POLITICS FILE: Review of the year - 2013

South Wales Argus: POLITICS FILE: Review of the year - 2013 POLITICS FILE: Review of the year - 2013

As 2013 draws to a close we look at some of the big stories in Gwent politics over the last 12 months.

TAX raising powers for Wales and rows over a mural are among the news stories that have marked the political year in Gwent.

2013 is a year that saw the police and crime commissioner force former chief constable Carmel Napier to retire and Welsh councils have to make tough choices as austerity continues to bite.

One of the most significant announcements for Wales’ came last November when Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Assembly would be able to raise cash through taxation for the first time.

The package would see stamp duty and landfill tax come under the responsibility of the Assembly, while the country’s government would be able to borrow money to fund infrastructure projects.

Part of the deal also endorsed early borrowing powers to build the M4 Relief Road, but its planned route over the Gwent Levels has proved controversial.

Elections heralding police and crime commissioners in November 2012 have brought politics into the world of crime in a way not seen in local politics before.

The Argus made national headlines itself in June when we exclusively revealed that Ian Johnston, the Gwent police and crime commissioner, forced chief constable Carmel Napier to retire.

A leaked document showed Mr Johnston told Mrs Napier he found her managerial style dismissive, abrupt and unhelpful, claimed she was hostile to the concept of the office of the PCC and had failed to appropriately manage external and internal relations.

The news caused a storm among Gwent Labour politicians and led to Mr Johnston appearing in front of Keith Vaz’s Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons.

He explained to the committee that the conduct of the chief constable was such that he could not carry out his duties as a PCC.

But Mrs Napier told the same group of MPs she felt bullied and threatened by the PCC and faced a clear threat, retire or face humiliation.

Newport council also attracted national headlines for the plan to demolish the Chartist Mural to make way for the Friars Walk shopping complex.

It was agreed in 2012 – before the current administration came into control at Newport council – that the mosaic would be demolished as part of work on the shopping complex.

Opposition to the move at the time was muted but came to a head this year, with a campaign group formed to save the mural.

Newport council commissioned consultants to look into moving it, but decided to push ahead with demolition after it found it would have cost £600,000 to relocate the mosaic.

Cadw, the Welsh heritage body, also declined to list the artwork.

But in a move that shocked many in the city, council workers began to demolish the mural days before a planned demonstration in October, sparking a demonstration.

Newport council leader Bob Bright eventually agreed to say sorry for what happened at a council meeting held more than a month later.

Newport-born actor Michael Sheen became involved through an open letter published in the Argus, and later agreed to help found a new trust to raise money for a new Chartist memorial.

That meeting also saw the cross-party agreement of a £90 million loan for the Friars Walk shopping development.

Under the plans the loan would be paid back by the developers Queensberry within a year of the scheme’s completion.

Only one councillor voted against the proposal, despite the Argus receiving many comments from members of the public for and against the plan.

Councils across Wales are under pressure to make cuts with the UK government’s austerity drive being dripped down through the Welsh government.

The announcement of the Welsh Budget in the Assembly in October revealed more money for the NHS but less for local government, and the Argus revealed that Gwent councils were looking to save more than £50 million in just the 2014/15 financial year alone.

In response to the financial challenge Newport council drew up an ambitious Prospectus for Change envisaging a future for the authority with fewer staff, buildings and service areas.

Blaenau Gwent council itself faced controversy in April after a Wales Audit Office report painted a bleak picture of the council beset by cultural and leadership problems.

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