Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns, reflects on 2016 and shares his views on 2017.
You don’t need me to remind you that 2016 was a tumultuous year in politics. From the EU referendum to the election of Donald Trump, the unexpected seemed to become the norm as the year went on.
But in Wales, we kept our eye on the priorities and closed the year with some solid achievements:
- we finished the year having seen record numbers in work during 2016
- prestige car maker Aston Martin choosing to manufacture their world-famous vehicles here
- a historic, needs based funding deal between governments in Cardiff Bay and Westminster
These achievements are only possible due to a maturing and positive relationship between UK and Welsh government ministers – this funding formula will provide clarity on public spending for a generation.
For me, 2017 will be all about pushing on with building a country that works for everyone. Key to creating jobs is a robust economy and a relentless focus on outcomes rather than simply inputs. As we prepare to leave the EU, you will see UK Government ministers travelling the country to meet employees from the private sector, community groups and charities to hear what the issues are and offer our support.
As the voice of the UK Government in Wales, my department is working closely with the Department for International Trade and across Whitehall to ensure companies and investors see Wales as an attractive place by maximising the opportunities that will present themselves as we leave the European Union. As we continue to build a vibrant economy, there are positive reports of a potential deal between Tata Steel and their employees to safeguard jobs at Port Talbot. I hope we do see a deal there soon after months of uncertainty.
This will also be a milestone year as the Wales Bill is expected to complete its course through Parliament and head for Royal Assent – the latest stage in the devolution journey which began in 1999. We closed 2016 with a generous funding settlement for Wales based on need, including the ability to raise an element of income tax.
I am personally committed to developing further an already close working relationship with the Welsh government to deliver on a common ambition – to grow and develop the Welsh economy. I hope the Welsh government will consider how these new financial powers can create a fertile environment that is attractive to employees and employers. This is the year we ditch dry constitutional arguments about devolution and show we are on the side of ordinary Welsh people.
My in-tray has two other things to flag:
- broadband/mobile phone access
Many of us may have got new smart phones or tablet computers for Christmas. However, your enjoyment of getting these things out of the box is limited if you can’t log on, or can only do so erratically. The smartest phone is no good if it struggles for a signal. My colleague Guto Bebb will continue leading the charge to end the blight of “not-spots”, and we are kicking off 2017 with a mobile communications summit involving all the major network operators.
Transport: as we get back to work after the holidays, many will be making the daily crossing across the Severn Bridge. A consultation is about to start on how we make that process as painless as possible with new technology to manage the tolls. Good transport links are absolutely essential to creating an economy that works for everyone – in that vein, I would like to see major progress being made in 2017 on the M4 relief road to support the universal ambition for improved transport in Wales.
Finally, Cardiff will this year host the UEFA Champions’ League final – the benchmark sporting event of 2017. Our country now has an enviable record of hosting huge sports events and the final offers Wales the opportunity of a global shop window. Let’s rise to the challenge and do what our football players did on the pitch last year – show the best face of a proud and resurgent Wales to the world with two governments working together in the interests of all communities.
It only remains to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2017 - Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!