Where DOES your money go?

 

The Welsh government has begun publishing all expenditure over £25,000 as part of its commitment to openness and transparency.

When faced with "information overload" what you need is someone who doesn't run screaming from the room at the mention of the word 'Excel'. It's no time for blind panic but rather for eyes to be kept peeled and brains in gear.

Fortunately I have savvy colleagues who've spent the last week or so sifting through endless files of Welsh government spending that will, in future, be published online every month. The government's aim? "To be as open as possible with the people of Wales" according to the Finance Minister, Jane Hutt.

The UK and Scottish governments both got there first. When David Cameron invited an army of armchair auditors" to crunch the enormous files of data on Whitehall spending last year, we learned some uncomfortable truths.

I bet the Cabinet Office would have preferred the number crunchers hadn't spotted a £26,000 bill for training staff to have "difficult conversations." There were questions about substantial payments from government to Prince Charles, one of which covered the rent for Dartmoor prison.

There was a £650 payment to handbag designer Lulu Guinness and a £1,000 to a company that makes jewel-encrusted dog collars.

That last payment turned out to be a grant to help a company called Diamond Dogs sell their products in New York. Given it was a company that paid its tax in Britain, it might have been a sound investment that simply sounded daft.

And that is the problem. You can read data, you can sort it and crunch it if you have the inclination and are prepared to set the time aside, as we did last week. Come on, you must have wondered why this blog was so quiet ...

But knowing just what it is you're seeing, spotting what is waste and what is a canny investment, isn't guaranteed just because there is more information now available. More spreadsheets don't of themselves lead to more accountability.

Today we've homed in on the Welsh Government expenditure on computers and technology, management consultants and marketing compared with what's been spent over the same period - according to these figures - on the voluntary sector.

I'm not remotely surprised, said one man-in-the-pub over the weekend. The whole point of volunteer work is that it doesn't cost anything. Management consultants do cost but that doesn't mean they're a waste of money.

You may look at the figures and conclude - as the Liberal Democrats have done - that the disparity between the two is in need of some justification.

So go on, have a go. Dive in to the spreadsheets and if you spot something that gives you pause for thought, my savvy colleagues and I would love to know about it.

Tomorrow, the columns of numbers that add up to a whole lot of business grants. Who's been getting them - and why?

 
Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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