Friday, 12 March 2010

Lining the pockets of lawyers... Only in Wales?

The Welsh Assembly Government spent more than £3.8m on external legal advice in one year, according to figures revealed yesterday.

The biggest spending department on advice in 2008 was health and social services, which was responsible for £1,812,366, followed by economy and transport with £1,132,049.

Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne said he was “staggered” by the costs.

A further £319,086 was spent on hospitality – £210,844 by economy and transport.
In addition, furniture costs reached £690,497 – of which £685,636 was spent by central administration.
Mr Bourne said:
I am staggered that the Assembly Government has spent vast sums of taxpayers’ money on legal advice, hospitality and furniture.

It is particularly concerning that [the] Assembly Government incurred a total of £3,881,206 on external legal advice when they already have a sizeable team of legal advisers on the books.

With Wales in the grip of the recession and when people were expected to tighten their belts, it is also worrying that the Assembly Government seemed to think it appropriate to splash out hundreds of thousands of pounds on wining and dining.

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

It is absolutely astounding that the Labour-Plaid government spent nearly £4m on external legal advice last year.

At the time, the Government’s chief legal adviser was Carwyn Jones, a fully-qualified barrister who is now the First Minister of Wales.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

This is an astonishing bill, particularly at a time when the public
finances are severely overstretched.

The [Assembly Government] already employs internal legal advisers, which
makes it even worse that they have duplicated that cost by bringing people in
from outside as well.

An Assembly Government spokesperson said:

Our internal legal service is primarily focused on advising ministers on
the discharge of their statutory functions and on the delivery – including
drafting – of the legislative programme.

External legal advice is used to support the Assembly Government in
non-core legal areas, including commercial, property, corporate finance and
employment law.

Clearly, as a sizeable landowner, or when engaged in commercial
negotiations, it is essential that we receive suitable legal support to ensure
the best outcome for the Welsh taxpayer.

In addition, we do not employ an in-house litigation team, and therefore
need to ensure effective legal representation on issues arising from our
responsibilities as a highways authority, or to assist in the legal affairs of
the NHS – for example, when dealing with clinical negligence cases.

We have very strict rules in place to ensure such expenditure is kept to a
minimum and only incurred where absolutely necessary and with proper authorisation.



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