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Work on M4 relief road to begin Spring 2018, says First Minister

The First Minister of Wales has for the first time been pinned down to a date on when taxpayers can expect work on the much-debated M4 relief road to begin.

Speaking in the Assembly Chamber, he said that work an M4 relief road will commence in Spring 2018 - following an enquiry - but once again refused to offer any clarity over his plans for local government reorganisation. This means the future for thousands of council workers across Wales remains in limbo.

The response follows a challenge from Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies AM, who used the inaugural First Minister’s Questions of the Fifth Assembly to challenge the Labour leader over the M4 relief road and what the future held for local governments.

The First Minister confirmed that next year’s local government elections would go ahead but offered no detail on his plans for their reorganisation.

Following an interview with BBC Wales this Sunday, the First Minister was forced to concede that the plans of his former Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews for a forced merger of Wales’ 22 councils - to just eight or nine bodies - were no longer an option, given that that such a proposal would not gain the support of the Assembly.

The U-turn follows a long campaign by the Welsh Conservatives to oppose the Welsh Government’s draft Local Government (Wales) Bill to allow a referendum on how local authorities should be reconfigured, giving local communities a say over matters that affect their day-to-day lives.

Speaking outside the Welsh Assembly Chamber, Andrew RT Davies AM said:

(Speaking about the M4 relief road) “At last, the First Minister has ended his dithering, which for a long time has left the M4 relief road in doubt, despite millions of pounds being spent on consultancy fees associated with the project.
“The relief road is of paramount importance to the future of the Welsh economy and so any further delays to its development would be to invite jeopardy to the project.”

(On the subject of local government reorganisation) “We of course welcome the fact that the forced mergers of local councils are no longer going ahead, but this climb-down is the product of a lack of support in the Chamber and not by virtue of any good will.

“That the First Minister has refused to offer a clear answer as to the future shape of local authorities is to inflict a continuation of distress for communities and local councils, concerning job security and possible council tax rises.

“Any plans going forward must be declared as soon as possible, and need to be done in consultation with all parties, key stakeholders and, above all, local communities. Anything short of that would be undemocratic.”

With the appointment of Lib Dem Kirsty Williams AM to Labour’s Cabinet, Davies also pressed the First Minister on whether or not there would be collective ministerial responsibility, to which for the first time he confirmed there would be.