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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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  1. Nick Powell

New council map announced in shake-up proposal

The Welsh Government is proposing eight new counties, with the option of Conwy and Denbighshire forming a separate authority. Credit: Welsh Government

The Welsh Government has published its plans to shake up local government. The current 22 local authorities would be replaced by either eight or nine new councils, with the only question left open is whether north Wales should have two councils or three.

The plans go further than the Williams Commission proposals for between 10 and 12 councils. The idea of following health board boundaries has also been rejected, with Bridgend grouped with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil rather than Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.

But to get its plans through, Labour will have to win an outright majority at next year's Assembly election or do a deal with another party. All the opposition parties have other ideas so today's map is not yet a done deal.

This announcement provides further clarity on the future configuration of local authorities in Wales. It sets out our preference for the future structure in south, mid and west Wales while facilitating further discussion around north Wales. The case in north Wales is finely balanced between two or three local authorities. We therefore feel that there is a case for a further debate and would welcome views. I want to emphasise this is not a final decision. It is the next phase in our public debate.

– Public Service Minister Leighton Andrews AM

The full list of proposed mergers is:

  • Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy
  • Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham
  • Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire
  • Swansea and Neath Port Talbot
  • Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil
  • Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan
  • Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly

Powys would remain unchanged and the option of merging Conwy and Denbighshire into an additional county is also on offer.

Health board in police probe suspends staff

A north Wales health board says a police investigation is underway into spending on a hospital redevelopment.

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, which was recently placed in special measures, says two members of staff have been suspended while the investigation is underway.

In a statement on its website the health board says the inquiry is focusing on capital spending in 2014 where there were "concerns" over the costs of redevelopment at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.

The Health Board took swift action to initiate an audit review of the scheme and subsequently referred matters to NHS counter fraud services.

An investigation involving NHS counter fraud services and North Wales Police is, we understand, ongoing.

Two members of staff are suspended whilst this investigation progresses.

– Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board

North Wales Police have yet to comment on the investigation.

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