Alun Cairns reflects on Wales’ progress ahead of St David’s Day announcement
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
ACCA Business Breakfast speech
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Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you – and thank you Brian for that warm welcome.
It is great to see so many of you here today – especially as this event is raising money for such a valuable charity in the Marie Curie daffodil appeal.
The daffodil is of course a symbol of St. David’s Day, a proud day for everyone here in Wales to celebrate our heritage and culture.
But this year also marks a significant day in the future of Wales.
Later on this morning the Secretary of State will be announcing the outcome of the St David’s Day process, a process that provides a blueprint for the future of devolution in Wales.
Back in November we said that Wales would be at the heart of the debate on further devolution in the UK and the package being announced later today fulfils that promise and ensures a stronger Wales going forward.
But as important as constitutional matters are to people in Wales, the constitution is not the defining issue in Welsh politics.
Up and down the country the defining issue to individuals and businesses is the economy.
Will this year be a good one for my business?
Are there more job opportunities?
Is the economy growing?
Because it is the economy on which any government is ultimately judged and this will be no different in May.
And back in 2010 we knew that the economy had to be at the heart of everything that this Coalition Government did.
Because at that time the economy was struggling from the worst recession in post war history.
We had a budget deficit at 10 per cent of GDP which was the largest of any economy in Europe with the single exception of Ireland and the highest in the G20.
In Wales over 70,000 people lost their jobs and unemployment rose to the highest level in fifteen years.
Wales had one of the most unbalanced economies in the UK with 27 per cent of the workforce in the public sector.
And there were many in 2010 arguing that more borrowing was the way out of the crisis.
But we were determined to restructure our economy to change the model that came crashing down so spectacularly.
This unsustainable model that created an unbalanced economy based on debt and an over dependency on the public sector.
So we set out our long term economic plan to stabilise our national finances, get the economy back off its knees and set a course for a more balanced recovery.
Many thought that the private sector was too weak to lead us through the recovery.
But it is our long term economic plan that is starting to bear fruit in Wales.
Those that lacked faith in you, the private sector, have been proved wrong.
Because it is the private sector that has created over 100,000 jobs in Wales.
It is the growth in the private sector that has created 26,000 more businesses in Wales over the last four years.
And it is the private sector that is driving the 31 per cent growth in exports since 2010 with UKTI helping to return Wales to the days when we had the Welsh Development Agency when we were the magnet for inward investment.
We have made significant progress - the UK economy is growing faster than anywhere in the G7.
And this is not growth in London and nowhere else - the Welsh economy is the fastest growing in the UK.
Granted this growth is from a low base, but Wales is now being seen as a beacon of economic success - a great place to start and grow your business.
However, there remain people that want to put down these achievements and claim that a real recovery is not taking place in Wales.
But the facts show that something real is happening in Wales.
We are seeing our economy rebalance away from a reliance on the public sector.
And something that excites me is the growth that we are seeing in our technology sector in Wales.
Since 2010 of all the new jobs created in Wales, 36 per cent have been in high tech sectors.
From advanced manufacturing, ICT and advanced life sciences, new products and new jobs are being created.
The Prime Minister rightly celebrated this confirmation of Britain’s position as a global hub of technology excellence. And South Wales being part of that is exactly what Wales needs to be able to compete in the global market place.
And it is little surprise to me that South Wales was announced as one of the UK’s fastest growing tech clusters ranked with inner London and greater Manchester in terms of the number of new digital companies formed since 2010
Identified along with Berkshire and Cambridge as an area with the highest density of digital companies and one of the parts of the UK that is predicted to benefit from the growth in digital jobs expected by 2020.
Only last week I was delighted to visit the new tech hub at Swansea.
Because we have some fantastic innovations here in Wales.
Only last week sales in the credit card sized computer, Raspberry pi, reached over five million – making it the best selling computer ever made in Britain outselling the iconic Sinclair Spectrum.
I am sure that most people in this room have a smart phone, yet I wonder how many of you know that half of the world’s smart phones run on technology manufactured in South Wales?
Wales needs to be at the cutting edge of new product development and innovations.
And Wales needs a government that understands what the economy needs to be able to grow.
In 2010 businesses called for a government to support growth and create the conditions to enable you to compete.
So a key part of our long term economic plan is quite simply to get government out of your way!
And that is why we have slashed our way through unnecessary and over burdensome red tape.
We have scrapped or amended over three thousand regulations, saving businesses over eight hundred and fifty million pounds a year.
And we are also cutting the burden of taxation to enable you to invest your hard earned profits back into your business.
This year the UK will have the lowest corporation tax level of anywhere in the G20.
For smaller businesses in particular, National Insurance Contributions are a major cost that restricts growth. That is why we introduced the investment allowance that is enabling over 35,000 businesses in Wales to get cash back on job creation.
And a constant message that we have heard from businesses is the need for investment in infrastructure.
We can’t have a successful 21st century economy without 21st century infrastructure.
Successive governments chronically under-invested in infrastructure for decades. And the approach to driving project delivery was simply not dynamic.
Our long term economic plan is turning all this around. Our level of investment in infrastructure is now at an annual average of 47 billion pounds a year – up by 15 per cent in only four years.
We are investing a greater share of our nation’s wealth in infrastructure than the whole period of the last Government.
Across the UK we are spending more on rail than any previous Government – and electrifying more than 800 miles of track compared to a paltry 10 by the last Labour government!
Committing to projects here in Wales to electrify the South Wales mainline and the entire Valley lines network.
And it is not just in Wales where Wales is benefiting from our infrastructure investment – the Heathrow link from Reading will shave 30 minutes off the journey time from South Wales to the UK’s main airport, bringing businesses closer to international connections.
Only last month I was in Wrexham to see the progress on our 212 million pound investment in the new prison.
And we are also facilitating new and exciting investment in our energy infrastructure including at Wylfa on Anglesey.
And just as the Welsh economy is seeing a rise in high tech jobs and high tech businesses, our nation’s infrastructure is getting a much needed high tech boost.
Two weeks ago I was in Blaenavon at the Big Pit.
This visit was not to look back in awe at the strength of the coal industry during the industrial revolution.
It was to celebrate a new revolution that is taking place across Wales - the digital revolution.
In Wales we now have one million homes and businesses with access to some of the fastest broadband in the world.
Small businesses that never had a hope of competing with other parts of the UK with a quality internet connection are now propelling the Welsh economy.
With sixty nine million pounds worth of UK Government investment we are transforming communities right across Wales by making sure our infrastructure is fit for the 21st century.
And it is also UK Government investment that means we now have an internet exchange in our nation’s capital.
This exchange is opening up new opportunities for digital and creative streaming and significantly reducing costs for businesses.
The Cardiff internet exchange demonstrates that by understanding business, listening to business and working with business we can create this leading digital hub on our doorstep.
I believe that we have made great progress in Wales – our long term economic plan is showing real results.
We are seeing the private sector grow and create new jobs.
We are seeing these jobs being created in new high tech sectors as our economy rebalances.
And you have a government that is supporting your growth ambitions by deregulating, cutting the burden of taxation and investing in the infrastructure you need to compete and grow.
A course for strong economic growth in Wales has been set.
A plan is in place that is the best chance we have to create the modern prosperous Wales that we all want.
The biggest risk that we face is not finishing the job.
The last thing that Wales needs is political and economic uncertainty.
I am proud of our record.
Following NATO and the UK investment summit Wales is on the global map.
The economy in Wales is the fastest growing of anywhere in the UK.
An economy that is being supported by our investment in super-fast broadband, our £212 million investment in the prison in Wrexham and an economy that will soon have electric trains running across the network here in south Wales.
On this historic day, where we will be setting out the future path for devolution in Wales, my message to you is clear. We are on the right path to create a stronger economy and we need to carry on with the work we have started.