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  1. Nick Powell

Support for new motorway tested in Senedd vote

There's no agreement on the best solution to congestion on the M4 around Newport Credit: PA

Conservative AMs will force a vote in the Senedd today on whether there should be a review of the Welsh Government's plan to build a new motorway south of Newport to relieve pressure on the existing M4.

The £1 billion project is highly controversial, both because of its cost and because of the environmental impact on the Gwent Levels wetlands. Some business groups prefer the idea of upgrading the existing Southern Distributor Road to a motorway, arguing that it would be a cheaper and quicker solution.

That's angered residents who live near the distributor road who fear the noise and pollution that might be caused by a motorway. Now the Conservatives' transport spokesman, Byron Davies, says he's not convinced that a full motorway is required and that more modest improvements might be enough to relieve pressure on the M4.

It doesn't have to be a motorway.

– Shadow Transport Minister Byron Davies AM

That's roughly in line with what the Liberal Democrats have been arguing, while Plaid Cymru oppose spending such a major part of the transport budget on just one road scheme.

There's also been opposition from some Labour AMs, including two former ministers. So it would appear that most Assembly Members at least have doubts about the project. The Welsh Government has already conceded that construction work won't get the go-ahead before the 2016 Assembly election.

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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.

Welsh NHS gets extra £40 million for winter pressures

The Welsh Government is giving the NHS an extra £40 million to help it cope with winter pressures on the service. It's equivalent to the £700 million that the UK Government has given to NHS England. The announcement follows a period of sustained pressure over the Christmas and New Year period.

  • GP out-of-hour services had their busiest festive period ever
  • The Welsh Ambulance Service experienced unprecedented demand
  • Hospital emergency departments reported an increase in patients with acute conditions, complex needs and dependency.

This additional investment in our health service will help our NHS deal with the significant pressures the service is facing – pressures that are being experienced across the UK as a result of increased demand from an influx of sick patients. Winter is a very busy period for our health, social care and social services – but our urgent and emergency care services, in particular, are seeing significant extra demand on their services.

I want to thank staff who are working tirelessly, often in difficult situations, to ensure that those people who have needed urgent and emergency care have received high-quality treatment and services and have been treated with care and compassion.

– Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM

Deputy Health Minister Vaughan Gething has appealed to the public to consider whether they need to go to A&E when they are injured or unwell. He said people should ask themselves if another local health service can help or if they can look after themselves with advice from NHS Direct.

£150m for flood and coastal defences

The Aberystwyth area was hit by flooding in 2012. Credit: Benjamin Wright/PA Wire

Finance and Government Business Minister Jane Hutt will today announce £150 million of new investment in priority flood and coastal risk management across Wales.

The scheme aims to deliver key flood and coastal defences in partnership with local authorities from 2018.

"Ensuring that we have effective flood and coastal defences is a priority we share with local authorities. Few can doubt that our flood defences will continue to be tested by adverse weather events in the future."

– Jane Hutt AM, Finance and Government Business Minister

"This announcement... is a clear message that the Welsh Government will continue to tackle flooding, and the risks associated with it, for years to come.”

– Carl Sargeant AM, Minister for Natural Resources

Wales should get same offer as Scotland says First Minister

First Minister Carwyn Jones has responded to proposals for a major transfer of additional powers to Scotland by saying that Wales should be offered the same. But he added that the Welsh Government would then choose what to accept and that he continues to have concerns about income tax powers.

Whatever has been offered to Scotland today must be also offered to Wales, so we can better determine our own preferences for the future. However, we have consistently said that before any consideration can be given to income tax we must see fair funding delivered. It would completely irresponsible to lock in underfunding.

We would certainly expect to be offered full control over our electoral arrangements and Air Passenger Duty, in common with Scotland. It would unfairly discriminate against Wales if these were not on the table, and I would expect the UK Government to make this clear in the coming days.

A promise was made to the people of Scotland, and that is being delivered. However, I have long said we cannot continue with this piecemeal approach to devolution and changing the UK. We need a proper conversation that treats all four nations as equals, and which develops a long-term view on what the new UK should look like. This stuttering, ever-changing series of offers is confusing to people, and ultimately extremely damaging to the prospects of the union staying together in the long-term.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

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Wales should decide powers says Shadow Welsh Secretary

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith MP Credit: ITV News

Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith says the Smith Commission blueprint for giving new powers to the Scottish Parliament should not simply be translated into a plan for Wales.

The Labour MP says that the people of Wales should 'decide for themselves' what powers should be transferred in any future devolution. And he's repeated his warning that income tax devolution poses 'far more risks than benefits for Wales.'

This is his full statement:

The conclusions of the Smith Commission clearly have significant implications for Wales and we will need to consider them with great care. However, Wales is not Scotland. Our culture and history, our legal system, our economy and society are all more integrated with England than those of Scotland. The Welsh people will want to decide for themselves what additional powers we might want to exercise through our National Assembly, rather than simply following behind Scotland.

My view remains unchanged that those additional powers, and wider changes to the framework of devolution across the whole of the UK should be decided in a Constitutional Convention. However, at that Convention, the powers on offer to Wales will now need to reflect those that are being offered to Scotland, including on Income Tax.

At present, it seems clear to me that the devolution of income tax includes far more risks than benefits for Wales, especially given the Tory Party’s apparent willingness to break up Britain for party political gain. Nevertheless, that decision should ultimately fall to the Welsh people.

– Owen Smith MP, Shadow Welsh Secretary

Wales must not be left behind by Scotland say Lib Dems

I welcome today’s Smith Commission report which I believe is another giant step towards the long held Liberal Democrat vision of a Federal United Kingdom and Home Rule.

While Scotland’s future devolution settlement is clear, the same can not be said for Wales – that needs to change as Wales must not be left behind.

First and foremost, Wales must speak with one voice if we are to be heard. All parties had representatives on the Silk Commission, therefore all parties should at the very least subscribe to the main thrust of the Commission’s proposals. So far, only the Liberal Democrats have done so in Westminster.

The Smith Commission’s report is wide-ranging and many of the proposals would also be appropriate for Wales. Momentum for devolution is moving faster now than it has for years. We must take this opportunity to ensure Wales gets the powers it needs to help build a stronger economy and fairer society.

– Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams AM

Wales must be offered same powers as Scotland

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Smith Commission's plan for future devolution to Scotland but says it's disappointed that it 'doesn't fulfil' the promises given to Scottish voters during the independence referendum campaign.

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards says Wales must now be offered the same powers as those offered to Scotland.

Plaid Cymru believes that Wales is as much of a nation as Scotland, and powers made available to Scotland should also be made available to Wales.

We warned during the passage of the Wales Bill that it would be superseded by events in Scotland, and that has been proved by the proposals of the Smith Commission.

The challenge is now for the Welsh branches of the London parties to explain, if these powers are good enough for Scotland why aren’t they good enough for Wales?

– Jonathan Edwards MP, Plaid Cymru
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