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The shocking Jet-Set lifestyles of Labour-Plaid Government officials overseas.

Information the Welsh Liberal Democrats and I have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed a culture of shocking spending excess within the Labour-Plaid Government’s International offices.

The figures show that 34 WAG credit card holders, working in offices around the world on behalf of the Welsh taxpayer, spent a total of £718,434.17 over the past 12 months. The New York Office alone spent some £253,114.73 on credit cards in 2008/09. (1st June 2008 -31st May 2009).

This information reveals the high living lifestyle enjoyed across the world at Welsh taxpayer’ s expense. The itemised credit card bills reveal a who’s who of the world’s most expensive hotels, restaurants and the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on flights.

I am extremely concerned by the information I have seen. Every taxpayer in Wales deserves an explanation from the Labour-Plaid Government. 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. Of course we should sell Wales overseas, of course that costs money but these figures suggest a runaway culture of credit card spending.

One credit card holder spent nearly £70,000 in a year on air travel alone. Welsh taxpayers have paid the very luxurious Oberoi Hotel group in India £6,590 this year alone. Staff at the New York office spent £3,537.79 at Macy’s department store and £6,036 at IKEA. The Sydney office spent £5,722 on taxis. At the same time we can see somebody claiming for 89p McDonalds in Swansea, we can see claims for coffees at Starbucks cafes all over the world. Every Welsh taxpayer deserves to see this document, just as they should see politician’s expenses. It’s a lack of transparency that leads to the sorts of activity these worldwide credit card bills reveal.

The Minister for Economy and Transport has some serious questions to answer: What, if any procedures are in place to monitor and police spending? What kind of guidance allows civil servants to take first class flights and live this superstar lifestyle? How can we be sure that all of this activity directly generates investment into Wales? Quite frankly, what on earth is going on and what will be done about this?

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9 Responses

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  1. Christopher Wood says

    Errrr – why are you happy to destroy moral at International Business Wales?

    Have you any idea how dedidicated they are, how hardworking they are and how anxious they are to secure inward investment and jobs for Wales and Welsh families?

    Have you even seen the men and women of IBW in America in action?

    I have, and I can assure you that they are one of the hardest bunch of working people I have seen. They feverishly work work and work to sell Wales.

    America is a very large country. Getting across it to meet people means flights and stays in hotels. That might sound glamorous, but such trips involve periods away from home and loved ones, and the glamour of flying to destinations soon wears off. Staying away means sleeping in a strange bed and room. it also means stressful flights.

    The IBW office in the USA is in downtown New York City. Having their office in NYC is smart – an area where prospective investors and business people are heavily concentrated.

    If you are going to meet with a prospective business investor in NYC you are not going to meet them at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) – you are going to have lunch at their usual restaurant and I don’t suppose they are going to pay for your lunch.

    This looks Kirsty Williams is playing a bad game of ‘gotcha’ to get at Welsh Labour/Plaid even at the cost of undermining IBW.

    Shame on you – Wales needs IBW – I have seen them in action in Arlington/Rossyln and Washington, DC. They work their guts out to get inward investment and job creation opportunities in Wales.

    For example, a few weeks ago I was invited by IBW to attend a biotechnology event in Rosslyn, part of Arlington (just across the river from Washington, DC). At that event were several Welsh hi-tech business owners and high fliers invited from the American biotech community including a Deputy Director of NIH (National Health Institute); NIH has billions of dollars to spend on developing new health care treatments, and NIH is no blushing bride, NIH is hard noised, they file hundreds of patents on discoveries and Wales would benefit immeasurably from increased collaboration with NIH; universities in Wales would get first hand experience of the culture at the NIH, a US government financed agency, which conducts research hand in hand with intellectual property protection to generate jobs and new biotech spin-outs.

    I’m no fan of Rhodri Morgan – and have criticised in the past, but I have to report that Rhodri Morgan is getting his act together – he has geared up IBW to look for inward investment opportunities – but this costs money. I doubt if IBW is spending more than the former WDA who, in contrast to IBW, seemed to lack focus.

    I have become a fan of IBW based on what I have seen with my own eyes, and I take strong exception to second rate politicians who have no qualms at harming the best interests of Wales and who see fit to undermine the excellent work of IBW by playing a game of ‘gotcha’ when in fact that there is no hard evidence of wrong doing. It simply costs money to engage with prospective investors – this means travel, stays in hotels, and expenses. Hotel costs are very high, and even relatively short flights between LGA and DCA are expensive on the early morning business shuttle between

    Also at that meeting were speakers from Wales including a wonderful speaker from the Institute of Life Science (ILS) at Swansea University, which as the speaker explained to the Americans present, houses one of the world’s fastest supercomputers devoted to health care research; the speaker explained how Swansea University is collaborating with Boots, the chemist retail chain, to boost product development and explained how ILS was open to American investors and government sponsored collaborators like NIH to work with Swansea’s ILS to generate the next generation of health care devices and treatments.

  2. Peter Black says

    This is not an attack on the IBW Christopher, it is effective scrutiny of government expenditure.

  3. Dr. Christopher Wood says

    It is an attack on IBW given that Kirsty Williams cited the credit card transactions of IBW staff.

    IBW in the USA is only budged to have one office – and it is on the east coast. The USA is a HUGE country. Ideally there should be an IBW office in the Midwest (Chicago) and on the west coast (SF or LA), but there isn’t. So the professional staff at IBW operate out of one office – there is no way, no how these front line staff can drive to see prospective investors, for example, in the Midwest or on the west coast – or in America’s southwest or Deep South – it is not practical – they would be driving for days. Hence the number of long flights and hotel expenses since they are operating out of one office on the east coast; there are three time zones between the west and east coasts of continental USA and then there are more time zones if one travels to Hawaii to meet with a prospective investor. The IBW staff are not faceless civil servants – they have family and being away from home puts a lot of stress on family life. I happen to know that one of the IBW staff had to fly back home after getting a message about a family member – he didn’t make it in time and was not there when his mother died. These are very hard working dedicated professionals – I know, because I have met them. Their team leader is working backwards and sideways to bring inward investment and job creation opportunities to Wales. They are from all walks of life, some were high flyers in private industry; I strongly suspect they took salary cuts to work for IBW – the team leader is so committed to bringing to jobs and investment to Wales you can hear it in his voice and see it in his face. Same goes for every member of his team.

    Kirsty Williams needs IMMEDIATELY issue a strong statement that IBW in NYC are doing a fantastic job for Wales or there is grave risk of hurting their moral, which would mean Kirsty Williams has harmed Wales – an unforgivable act.

    I strongly urge Kirsty Williams to take this matter VERY SERIOUSLY. Issue the statement – and do so QUICKLY.

    Or risk GREAT HARM to Wales.

  4. Huw says

    What a load of rubbish! Kirsty Williams has brought to the public’s attention excessive spending by the Assembly ‘s own department IBW. Rhodri Morgan and his government did the same with the WDA. Why? Because IBW have not produced results and now coupled with a personal apology to Kirsty Rhodri has vowed to investigate these abuses.

    The fact is that Rhodri was lied to by his own officials which forced him to apologise which I am sure he is not happy about. When you are keeper of the public purse you must maintain the highest standards. Something the WDA did not do and now it appears IBW does the same.

    By the way IBW closed down all the other offices in North America because they wanted control over its staff!

  5. Si says

    Kirsty Williams should resign over this. Cheap point scoring, dragging civil servants through the mud to further their own political ambitions. I urge all welsh lib dems to get rid of her now and get a leader who is more concerned with improving the country rather than their newspaper coverage.

    There is NO story here. Of course these individuals will spend money on flights and food. What does anyone expect? And they are hardly going to entertain the CEO of Sony or Microsoft at KFC or Subway.

    No-where do you mention that IBW has just gone through a cost cutting exercise, closing many offices. That’s just an annoying inconvenience to some cheap publicity is it Kirsty?

    Anyone who has worked in the US knows that First Class internal flights there are not the same as first class here. They are business class by another name. And unless you are small-minded and insular, YOU KNOW THAT KIRSTY. This is cheap, dirty politics at its worst. Its a shame the Welsh lib dems could not be more like their London counterparts. The reality is that this story could lead to a reduced budget of this org, which will mean less investment in wales and les jobs for people in Wales. At the very least, Rhodri Morgan’s independant review will cost the tax pay 10′s of thousands, possibly significantly more. All for what? So you get in the headlines Kirtsy.

    What is the greater waste of money – paying highly trained, experienced, skilled individuals to meet with top world business leaders to promote and encourage jobs to Wales, or paying Kirsty Williams and her staff / office to spend days sifting through expence receipts looking for cheap headlines. I know where i’d put my taxes.

    You should be serving the people of Wales not your careers.

    I used to vote lib dem. No more. SHAME ON YOU.

    • Geraint says

      Christopher, Si,

      I really think you should look back at Kirsty’s comments – she and her staff fully understand the value of IBW.

      Your positions seem to suggest we should have an open chequebook/credit card approach to attracting investment. We shouldn’t, we should have a demonstrable link between spending on IBW and investment achieved, taking account of the inherent risks involved in this sort of work.

      I also believe it’s farcical to point to one or two examples of good work by IBW as cause to exempt IBW from scrutiny – of course IBW will do good work, of course they will attract investment. If any country spent money on an IBW type operation they would attract investment and of course most countries do so. The suggestion that Kirsty has set out to damage morale across IBW is frankly absurd.

      As Kirsty said on numerous radio appearances – by all means increase the IBW budget, provided it results in success.

      Is it really necessary to travel first class on a 6hour flight? Is first class really just business class when it costs 10x more on Virgin America? Why is there a premium economy class at circa $600 each way (economy $99, first $1034)?

      As Rhodri said himself on Tuesday – I don’t travel first class so civil servants don’t either.

      It’s scrutiny – is IBW working? Is the culture correct? Why has projected inward investment fluctuated so violently year on year? Why did IBW staff lie to the First Minister?

  6. Gareth Aubrey says

    One question to the other commenters here; when has anyone said what you’re accusing us of saying?

    No-one’s denying that IBW’s work would have a cost attached to it, but what the evidence clearly shows is that neither IBW internally or WAG have got any sort of control on that expenditure. The guy who runs the corner shop can manage that, so why on Earth would we expect an organisation working with multi-billion dollar clients to do any less?

    Similarly, no-one’s saying the individuals aren’t hard-working, but corporately IW must be judged on its results, both by WAG and the Assembly; so far as we can tell, WAG are failing in their duty in that respect and so the Assembly is having to step in.

    If IBW’s spending is under control and its achievements are real and verifiable, then it’s a fantastic organisation we should be putting more money into. If they aren’t, however, and IBW’s main achievement turns out to be massaging the egos of Messrs Morgan and Wyn Jones, then it is our duty to scrutinise and stop that.

  7. Dr. Christopher Wood says

    There is no question that there should be scrutiny of expenses, but was it good for Wales to fire such big guns at International Business Wales? It is fallacious to argue now that it was not Kirsty Williams’s intention to destroy moral at International Business Wales. For cheap political point scoring Kirsty Williams has caused enormous damage to Wales.

  8. Peter Black says

    Christopher, you have to make your mind up. You are either for scrutiny or not. If you are for you can hardly then complain when it throws up issues that need correcting. If this has destroyed morale then those concerned need to look for an alternative job because they are clearly not up to this one. They are public servants and as such they are accountable for their actions. They are not independent businessmen who are spending their own money. There is no cheap political point scoring here, just effective scrutiny.