2015 was another great year for Wales. 2016 also looks like it has tremendous potential to follow suit.
Over the last 12 months, I have visited many companies - large and small - and have seen for myself that they aren’t simply surviving, they are thriving. The ambitious entrepreneurs behind these companies are supporting a buoyant and robust jobs market in Wales that has seen employment levels increase by 42,000 over the last year.
However, it is not just about the numbers. People across the whole country need to feel the benefits of a resurging economy. In 2016 I am confident that they will. The introduction of the National Living Wage this April will boost the take-home pay of thousands of workers in Wales. This, coupled with our efforts to lower taxes that will see hardworking people keeping more of the money they earn, will help takes us closer to becoming a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society.
2015 was also the year that Cardiff marked its 60th anniversary as a capital city and enhanced its global reputation as a great place to visit, stay and do business. Its credentials as a world class host for major events were reinforced during a remarkable Rugby World Cup tournament. The prospect of a City Deal for the capital offers a fantastic opportunity to build a unique partnership between the public and private sector and transform our Capital region. We look forward to receiving firm proposals from Cardiff and the Welsh Government that will help to secure the economic future of one of the UK’s great cities.
In north Wales, the benefits of the Northern Powerhouse are already being felt. As we improve links between our northern cities, I am confident that businesses in north Wales will prosper.
2015 was also a milestone year for Wales’ devolution journey as the Government delivered on its promise to introduce a historic funding floor and bring forward draft legislation to strengthen the National Assembly. With the planned introduction of a new Welsh rate of Income Tax, we have paved the way for exciting and radically different Assembly elections in May with politicians in Cardiff Bay now accountable to people for the money they spend.
In 2016 it is our national football team’s turn to shine on the world sporting stage at the European Championships, during what promises to be a memorable sporting summer.
Finally on security. In January I stood side by side with politicians and religious leaders outside the Senedd to mourn those that died in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. People from across Wales came together in solidarity and fraternité.
Sadly it was not the worst terrorist incident we saw in 2015. The second attack on the French capital in November was beyond belief. My own personal attachment to the city, and to the nation of France, made the atrocities all the more difficult to understand.
We live in a dangerous world, but it is the first duty of the Government to keep people in the UK safe and ensure we live in an inclusive society. As we tackle the global threat from ISIS, I pay tribute to the religious leaders in Wales who condemn extremist ideologies and work together to prevent extremism and maintain cohesive communities.
On behalf of the Wales Office Ministerial team, I wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2016.