Figures uncovered by the Welsh Conservatives reveal that the Welsh Labour Government has spent £13million on external legal services in the past five years, despite having its own legal department with over 120 members of staff.
The total bill for external legal services for the financial years 2008-09 to 2012-13 was £13,021,005. Since the last Assembly election, external legal fees have risen by nearly 50%, standing at almost £3million in 2012-13.
The figures were branded ‘startling’, given the Welsh Government has its own 120-strong legal department, which is funded from the Welsh Government’s £314million annual running costs.
Russell George, Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, who uncovered the information, said, "These are startling figures, which will leave many people wondering what the Welsh Government’s own legal advisers do and why they are lacking in expertise.
"It is understandable that, on occasion, the Welsh Government may need to outsource legal advice, but Welsh Labour Ministers have a duty to keep costs under control.
"£13million is a massive sum of money to spend on external legal services when the Welsh Government has its own department with over 120 lawyers, solicitors and administrators, many of whom will be extremely well paid to advise Ministers.
"At a time when Labour Ministers are cutting the Welsh NHS by over £800million in real terms over five years, spending £13million on external legal advice is extravagant and unnecessary.
"Carwyn Jones’ Labour government is out of touch and needs to sort out its priorities."
Paul Davies AM, Shadow Minister for Finance, said, "These figures show a 50% rise in external legal costs in the past two years at a time when public services including the Welsh NHS are facing tough financial settlements.
"All governments need to be able to access independent expert legal advice and sometimes there will be a need to seek the services of outside bodies, but delivering value for money for the taxpayer must be imperative.
"Clearly the Assembly’s new legislative processes and questions over competence are placing an additional burden on legal services, but this doesn’t explain why a department of 120 legal staff is insufficient.
"We need to hear reassurances from the Welsh Labour Government that public money is being wisely spent and that its legal costs are sustainable."