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Jump in Welsh Government's overseas office costs

New York's Chrysler building, above, was once home to a Welsh Government office. It has now moved to the city's British embassy. New figures obtained by Welsh Conservatives reveal the full cost of the Labour government’s overseas offices, which show a recent jump in expenditure. While fully supporting the need for a clear presence abroad to drive inward investment, Welsh Conservatives have questioned a sudden increase in costs and called for a value for money guarantee from Labour’s First Minister.

As of November 2013, 712 thousand pounds was being spent on 14 premises in Belgium, China, India, Japan, Republic of Ireland, United Arab Emirates and USA (Freedom of Information response attached). Figures for Chicago, San Francisco and Washington were unavailable at the time due to their recent introduction. Latest available operating costs – for the full financial year 2013/14 – show almost two and half million pounds was being spent on those same 14 offices. Operating costs for the Welsh Government’s Brussels office - by far its biggest, with 12 staff employed a year ago – have risen from 311 thousand pounds to almost a million. In Chongqing, an annual running cost of 25, 100 pounds as at the end of November 2013, stood at 175 thousand pounds for the full financial year 2013/14. Today’s figures also reveal the number of leads generated within the Labour government’s most recently opened offices: Washington (November ’12): 13 leads generated since opening Cost: £168,832.58 San Francisco (April ’13): 28 leads generated since opening Cost: £57, 415.73 Dublin (July ’13): 34 leads generated since opening Cost: £56, 201.20 Chicago (August ’13): 23 leads generated since opening Cost: £38, 361.82 It effectively means that – on average - at least 13 thousand pounds has been spent for every lead generated in Washington, the most expensive American office. Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, William Graham AM, said: “There are clearly huge inconsistencies in both the cost and effectiveness of these offices. “Taxpayers will rightly look to Washington, where huge costs have seen a comparably low number of leads. “Similarly, questions must be raised in Brussels, where an apparent trebling of operating costs should be properly explained. “Labour’s First Minister should commission a swift review into the success of these offices and their impact in Wales, along with their increasing cost to the public purse. “A Welsh Government presence abroad is hugely significant to the future of inward investment but it must be hugely effective and it has to be value for public money. “If the offices aren’t working – Labour’s First Minister should explain why. When costs are soaring – Labour’s First Minister should justify that.” Mr Graham added: “On average, just over one lead a month is being generated in the brand new San Francisco office. Welsh Labour ministers should confirm whether or not they believe that is successful, or whether there is improvement to be made. “Taxpayers deserve to know how many leads have actually resulted in investment in Wales from each of Labour’s premises and staff overseas. “Welsh Conservatives welcome recent efforts to reduce costs, specifically the decision to relocate the New York office from the Chrysler building, where Welsh Government staff worked from some of the most expensive office space in the entire city. “Getting abroad and fighting for business is absolutely crucial. But it’s got to produce results.”