“This is my first annual report to Parliament as Secretary of State for Wales. Being born and brought up in Wales, it was an honour to be appointed Welsh Secretary by the Prime Minister in May 2010 and to become the first woman to hold the post.
During the past year the Wales Office has faced a number of challenges, not least because 2 different coalition governments were responsible for the governance of Wales. This meant our efforts to promote effective coordination and collaboration between the 2 governments were more important than ever. Wales, too, could not be exempt from the difficult decisions the UK government has been forced to take to tackle the deficit and re-balance the economy.
Since my appointment as Secretary of State, I have been determined to adopt a commonsense approach to the job, deliver the fairest deal for Wales, and to develop a constructive, business-like relationship with the Welsh government in Cardiff.
I look forward to continuing to work with the First Minister and his new administration following May’s assembly elections to deliver economic growth, investment, and opportunity for all in Wales, while respecting and maintaining the devolution settlement.
I am committed to supporting assembly ministers in those areas that are devolved, just as I hope they will support the UK government over reserved issues.
We should see this Respect Agenda as a 2-way process, not a one way street. And we should use it to develop a strong, positive relationship working towards co-operation and investment in the future. As a Government we made a positive, early start when David Cameron became the first Prime Minister to visit the Senedd - and within a week of taking office.
Since then the coalition government, its ministers and the Wales Office have endeavoured to work constructively with the Welsh government in the interests of Wales and the United Kingdom, albeit against the background of the tough economic legacy we inherited.
As a government we are committed to devolution. As Welsh Secretary I made delivering the Referendum on further powers for the assembly one of my top priorities on taking office. In March the people of Wales voted in favour of giving the assembly primary law making powers over devolved areas. This will make the assembly and the Welsh Government solely responsible and accountable for the decisions they take and the money they spend over devolved areas. It will, as others have suggested, create a ‘no excuses culture’ for the assembly and Welsh ministers.
We are only a year into the life of the coalition government. Our focus is rightly on what we can achieve over 5 years to ensure economic and fiscal stability for the long term. But I believe we have already done much to set this country back on the right course.
The signs suggest we are moving in the right direction. We have set out ambitious plans to build a fairer, more responsible society, supporting those who need it most. We’ve taken tough but necessary decisions on the economy to deal with the mess inherited from the previous government.
In Wales, we are investing in infrastructure such as rail electrification and superfast broadband, while measures to simplify the UK’s complicated tax system and reduce the burden of regulations will support businesses and enterprise in Wales. Reform of the welfare state will target support to the most vulnerable while helping those who can work back into jobs or training. This is particularly important in Wales where, regretably, there remain areas of high unemployment and worklessness, despite the efforts of successive governments.
In December I chaired the first meeting of the Wales Office Business Advisory Group in London. Representatives from across the business spectrum in Wales were invited to share their views which contribute to the UK Business Advisory Group, chaired by the Prime Minister. The group now meets quarterly to discuss the key issues that affect Wales.
The Wales Office is committed to efficiency savings, and in doing so cutting the cost of government. We led by example, requiring all ministers and staff to travel by standard rather than first class by train. We also identified and implemented savings in other areas.
As we enter the second year of the coalition government, I am confident Wales is on a firmer economic footing - though I am far from complacent about the many challenges ahead. The Wales Office is refocusing its operation in order to better reflect its role representing Wales at Westminster and Westminster in Wales.
We will also continue to work constructively with the new Welsh government following May’s assembly elections. By working together in the national interest we can achieve the best for Wales.”