Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Civil servants 'lie' to Rhodri Morgan in expenses row

Following on from three earlier posts on developments in the civil service expenses scandal - It gets worse - Wales' First Minister, who also happens to be Minister responsible for staffing and civil service matters - has apologised after it emerged civil servants had taken first class flights despite his denial that this had ever taken place.

Rhodri Morgan had said the Liberal Democrat claim civil servants led "first class" and "jet set" lifestyles was "repugnant" and an "outright lie".

Mr Morgan was defending civil servants who promote Welsh business abroad after details of their spending emerged.

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats, whose Freedom of Information request uncovered the figures, had accused the staff of International Business Wales (IBW) of enjoying lavish living at taxpayers' expense.

Ms Williams said: "Whilst we're in the middle of a recession it's disgusting to know that public officials are flying first class, staying in the most expensive hotels, eating in the best restaurants - all at the swipe of the Welsh credit card."

In an angry response the following morning, Mr Morgan told reporters: "I do find it repugnant that an allegation has been made that civil servants are using first class travel.
Mr Morgan went on to call the allegation "an outright lie".

But on Wednesday he wrote to Kirsty Williams saying he apologised for misleading her and the wider public.

He wrote:
...I stated on the clear and explicit advice from the relevant senior officials that no officials from IBW had flown first class. Today I have learned this is not the case.... I apologise for having misled you and the wider public. I need hardly say how disturbed I am by the latest information now to hand... I am instructing the permanent secretary to undertake an immediate and thorough investigation and audit of the IBW's expenditure and audit systems... This review will be led from outside the assembly government.
First class fib
He was speaking after evidence emerged that at least two IBW employees from the New York office took first class internal flights in the United States.

Leaked travel documents show Geraint Jones, head of the New York office, flew first class on Virgin America from New York to Los Angeles and back in February 2009.

An IBW corporate credit card was debited £1,302.99 four days before he departed.
The same card was debited £1,475.92 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Los Angeles a couple of days later.

In November 2008, Christopher Williams, IBW's Vice President for ICT took three first class internal flights with Virgin America.

It is understood assembly government officials in Cardiff sought a written guarantee from IBW on Tuesday morning that no first class flights had ever been booked, before Mr Morgan launched his attack on the Liberal Democrats on camera.
'Strong and personal'

Ms Williams had been furious about the First Minister's attack on her, which she said was "strong and personal".

Kirsty Williams and others welcome the investigation.
Whatever next? This man placed in charge of the review?


Anonymous 17 July 2009 at 09:51  

Feel a bit sorry for Rhodri - It's clear that IBW staff felt sufficiently empowered (and credit card armed) to lie to the First Minister.

This alone is shocking and adds weight to the suggestion made by the lib dems that a culture of spending excess exists within parts of IBW.

I think Mrs Williams did well not to milk this - it must have been tempting after Rhodri's unwittingly ill-informed rant of Tuesday. Her team clearly had done some good research on this - at least someone is scrutinising government on our behalf.

Anonymous 18 July 2009 at 10:27  

her team? the political opposition is rubbish at finding and asking such questins, she may have asked this question but it was all primed by leaks from civil servants

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