I’m incredibly proud that during the last Assembly term the Welsh Government has directly supported over 150,000 jobs across the country, with many more in local supply chains.
This has helped us secure a lower unemployment rate than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, a faster rate of employment growth than the UK average as well as a growth in GVA per head that since the crash has been higher in Wales than the UK as a whole.
The Welsh Government has been an important part of that economic growth story. During the crash we worked alongside business, unions and other partners to deliver the ProAct and ReAct schemes and our flagship Jobs Growth Wales programme has helped over 15,000 young people find good quality work.
However as an economy we still face major challenges. With lower productively than the rest of the UK and higher economic inactivity we face important structural questions of how to get more people into work as well as the skills to progress into better paid jobs.
As I have said before, one of the biggest challenges we face is addressing the regional differences of our economy and ensuring that the benefits of growth fall more fairly across Wales.
Over the last year I have given a lot of consideration to these questions and the future of the Welsh economy. I have been asked by the First Minister to lead a new cross-Government approach to promoting economic opportunity in Wales and so I have been speaking to business owners, workers, trade unions and others about how we can stimulate stronger, fairer economic growth across every areas of the country.
There is no silver bullet. There is no single project, programme or initiative that, alone, can solve our economic problems, its only by working together in a truly national effort, can we support the Welsh economy to fire on all cylinders.
Part of the answer lies in giving a harder edge to the work we do to prevent poverty by empowering individuals with the economic tools they need to get into work and progress through into higher paid jobs. That means stronger employability skills, better transport links and better jobs closer to home.
But part of the answer also lies in empowering communities and our regional economies to be more economically resilient.
Since 2010 our approach to economic development has focussed on developing key sectors of our economy on a national basis. That has resulted in some stunning successes, particularly in advanced manufacturing areas and in the creative industries.
The growth of companies like GE, Raytheon and BAMC have helped strengthen the manufacturing heart of our economy while the coming of new jobs through Aston Martin and General Dynamics has transform the perceptions of Wales as a place to invest.
However, the fruits of the growth of many sectors - and the benefits of the skilled jobs they have brought with them - have not fallen equally across Wales. That is why I believe that now is the time to develop our approach by strengthening the competitive edge of each region of Wales.
I want a smaller number of national, foundational economy sectors, such as healthcare and energy, which the Welsh Government can take the lead in supporting, but below that I want to grow our regional economies by empowering each area to develop its own specialised sectors and more distinct economic identities.
Allied to this we need to change our economic development structures in government to work in closer partnership with those regions, utilising drivers, such as skills, transport connectivity, procurement and digital infrastructure to accelerate economic growth in those areas.
The way to address these regional differences is not to turn one area against another, but to work together to ensure the fruits of growth are shared by everyone. It’s a question of fairness and that’s why I want to grow the regional economies of Wales and unleash their potential to drive more balanced growth across the whole of the country.
Only that way can we make real our promise of better jobs closer to home and ensure every area of Wales becomes more resilient to the economic challenges we face over the next few years.
So over the coming months we will be setting out a new approach with four, clear overarching strategies that recognise that only through co-ordinated interventions can we support prosperity and growth.
It will mean shaping local skills provision more closely around the needs of a region, its employers and its priority sectors, and developing more tailored interventions for those needing support into work.
It will mean better utilising procurement and ensuring that local companies have a more accessible route into bidding for and benefitting from major projects so more money stays in our local communities and benefits local supply chains.
And it means developing connected, sustainable infrastructure across the country better connecting people to jobs and services.
Only by forging a new economic contract between business, Welsh Government and social partners can we collectively identify and solve the economic challenges we face.
Today I am delighted to announce that the new Transport for Wales headquarters will be located in Pontypridd bringing hundreds of high quality jobs to the area
This is great news for the town but it needs to be the start of something bigger. We need to work with partners in the local authority, the private sector, local colleges and universities to ensure this injection of jobs becomes a spark for local regeneration and prosperity.
Later today I will meet young people training in the UK’s very first rail engineering centre at Coley Y Cymoedd, a £3m partnership between Welsh Government and the college and a great example of the partnership working that’s the key to regional economic success.
By looking ahead to the opportunities arising from the £1bn plus we will spend on electrification, Metro and rail infrastructure, we must work together to ensure more of the benefits of that spend remain in our local communities and benefit local supply chains.
We face major economic challenges which will only be increased by our exit from the EU, global instability, welfare cuts and UK Government austerity.
Our response must be to work together and to develop more resilient regional economies if we are to build a stronger and fairer economy for everyone in every area of Wales.