Page last updated at 06:54 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

'Alarm' at 4.6m spend on advice

Pierhead Building and Senedd in Cardiff Bay
Management, legal and accountancy services cost the most

The Welsh assembly government's bill for external consultants has more than doubled in four years, according to research by the Liberal Democrats.

The party's figures show ministers spent 4.65m on advice from outside experts in 2007.

Party leader Kirsty Williams said the doubling of costs was "alarming".

An assembly government spokesperson said using consultants when needed was "normal, cost-effective good practice" and it would continue to do so.

Welsh Lib Dems say they have found the assembly government's spending on consultants has risen from just under 2m in 2004/05.

The biggest increase during that period came in 2006/07, when the bill reached 4.3m, up 1.9m on the year before.

Legal services 1.33m
Accountancy services 899,101
Architects and planning 45,000
Management consultants 1.53m
Marketing and publicity 601,201
Statistical services 20.,523
Research 26,180
Total 4.65m
Welsh Assembly Government spending on consultants by function, 2007-2008; figures obtained by Lberal Democrats

A breakdown of the statistics for 2007/08 shows the assembly's business development department spent the most, at more than 1m, although this was down from 1.5m the year before.

Across the assembly government, the largest sums were spent on management consultancy, legal and accountancy services.

Meanwhile, spending on marketing and publicity consultants rose by 64% to more than 600,000.

Jonathan Deacon, from Newport Business School, said he did not think the figures were "especially shocking" in current terms.

He said: "It's kind of a given in today's world but within that one would like to know that that money was spent with Welsh consultancy firms."

Mr Deacon, who also works as a consultant, pointed out the rise in spending on marketing and publicity consultants could be related to the integration of former quangos, semi-independent public bodies, into the assembly government.

"Let's not forget that in the last two years we have had the absorption back into the assembly of organisations like Visit Wales and the WDA [Welsh Develpment Agency]."

'Difficult times'

Lib Dem Welsh leader Ms Williams said she understood the assembly government needed specialist expertise "from time to time" but said the doubling of the bill in four years was "alarming".

She said: "In these difficult economic times when families have to tighten their belts, the people of Wales want to be reassured that the assembly government is also spending money responsibly.

"The assembly government has a responsibility to make sure our Welsh pound is spent wisely and has the biggest impact possible."

A spokesperson for the assembly government said consultants were used on a short-term basis for a specific function or to give technical advice or expertise.

"The services they give are often specialist and provide skills that we do not have within the Welsh Assembly Government workforce and are only used when a project requires expertise that is not available in-house.

"The Welsh Assembly Government will continue to use the services of consultants when it is necessary to procure external expertise to provide specific skills that we do not have within the organisation."

In July it was revealed that Welsh local authorities spent at least 16.5m on management consultants.

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