Questions raised about former Welsh Government SpAd’s attendance at financial planning training courses
Welsh Conservatives have raised concerns about why a special adviser to the Welsh Government was allowed to undertake Civil Service training courses of benefit to him in his future career in the financial sector.
Huw Price, a former Welsh Labour press officer, was a special adviser in media and communications to the Welsh Cabinet, but left when Carwyn Jones stepped down as First Minister in December.
He is now pursuing a career as a financial planner.
A list of courses that he undertook while a civil servant appeared on his Linked In profile, including Civil Service Learning (CSL) courses on budget management, financial planning and control and VAT/PAYE.
Asked about Mr Price’s participation in the courses, a spokesman for Permanent Secretary Dame Shan Morgan would provide only a general comment: “While we don’t comment on staffing matters, civil servants are able to access accredited training programmes relevant to their roles.
“They are also able to undertake additional courses but at their own expense and in their own time.”
The spokesman was asked specifically whether Mr Price paid for the CSL courses he undertook, and if so how much they cost and whether they were undertaken during working hours. The spokesman refused to comment further.
A former SpAd, who asked not to be named, said: “CSL is all about developing an individual’s career progress within the Civil Service – it’s not some form of scheme to re-train temporary staff or people who are going to leave the service.
“The three CSL courses undertaken by Huw Price have no relevance whatsoever to the work of any special adviser working for the Welsh Government. SpAds have no need to possess any of the financial skills taught.”
The Welsh Conservatives tabled three questions:
- What guidance has been issued regarding the attendance of special/specialist advisers at civil service learning courses?
- What are the authorisation procedures for the attendance of special/specialist advisers at civil service learning courses?
- Will the First Minister provide a list of Civil Service Learning courses attended by special/specialist advisers in the past three years, including the full title of the special/specialist advisers attending and an explanation as to the relevance of the course to their post?
First Minister Mark Drakeford responded: “Special advisers are employed as civil servants and are subject to the Special Adviser Code of Conduct. Staffing in the Welsh Government is a matter for the Permanent Secretary. I have asked her to write to you separately.”
In her letter to Welsh Conservative AM Darren Millar, the Permanent Secretary said: “Special /specialist advisers are not given any specific guidance regarding attendance at CSL courses. Their learning and development needs and options will be discussed with their line manager directly.
“In line with the arrangements we have in place for all employees, special /specialist advisers can access information on learning and development both from the Welsh Government’s intranet and from CSL.
“As for all learning and development requests, authorisation for attendance at learning and development courses is provided by the relevant line manager having discussed with the individual the benefits of attending the course. We do not hold corporate information on individual attendance at training courses for any of our employees.”
A Welsh Conservative spokesman said: “This smacks of an abuse of the system.
“Special advisers should only be allowed to undertake training sessions which relate directly to their role; they should not be able to participate in courses simply for the good of their own CV.
“It is a disgrace that the Welsh Government does not keep records on when civil servants and special advisers attend these courses and raises serious questions regarding value for money for the taxpayer.
“There should be a clear business case prior to releasing any member of staff to attend such courses in the future and records of attendance must be retained to ensure accountability.”
Mr Price was emailed, asking how the courses come about, why he did them, whether he paid for them, and whether he took them in his own time or that of the Welsh Government.
Reference to the courses had disappeared from his Linked In profile since the Welsh Government were asked about the courses, and he was asked whether their removal had been a coincidence.
Mr Price did not respond.
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