6am: Assembley costs £60m
9pm: Ooops! Make that £67m
THE true cost of the National Assembly's new home is approaching £70m - some £7.5m more than was claimed yesterday, we can reveal.
Last year the Welsh Assembly Government fixed the building contract for the Richard Rogers-designed debating chamber at £40.9m.
In a statement released on Tuesday night, Finance Minister Sue Essex said the Cardiff Bay project, scheduled for completion in March next year, would cost £59.56m - or nearly £1m per member.
Almost £10m of the extra £20m will be spent on art, furniture and computers.
But late last night the Assembly Government revealed £7.5m was spent on building before 2003, leading to the much-criticised "hole in the ground", when work was halted prior to a second contract, which has now reached the £59.56m mark.
Nick Bourne, Assembly Conservative leader, when told by the Western Mail that the cost of the first contract had not been added in by the Assembly, said, "This is worse than we thought. It is scandalous that the minister chose to hide this £7.5m costs by failing to mention it in her first statement.
"With this latest admission, the cost of the new building has increased by £7.5m in just one day."
He demanded Ms Essex make a statement to the Assembly.
"We always predicted the costs of this expensive monument to waste would keep on rising.
"The Labour Assembly Government should explain why they think taxpayers' money is best spent in this way.
"Their obsession with completing this project over the last five years has been sickening."
Details provided by Ms Essex for the second contract, show IT and media equipment will cost £6.7m, and furniture £1.6m. AMs will also get £300,000 worth of artwork.
Ms Essex's statement refers to "professional fees", provisionally estimated at £2.2m minus VAT. The price of security has also gone up.
In the statement, Ms Essex adds, "The latest forecast construction out-turn for the Taylor Woodrow contract (for just the building) is £41.501m.
"This takes account of 30 contract variations since construction recommenced in August 2003.
"The other changes relate to further security enhancements incorporated on the advice of the Government Security Service."
Work was halted for two years in 2001 as the cost rose, architect Lord Richard Rogers was sacked and the first contract terminated.
When it recommenced in August 2003, fitting out the chamber was more expensive because a new IT system required more building work.
The estimated cost has increased more than six-fold since a £10m plan in 1998.
Although the Tories are the only party to oppose the building, some of the most scathing criticism has come from within the Labour Party.
Peter Law, Labour AM for Blaenau Gwent, said, "I think it's very regrettable that here, in an Assembly that was meant to reach out to all of Wales, we are pouring over £60m into a debating chamber for us to sit in." He called it "a palace of vanities".
"They are still having collections for the rest of the money needed for the Wales children's hospital. That can't be right, in my opinion.
"It's deeply offensive to the people of Wales. We could have used this money in so many areas where there are needs."
He said the cost of the chamber was undermining confidence in the National Assembly as a whole. "We have no credibility with the public on this expenditure," he said. "There is absolute uproar in my own area."
Mr Bourne added, "You have to seriously question the cost of completing this project. It is a national disgrace taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for this over- priced palace for politicians."
A spokesman for Welsh Labour said, "This is sadly typical of the Tories in the Assembly, obsessed with process but clueless on matters of serious policy and delivery."
Ms Essex was not available to speak to the Western Mail.
A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said, "This is a landmark building for the future of Wales and bearing in mind the expected 100-year lifespan of the building, the total cost represents good value for money."
A spokeswoman later added, "A summary of costs was set out in the Cabinet statement which outlines the current construction costs and agreed budgets for loose furniture, ICT and media, and provision for art.
"As previously reported, an additional sum of £7.5m was spent on ground works and piling costs and professional fees prior to the award to Taylor Woodrow."
Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion, said, "We don't want to repeat the mistakes of the Scottish Parliament building."
Mike German, Liberal Democrat leader, said, "The fitting out costs were supported by all parties - including the Conservatives - in the house committee budget approval.
"No-one likes a new public building in the making. The same was said of the Millennium Stadium, but no-one now would call for it not to have been built.
"These buildings provide confidence and attract tourists."