Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Wales Office



 (i)   It would be helpful to have a table showing the additions to the Welsh block since 2000, to which reference is made in para 4.1, showing in each case the extent to which the additional sums are hypothecated to particular services or sectors.

  The attached table shows changes to the Wales Departmental Expenditure Limit until April this year. Additions, which are a result of an increase in comparable spending in England are not hypothecated although where they accompany a transfer of function then in practice the Assembly will normally need to use the transferred sums in order to deliver the transferred service.

 (ii)   Annex 5 shows only rounded data for 2002-03, whereas the 2001 Report showed data for each of 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04. Are comparable figures available?

  The comparable figures are shown in the attached table.


 (i)   What has been and will be the annual Office expenditure on Lords Lieutenant, and on what is the money spent?

  The Lord Lieutenants' expenses fall to be met by the Wales Office because the Secretary of State is responsible for Royal matters. The budget is £30,000 annually. In 2001-02 only £17,400 was spent. Expenses include: travel; accommodation; postage; telephone charges; clerks' expenses; stationery.

 (ii)   What have been the annual costs of the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal to date and what are the future estimates?

  Some £1.3 million was made available by the National Assembly for Wales to the Wales Office to cover the cost of bringing the Tribunal to a conclusion. Wales Office spending has been £0.259 million in 1999-2000; £0.445 million in 2000-01; and £0.062 million in 2001-02.


 (i)   Following the October 2001 evidence [Qq75ff] and the references at 5.3, what changes have been made to the website?

  The Wales Office website has had a major presentational change since October 2001, with a new page on both the English and Welsh sites created for reports, speeches and other miscellaneous documents. For example, the draft NHS (Wales) Bill appeared on this page and consultation was conducted via the website with a dedicated e-mail address for comments from interested parties. We are considering a major redesign of the website in the next six months.

 (ii)   What progress has been made with the proposed Welsh Language Scheme (para 5.5)?

  The Wales Office's draft Welsh Language Scheme was published on 19 August. The public consultation period will run until 11 October. We will consider all comments received before submitting a final version to the Welsh Language Board for endorsement.

 (iii)   How many invoices were paid late in 2001-02 (para 2.6): in respect of what services: and why?

  180 invoices (out of 1,350) were paid outside the target date (of paying within 30 days or in accordance with contract conditions). Almost a quarter of all late payments (44) were to a single supplier (Portman Travel through whom we obtain rail and air tickets).

  Other than the possibility of delay when making the first payment to a new supplier (because of the need to obtain bank details) there is no particular pattern to the remaining cases.

 (iv)   In October 2001 the Secretary of State offered to pursue the suggestion that it would be useful to discover which public bodies were wrongly addressing inquiries to the Wales Office [Q23]. It would be helpful to have a note on the outcome.

  The "transfer log" of correspondence transferred to the Assembly shows that from August 2001 to July 2002, between one and five items a month from Welsh firms or organisations (ie excluding individual members of the public) had to be re-directed. There is no particular pattern to these transfers.


 (i)   It would be helpful to have a list of meetings attended in 2001-02 by Wales Office Ministers of (a) the JMC and (b) each of the four subject committees referred to at para 3.2: and a note of how the outcomes of these meetings are placed in the public domain.

  Ministers meet on a regular basis in a variety of different formats and to discuss a number of different issues. Not all meetings are publicised. The Memorandum of Understanding states (paragraph A1.11 of the Agreement on the Joint Ministerial Committee):

    "the proceedings of each meeting of the JMC will be regarded as confidential by the participants, in order to permit free and candid discussion. However, the holding of JMC meetings may be made known publicly, and there may be occasions on which the Committee will wish to issue a public statement on the outcome of its discussions."

  In the period covered by the Wales Office Departmental Report 2001-02, a public statement was issued in relation to the plenary JMC held on 30 October 2001 in Cardiff. The Secretary of State attended this meeting.

  There were also three meetings of subject committees during the financial year 2001-02 and the Secretary of State attended these.

 (ii)   When is it anticipated that the practical guide to the dissemination of best practice under devolution will be completed and published?

  The leaders of the four administrations endorsed a leaflet, Devolution in Practice, developed jointly between the four administrations, which offers practical guidance for the running of day-to-day business under devolution. This, together with the Memorandum of Understanding and supplementary agreements, provides a solid platform for the continuation of close relationships between the four administrations. The guidance was completed in April 2001 and circulated to staff.


 (i)   In October 2001 the Committee learned that plans for adapting Gwydyr House had been forwarded to Westminster Council [Q50]. What progress has been made?

  Ministers asked officials to consider arrangements for wheelchair access to Gwydyr House. This had to be taken forward in the context of Gwydyr House's listed status (under the provisions of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990), demand for such access and cost.

  As part of a general refurbishment of part of Gwydyr House, toilets for those with disability have been provided.

  Preliminary costings of some £90,000 have been identified for the provision of independent wheelchair access and are under consideration. Meanwhile, temporary arrangements for assisted wheelchair access to Gwydyr House have been made with the provision of a "Stair Mate".

  However our offices in Cardiff Bay have full disabled access.

 (ii)   What consideration has been given to an alternative London site for the Office? Is the Office free to sub-let or lease the site?

  There is no intention of leaving Gwydyr House which is an appropriate location and has been clearly identified with the Wales Office and its predecessor department for several decades.


 (i)   It would be helpful to have a copy of the external review of staffing referred to at paragraph 5.7, indicating when it was commissioned and from whom, and when the report was received.

  The review was commissioned in Autumn 2001 from a consultancy called Inbucon and delivered in February 2002.

  Given the size of the Department, the staffing review was inevitably written in such a way as to make it quite easy to identify individual posts and individual post holders. We are therefore reluctant to place the whole text in the public domain. However the attached summary covers the background to the review and its key findings and quotes its recommendations on numbers verbatim.

 (ii)   Annex 3 on page 27 shows an apparent change of categorisation of administration costs between 2000-01 and 2001-02 and as between "paybill" (£664,000 more) and "other" (£681,000 less). It would be helpful to have an explanation of this.

  The figures for 2001-02 are estimated outturn; it is likely that the final split will be closer to that of earlier years. The "paybill" and "other" split is used by a number of other departments in their reports and, with the running down of North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal spending, seemed the clearest way of presenting our spending.

 (iii)   The Report refers to employment on average of 42 staff (1.4), apparently down from 46 reported last year. Has the overall establishment changed?

  The overall establishment had one post added during 2001-02. The actual number of people in post fluctuates during the year and so "snapshot" figures taken at a particular point imply a greater variation than is actually the case.

  The table at paragraph 5.7 on page 23 gives average staffing levels calculated across the whole year. The provisional figure for 2001-02 is 42, which compares with 44, calculated on the same basis, for 2000-01.

 (iv)   What are the functions of the nine "business services staff and administrative support" and how are the jobs graded?

  These nine posts are made up of: three messengers; three people working in Correspondence Unit (distributing and recording correspondence and entering inter-departmental correspondence onto the electronic system); two people working on accommodation matters (ensuring the delivery of services to Gwydyr House); and one person processing invoices.

  Two of these posts are graded at Pay Band A (the lowest band); five are at Pay Band B; and two are at Pay Band C.

 (v)   The SDA 2000 stated that the Office was considering how best to take forward possible IiP accreditation. The 2001 Report referred to the Department pursuing accreditation. An update would be helpful.

  The Wales Office is what remains of the former Welsh Office, which had IiP accreditation. However, the establishment of a new Department meant that fresh accreditation needed to be sought.

  While much of the ethic of IiP—training and staff reporting for example—was carried into the organisation and guided its work, it was decided that alongside other priorities of bedding in the new Department a formal application for approval would be deferred.


 (i)   It would be helpful to have a full list of SLAs between the Office and the NAW, in addition to the examples shown in 1.5.

  The concordat between the Assembly and the Wales Office names 9 Service Level Agreements as follows (though it also allows for others to be added by agreement):

  Personnel Matters

  Financial Services

  Information and Communication Technology


  Internal Audit

  Facilities Management

  Information and Press matters


  Records Management Service

 (ii)   The paragraph on records management seems to be the same as in 2001. What progress has been made in establishing a new registry, records management and storage system?

  Work has been undertaken on agreeing a records management SLA which is a necessary preliminary to establishing new systems.

 (iii)   It would be helpful to have an explanation of the rise between 1999-2000 and 2000-01 in administration cost receipts from £9,000 to £48,000, shown in Annex 3.

  This reflects variations in VAT refunds.

 (iv)   Why is the capital budget for 2001-02 and future years setto double from previous levels?

  The figures are not comparable. What is shown for 2001-02 onwards is the provision, which is available, whereas 2000-01 shows the outturn ie what was actually spent in that year

 (v)   Annex 3 shows the need to make savings in 2002-03 of £330,000 in the Office administration costs. How will that be achieved?

  The Wales Office has an accumulated "End Year Flexibility" entitlement (running costs unspent in earlier years which we are allowed to carry forward). This will be drawn upon during 2002-03.


  It would be helpful to have an explanation of the significance of the changes in the wording of Objectives 1 and 2 as between the 2001-02 ones on page 13 and the 2002-03 ones on page 11, in particular the omission of the word "equitably" from the new Objective 1 and the additional phrase added: and the omission of three words from new Objective 2.

  The changes in wording are shown in square brackets below:

    Objective 1: [To] maintain effective working relationships with the Assembly and [to] ensure that the devolution settlement [continues to] operate[s] [equitably] in the best interests of Wales, [including, where appropriate, exercising the Secretary of State's powers in the Government of Wales Act]

  The changes in the earlier part were seen as minor and aimed solely at improving clarity; the final phrase was added to recognise a growing area of work.

    Objective 2: [To] work with other Government Departments and the Assembly to ensure that the interests of Wales are fully taken into account [in] [including] primary legislation which affects the Assembly's responsibilities

  This too was seen as a minor change to recognise the growing weight of primary legislation with implications for the Assembly.

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