LABOUR took back control of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council as the number of Independent candidates on the authority dropped by more than half.

Labour crossed the 17 seat threshold needed for a majority after nine of the 14 wards had been declared, winning 21 of the 33 seats up for grabs.

The local authority had been a key target for Labour, which lost control in 2017 when just 13 councillors were elected, with the council ultimately run by an Independent group.

It was an all-round disappointing showing for Independents in Blaenau Gwent, with a majority of 28 won in 2017 falling to 12 councillors.

South Wales Argus: Verification and counting got underway just after 9am.Verification and counting got underway just after 9am.

But the biggest shock came when Independent council leader Nigel Daniels fell victim to Labour’s strong showing, losing his seat in the Abertillery ward just weeks after he was faced with a vote of no confidence.

Plaid Cymru, Welsh Conservatives and the Green Party all failed to gain seats.

Turnout in Blaenau Gwent was also low, clocking in at just 32.49 per cent. 

Labour take back control

There was a sense that Labour was quietly confident right from the off in the Ebbw Vale sports hall in Blaenau Gwent.

But nothing is guaranteed in a council area as unpredictable as Blaenau Gwent, which has see-sawed back and forth between Independent and Labour leadership.

Murmurs of strong showings in Tredegar and Sirhowy wards, traditionally safe seats for the party, were ringing around the venue as verification and counting got underway.

But it would be other big wards like Abertillery, Brynmawr and Ebbw Vale where the party would need a good showing if it was to prove itself worthy of controlling the council.

South Wales Argus: Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith said he was confident Labour would take the council back.Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith said he was confident Labour would take the council back.

As the first few wards were announced, things appeared to be close between Labour and Independents.

Labour’s first scalp came when Brynmawr lost one of its three Independent councillors to Labour’s Jules Gardner.

This set the tone for the rest of the afternoon as Labour candidates continued to oust sitting Independent councillors in Ebbw Vale’s north and south wards, as well as Beaufort and Nantyglo.

But it was the calling of the Abertillery ward that secured Labour’s victory when the party ousted two of the three sitting Independents there, including council leader Nigel Daniels.

Llanhilleth, Tredegar, Sirhowy and Georgetown wards all saw Labour gain at the expense of Independents as the party reached a 21 strong majority.

“Delighted, we’re absolutely delighted,” Labour’s Steve Thomas, who was voted back to represent the Tredegar ward, said.

“There’s been fantastic work done by our activists out in Blaenau Gwent – listening to those issues on the doorstep and feeding back and they were very much council issues.”

Cllr Thomas added that national issues surrounding Boris Johnson and partygate also played a factor.

“It certainly played a part and also the cost of living crisis is on everybody’s mind and people are obviously concerned. We’re glad they trust Labour to run the council for them.”

Independent voices suffer

Rewind to this time five years ago and Independent candidates were romping towards a 28 majority win in Blaenau Gwent.

This time, just 12 Independent councillors will be returning to the council in what was a day to forget for many candidates.

Deputy leader Dai Davies and environment executive Joanna Wilkins won back their respective seats in Ebbw Vale North and Cwmtillery.

But it was clear as the afternoon went on that many of the sitting Independents wouldn’t be returning.

Former Independent leader Des Hillman was unable to make any inroads in Blaina, as current leader Nigel Daniels’ bid for re-election collapsed in Abertillery.

South Wales Argus: Former council leader Des Hillman didn't get elected.Former council leader Des Hillman didn't get elected.

Ebbw Vale south’s two sitting Independents, Jonathan Millard, and Keith Pritchard both lost out along with Ebbw Vale north’s Bob Summers.

Sirhowy’s only Independent councillor Brian Thomas also fell victim to Labour’s surge, as well as Tredegar’s Mandy Moore.

Wayne Hodgins, who returned to represent Brynmawr, said of the losses: “I’m sad to see a number of my colleagues go.

“I feel we as an Independent group have done as much as we can.”

How did other parties fare?

Despite not winning any seats, Plaid Cymru candidate Ben Owen-Jones said he was pleased with the performance of the party’s six candidates standing.

Similarly, the sole Green Party candidate, Ann Price, who stood in Cwm said she was happy to be able to stand so that people had a choice.

South Wales Argus: Plaid's Ben Owen-Jones was pleased with the party's performance.Plaid's Ben Owen-Jones was pleased with the party's performance.

Of the three Conservative candidates that stood here, Georgia Palfrey said: “We’re happy to be making these little strides. We’re trying to focus more locally, it’s a shame what’s happened in Westminster considering we’re trying to make strides in areas like this, but we’re trying to stand back from that.”

What’s next?

Blaenau Gwent’s 21 strong Labour group will meet next week to discuss who will form part of the executive for the council.

It’s expected that Cllr Steve Thomas will take up the position of leader of the council.