As we mark the beginning of the New Year, it’s fair to say that 2012 was remarkable and memorable for many people, but was also a difficult time for many others.
The nation took great delight in achievements on the sporting field. It was a moment of great pride when I was able to formally present the Welsh rugby squad with the Six Nations trophy in front of the Senedd on the back of another Grand Slam success. We were awed and impressed with the Olympics and Paralympics Games. Despite the fears of many, the Games reflected the whole of the UK. The football games staged in Cardiff were a triumph and our Welsh competitors were truly inspirational. Their stories and their examples lifted the entire nation.
Looking ahead to 2013
It was heartening though to see the way our communities responded to these events. People from across the country came together to help and offer support. This sense of solidarity in adversity is part of Welsh identity, something that we perhaps take for granted, but something we should foster and cherish. But for othrs the year was memorable for less positive reasons. The tragic disappearance of April Jones in Machynlleth impacted greatly on that small town and the pain was felt across the country. The flooding in Ceredigion and, more recently, in north-east Wales, affected a great many people.
The events in Machynlleth, Ceredigion and north-east Wales also shone a light on the work of the emergency services. Our police forces, health workers, fire services and countless voluntary and third sector organisations work tirelessly all year round for the benefit of us all and it is right that we pay tribute to them.
For us in government, 2012 was significant in other ways. We have seen the National Assembly pass its first laws using its new powers, the latest step on our constitutional journey. I was particularly pleased that the first government bill achieved Royal Ascent to become an Act just a few weeks ago after a decision in our favour in the Supreme Court. Expect more landmark legislation to come in 2013.
It’s clear to everyone that we still live in uncertain economic times. Wales, as part of the European and global economy, has not been immune from these difficulties, but the Welsh Government will continue to work hard to support jobs, growth and tackle poverty in 2013, despite the pressure on our budget.
Whether it is helping businesses through the creation of new Enterprise Zones or through our Business Start-up programme, which has already created thousands of new enterprises and jobs throughout Wales; helping young people find employment through our flagship Jobs Growth Wales scheme; ensuring Wales is equipped to benefit from next generation broadband; or investing in programmes such as Communities First and Flying Start to help the most disadvantaged in Wales, we will focus on these themes.
Despite the constraints on our finances, we are also committed to investing in infrastructure projects to continue to provide the schools, hospitals and roads. Infrastructure projects that will benefit the public, support local supply chains and also create jobs. Our intention to purchase Cardiff airport is part of our approach to our national infrastructure planning, and our intention to integrate the airport into our wider economic development strategy.
Wales is a highly creative and innovative country and is becoming recognised as a leader in a number of growth sectors, from life sciences to the creative industries. This government will keep promoting this innovation in 2013 and beyond, in Europe and the wider world, and turn this creativity into new jobs and businesses, in the face of tough economic conditions.
I give my personal commitment to continue to make sure the Welsh Government does all it can in 2013 to support our economy and help create jobs. We will continue to invest in our infrastructure, help our young people find jobs and maintain our drive to improve standards in our schools so we have the skills needed for the 21st Century.
Make no mistake that there are many challenges ahead for Wales, but everything we do is aimed at supporting the people of Wales and improving public services. This will require all of us to work together, to unite as a country to face these tough times. I believe that despite the current climate we can come through these times stronger as a nation.