The Welsh government is getting ready to open its first full time commercial office in London in order to deal directly with foreign embassies and investors.
Officials are looking for an appropriate site in Westminster to base a team of civil servants for the first time.
Ministers from Cardiff Bay already have use of services at Gwydry House, home of the UK government’s Wales Office. A source from Whitehall said they were “perplexed” by the decision to relocate at a time of spending cuts.
BBC Wales understands the Welsh Government is searching for suitable commercial properties of around three thousand sq ft in Westminster.
A spokesman for the Welsh Government, stated: “We have always had a presence in London. We currently have access to a small office in Gwydyr House which houses the Wales Office, together with a small office elsewhere in central London.
We are currently looking for suitable and appropriate accommodation in the Westminster area in order to consolidate and provide more flexible accommodation which meets our needs.”
The commercial office at Gwydyr House is at present leased to the Welsh Government at a peppercorn rate, though Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh secretary told the Welsh Affairs Committee earlier in the December that she didn’t know how frequently it was used.
Ms Gillan told MPs that it was “a very nicely appointed office” and that the Welsh government ministers were “always welcome.”
A Whitehall source stated: “They seem to be seeking separation between Wales and Westminster just for the sake of it. Here’s another example of the Welsh government choosing not to cooperate but to plough their own furrow for the sake of it-and to the detriment of Wales.”
Dealings between the Labour Welsh Government and Conservative ministers at the Wales commercial office have been increasingly tense since last May’s election, with frequent public disagreements about funding and the handling of the Welsh economy.
Apart from Gwydyr House, the Welsh Government’s other central London location is a small serviced commercial office in the Victoria area which used to house officials from International Business Wales, but is not at present in use.
The Scottish Government says it does not have a dedicated commercial office in London; however ministers and officials use services in the UK Government’s Scottish Office headquarters at Dover House in Whitehall.
Commercial property specialists say the Welsh Government could expect to pay in the region of £50 per sq ft for commercial office space in the Westminster area, meaning the yearly rent for the planned commercial office could be around £150,000.
The consultants say a commercial office of 3,000 sq ft would allow space for around 20 people, including a reception area and a boardroom.
In 2004 the then Welsh assembly Government, moved abroad to try and increase Wales’ international profile with American businesses. They opened an office in New York City’s famous Chrysler building.
However, civil servants moved out in 2010 to share grounds with the British Consulate on Third Avenue as part of a review of the Welsh government’s overseas commercial offices. These included bases in continental Europe, Dubai, China, Australia, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Delhi, and Tokyo.
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