According to the Tories’ group leader, £4million a year is an ‘excessive and wasteful’ sum of money to spend on maintaining Wales’ largest occupied office building. So, if £4million is the ‘wrong’ answer, what’s the ‘right’ one?
Actually, he wasn’t quite as precise as that. He said only that he ‘fears’ that it is excessive and wasteful, which sort of suggests that he himself doesn’t actually know what the right answer would be. Select a number, any number, as long as it’s smaller, perhaps? (‘Zero’ would be quite a good answer from his perspective, one suspects.)
There is, in the way his views are expressed, an underlying suggestion that civil servants should not expect to have high quality office accommodation – that is to be reserved for the private sector. And if their conditions deteriorate over time, and no longer meet current standards and expectations, then they should simply accept that as part of the package. Whilst we shouldn't be paying for anyone to work in opulent surroundings, it is surely reasonable for them to expect to be working in modern conditions which comply with current standards, isn't it?
It’s interesting that he claims that the money could be better used in supporting businesses, as in “There are untold numbers of businesses in Wales that would benefit from financial support”. I’m sure that there are. But is he really saying that he’d prefer to see taxpayers’ money used to give grants and subsidies to businesses rather than to purchase services and materials from them? Because that’s where most of the £4million will actually have gone – to private companies in return for work done. Providing state handouts rather than giving business to companies is an odd position for a Tory to take.
I don’t know whether £4 million is excessive or not. It sounds a lot, but there also seems to be an element of catch-up after some years of neglect. I simply don’t have enough information to judge. And neither, I suspect, do the Tories.
There’s nothing new in their approach though. Far too often, opposition politicians seize on any large numbers which come into view because they make good headlines. But headline chasing isn’t the same as detailed scrutiny and constructive opposition. Nor is it the best way of ensuring that those who work in public services on behalf of all of us have suitable, but not extravagant, working conditions.