Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 13:23 UK

Civil servants' 750k cards bill

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600
A number of Virgin flights were amongst the credit card purchases

Civil servants promoting Welsh business abroad charged nearly £750,000 to 35 assembly government credit cards in the past year, it has emerged.

Tens of thousands of pounds were spent on flights and visits to top hotels by International Business Wales (IBW).

The Liberal Democrats said every Welsh taxpayer "deserves an explanation".

The assembly government said officials had to pursue "every viable business opportunity" and were now covering a number of countries from fewer offices.

But the Liberal Democrats, who obtained the figures from a freedom of information (FOI) request, said it suggested a "runaway culture of spending".

The assembly government said every claim had to "fully comply with strict authorisation and audit requirements".

The details, from 35 different corporate credit card accounts for the year June 2008 to end of May 2009, were revealed in response to the FOI request.

The cards were used by civil servants working for International Business Wales (IBW), which has offices in major cities including New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

IBW's role is to attract inward investment to Wales, and to create opportunities for Welsh businesses overseas, by leading trade delegations and creating links between senior decision makers and business people from Wales.

The money spent included:

  • More than £24,000 with the Cathay Pacific airline on one credit card account.
  • The most expensive individual purchase was £6,606 from a staff member in Hong Kong, again paid to Cathay Pacific.
  • The cheapest was 89p, by a member of staff from the New York office, which is listed as being paid to the McDonald's restaurant in Swansea.
  • Over the 12 months, more than £36,000 was spent with Virgin Atlantic airlines, with another £25,000 on other Virgin flights.
  • There were nearly £250 worth of purchases at various Starbucks coffee houses around the world.

'All at the swipe'

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams said she was "extremely concerned by the information".

She said "every taxpayer in Wales deserves an explanation" from Welsh ministers.

"Whilst we're in the middle of a recession it's disgusting to know that public officials are flying first class, staying in the most expensive hotels, eating in the best restaurants - all at the swipe of the Welsh credit card," Ms Williams said.

"Of course we should sell Wales overseas, of course that costs money but these figures suggest a runaway culture of credit card spending," she added.

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said any claim incurred on behalf of the assembly government had to fully comply with strict authorisation and audit requirements.

"Given the global nature of their role, IBW staff based overseas need to travel to pursue every viable business opportunity.

"Over the past few years, the number of offices in America and south east Asia have been reduced, and officials now cover a number of countries from their base.

"Whilst this has led to a significant reduction in the cost of offices, it has inevitably led to an increase in travel associated costs."

The spokesman said they were "clearly aware" of the need to restrict expenditure to ensure "absolute value for money".

Overall travel and subsistence costs were more than 30% below the level incurred by the former Welsh Development Agency.

The spokesman said IBW existed to attract job-creating investment from around the world to Wales and help companies win overseas business.

IBW had so far this year organised 37 trade missions for Welsh companies - including the recent successful trade mission to Washington DC which was attended by 80 companies from Wales.

The spokesman added: "As we have proved with the recent first Ashes Test in Wales, it is essential that we seize every opportunity to raise our profile, and generate business opportunities for Wales - particularly during the current global recession."

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