It emerged last night that the Welsh Assembly Government plans to spend £42 million refurbishing its headquarters in Cathays Park.
Yes, £42 million. A staggering amount of money. More than it cost to build the Synedd, or the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. And this is for refurbishment, not building from scratch.
Why do they need to do it? Is the building not perfectly serviceable? Have people been poisoned by the aircon, or made ill by the lack of light? No, the Assembly has cited health and safety reasons, but has also cited 'inflexible accommodation, unable to respond to changing business needs' and 'public and stakeholder image diminished by outdated and inefficient accommodation'.
If rewiring and other maintanence issues need to be addressed, they should be. I can see that, it's an old, big building. The last thing we want is to put people in danger. But don't tell me that's going to cost £42 million. The point has been made that it is an incredibly large building and therefore it will cost more to do. Fair enough, but not that much.
The bottom line is that this refurbishment must be being done to an incredibly high specification. We'd all like to work in smart offices with up-to-date everything, but right now there are more important things we need to be spending this money on. And should the Assembly really be worrying this much about its 'image' at a time when ordinary taxpayers are struggling to put food on the table?
We're in a recession, and across the country councils are telling us they are facing growing demand for public services and reduced revenue. In this light, it seems just plain wrong that so much money is being pumped into something that is not entirely necessary, instead of into schools and hospitals.
It's a question of spending priorities, and this vast sum of money (or a large part of it that is not used to meet health and saftey requirements) could be put towards improving frontline services or cutting council tax for people in Wales. Asked if they'd prefer that or the Cathays Park refurbishment, I am pretty sure they would choose the former.
An inevitable defence of this ludircously expensive project is that it will put more money into the economy when no one else is spending. This Keynesian argument has been made in various forms over the last weeks and months, and I think it's tosh - particularly in this case. If anything other than essential maintenance is taking place, then the government would just be spending money for the sake of it, and would be putting yet more debt onto the public credit card when we are already in dire straits. This is no meaningful defence and, if this is in any way in the minds of those considering the project, they should cast it out, and focus on the bear necessities and not a penny more.
It seems the Welsh Assembly Government has forgotten where the money for this project will come from: ordinary people's pockets. And they need to hang on to that money to pay their bills and feed their families, now more than ever.