There can be no doubt that these are tough times for the Welsh economy. The poor performance of the global economy and the problems of the Eurozone have inevitably affected our economic prospects.
The main influences on the Welsh economy in the short-to-medium-term are the state of the global economy and the monetary and fiscal policy set by the UK Government.
The Welsh Government has made clear that the UK Government’s spending cuts have been too deep and too fast, and have hampered our efforts to boost economic growth.
Today, as a consequence of devolution, we have a Welsh Labour Government which is determined to stand up for Wales, to fight for jobs, and to campaign for economic recovery.
We have tools in our tool kit, and we must use them to maximum effect. We need to help businesses overcome the immediate obstacles holding them back.
Difficulty with securing finance is one of the main concerns that businesses raise with me. Successful businesses need capital to invest in new equipment, and win new contracts.
To respond to this, I launched the Wales Economic Growth Fund, a £15 million programme of non-repayable funding, to provide investment finance for projects helping firms to grow and create jobs in Wales.
The unmet demand was so great that I doubled the funding available, to £30 million. The projects for which we have been able to offer support have the potential to create or safeguard 3400 jobs.
As recent figures have shown, problems concerning bank lending have persisted over the past year, so we have launched a second phase of the Fund, with a further £30 million allocated to assist around 200 firms, and create and safeguard up to 3000 jobs.
As well as the Wales Economic Growth Fund, we have also established a four-year £40 million Wales SME Investment Fund, and a £6 million Wales Micro-Business Loan Fund.
I have also commissioned an independent review to examine the extent to which High Street banks meet the funding needs of Welsh businesses, and to look at alternative sources of funding and the role that the Welsh Government can play in facilitating their development.
So we are helping the businesses of today, but we must also plan for the businesses of tomorrow.
To help long-term local growth, we have 7 Enterprise Zones open for business across Wales, focussing on key business sectors.
To modernise our communications infrastructure we’re working in partnership with BT to take Next Generation Broadband the length and breadth of Wales, to areas not covered by the private sector’s commercial plans.
Superfast Cymru is the largest partnership of its kind in the UK, and will help ensure that we are at the forefront of the global digital economy.
Small and medium-size businesses are vital to the economy and the Welsh Government wants to ensure they have easy access to a wide range of support services, helping them to grow and expand.
In 2011 SMEs accounted for 99% of all business in Wales and were responsible for 60% of private sector employment which is why support offered to SMEs in Wales is key to our future economic growth.
Earlier this year I launched the new Business Wales one stop shop service, with eleven offices across the country, which is set to assist 15,000 SMEs a year.
Access to private sector support will be facilitated through this service, and close partnership working with the wider public, third and private sector will be key to ensuring delivery of services to SMEs is streamlined and easy to access.
We are also determined to sell the message to the world that Wales is ready and open to do business.
The wider world is central to increasing Wales’ prosperity. The Welsh Government is doing all it can to promote Wales on the global stage and to make our own export opportunities.
Already this year the First Minister has led visits to Turkey and to the United States, and on St David’s Day I took part in events in Los Angeles to promote Wales and its creative industries.
In tandem with an extensive programme of trade missions we are holding a series of workshops across Wales to provide help, support and advice to companies considering trading internationally.
Encouraging and supporting companies to export and trade internationally is a key priority for the Welsh Government, and we are working closely with UKTI to ensure that companies in Wales can take advantage of new market opportunities overseas.
Edwina Hart is Welsh Government Minister for Economy, Science and Transport