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  1. Nick Powell

Great Western electrification "top priority"

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has told MPs that the electrification of the Great Western main line will be prioritised over other projects in the midlands and north of England as part of a crackdown on delays and rising costs at Network Rail. The state-owned company which controls the railway tracks is due to electrify the line from London to Swansea.

Electrification of the Great Western Line is a top priority and I want Network Rail to concentrate its efforts on getting that right.

On the Midland mainline better services can be delivered on that line before electrification. With things such as speed improvement works. So work on electrification will be paused.

The next franchise for the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester will bring modern trains and additional capacity. Current work on electrification will be paused because we need to be much more ambitious for that route.

– Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP

The minister told Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards that the government remained committed to electrifying through to Swansea on schedule, though he couldn't confirm that meant by 2018. He did not mention the electrification of the Valley Lines, which will largely be funded through the Welsh Government.

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  1. Nick Powell

Devolution still has a long way to go says First Minister

First Minister Carwyn Jones refused to commit to the idea of a referendum on the Welsh Government levying income tax when he responded to Stephen Crabb's speech. He also rejected the idea that the latest package of powers should mark the completion of what the Welsh Secretary had called the "devolution journey".

Progress has been made but there is still a long way to go. Particularly not just in terms of Wales but of the UK as a whole. There is much work that needs to be done in order to get the constitution right and to make sure that the United Kingdom reflects the four nations that are part of the UK state.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood complained that while Scotland was getting the "going rate", Wales was getting third rate treatment. She said the Welsh Secretary couldn't expect a stable devolution settlement if Wales wasn't treated as an equal partner in the United Kingdom.

I ask for you to offer any justification in your response for why the people of Wales should not be given the same funding per head as the people of Scotland. The same principle applies to responsibilities. Why does the Secretary of State believe that Scotland’s natural resources should be in the hands of the people of Scotland, but Wales’ natural resources should remain in the hands of Westminster politicians? Are we a less able people?It is these Westminster puppet strings that have held Wales back for far too long.

– Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood AM
  1. Nick Powell

Assembly should become a parliament but then use its new powers, not demand more, says Crabb

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has told AMs that the Assembly is getting "the most far reaching and significant package of powers ever devolved to Wales" and urged them to use those powers rather than spend their time demanding more. He said the Welsh Government using its existing power to call a referendum to win right to levy income tax was a crucial part of that process.

I believe now it is time that the Welsh Government demonstrates its own commitment to the whole package by making progress on the income tax raising powers that are already available to it.

There is no other Parliament in the world that does not have responsibility for raising money as well as spending it.

In 1773 the Sons of Liberty smashed up the tea ships in Boston Harbour with the rallying cry “No taxation without representation”. Here in Wales we have something of a reverse situation: representation and full law-making powers but without responsibility for significant taxation.

I firmly believe the Welsh public are hungry for us to move forwards a nation and for this place – this National Assembly, this Parliament – to become a true forum of debate, resolution and a sense of purpose and action, the articulator of our national ambition for economic growth, wealth creation, educational achievement, first-class health outcomes. For it to provide solutions on all the issues that really matter to the people it serves, not a vehicle for a never-ending conversation about more powers, or the generator of some dull consensus that settles on mediocrity where funding is always deployed as the great national excuse for not achieving our potential.

– Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb MP

He added that during the recent election campaign, not once on any doorstep across Wales was he asked about more powers or devolution. But he said that as a first step, the UK government will devolve decision making on planning applications for all onshore wind farms.

Mr Crabb said he rejected the idea of devolution as a never-ending journey. Instead of demanding yet more powers in future, the Assembly should consolidate its role in Welsh national life by becoming "not just a forum for grievance but a cockpit of resolution and action".

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  1. Nick Powell

Minister confirms departure from Cardiff Bay

Economy Minister Edwina Hart has now issued a statement confirming that she's stepping down as an AM at next year's Assembly election.

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the people of Gower, the constituency in which I was born, for the last 16 years. Since I was first elected to the Assembly in 1999, I am pleased that I have been able to champion the cause of so many local organisations, and work with so many constituents. I am very grateful for the support they have given me during this time, and I will continue to represent their views vigorously until the end of the Assembly term next year.

– Economy minister Edwina Hart AM

Together with Finance Minister Jane Hutt, Edwina Hart is one of just two AMs to have been in the Welsh Cabinet since it was first formed under Alun Michael in 1999. She contested the Welsh Labour leadership when Rhodri Morgan stood down as First Minister but was defeated by Carwyn Jones.

Edwina has brought a wealth of experience to Government. Under her guidance the Economy, Transport and Science portfolio has just presented the best ever inward investment figures for Wales – a tribute to her determination and energy in going out to sell Wales around the world. The fact that Edwina was able to command respect in portfolios as diverse as health, EST, Social Justice and Finance demonstrates her political abilities and attention to detail.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Two of Edwina Hart's constituency neighbours have also announced today that they're standing down. Gwenda Thomas also confirmed her decision to her local party in Neath this evening, with Keith Davies earlier making his announcement in Llanelli.

  1. Nick Powell

Minister to leave Assembly as three Labour AMs decide not to stand again in 2016

Edwina Hart, Keith Davies and Gwenda Thomas are all leaving Cardiff Bay Credit: ITV News Cymru Wales

One of the two Assembly members to have served in every Welsh cabinet since the first election in 1999 is expected to announce tonight that she won't stand again next year. Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart is understood to be making the announcement to her Gower constituency party this evening.

The former Deputy Health Minister Gwenda Thomas is also due to tell her local party in Neath tonight that she too won't be seeking re-election. They join Keith Davies who announced earlier today that he will be quitting Llanelli after just one term as an AM.

So three Labour AMs in neighbouring seats are all leaving the Assembly next year. But it's Edwina Hart's decision that will command the most attention. One of the most powerful figures in the Welsh Government, responsible over the years for finance, health and now the economy, she'd been tipped as a possible successor to Dame Rosemary Butler as the Assembly's Presiding Officer.

The Labour party encourages its AMs and MPs not to leave it so late to declare their intentions and another five have already done so. Last minute announcements are by no means unusual but by delaying her decision Edwina Hart has left herself open to suggestions that she fears the loss of Gower to the Conservatives, who won the Westminster seat for the first time at the General Election last month.

  1. Nick Powell

Councils shake-up: 'Dramatic' council tax rise warning

The Welsh Local Government Association has said that today's proposals to shake up local councils offers no further assurances for council tax payers in Wales. It warns that bills could rise dramatically without a clear approach to how council tax will be adjusted when there's a merger between councils that have been setting different rates.

The WLGA says there's no consensus between the councils and the Welsh government about today's proposals. It says they add to the maps and options set out in the Williams report last year but do not provide additional clarity or certainty. The councils say that with no political agreement, reorganisation will take at least five years and warn that disruption, distraction and uncertainty will continue.

We call on the Welsh Government today to work closely with the WLGA and hold an urgent summit of the 22 council leaders and senior ministers, to discuss the future of local government in Wales. This summit could debate the way forward in terms of structures, but more importantly set in place a new vision for local government which is currently at the epicentre of public sector funding cuts and is having to carry a disproportionate share of the huge austerity burden.

The sustainability of authorities in Wales is in question over the next three years and it is time to examine all options for reforming public services across the board. This means looking at greater integration of health and social care, freeing up authorities from Government bureaucracy and regulation and also empowering local communities through their councils.

– WLGA Leader, Cllr Bob Wellington
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