Each new year provides us with the opportunity to look back on our achievements over the 12 months that have past, and look forward to the year that stretches before us.
There is no doubt that, in many ways, 2012 was a golden year for Great Britain. The achievements of our Team GB and Paralympics GB athletes at the London 2012 Games have inspired a generation, and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations captured the imaginations of audiences around the world. This summer, we took full advantage of the opportunity to showcase the very best of Britain on a global platform.
While there was much to be proud of, I also recognise that 2012 presented its own challenges, as efforts to bring the UK economy back up to strength continue.
This year has underlined that we are not immune to the uncertainties faced in the global market. However, the last 2 sets of labour market figures have shown that unemployment is falling and employment is rising, and I have been buoyed by the many business leaders I have met who have said that they have renewed confidence in the future.
Indeed, in 2012, the government signalled its ambition to meet head-on the economic demands the country is facing.
£227 million capital funding
In his Autumn Statement this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that Wales will benefit from an additional £227 million of capital funding. This will bring the total amount of additional funding granted to the Welsh government during this Spending Review period to £674 million.
The recent decisions we have taken on infrastructure investments are helping to show that Wales is open for business and a great place to invest. The introduction of the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill will bring opportunities for Welsh companies looking to invest in infrastructure projects in Wales. Part of this strategy is being realised in the UK Guarantee Scheme where up to £40 billion of guarantees will be made available to support infrastructure investment and facilitate and boost infrastructure projects across the UK.
Railway electrification Cardiff to Swansea and the SouthWalesValleys
In July this year, we announced our commitment to electrify the rail network from Cardiff to Swansea and the SouthWalesValleys. This will bring environmental benefits, faster journeys, more capacity and support economic regeneration and jobs growth in South Wales. With Wales set to benefit directly and indirectly from almost £2 billion from the programme to modernise the rail network. it is the most significant infrastructure announcement for Wales for decades.
Access to superfast broadband is also a critical stimulus to economic growth. This year, we saw Cardiff and Newport achieve access to the super-connected cities funding needed to improve its digital infrastructure.
When I was appointed Secretary of State for Wales, I made it clear that the Wales Office would have a focus on economic growth, and that we would foster a better relationship with the Welsh government to deliver growth for Wales.
2012 saw a major development as it was agreed in principle that the Welsh government should have access to capital borrowing powers. We also saw the publication of the Commission on Devolution in Wales’s report recommending the devolution of certain fiscal powers to Wales. The UK government is currently considering these recommendations with a view to responding formally in the spring of 2013.
Wylfa B nuclear reactor
I also made it clear that securing a future for nuclear generation on Anglesey was my number one ambition, and I was therefore delighted to welcome Hitachi’s commitment to invest in new nuclear in Wylfa B. The site will play a major role in securing the nation’s energy supplies and will be a key driver of economic growth, bringing between 5,000 and 6,000 construction jobs to North Wales, as well as up to 1,000 well paid, high quality employment opportunities once the site is operational. Hitachi has also stated that around 60% of the value of the plant at Wylfa is expected to be sourced from within the UK. Early next year I hope to visit Hitachi in Japan to discuss other plans further.
There are significant grounds to believe that Wales’s prospects will improve significantly over the next 12 months. However, there are still some important milestones to reach.
While the government prepares to respond to the findings of part one of its work in the spring, the Commission on Devolution has already turned to the second part of its remit, to review the current powers of the National Assembly for Wales. Over the next 12 months, it will gather evidence and consider the Welsh devolution settlement thoroughly before reporting on its findings in spring 2014.
Building on our commitment to improve infrastructure in Wales we have recently facilitated discussions on the development of a robust business case for the electrification of the line from Holyhead to Crewe. The North Wales Economic Ambition Board will form the nucleus of the group that will take this task forward. We will not achieve results overnight - the next rail investment period is still some years away - but we must start now to ensure the business case meets the same rigorous standards of the South Wales case, and to ensure that North Wales is able to put forward the economic advantages that such an investment would undoubtedly bring.
Improvements to the M4 will also form a critical part of an improved transport infrastructure for South Wales, and will provide economic benefits across Wales. We are committed to working with the Welsh government on this project and discussions about funding options are ongoing.
Wales needs its 2 governments to work together, and in 2013 one of my priorities will continue to be to strengthen still further the relations between Westminster and CardiffBay, for the benefit of the people of Wales. They expect and deserve nothing less, and I look forward to working closely with the First Minister to deliver prosperity and opportunity over the next 12 months.
I join with my ministerial colleagues at the Wales Office in wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.
Rt Hon. David Jones
Secretary of State for Wales