Thank you for inviting me here today.
This is my third or fourth Fast Growth 50 dinner and it is a pleasure to be invited back this year as Secretary of State to celebrate your success.
I would like to start by congratulating Dylan Jones-Evans and his team for organising this event.
There is no greater advocate for the entrepreneurial spirit in Wales than Dylan!
And it is a pleasure to be surrounded by such a vast range of business talent.
Since 1999 some 351 companies have appeared on the Fast Growth 50 list. Between them they have created an estimated 18,000 jobs.
This is a remarkable achievement.
It shows just what can be achieved in Wales and why we should hold out great hopes for the future.
These companies are the living proof that despite the choppy economic situation, businesses in Wales continue to grow.
So this evening is a time for celebration. A celebration of all that is best in the business world.
And this government is on your side.
We are laying the foundations for economic stability and growth so that you will have the right conditions for your business to thrive.
Context: the deficit
As you know, when we came into office we inherited a record structural deficit of £109 billion.
That is more than 100 times the annual turnover of one of our biggest home grown Welsh businesses - Admiral.
Our annual debt interest alone is almost 3 times the total funding given to the Welsh Assembly government of £15 billion each year.
So we have made tackling that debt a priority.
The first thing we had to do to restore confidence in the UK economy, was to produce a credible plan to deal with the deficit.
First we completed an in-year spending review which will save £6.2billion of government spending this financial year.
Then we also created an Office of Budget Responsibility, so we can be clear on the scale of the problem, and ensure government does not manipulate figures to suit its own political ends.
In June we had an emergency budget.
And last week, the Comprehensive Spending Review showed where we need to go - and how we intend to reduce the deficit.
As businesses you know just how important it is to operate within your means.
And last week we set out our plans for the government to do just that.
The CSR is our four year plan for spending and debt reduction.
And all parts of the country must play a part.
The settlement for Wales is a fair one.
The Welsh Assembly government will face average annual savings of less than 2%, smaller than most Whitehall departments. And better than the UK as a whole.
And beyond this, we are also delivering investment commitments to secure Welsh jobs.
Commitments to proceed with the A400M and the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme will directly benefit our Aerospace industry. And extending the life of Wylfa and its listing for future nuclear build will benefit the energy sector and this week there were two good pieces of economic news.
First, we had confirmation that the UK’s economy grew at a faster than expected rate of 0.8%, the fastest 3rd Quarter growth since 1999, and second Standard and Poors restored our credit rating as a nation.
Ensuring renewed confidence in our economy and delivering is a vote of confidence in the new government’s economic policies.
The Welsh economy
But in Wales, we also have wider issues to tackle than the deficit.
Unemployment and economic inactivity are still too high. But we have a willing and increasingly well trained work force.
And I was delighted with the recent rise of around 12,000 in the number of people in employment in Wales - and the fall of a similar number in those out of work - we must do all we can to stimulate a jobs and enterprise culture and continue this trend.
In comparison to other UK nations and regions, the Welsh economy has not been a star performer.
We want Wales to be a driver for economic growth and we want increased employment opportunities, wage levels, and prosperity.
But we need more business start-ups.
We need to develop key sectors like ICT, Energy Materials and Manufacturing, Creative Industries, Life Sciences and Financial and Professional Services.
And we need to do more to attract inward investment to Wales.
I am committed to joint working with ministerial colleagues across Whitehall and the Welsh Assembly government to develop Wales’ economic potential.
I will be setting up a Business Advisory Panel to provide advice on the issues facing businesses in Wales that can be addressed by government.
This panel will be made up of Ministers, business leaders and academics in order to benefit from their practical knowledge and expertise. Importantly it will feed in to the work of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Panel and bring a Welsh voice to the table.
We know we can help you do business.
Private Sector Growth
And we want to be a pro-business government.
So we have made a start.
That is why we are giving National Insurance Holidays for the first ten employees of new businesses outside London, the South East and East.
It’s why we are giving Entrepreneurs a helping hand by extending the 10% entrepreneurs’ relief rate from the first £2 million to the first £5 million.
And introducing the ‘one in, one out’ rule so that Ministers can only impose a new business regulation if they can identify another that can be removed.
Our Corporation Tax regime will be one of the most competitive in the G20 within the next 4 years. Ensuring the UK remains attractive to foreign investment whilst encouraging entrepreneurship within the UK.
But we can do more and that is why the government will be listening carefully to business to see how we can help.
All of you here tonight represent the very best of Welsh business.
I am proud that I am able to celebrate your success with you.
The last 18 months have been difficult.
But you have all met the challenges of the recession head-on by continuing to expand.
By creating jobs and new opportunities.
And in doing so strengthening the Welsh economy for the future.
You will forgive me if I say that next year I want to see 50 different companies on this list.
And 50 more in the year after that!
Not because I wish you bad fortune.
But because I want to see more companies matching and even bettering your achievements as we secure strong growth for Wales.
Congratulations again to all of you who have made it onto the short list.
I look forward to hearing who the winners are this year.
Have a good evening.