WREXHAM'S Assembly Members have thrown their support behind the front-runner to succeed Carwyn Jones as First Minister.

Lesley Griffiths AM and Ken Skates AM have both given public backing to current cabinet secretary for finance Mark Drakeford to lead the Welsh Government when Mr Jones steps down later this year.

Lesley Griffiths AM said: "A leadership election within your party always gives you pause for thought and reflection as a politician and as a person.

"It has lead me to spend some time thinking about what it is I stand for, what I want to continue to achieve for the people of Wales in the future and ultimately, who is the best person to lead the Labour Party in Wales to ensure these ambitions become a reality?

"This leadership election comes at a time of incredible uncertainty and growing hardship for the people of Wales.

"The shambles the Brexit negotiations have been thus far are nearing a critical stage, with countless jobs at stake, while the misguided UK Government policy of austerity has put unparalleled pressure on the Assembly budget and consequently the daily lives of the people of Wales.

"I know from my cabinet experience the next leader will have to shoulder a huge responsibility for ensuring Welsh Labour rises to these challenges.

"We have to have someone leading the Labour Party in Wales who has the skills, knowledge and experience to bring improved quality of life, greater cohesion and cooperation and the vision to be a strong bridge that offers people the length and breadth of Wales a very real hope for the future.

"The qualities I am looking for in our next leader include a strong moral compass to mitigate against the volatile and often opportunistic politics of the 21st century, someone who understands the importance and value of a Government funded NHS, free at the point of delivery, to both current and future generations and someone who can unite, enthuse and marshal the different elements that make up the broad church that is the Labour Party in Wales to ensure real and lasting positive change for the future.

"Another prime consideration in making my choice of who to support was that of the future development of, and investment in North Wales. Knowing that there was a candidate who understands the need to address the growing sense of divide between the North and the South made my choice in the end an easy one.

"In looking for someone with all of the qualities I have outlined, I could only conclude that Mark Drakeford is that person and that I am very happy to offer him my full support the forthcoming leadership election."

Ken Skates AM said: "When considering the question of whether I wanted to stand as the next leader of Welsh Labour, the question foremost on my mind was that of purpose.

"Could I achieve what I want to do as an elected member of the Assembly only from the position of leading Welsh Labour, with nobody else at the helm but me?

"After much careful thought, the conclusion I reached was that this simply wasn’t the case.

"With the right person leading both the party and the government, I feel it is entirely possible for me to be able to deliver the changes that I believe are necessary for us to be a more tolerant, contented, healthier and compassionate nation.

"This led me to consider what it is I would want from a leader that I’d be happy to support. It would have to be someone with a positive, internationalist and inclusive view of the world.

"Someone determined to lead a fellowship of progressive hearts and minds against the backdrop of a looming Brexit, with the ongoing impact of austerity biting deeper and with political upheaval around us leading to deep uncertainty.

"Taking all of these factors into consideration, I felt the right person had to be a positive, experienced and strong bridge to the future.

"Their qualities should include an inbuilt moral compass to guide us through the opportunistic, volatile politics of today.

"They should have a deep and demonstrable understanding of the threats and challenges posed by our exit from the EU.

"They should be able to unite people around positive change for the future where everyone can see the common purpose and, finally, they should have the emotional intellect to connect with people, as well as the intellectual capacity to process unprecedented challenges.

"Against that criteria I could only conclude that Mark Drakeford is that person and that I absolutely want to be a pillar in supporting his bridge to a better tomorrow."