Wales politics

Spend on Rosemary Butler's assembly office criticised

The body responsible for day-to-day business in the assembly has spent £23,000 on the office space of the presiding officer and her deputy since May, including £6,000 on a table.

Plaid Cymru assembly member Leanne Wood called on presiding officer Rosemary Butler to justify the expenditure.

But the assembly commission said savings of £380,000 were being made in the five years until the next election.

Ms Butler took over as presiding officer from Lord Elis-Thomas in May.

The assembly commission has responsibility for providing property, staff and services to support AMs, and consists of the presiding officer and other members nominated by the main political parties.

Ms Wood said: "Clearly refurbishment programmes need to take place from time to time, but I think it is a matter for the presiding officer to justify this expenditure.

"We are in the middle of an economic crisis, there is an austerity programme in place and most people are still very angry about the MPs' expenses scandal.

"So when politicians spend public money they have to be transparent about what the money is for."

The work on Ms Butler's office was part of a programme on the fourth floor of Ty Hywel which is next to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, where her office is located. It came to a total of £43,000.

The assembly commission said it was necessary to ensure privacy for assembly members.

Programme of work

A spokesman for the assembly commission said: "The reconfiguration of the presiding office means there will be a saving of £380,000 over the five years of the fourth assembly as a result of the decision to no longer employ a special adviser.

"A programme of work was carried out over the summer recess to meet the needs of the fourth assembly.

"The offices that had been used by the presiding officers and their staff have been adapted to accommodate the members' business support team so that they can operate effectively and deal with members and their staff in privacy."

The wooden meeting table was bought from Remploy - the employment agency for disabled people - at around half the price of buying a table through the assembly's regular suppliers, a source said.

The expenditure on the presiding officer's accommodation came out of the commission's budget for this financial year.

But the budget is going up next year by 6.4% in cash terms - significantly more than the settlements given to many other public bodies and an increase that one Welsh government source called "frankly bizarre".

The commission said its budget was 0.3% of Wales's block grant from the Treasury, which pays for devolved public services.

It said it faced "unavoidable contractual cost increases" of £2.3m, including staff salaries, inflation for supplies and services and a rent rise for Ty Hywel.

The rent on Ty Hywel - which houses the offices of AMs, meeting rooms and the assembly's old debating chamber - is increasing by £500,000 to £2.3m in 2012.

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