and Cardiff Bay then political differences must be set aside and opportunities seized in the year ahead. The Welsh Government has the powers and the money in 2012 and working with Westminster we can make a real difference.
Wales has two governments working in the national interest, not one. And I do not believe the political divide is so wide that we cannot share common goals - to help people who want to get ahead and who want their children to get ahead, to support those most in need, and to grow the economy so that wealth creation and prosperity spread across Wales. I also do not believe the interests of Wales will be fulfilled in 2012 if the UK and Welsh governments allow a war of attrition and blame to cloud judgment or undermine these shared ambitions.
Our joint and immediate challenge in 2012 must be to tackle the scourge of unemployment. There are signs that the employment market is stabilising but unemployment is still rising. Uncertainty in the global economy reinforces my belief that the interests of our country are best-served when the two governments representing Wales work together to prevent recovery at home being blown off course by events abroad.
Improved training and education - the responsibility of the Welsh Government, for example - will equip young people and job seekers with the skills they need to get into work - while the UK Government’s Work Programme will provide tailored support for those looking for a job.
In 2011 the UK Government signalled its ambition to re-balance the Welsh economy, grow the private sector and shift away from the over-reliance on the public sector, with major investment in infrastructure.
Electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Cardiff and the millions for super-fast broadband will improve connectivity and accessibility from Wales to important markets at home and abroad, while attracting new investment which holds out the potential for jobs growth. In 2012 I am committed to taking this further by pressing the case for electrification of the Valley Lines. Investment such as this will not only modernise the rail network, it also has the potential to unlock opportunities for some of our poorest communities, while attracting investment to grow the private sector.
Events such as the London Olympics and Paralympics, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, present real opportunities for Wales in showcasing our country to the world. At a time when we are witnessing a casual drift towards isolationism and separatism they will be clear reminders of the important place Wales has within the Union, and the inter-dependence of the four nations of the United Kingdom. At a time of global economic uncertainty going it alone is a dangerous path to tread.
While the UK Government meets the economic challenges head-on in 2012 the challenge for the Welsh Government is to deliver. Ministers in Cardiff have now had seven months to get to grips with new legislative powers to back up their £15bn budget. So far their legislative programme has been underwhelming. At the end of 2012 the Silk Commission will produce its report into fiscal devolution. By the end of next year we will have a clearer idea about how a new era of accountability for the Welsh Government might develop. This can only be a good thing for Wales as the time of getting on and doing must be paramount in 2012 despite political differences.
I wish everyone in Wales a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year and hope that by working together we can make a real and positive difference in 2012.