Welsh assembly: David Melding defends £10,000 training for AMs

A decision to give AMs training in how to ask ministers questions in committees has been defended by the assembly's deputy presiding officer.

David Melding AM said the 10 training sessions, costing a total of £10,000, were good value and "standard good practice".

Some AMs also received advice on how to sit, where to position themselves at the table and how to dress.

Conservative AM Nick Ramsay said: "I don't think you can justify it."

The training sessions were paid for with public money by the Assembly Commission, the body responsible for providing the services to support the role of politicians.

But Mr Ramsay, who is chair of the enterprise and business committee, said the commission had questions to answer.

'Public money'

"I took some good out of it, but would I do it again knowing the cost? No. I don't think you can justify it, of course not," he said.

"I think we have to look very carefully at how much money is being spent and the type of decisions about public money."

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Media captionAssembly Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding defends the cost

Rod Richards, former leader of the Welsh assembly Tories, also criticised the training.

Mr Richards, who resigned from the assembly in 2002, said: "It's an absolute disgrace that they even thought of it let alone spent public money when everyone else is having to cut back due to the cold wind of recession.

"The political parties themselves who choose the candidates and politicians should be paying to train people to be politicians and how to dress."

However Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler said scrutiny of the Welsh government was vital and that AMs asked for help.

And Mr Melding, her deputy, told BBC Wales: "When anyone is elected or recruited into a job that requires a range of skills, it's important to have training and development."

Mr Melding said asking closed, focused questions of ministers in committees in the public interest was "a high skill" and the costs involved were "not disproportionate".

"I certainly think it's a skill that politicians need to exercise but it is not something that necessarily comes naturally," he said.

"This is standard good practice. It's done in all leading organisations, where you try to review and improve your work."

The training was provided by Core Solutions, which was founded in 2000 by a Scottish QC, John Sturrock.

The company's website describes Mr Sturrock as "a pioneer in mediation and high quality training in business, the professions and commerce in Scotland and elsewhere".

'Development opportunities'

"That is what they have been elected to do, and like in any profession or place of work, methods and approaches develop and improve, so it is only right that assembly members have the same access to development opportunities as any other professional in the public or private sector."

One training session was conducted with chairs of assembly committees.

Mr Sturrock has also conducted similar sessions with Members of the Scottish Parliament.

In 2007 MSPs agreed a potential spend of £70,000 over a five-year period with Core Solutions.

It expires in November and nearly £13,000 has been paid to the company.

At the time it was called "a total waste of money" by the Labour MSP Lord Foulkes.

In Wales, the commission said no further training has been commissioned through Core Solutions but it would be delivered if AMs ask for it.

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