Wales office looks to share office accommodation

Is the Wales office feeling lonely now its lodger has left home?

Earlier this year, the Welsh government left Gwydyr House in Whitehall to rent its own London HQ half a mile away.

The Wales office, the department that represents Wales in the UK government, continues to occupy its rather nice headquarters but for how much longer?

It may have the same number of ministers as it had pre-devolution (three), but most of its responsibilities have been devolved to the Welsh government.

Tony Blair once tried (unsuccessfully) to merge the Wales office with its Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts and periodically stories surface that merger is back on the agenda, despite the political difficulties involved.

Civil servants in the three territorial departments are working more closely together: Secretary of State for Wales David Jones revealed details in evidence to a committee of MPs.

"The Wales office continues to explore the potential to share accommodation, especially with the Scotland office, but the most recent scoping exercise identified the need for substantial initial investment especially in relation to IT installation costs (the offices currently use different IT systems").

So what is the potential to share accommodation? Dover House, home to the Scotland office, is rather more spacious than Gwydyr House - so could it take in the Wales office to help save the taxpayer cash?

A Wales Office spokesperson said: "There are no plans to leave Gwydyr House. The scoping exercise referred to by the Secretary of State is in relation to an officials' working group which has been looking at the scope for greater shared services between the three territorial offices."

I asked for a copy of the "scoping exercise".

"There are no papers held by the Wales Office on this particular point; however we continue to look for efficiencies and better ways of working."

So the Wales office continues to toil away in Gwydyr House and its Cardiff office, largely untroubled by the headline writers.

Public service may be its own reward but almost 20 per cent of Wales office staff have received cash bonuses in each of the last two years.

Given the Wales office has few executive responsibilities - and there has been a public sector pay freeze - how do the staff earn bonuses?

Junior minister Stephen Crabb explained in a written parliamentary answer that as the Wales office is not an employer in its own right it has to honour the terms and conditions of its staff depending on their home departments (such as the National Assembly for Wales).

Mr Crabb said: "The payment of performance related bonuses—all of which are non-consolidated—is not a decision for the Wales office. Those staff who delivered outstanding performances were entitled to a bonus payment by virtue of the terms and conditions of their home department."