Concerns over £1.8m refurbishment of Welsh Assembly home
Concerns have been raised about a £1.8m refurbishment of the ground floor of the Welsh Assembly's Ty Hywel building, next to the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
The upgrade means the number of fully equipped assembly committee rooms has increased from four to five.
Political consultant Daran Hill said austerity "literally doesn't apply" to the assembly "corridors of power".
The assembly said the changes were to ensure "a more cost effective use of the ground floor" of Ty Hywel.
Mr Hill, managing director of Positif political consultancy, said the spending was in sharp contrast to the financial squeeze "faced by Welsh Government and local authorities across Wales for the past seven years".
Ty Hywel, which houses the offices of the 60 assembly members and their staff, is attached to the Senedd and contains the assembly's old debating chamber.
"These rooms are fall-back committee space for days where there are four meetings taking place," Mr Hill said, saying they sit empty for most days.
"It's time assembly members reversed the year-on-year budget boosts for their own building."
Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party leader David Bevan said it was "another example of wasting our money purely for the benefit of the political class, not for the public".
A National Assembly spokeswoman said in response: "The refurbishment of the ground floor of Ty Hywel included the relocation of the security management to the ground floor to support the objectives of the recent security review, as well as new committee rooms and witness waiting areas to accommodate the increased number of assembly committees.
"This is ensuring that the assembly can make a more cost effective use of the ground floor and provide space for assembly business that is fit for purpose and more flexible."
She added: "The refurbishment cost £1.84m and while this contributed to an increase in accommodation and facilities costs in 2016-17 compared to the previous year, it was paid for from our existing budget."
Since the refurbishment the corridor - which gives access to a set of lifts to the rear of the building - is blocked off to non-attendees during committee meetings.
The assembly said that is to "ensure assembly business runs smoothly", and added that there were other routes through the building.
According to the assembly "sustainable features including LED lighting and tiling made from 100% recycled tyres" were included as part of the refurbishment.
Unlike the Senedd building, which is owned by the assembly, Ty Hywel is rented.
The annual rental cost remained the same between 2015-16 and 2016-2017 at £2.76m, paid to CBRE Limited (Asset Services), who have been acting as the managing agent since March 2014.
Ty Hywel was originally named Crickhowell House, after the former Conservative Welsh Secretary Lord Crickhowell.
It was built in the 1990s by Grosvenor Waterside, the property arm of Associated British Ports, which owned large areas of land around the newly reclaimed Cardiff Bay.
The Welsh Office took out a lease on the building and it was transferred to the assembly when it was established in 1999.
It housed the assembly's debating chamber until the Senedd was completed in 2006.