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North and Roberts on Euro Player of the Year long-list

George North and Jamie Roberts have both made been named on the 15 man long-list for European Player of the Year 2015. Credit: Press Association Images

Wales backs George North and Jamie Roberts have been named on the 15 man long-list for European Player of the Year 2015 after helping their club sides progress through the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup.

North touched down for four tries in a single game for Northampton against the Ospreys in round two of the new competition, while Roberts helped Racing Metro overcome North's Northampton side with an impressive man-of-the-match display during Saturday's final round of pool games.

The long-list will be reduced to a five man shortlist after the competitions semi-finals. The winner will be announced in May.

European Player of the Year 2015 Longlist

  • Nick Abendanon (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
  • Steffon Armitage (RC Toulon)
  • Chris Ashton (Saracens)
  • Jamie Heaslip (Leinster Rugby)
  • Juan Imhoff (Racing Metro 92)
  • Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
  • Fritz Lee (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
  • Camille Lopez (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
  • Ian Madigan (Leinster Rugby)
  • George North (Northampton Saints)
  • Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro 92)
  • Aurélien Rougerie (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
  • Nicolas Sanchez (RC Toulon)
  • Dimitri Szarzewski (Racing Metro 92)
  • Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

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Council mergers plans for Wales rejected

Public Service Minister Leighton Andrews has rejected all three of the plans for voluntary mergers put forward by local councils. The proposals would have seen six councils become three ahead of the scheme for compulsory mergers which Labour plan to introduce if the party wins the 2016 Assembly election. They were:

The bridge over the Clwyd, which separates Denbighshire and Conwy, Credit: ITV News
  • Bridgend to merge with the Vale of Glamorgan
  • Torfaen to merge with Blaenau Gwent
  • Conwy to merge with Denbighshire

The proposal from Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan broke guidelines that a new authority shouldn't cross health authority boundaries or include areas entitled to different levels of European aid.

The Torfaen-Blaenau Gwent merger was seen as partly an attempt to pre-empt a forced three-way merger combining both councils with Caerphilly.

Conwy and Denbighsire appeared to fit in with the Welsh Government's own thinking but the council leaders had made it clear that they would only go ahead if the costs of merger were fully funded by Cardiff Bay.

I welcome the leadership shown by the political leaders of each of the authorities concerned and their willingness to help shape their futures. I understand that securing agreement from their prospective partner councils took a good deal of work and personal commitment.

I have considered each Expression of Interest carefully against the criteria set out in the Prospectus. I am disappointed to report that on the basis of this assessment I am not persuaded that any one of these Expressions of Interest sufficiently meets the criteria for moving ahead to prepare a full Voluntary Merger Proposal.

– Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews AM

There will now be a rethink on whether to go ahead with legislation that would have enabled voluntary mergers to take place.

  1. Prof Roger Scully

What the latest Welsh poll means for each party

Credit: YouGov/ITV/Cardiff University Jan 19-21, Sample: 1,036

Party politics in the UK currently seems more uncertain and turbulent than for a longtime –maybe more than it has ever been. We’ve seen big recent movements in the support levels of several parties, including the rise in Wales of UKIP and now a notable increase for the Greens. Yet, at the moment, a direct projection of poll findings produces only very small changes in terms of who wins which seats.We could be on course for an election in which lots of things change, but the basic fundamentals of which parties represent us in parliament are hardly disturbed.

Overall, what does this poll tell us about the prospects for each party, as we enter the final hundred days of campaigning?

For Labour, this poll is at least modestly encouraging. A persistent feature of the opinion polls in Wales during 2014 was the decline of Labour support: they finished the year well below the point that they started it. Our new poll seems to suggest that Labour have stopped, and may even have begun to reverse, this erosion in their support. This poll doesn’t put Labour on course to gain as many seats as they would need to help secure a parliamentary majority for Ed Miliband. But it does place them slightly ahead of where they were in 2010, and indicates that Labour are currently on track to make at least some ground in May.

The Conservatives have surprised many observers with the robustness of their support levels since 2010, holding steady at a level only slightly below the vote share they won in the last general election. Here is yet another poll that supports this pattern. Although the poll projects the Tories to lose the ultra-marginal Cardiff North, on these figures they ought to retain all their other Welsh seats. And it puts them in with a very good chance of taking Brecon & Radnor from the Liberal Democrats.

For theTories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats this is yet another in a long series of disappointing polls. They have at least managed a very small up-tick in their support levels. But this poll still indicates that they have lost more than two-thirds of the support that they gained in Wales in 2010, and with the rise of the Greens they are now in sixth place! There seems to be no substantial improvement in their position in sight. The best the party can do for now, it seems, is to try to hang on to the three seats they currently hold. But even that will now be very difficult.

For Plaid Cymru this poll will be at least a little disappointing, putting them as it does a little below their vote share in 2010. One piece of slightly better news for them comes from a question where YouGov asked respondents how certain they were to vote in the election: Plaid supporters were the most likely to indicate that they were absolutely certain to vote. This poll suggests that Plaid may well be able to hold their existing seats. But they are nowhere near threatening the sort of breakthrough that their sister-party is doing in Scotland.

For UKIP, this poll may also be mildly disappointing. Perhaps the big story in Welsh politics in 2014 was the UKIP breakthrough. Our latest poll indicates, as have many of the recent Britain-wide ones, that UKIP’s forward momentum may well have been checked, at least for the moment. Nonetheless, UKIP have not yet gone into a clear reverse.They are currently on course to get lots of votes in Wales in May. But the party still remain up against it to convert this significant public support into a win in any specific constituency.

Finally, what about the Greens? This poll shows them making significant ground in Wales, relegating the Liberal Democrats to sixth place (as they did in last May’s European elections). As with UKIP, however, it is currently very difficult to see the Greens converting such support into actually winning a seat anywhere. But the more proportional voting system used for devolved elections makes a Green presence in the National Assembly after 2016 look increasingly likely.

More detailed analysis of this new poll will be provided in several posts over the next couple of weeks on my blog, Elections in Wales (http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/).

The WelshPolitical Barometer is an unique polling collaboration between ITV Cymru Wales,the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, and the leading polling agency YouGov.

Professor Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. The poll for ITV and the Wales Governance Centre had as ample of 1,036 Welsh adults and was carried out by YouGov on 19-21 January 2015.

Boom in construction jobs predicted

Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire/PA Images

A boom in construction is set to create thousands of new jobs in Wales by 2019, according to a new report.

The Construction Industry Training Board says private housing is set to rise by 4.6% over the next few years while employment is expected to be particularly strong in Wales and the north of England.

It predicts over 5,300 construction jobs will be created in Wales alone over the next five years.

Across the UK it says more than 40,000 new jobs will be needed every year, 8,000 more than previously predicted.

Our forecast shows that construction is experiencing a major comeback, with a sustained period of growth set to make a positive impact on the wider economy. Leisure, infrastructure and housing are all driving growth, but this brings with it new challenges in meeting skills demand.

– Steve Radley, CITB's director of policy
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