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Smacking ban defeated

Assembly Members have voted by 36 to 16 against adding a total ban on smacking children to a bill aimed at combating domestic violence. The Welsh Government argued that it was not the right way to end the defence of "reasonable punishment" by parents. This applies to a "transient or trivial" injury to their children. The call for a ban came from the Labour backbencher Julie Morgan, who defied the Labour whip. She said it was impossible to justify allowing adults to hit children.

Fewer children with tooth decay in Wales

Fewer children in Wales are experiencing tooth decay and overall levels of dental disease are falling, according to the latest report on Designed to Smile - the Welsh Government's national programme to improve children's oral health.

The report found that more children took part in supervised tooth brushing activities at home, with almost 93,000 children taking part - 5,500 more than last year.

More than 91,000 children have benefitted from oral health education sessions in schools. Credit: PA

Six years after the launch of Designed to Smile, children and young people in Wales are seeing the benefits of this programme.

Designed to Smile offers toothbrushing and fluoride varnish programmes for young children in their schools and nurseries; helping children and their families to keep their teeth healthy as they grow older.

Dental health professionals can provide a fissure sealant programme to older children who may need it, as well as advice on how to look after their teeth to prevent problems later on.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health and Social Services

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New Deeside 'employment site' could create 5,000 jobs

The new highway will be built at Deeside, North Wales Credit: ITV News

Work to kick-start the development of the 'largest strategic employment site' in north Wales - with the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs - has been announced by the First Minister today.

As part of the development, a new multi-million pound road will be built across the 420 acre Northern Gateway site on Deeside Enterprise Zone.

The road will help kick-start the development, effectively opening up the site to release 220 acres of employment land, with the capacity to build 3.1 million square feet of facilities, which, it's hoped, could accommodate up to 5,000 jobs.

The construction of the highway is expected to take around 5 years to complete.

The Northern Gateway is the primary location to attract major new investments to the Enterprise Zone and to the region. Outline planning permission has already been granted for the site but the main barrier has been investment in infrastructure so I am pleased to announce the Welsh Government is now taking this forward.

This is a key piece of infrastructure for the Enterprise Zone which will accelerate development. We want to ensure the potential for the site is unlocked as soon as possible, opening up the largest private sector led development in north Wales.

This is a hugely important project for north Wales with substantial potential to attract new investment and jobs. The access road is the catalyst that will open up the many investment opportunities it represents. We will be appointing consultants to design the road shortly with the aim of submitting planning within the next six months and commencing work on the first phase of the roadway within six months thereafter.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Crabb hits back at claims of 'gutter politics"

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb is expected to renew his criticism of school standards in Wales when he makes a speech later. His claim that Welsh education "is a bigger scandal than the NHS" led to Education Minister Huw Lewis to accuse the Secretary of State of indulging in "gutter politics". Mr Crabb is due to respond by saying that Wales needs more "heated debate" about the issue.

In England, there has been 20 years of heated debate about how to deliver the best education. In Wales, we haven’t even had that discussion. When Welsh Labour Ministers try to shut down the debate it’s the pupils, parents and teachers who lose out.

It is not just the best performing students that are missing out, the most disadvantaged children in Wales are less likely to get good GCSEs than similar pupils in England. That is just not good enough.

We need an honesty check here in Wales and start facing the facts. The inconvenient truth is that at the moment our education standards our not where they should be if we are to have any hope of getting off the bottom of the league table.,

If we are going to be ambitious for the Welsh economy we need to be far more ambitions for Welsh education.

Simply saying, 'we took our eye off the ball' doesn’t come close to the level of responsibility Welsh Labour Ministers should be accepting.

– Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb MP

Colour-coded school ratings published

Rankings for Wales' primary and secondary schools have been published under a new colour-coded 'categorisation' system.

According to their performance, schools are categorised as green, yellow, amber or red.

It replaces the controversial 'banding' method for ranking secondary schools.

Credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Out of 1,332 primary schools assessed, 206 have been put in the green support category and 58 have been put in the red support category.

Out of 211 secondary schools, 30 have been put in the green support category and 23 are in the red support category.

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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.

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.

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