May 022016
 

This is the post I promised in which I shall tell you who I’m voting for on Thursday and why.

CONSTITUENCY SEAT

I live in the Dwyfor Meirionnydd constituency and my Assembly Member is Dafydd Elis Thomas, or Lord Elis Thomas if you prefer. I’ve known him for many years, and when I arrived home last Friday afternoon, there he was, large as life, talking to my missus at the front gate. When I got out of the car we had a little chat.

Now I don’t dislike Dafydd, but obviously we don’t see eye to eye on much . . . if anything. Even so, I’ve usually voted for him; but this time round I’m changing. It’s not a single utterance or deed that accounts for this decision, more a build-up of little things with nothing to maintain balance – hence my arrival at the tipping point.

Many of these little disaffections can be grouped under DET’s fondness for the Labour Party. His liking, even preference, for Labour surfaced again a week or so ago when he urged Plaid, Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters to give their second vote in the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner election to the Labour candidate David Taylor. (Here’s a link to information on all five candidates.)

The explanation he gave at my front gate last Friday was the same he gave to the media – it was a calculated attempt to stop the UKIP candidate being elected on the second ballot.

In PCC elections, as in the Assembly elections, we get two votes, and if no candidate gets a majority first time round then the two with the most votes go into the second round, in which the second preferences of the eliminated candidates are allocated. I shall return to the PCC elections, and young Mr Taylor, later.

My Choice

So who am I voting for? (Drum roll!) Well the answer is that my vote will go to a shy, retiring local councillor with whom I have enjoyed many a profound political discourse in the aisles of Tywyn Co-op. I’m referring to Louise Hughes, who is standing as a (genuine) Independent.

Louise Hughes

Some may condemn me for ‘wasting’ my vote and arguing that, even if elected, Louse will be unable to achieve anything down Cardiff docks. I disagree.

What we have down Cardiff docks is a branch office of the London government, run by civil servants answering to their London masters. The politicians we elect may strut and puff, but apart from being allowed ‘gimmick’ legislation every now and again, they have little real control over anything. Much of the legislation the ‘Welsh’ Government claims as its own is nothing but English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ squeezed into the name. Perhaps their only real power is being able to dish out the lolly.

Yet far too much of this funding goes to Labour’s allies in the Third Sector in blatant patronage and cronyism, or else is ‘invested’ – ‘for the good of Wales’ – in Cardiff. One of the most disappointing results of devolved politics is how AMs of all parties end up following the party line and squandering money on Third Sector spongers like these.

Click on the link I’ve provided, scroll down to the second section, and ask yourself who, apart from Jill Tatman and her gang of colons, benefits from all the money they’ve been given? Or to put it another way, would Llandovery be any poorer, any more deprived, if she and her co-conspirators had been denied public funding?

I’m voting for Louise Hughes because if she is elected, and even if she is ignored, she’ll still be speaking for those that elected her. Though take my word for it, Louise can make herself very difficult to ignore.

Finally, and perhaps decisively, there is the dishonesty in Plaid Cymru asking the voters of Dwyfor Meirionnydd to vote for a candidate who could have the Plaid Cymru whip withdrawn if re-elected, and who might be in the Labour Party a few months down the line.

THE REGIONAL LIST

An Assembly Member who has received favourable mention in this blog is William Powell, the Liberal Democrat AM for the Mid and West Wales region. (That I’ve been complimentary to any AM may surprise a number of you.)

There are two reasons for this. First, Powell turns up at Cilmeri for the annual December commemoration of the slaying of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Y Llyw Olaf). You could argue that as a local AM he is obliged to attend. He’s not obliged to attend at all; I believe he comes because he shares some of the sentiments of those, like me, who have been going to Cilmeri for longer than we care to remember.

Perhaps William Powell should be an example to Plaid Cymru politicians whose enthusiasm for Cilmeri tends to waver, and can perhaps even be influenced by ‘Shippo’ down at the Wasting Mule. (Which is what he, his mate Phil Parry, and their Labour cronies would like to believe.)

My second reason for choosing Powell is his response to a petition I submitted to the Assembly a few months ago, and how his response contrasted with that of the Assembly’s Petitions Committee. I dealt with it back in January, in Local Democracy Endangered, here’s a brief summary.

Petitions Committee

I submitted a petition asking the ‘Welsh’ Government to consider intervening when it became clear that a chief executive, acting alone or in concert with others, was subverting the democratic process by acting beyond his powers and / or without consulting the elected councillors.

When my petition was discussed on January 19th the Petitions Committee consisted of Joyce Watson, the Labour AM for Mid and West Wales, and Elin Jones, the Plaid AM for Ceredigion. This is how I reported their ‘consideration’ of my petition:

Watson Elin Jones

I would expect no better from a Labour time-server like Watson, but against my better judgement I still thought Elin Jones might have had a contribution to make.

William Powell clearly understood what my petition was about, and tried to get a discussion going with, “It (the petition) does raise some very serious issues”. To no avail. Mesdames Watson and Jones had no intention of discussing anything that might have discomforted Mark James or embarrassed the ‘Welsh’ Government.

So for these and other reasons, and secure in the knowledge that the Liberal Democrats are very unlikely to gain more than a single list seat in Mid and West Wales, I shall be giving my second vote, my regional list vote, to the Liberal Democrats. Though had anyone other than William Powell topped the list my vote would have gone to another party, or I might not have used my second vote at all.

THE PCC ELECTION

Quite frankly, and despite what Dafydd El professes to fear, I believe the chances of UKIP winning in the second round of the North Wales PCC election are slim, and simply exposes again his Labour leanings. But even if there was a threat from UKIP I cannot see how anyone outside of Labour could possibly be attracted to David Taylor.

Taylor first came to the attention of an incredulous public as an acne-plagued hobbledehoy living somewhere near Rhuthun. This was in 2004, when he set up a website to “undermine Labour rebel Clare Short”. Note that the Daily Post account I’ve linked to tells us that 18-year-old Taylor was already secretary of the Clwyd West constituency party and also sat on Labour’s ‘Welsh’ executive.

The boy was obviously destined for greatness, and it duly arrived when he became advisor to Leighton Andrews AM in 2005. Though he soon embarrassed his party with another childish, and similarly unsavoury stunt, this time the infamous Aneurin Glyndŵr website. Around the same time he tweeted a distasteful reference to the Hillsborough disaster.

Taylor also spent a short period as Special Advisor to Peter Hain, when the Man of Tan was briefly Governor-General, a post he lost in the 2010 general election. But Taylor seems to have stayed on in London as a ‘Senior Political Adviser’ to the Labour Party.

David Taylor canvassing

Since 2012, according to his Linkedin profile, he has been a director of a company called Leckwith, which has undergone a few changes of both name and address. It was originally known as Albacore Associates before morphing, in July 2012, into Westgate Strategy Ltd, before changing again, just a month later, to Leckwith Ltd. There were also physical moves from Cardiff to Newport to London. (Here’s the website.)

It’s reasonable to assume that this PR company was set up to capitalise on Taylor’s proven talent in the field of influencing people and also to exploit his contacts in the Labour Party. Though to judge by the accounts Leckwith has been slow to take off.

Taylor is also a non-executive director of Westgate Cyber Security Ltd of Newport, formerly London. This company also was incorporated in August 2012, but this is not a one-man band, for Taylor has a co-director, one David Wyn Jones, whose business background can be seen by clicking on his name under the ‘Officers’ tab. (Here’s the website.)

Having mentioned Leighton Andrews, I am indebted to ‘STaN‘ of Neath Ferret fame for reminding me that Andrews came quite late to the party, having been a leading light in the Liberal Democrats until just over a decade ago. Here’s a piece by Michael Meadowcroft lamenting Leighton Andrews’ departure. (I kid you not!)

I’ve also mentioned Peter Hain, and for information on the bête noire of the Boers, STaN‘s yer man.

David Taylor is a Labour insider of the worst kind. The type who joins the party before he starts shaving and spends the rest of his life in a cocoon, while determining what’s best for people of whose feelings and aspirations he knows nothing. He is exactly the kind of person – the professional politician – that either turns people off politics or else drives them towards more ‘colourful’ politicians.

Sorry, Dafydd, this is another wrong call. And if it was a straight fight between David Taylor and the UKIP candidate for North Wales PCC, and if I was forced to vote, then I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t vote UKIP.

My Choice

I shall be voting for Arfon Jones as our PCC. As coppers, or ex-coppers, go, Arfon’s not bad, he was our village bobby for a while. And he’s never been afraid to speak out and question his former employer, something we encounter all too rarely.

Arfon leaflet 1

In addition, having served and lived in Gwynedd, and also having spent many years on the other side of the region, Arfon knows the north from Holyhead to Bangor-on-Dee a lot better than most.

He’s also a sociable individual, going for the occasional drink at the Saith Seren, with which he has been long involved, and following Wrexham football club home and away, while not neglecting the rugby. He’s married, with children and grandchildren, in Wales and Scotland, so I wouldn’t hesitate to describe him as a ’rounded’, mature individual of many interests . . . unlike, I fear, David Taylor.

CONCLUSION

Looking at the wider picture, my reluctance to vote for Plaid Cymru at this election (over and above my longstanding criticisms) can be summed up in one word – Labour. And I’m not referring now to Lord Elis Thomas’ as yet unconsummated attraction.

It seems very likely that Labour and Plaid will be in coalition after Thursday’s election. That’s unless Plaid’s nightmare scenario materialises in which Labour can cobble together a coalition with two or three Lib Dem AMs, and possibly even a Green.

Now my views on the Labour Party generally, and ‘Welsh’ Labour in particular, are well known. A clue may be found in the title of my post, Why I Detest The ‘Welsh’ Labour Party. I urge you to read it.

What Wales desperately needs is wealth creators, visionaries prepared to take risks and by so doing create jobs and a wealthier country. But such people are frowned on by socialist parties like Labour and Plaid Cymru, for they cannot be controlled like a publicly-funded client class masquerading as an ‘economy’.

So generous is this system now that its fame has spread; spongers and leftie bandwagon-riders flock to Wales to take advantage of ‘our’ generosity. And the funding given to alleviate Wales’ poverty, to educate and train us, to build infrastructure, achieves nothing because it is squandered on a Third Sector the greater part of which achieves nothing beyond generous salaries and pensions for the charlatans involved.

Wales needs radical change; a new national mindset. None of the parties involved in this election provide anything other than tired and discredited ideas dressed up and repackaged. Consequently it matters little what emerges after Thursday.

The Welsh people deserve better. They just need to realise it. Who’s going to make them realise it? And how?

~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~

 

Apr 292016
 

You will recall that in a few recent posts (below) I have looked at the Newcastle Emlyn-based Cantref housing association, which seems to have gone through a rocky patch of late and, following an ‘investigation’, is to be taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A bit of digging combined with election dirty tricks has turned up some rather disturbing connections.

Social Housing Back to Council Control? Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named. Housing Associations – All Change?

The investigation into Cantref was carried out by a company called Campbell Tickell, of London. So who are Campbell Tickell? They seem to be a company that has all the bases covered in the social housing and charities sector.

They are, in their own words, ” . . . an established multidisciplinary management consultancy focusing principally on housing, regeneration, charities and social care, and with a growing involvement in sports and leisure. Our services extend across: strategic and business planning; governance and regulation; performance management; procurement; asset management and development; growth and new business; regeneration and stock transfer; customer services; communications and public relations; human resources and recruitment. Alongside our central team of 18, we have a network of nearly 150 associate consultants, both generalist and specialist”. Phew!

The eponymous Campbell and Tickell are Greg Campbell and James Tickell. So who are they?

Well, Greg Campbell has a long career in social housing, local government and the Labour Party. (The three often intertwine.) And as his Linkedin profile tells us, for three years he was a full-time employee of the Labour Party.

Linkedin tells us that James Tickell has a somewhat similar career history to Campbell; that is, after attending prep school, Westminster School and Cambridge. (Sub, check if he’s the son of Sir Crispin Tickell.) And while I’ve found no direct link with the Labour Party we can be fairly certain he’s no Conservative.

James Tickell tweet

Campbell Tickell it was that recommended Cantref be gifted to Wales and West Housing. The chief executive of Wales and West is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Anne Hinchey herself has worked for Cardiff city council.

If the name Anne Hinchey sounds familiar, it may be because she’s been in the news recently for ordering Plaid Cymru election placards to be removed from Wales and West properties in Cardiff (2:05). Mrs Hinchey is of course a paid-up member of the Labour Party. In fact, there seems to have been a coordinated effort by ‘Welsh’ Labour and its offshoots – especially in Cardiff – to engage in lies, vandalism, intimidation and other tactics. This is nothing new.

A few years back a Cardiff shopkeeper was threatened because he refused to promote Labour Party literature. A few miles away, during the 2011 election, a Labour MP admitted to taking down Plaid Cymru placards. Today it’s being reported that Plaid supporters in the Butetown (‘Tiger Bay’) area of Cardiff are being intimidated.

Perhaps one of the weirder incidents thus far reported (for I have no doubt there will be others) is the pub that was visited by council officials after putting up Plaid Cymru posters . . . so now they’ve put up placards!

Robin Hood pub

But as we know, this is how Labour operates. Labour, and especially its ‘Welsh’ branch, is corrupt and anti-democratic. It now begins to look as if canvassing returns in some areas are giving Labour activists the heebie jeebies, and panic is setting in.

Carwyn Ceaucescu

But enough of this visual banter, let us return to Cantref, and Wales and West, and of course, Campbell Tickell. This is how they are connected:

The Labour regime down Cardiff docks went to a Labour-supporting company in London and asked it to look into a (non-Labour) housing association in west Wales. The unsurprising outcome was that the company in London recommended that said housing association be handed over to a housing association in Cardiff run by a Labour Party member whose husband is a Labour councillor.

Perfectly normal behaviour . . . for a one-party state.

I don’t doubt that things went wrong at Cantref. But nor do I doubt that those involved in the ‘investigation’ had a vested interest in transferring its operations to Wales and West Housing.

A cynic might wonder if the decision to gift Cantref to Wales and West wasn’t taken before Campbell Tickell got involved; and that they were brought in as an expensive cosmetic exercise, given the desired result, and told to manufacture ‘justification’. But as I say, only a cynic would think that, and there’s no place for such people on this blog. Oh no.

What I will say is that this whole business stinks. And until there is an independent investigation into how best to resolve Cantref’s difficulties it must not be taken over by the Labour Party Wales and West.

 

COMING UP: In my next post I’ll tell you how I’m voting on May 5th, and try to explain why.

 

Apr 252016
 

I sense that changes are taking place in our housing associations. Maybe someone, somewhere, has at last realised that pouring obscene amounts of public money into fifty or so bodies, many of them overstaffed and / or inefficient may not be the best way of meeting the need for rented accommodation.

In England, the process of Registered Social Landlords merging is steaming ahead. So we can expect more mergers here because it’s basically an Englandandwales system, the main differences being of scale and the fact that concessions are made here to faux socialists over sales of social housing and other matters that might drive them to the barricades . . . or to their iPhones to put out an indignant tweet.

HA mergers England

For various reasons set out below, mergers are to be encouraged, but here in Wales they seem to be things of great mystery, perhaps because housing associations are allowed to behave like secret societies. For despite receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This cannot be right. I defy anyone to argue that it is right.

Despite being confronted with a culture of omerta a few dogged individuals have persistently asked the awkward questions, but some of the ‘answers’ from officialdom have come direct from the Ministry of Bullshit.

CANTREF

Let us start by reminding ourselves of recent developments at this housing association in Castell Newydd Emlyn, and try to figure out what these changes might mean because, predictably, the findings of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s investigation into Cantref will remain secret. For those who missed it, here’s a link to my previous post, Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named.

Cantref logo

The ‘Favoured Suitor’ is the Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A curious choice, some may think. Much of its business is in the care home sector, not only in the south but also in towns like Brecon, Llandrindod, Newtown, reaching up to Flintshire and Denbighshire where many of its clients come from over the border.

Between 2008 and 2015 Wales and West received almost £65m in Social Housing Grant alone. (There are a number of other ‘funding streams’ for RSLs or, given the amounts involved, raging torrents.) Why is Wales and West – or any ‘Welsh’ RSL – allowed to use Welsh public funding to ease the care bill of Liverpool and other English authorities?

And I’m still waiting to learn why Wales and West was awarded £25m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2014 “to build 251 homes in Wales”. Social Housing is devolved, so why did Wales and West apply for funding to what is in these matters the English government? Come to that, why did the DCLG award the money?

The announcement of Cantref’s proposed connubials with Wales and West was made in this press release, in which we see the name of mystery man Kevin Taylor. He turned up in 2014 after a career spent in the hotel business in Bermuda and now – in his role as ‘Interim Chair’ – he’s deciding the fate of a Welsh housing association. So I’ll ask again: Who the hell is Kevin Taylor? And who forced him on Cantref?

The only real development since my previous post is that another press release was issued late on Friday afternoon, this one by the propaganda bureau at Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having given the matter of Cantref’s fate some thought, I have concluded that while there are almost certainly better options, if it comes to a straight fight between Carmarthenshire County Council and Wales and West Housing, then I shall support Carmarthenshire. And let’s not rule out Tai Ceredigion. Now I’d better explain my reasoning.

  • Most of Tai Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, ideal ‘retirement’ country that granny-farmers Wales and West would certainly exploit.
  • Carmarthenshire’s tyrannical chief executive Mark James will not last for ever. His days may already be numbered.
  • Council mergers are on the horizon, so the days of Carmarthenshire itself are also numbered.

Stop Press: You will recall that in my previous post we heard – from ‘Dai the Post’ – about Hilary Jones, chief executive of the Bro Myrddin housing association, who served as interim CEO at Cantref. According to ‘Dai’, she pressed Wales and West to take over Cantref and put her in charge. And of course, ‘Dai’ also told us that Hilary’s hubby served as interim head of finance at Cantref.

Dai the Post

Another name ‘Dai’ mentioned was David Hedges. Those with good memories might recall that this man got a mention last July in this post of updates and tit-bits (scroll down). Hedges runs a ‘consultancy’ called Cyngor Da. I now learn that David Hedges has also served time recently with Cantref, presumably ‘consulting’, or rather, being consulted, or however it works. And that his time at Cantref coincided or overlapped with Hilary Jones’s.

Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this post, I’m being told that David Hedges has also worked with Campbell Tickell, the English company called in by (London-loyal civil servants acting in the name of) the ‘Welsh’ Government to investigate Cantref.

P.S. When reading the Wales and West website I saw the name Anne Hinchey, Chief Executive, which rang a bell. She is of course married to Councillor Graham Hinchey of Cardiff Council. Yet another example of the troubling link between the Labour Party and the Third Sector.

A link that does so much damage to Welsh public life through nepotism and other forms of corruption. And in this case perhaps explains why Cantref is being gifted to a housing association in Cardiff.

RCT HOMES

In my Easter Miscellany 2016 I touched on comings and goings, and tenant unrest, at RCT Homes. A body that gained brief notoriety in the public prints when it advertised for a chief executive at a salary of £150,000 a year. Here’a report from Inside Housing dealing with the departures.

The most high profile of those departures was CEO, Andrew Lycett, who left in mysterious circumstances in November last year, but soon took up a job with the Jehu Group Ltd, a construction company “operating throughout Wales and the West”. (The ‘West’ of where?) Jehu is just the sort of company that would recruit someone with inside knowledge of how housing associations operate and public money is splashed around. Here’s a video of Lycett bragging about RCT Homes’ labour being “locally sourced” . . . but obviously not for the top jobs.

RCT Homes lost a couple of other senior staff around the same time. One was Lycett’s deputy, Malcolm Wilson, who took ‘early retirement’. Wilson is yet another Englishman who slunk over the border to take advantage of the billions of pounds in public money sloshing about Wales with neither oversight nor monitoring. Wilson is said to have been “demeaning” to Wales and the Welsh language.

The third to jump ship, or be pushed overboard, depending on how generous you feel, was Finance Director Lisa Pinney. ‘Jolly hockey sticks’ is not a phrase I employ but it’s often used to describe a certain type of female; in the case of Pinney, a board member of Hockey Wales (not ‘Welsh Hockey’, note), it seems entirely appropriate. Ms Pinney also found lucrative employment, in her case with Pobl, a recent merger between the Seren Group and Grwp Gwalia.

It really is a jobs merry-go-round, giving free rides to people who would struggle to survive in the world of real business. And we pay to keep this ‘merry-go-round’ turning.

Adrian Barber

The consultant (that word again) called in to see what was going on at RCT Homes – and no doubt paid many hundreds of pounds a day – was an Adrian Barber. It should go without saying that he’s English. What else do we know about him.

From August 2010 until April 2011 Barber was Interim Head of Housing at the London Borough of Bexley. In September 2011 he joined the PSI Consultancy (UK) Ltd. This is an outfit that provides “Interim Management” to councils and housing associations in trouble – at extortionate daily rates of course.

PSI Consultancy

He first came to Wales to join RCT Homes as Interim Housing and Repairs Director in February 2014, and was in that post until May 2015 – at consultant’s rates. In June 2015 he became RCT Homes’ Interim Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods, a post he still fills. That is, when he’s not being Interim Chief Executive as well, a position he’s held since last September. (Does he get paid two consultant’s daily fees?)

I’m told that despite holding two ‘interim’ posts at RCT Homes Barber is never available. Is he off moonlighting, being a ‘consultant’ to somebody else!

It’s easy to understand why we, the people who pay, are being denied the facts about RCT Homes, just as with Cantref. For a start, we’d be told how much has been paid out in consultants’ fees. (Because Barber may not be the only ‘consultant’ at RCT Homes.) We’d know what gross inefficiency or corruption caused the implosion. And we’d also learn how much public money had been lost. Our money.

Something obviously went very badly wrong at RCT Homes last year – and it might have been brewing for some time before that – but just as with Cantref, we are not allowed to know the facts. Nobody is to blame, public money doesn’t matter – so mind your own business!

Though information I’ve received suggests that the sackings – for that is what they were – may have been partly due to the manner in which Lycett, Wilson and Pinney administered grants from the Tower Fund, linked to Tower colliery, and Meadow Prospect, the charitable arm of RCT Homes. If you were ‘in’, then you got a grant, if not, well . . . There is also said to be an unaccounted for deficit of £10,000 in the Tower Fund.

Tower Fund

Something else that might have contributed to the threesome’s downfall was the planned housing on Penrhys, above the Rhondda valleys.

A source has written: “Various deals were made to build more houses on Penrhys with dodgy firms some that didn’t even exist. One such scheme for several millions was fronted by a local builder who said he was raising the money on his mortgage for example”. Is this for real!

After reading this I delved into my archives (they can’t touch you for it!) and lo and behold! what did I turn up from September 2012 but Penrhys: What’s Happening? Regrettably, the comments were lost when those bastards at Google pulled the plug on my earlier blog due to some other bastard complaining about something I’d written – can you believe that!

Anyway, my guess is that there’s a lot more to be unearthed about RCT Homes, so please point me in the right direction, folks.

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

To recap: Pembrokeshire Housing, the main provider of social housing in our most westerly county, has a ‘subsidiary’ called Mill Bay Homes. This ‘subsidiary’ exists to build properties for sale on the open market, many to ‘investors’, and with some purchasers enjoying the benefits of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy scheme. No one is able to satisfactorily establish that ‘investors’ have not – illegally – availed themselves of Help to Buy.

This inability to establish the fact is due to a) an almost total lack of oversight and monitoring on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Directorate, coupled with, b) the more general attitude prevailing among all the aforementioned, London-loyal civil servants of, ‘No longer our concern’ once public funding has been granted.

Update 26.04.2016: Here’s an example of how Mill Bay’s properties are advertised, this one in Letterston with Haverfordwest estate agent, FBM & Co some three years ago. Here’s a link to the advert on the Rightmove website but just in case the advert is no longer available, here it is in png format.

Note that its selling points are listed “2 Bedroom Semi Detached House, New Build, New Development, First Time Buy, Investment, Help To Buy Registered” as if they’re complementary, when in fact, some of them are mutually exclusive. For example, ‘Help To Buy’ is only available to ‘First Time Buyers’, and ‘Investors’ are specifically disbarred from applying for ‘Help To Buy’, but would you know that from the advert?

And in practice, does Mill Bay Homes really deny ‘investors’ Help to Buy? In a worst case scenario, those running Mill Bay could be using intermediaries to sell properties to themselves using Help to Buy. Nobody’d know because nobody checks.

Now 8 Longstone Court is back on the market with John Francis, a long-established Swansea estate agent with branches throughout the south west, taken over by English company Countrywide late in 2015. After being originally marketed for £125,500 the asking price is now £120,500. Note that it is also being advertised as a “retirement property”.

Mill Bay Help to Buy

I often think that the only priority is to get rid of the funding in order to ensure next year’s dollop, or the next round of EU Regional Development Fund, and that this explains the almost complete lack of concern as to whether it’s used properly. ‘A project to breed toothless ferrets and market them at £5,000 each for “Ferret-down-the-trousers” contests, you say? And you only want £10m! Your grant will be processed immediately!’

Another problem announcing itself with flashing lights and blaring sirens is that despite Mill Bay Homes’ raison d’être being to sell property and pass the profits on to the parent company so that Pembrokeshire Housing can build more social housing, nary a penny seems to have passed between them – or certainly not from MB to PH – and this after some six developments by Mill Bay.

Wynne Jones, a man I have mentioned more than once for his dogged investigations into the bizarre workings of housing associations down that neck of the woods, recently drew my attention to this document, a Financial Viability Judgement of June 2015, issued by the Housing Regulation Team of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Division.

If we scroll down to page 1 we find the passage below:

Mill Bay WG assessment

The “three organisations” are Pembrokeshire Housing and its two subsidiaries – Mill Bay and Pembrokeshire Care & Repair, and the only interpretation is that they are registered separately as social landlords, or RSLs. Yet when we consult the ‘Welsh’ Government’s register of RSLs we find no mention of Mill Bay Homes (or Pembrokeshire Care & Repair). Either it is not a Registered Social Landlord, or else it has been left off the register.

Mill Bay Homes we are told is also a company limited by guarantee, but no information is available on the Companies House website other than what you see below, informing us that Mill Bay Homes is in fact an Industrial and Provident (IP) Society, and therefore registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.

Mill Bay Companies House

So I went to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) website, where I found the information below. (Here’s the link.) This confirms that Mill Bay Homes is, or perhaps was, registered with the FCA and its predecessor the Financial Services Authority. But nothing has been filed since October 2013, so what’s going on?

Mill Bay FCA

I’m wondering if Mill Bay Homes falling off the FCA register has anything to do with new legislation introduced in 2014. We saw it mentioned in the quote I used above from the Housing Regulation Team of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Division. I’m referring to the Co-operative and Community Benefits Society Act 2014.

Did someone conclude that under the new legislation, Mill Bay Homes, in the business of selling property, was neither a co-operative nor a community benefit organisation? In the hope of finding an answer I went to the Mill Bay Homes website where, under the ‘About Us‘ tab, it should clarify things. This being where one normally finds the company number or charity number and any similar information.

But there was nothing there. What I should have found was information akin to what you see below, taken from Pembrokeshire Housing’s ‘About Us’ page. (Click to enlarge.)

Pembs Housing About Us

So where are we with Mill Bay Homes? We know it is not a Registered Social Landlord with the ‘Welsh’ Government. It has not filed any accounts or other documents with the Financial Conduct Authority since October 2013. And its own website provides no information on its status whatsoever.

It’s almost as if Mill Bay Homes exists is some kind of legal limbo . . . or maybe it doesn’t officially exist at all. Perhaps it’s just a useful alter ego for Pembrokeshire Housing. Which would explain why no money has ever been passed from Mill Bay Homes to Pembrokeshire Housing for the properties sold by Mill Bay – because how do you give yourself money?

Here’s Jac’s suggestion to the boys and girls of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Regulation team in Merthyr: Stop trying to pretend that everything is just hunky-dory down in Pembrokeshire, because it’s not. At the very least you need to clarify the wraith-like status of Mill Bay Homes; and if it does exist, then why has it stopped filing accounts? Alternatively, if Mill Bay Homes is without corporeal or corporate form, and simply a convenient alias for Pembrokeshire Housing, why do you allow this deception?

One final thing. If you’re tempted to call in yet another £1000-a-day ‘consultant’, forget it! I’ll do it for half the price. And I’ll get to the bottom of things. I look forward to hearing from you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Seeing as so much Welsh public funding is being used to build social housing in Wales (or at least, being diverted to housing associations) we, the people of Wales, have every right to be assured that the money is being properly spent. Here are some observations and recommendations:

1/ RSLs should do what it says on the tin – provide social housing for those within Welsh communities who need social housing.

     They should not build student accommodation; they should not build properties for sale to ‘investors’; they should not enter into partnerships with the Probation Service and other bodies seeking to ‘relocate’ undesirables to Wales. In short, RSLs should not deviate from their raison d’être.

2/ There must be far better monitoring of RSLs by the ‘Welsh’ Government. More rigorous oversight would allow a ‘doctor’ to be sent in rather than an ‘undertaker’. 

     Though it must be a better system than the current one of importing ‘consultants’ at exorbitant fees, especially when those ‘consultants’ so often remain as ‘interim’ executives.

3/ RSLs should not be allowed to create ‘subsidiaries’ in the hope of using these to avoid legislation applying to RSLs or any other devious purpose.

4/ RSLs must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

5/ A RSL must demonstrate need for social housing from within a community before funding is awarded or planning permission granted for new social housing within that community.

6/ No tenancies are to be awarded to anyone who has not lived in Wales for the three years prior to the application or for five years at some earlier time.

7/ The existing system of Registered Social Landlords and the provision of social housing is unsustainable for the following reasons:

a) The vast amounts of public funding they absorb, too much of which is spent on salaries, pensions and administrative costs.

b) The inefficient or non-existent monitoring and oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

c) The fact that RSLs underperform, making little real impact on housing need.

8/ In the medium to longer term RSLs must either a) have their public funding withdrawn and become private companies or b) their housing stock – built with public funding – must be taken back into local authority control or some other form of public ownership.

     Given the colonial relationship between Wales and England privatised social housing companies would inevitably be swallowed up by larger English companies; consequently (and reluctantly), I prefer the public ownership option. Not least because this course is more likely to create jobs within Wales and to keep money circulating within the Welsh economy.

END

Apr 212016
 

Tai Cantref, the Newcastle Emlyn-based housing association has been in the news recently, but for all the wrong reasons. It has, I regret to say, found its way up Shit Creek, where it will struggle to find a berth due to all the other wrecks jostling for space.

For Shit Creek is now home port to a whole fleet of rusting hulks that have collectively ripped countless millions from the Welsh public purse in the devolution era, a period that has given us successive administrations believing that handing out billions to the Third Sector and assorted peripatetic shysters is a substitute for an economy.

Cantref 1

The troubles at Cantref did not come out of the blue, they’ve been predicted for some time. They seemed to start with a few poor business decisions, such as trying to turn the old government building at the foot of Bronglais Hill in Aber’ into student accommodation.

Though, in fairness, Cantref may have been trying to do the right thing. For here, in the Annual Report 2012 / 2013 (page 16) we read, “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. Alternatively, Cantref was laying off one teat to start sucking on another.

The old government building though is quite impressive, as you can see . . . but then, white elephants so often are.

Cantref 2

Picture courtesy of Herald Group Newspapers

And then, when it began to be realised that Cantref was failing, it seems that a ‘What the hell!’ mentality took over and those responsible for Cantref’s demise decided to invest some of the remaining money in drowning their sorrows.

Or certainly, that’s the impression I gained from this comment to the blog last July. The ‘castle’ referred to is of course Chateau Tucker, the £15m B&B in Cardigan (paid for with public funding, of course), of which I have written many times.

Cantref Insider comment

Even though Cantref, a publicly-funded body, was subsequently investigated by persons answering to our democratically-elected representatives we, the public at large, we, whose money is used to fund these bodies, were not allowed to know what had gone wrong. And this from a Labour regime that preaches ‘openness’.

Cantref 3

Once it became known that Cantref was in trouble the vultures started circling, among them Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, though how much the councillors knew of this bid is open to question. For Mr James believes in treating councillors as one would mushrooms. (Keep them in the dark and ply them regularly with shit.)

But there were others interested in taking over Cantref, as we were told by ‘Dai the Post’, in this comment from earlier this month. In particular, note Dai’s reference to “Hillary Jones, from neighbouring ha Bro Myrddin has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West ha from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony. Perhaps she has been getting advice from her (x Gwalia finance director) husband? More hostels anyone?”

Dai the Post

And so it came to pass. Today it was announced by a Cardiff PR company that the option preferred by Cantref is a ‘merger’ with Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. (Read the press release here.)

~~~

Extra! Extra! You will note in the press release that the person speaking on behalf of Cantref, and in favour of the merger with Wales and West is, “Kevin Taylor, Interim Chair”. Now I mentioned Taylor in Social Housing Back to Council Control? earlier this month, and I wondered who he is. Here’s what I wrote in that earlier post:

Cantref Kevin Taylor

I’m still wondering – Who is Kevin Taylor? Who appointed him to the chair of Cantref? (Here’s his Linkedin profile.)

~~~

Returning to Wales and West Housing, I have a number of problems with this proposal:

  • Judging by this video and other information on the website Wales and West spends a lot of our money building retirement homes for English people, which obviously increases the load on our overburdened NHS and other services. Acquiring Cantref, which operates mainly in Ceredigion, could represent something of a bonanza for a company seeking to attract English retirees.
  • There is a distinctly ‘unWelsh’ feel to Wales and West that perhaps reflects its areas of operation in the south east and the north east. (Check out the Directors to see what I’m alluding to. This is clearly a business, but not a Welsh business.) No merger should be allowed unless – at the very least – there are firm assurances that Cantref’s existing Welsh staff in Newcastle Emlyn will be retained.

This is clearly a ‘merger’ of the kind that took place between Nazi Germany and Poland, or between Communist China and Tibet . . . or between England and Wales.

That’s all for now but I shall be back next week with more on our housing associations, including RCT Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. And there will also certainly be more to report on Cantref and Wales and West.

UPDATE 23.04.2016: Here’s a press release put out by Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council expressing disappointment at being kicked in the nuts rejected by Kevin Taylor Cantref. I suspect this story has more twists and turns yet.

 

Apr 182016
 
JAC O’ THE NORTH PRODUCTIONS® PROUDLY PRESENTS ANOTHER CHAPTER IN THE NEVER-ENDING SWANSEA LABOUR PARTY SAGA – AN ONGOING BLOCKBUSTER OF SEX! VIOLENCE! CORRUPTION! BACK-STABBING! NEPOTISM! DUPLICITY! NAKED AMBITION! POLITICAL INTRIGUE! AND, INEVITABLY, MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS!

 

THE ASSAULT

In recent years I have written many times about the thoroughly dysfunctional Labour Party in the city of my dreams, and now, with heavy heart, I must do so again. (Sob, sob, sob, sigh.)

You may recall a news story from earlier this year in which Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris was accused of attacking colleague Jenny Lee Clarke, because – the victim alleged – of her sexuality. At the time of the alleged assault both women were working for Siân James, the previous Labour MP for Swansea East, succeeded by Harris in the general election of May 2015.

Bizarrely, shortly after the alleged assault Jenny Lee Clarke met with Carolyn Harris at the latter’s home – this was on December 14th 2014 – and came away with a quite remarkable document – a handwritten letter promising that if elected in the May 2015 election then Clarke was guaranteed a full-time job.

Here’s the Sun‘s account of the incident. Here it is in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and Wales Online. In a couple of the links I’ve given we read a Labour spokesman saying, “It is town hall politics from a little place in South Wales. It’s a nest of vipers.” A bit insulting to Swansea, but he was spot-on about the “nest of vipers”, which gave me the title for this post.

It is noticeable that WalesOnline puts a totally different slant on the story: the MP is the real victim and the accuser now stands accused. Clearly Shippo [as he insists I call him] had been briefed by his mates in the Labour Party. And not for the first time.

WalesOnline

The truth is that the case against Carolyn Harris was not ‘dropped’ at all, the police took no action because the complaint against her was made outside the six-month time limit for common assault allegations. Or rather, no prosecution took place due to someone’s decision to class the incident as common assault. A more serious charge could have been laid and the six-month time limit would not have applied.

Without inferring anything it’s worth mentioning that complaints against, or incidents involving, senior public figures such as MPs go straight to the chief constable’s office. And may then be referred to a higher authority.

I was not in that office when the incident occurred, but I am reasonably certain that the assault reported by Ms Clarke happened if only because there was a witness, a Paulette Smith, who is the Labour councillor for the Clydach ward on Swansea council. She is reported in the Sun as saying, “I heard a blood-curdling scream. I saw Carolyn pulling her hair. I thought she’d gone mad.”

So, for the time being, let’s take it as read that the assault took place, on November 24th, 2014, and the complainant’s statement – a copy of which I have seen – was timed by D C Ben Rees in Swansea Central Police Station at 13:24 on January 27th, 2016. The following day Jenny Lee Clarke was dismissed by Carolyn Harris MP.

As for the allegations of financial irregularity and Clarke being investigated, well, on the evening of Friday last, the 15th, I am told that Ms Clarke received a phone call from an Emma Bartlett at Swansea Central to tell her that she is indeed being investigated for fraud.

WHITEROCK AND HALF-FORGOTTEN MEMORIES

Seeing as fraud has been mentioned, I am indebted to the help I’ve received from ‘Stan‘ on the Neath Ferret site, who has considerable experience of digging through parliamentary expenses and the like. He it was who alerted me to money being paid to a firm called Whiterock, which seemed to be the biggest outgoing from the Swansea East Labour Party constituency office apart from staff salaries.Whiterock 1

Making my own enquiries through other information received, the earliest invoice I could find was for July 2011. I reproduce it here (click to enlarge). You’ll see from the invoice that the company is called, variously, Whiterock Consulting (top right), White Rock Research and Consultancy (bottom right), and whiterock-wales.com (bottom left).

The name(s) may come from a place I recall from my youth. The White Rock copper works – established in 1737 and demolished in 1963 – was near to the site of today’s Liberty Stadium, and I believe there was even a petition to have the Swans’ and Ospreys’ new home named the White Rock Stadium.

Naturally, I searched on the Companies House website for a company by any of those names at the address given, 2 Princess Way, in the city centre, though at a different address I eventually I came up with this. And here is the website for Whiterock-Wales Ltd. A very basic website that is never updated and offers the barest details. For example, it doesn’t even say who runs this company, it list no clients, it’s basically nothing more than an ‘enter your details here’ template.

Companies House tells us that Whiterock Wales was Incorporated on August 11, 2015, and the Company Number is 09726831. It’s two directors are Lawrence David Bailey and Susan Bailey.

One obvious question is, ‘If this company was only formed in August 2015, what company was issuing the invoices going back to 2011?’. And it may be worth adding that all these invoices are unnumbered. The other question is, ‘Who are Lawrence and Susan Bailey?’ That’s another story in itself, so here goes.

ENTER LAWRENCE ‘THE LIBIDO’ BAILEY

Lawrence Bailey is a former council leader, and a former Lord Mayor. He came to grief about ten years ago when indecent images were found on three separate computers despite previous warnings. Private Eye bestowed on him the coveted Pornographer of the Year award. In his defence, let me say that this was all adult stuff.

In addition to the porn, computer engineers found “253 documents, mostly letters to the Swansea Evening Post under false names and / or from phoney addresses, or else using names and addresses of real people without their knowledge. Bailey argued that ‘writing letters to the press under pseudonyms “was widespread practice in political life in Wales”‘. What he meant to say was that it is widespread in the Labour Party. It obviously helped that his lover at the time was chief reporter on the Evening Post.Whiterock 2

While Googling for more info on Bailey I came up trumps with this story linking him with the Swansea East Labour constituency office. Observant readers will have noticed that the Sun story, although undated, was obviously printed just before last year’s general election; Lawrence Bailey then went legitimate and registered his company with Companies House a few months later. This is no coincidence, it’s a case of cause and effect.

Of course, when Carolyn Harris was elected as MP last May she told Lawrence Bailey to sling his hook, and to stop embarrassing the constituency party . . . well . . . no – she kept him on and started paying him even more! The most recent invoice I have is dated August 2015 (for the month of July) but ‘Stan’ tells me there are more records to be found on the IPSA website, though it should be borne in mind that even IPSA is always a month or two behind.

So the first invoice from Lawrence Bailey back in 2011 was for £862.50 a month, and by July 2015 he’s getting £1,550 a month. That’s one hell of an increase. But what does he actually do for it? ‘Stan’ tells me it’s listed on the IPSA website under ‘Professional Services (Staff)’ – maybe he writes letters for Carolyn Harris!

Though cynics might suggest that the relationship between the Swansea East constituency office and Whiterock Wales is just another example of something the Labour Party does so well – circulating public money amongst its members with no discernible benefit to the public.

UPDATE 29.04.2016: Here is ‘Stan’ of Neath Ferret‘s final figures for money received by Lawrence Bailey / Whiterock from the Swansea East Labour constituency office.

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Before leaving the matter of the finances of the constituency office it’s worth mentioning a couple of other invoices. (Reproduced below, click to enlarge.) These are for £6,500 in total, both from April 2015, and both made out to DCG Property Services at a private dwelling in the Gendros district of Swansea.

This work was commissioned by Carolyn Harris just before she was elected MP. Siân James of course would have stood down by then, and Harris was running the show in anticipation of being elected the following month.

Harris son invoices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m told that DCG Property Services is run by an individual, DH, who has a mate who is also a builder, and that this fellow-builder mate just happens to be Carolyn Harris’ son. The word is they did the work together, and presumably split the money.

——————————————

To conclude: My interpretation of events is that the assault took place as reported. Carolyn Harris may have offered her victim a job as a way of silencing her. The role of South Wales Police in all this is somewhat questionable. The role of the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party and its alter ego unions is despicable. I am also persuaded that Carolyn Harris is a rather unpleasant, bullying individual none too careful in her use of public money.

However . . .

SEEDS OF DOUBT

But, then, out of a clear blue sky, came other information, that in many ways contradicted this interpretation. This fresh information came in the form of e-mails with what looked like a genuine name attached. So what does this other information suggest?

Before I go into that let me theorise that for all I know this other source could be Carolyn Harris, or perhaps someone close to her. I offer the second possibility because the source couldn’t immediately reply to my questions and had to check with her “friend”.

Even so, what this source had to say makes a lot of sense because it ties up with other information in my possession.

*

INVASION OF THE TROTS

At the risk of repeating myself, let me say that nothing in this fresh information persuades me that Jenny Lee Clarke – or indeed Cllr Paulette Smith – has lied about the assault by Carolyn Harris MP.

What concerns me is how the assault might subsequently have been exploited by shit-stirrers with no commitment to Swansea and who, despite their age, still love to plot and play student politics.

What this new information suggests is that Trotskyist interlopers Bob Clay and his wife Uta – he English, she Austrian – are exploiting the situation in order to remove Caroline Harris and replace her with Andrea Lewis, Country music diva and a councillor for the Morriston ward. Morriston is also represented by current council leader, Rob Stewart, who is said to be unduly influenced by Bob Clay. (I thought I’d better cover myself by saying ‘current’ because you never know in Swansea.)

Vipers

I have written about the Clays before, a number of times, and as I say, it now appears that they are seeking to use assault victim Jenny Lee Clarke and witness Paulette Smith to remove Carolyn Harris, though my mystery source argues that the assault itself is a fabrication and the beginning of the plot.

All very strange, but given some credence by this remarkable document headed “To oblige CH (Carolyn Harris) to retire”, almost certainly written by Bob Clay and signed by him, Jenny Lee Clarke and Paulette Smith. Note that Bob Clay was uncertain whether to move on Harris before the Assembly elections in May or whether to bide his time. It may be significant that this document was signed on January 20th, a week before Jenny Lee Clarke went to the police.

My mystery informant goes further, writing, “Lots of people think the assault story is something Bob Clay cooked up to get Harris thrown out. He is now shitting himself because the story backfired and ended up in the Sun and Daily Mail. His branch want him suspended and deselected as a the councillor. There is infighting everywhere and Wales Labour is pretending nothing is happening”.

So how did the story make the tabloids? Did someone deviate from the script?

*

TRADITIONAL LABOUR VALUES

I’d like to end on a lighter note, if that’s possible when talking about the Labour Party in Swansea. But I enjoyed this story because it reminded me of traditional ‘Welsh’ Labour values. And I am nothing if not a traditionalist.

A while back now an Indian restaurateur wanted permission to demolish a two-storey building on St Helen’s Road and replace it with a three-storey building with a restaurant on the ground floor and staff accommodation above. Planning officers recommended refusal, but it soon became clear that the Labour councillors had decided beforehand to grant planning permission, and so the application was allowed.

Soon afterwards, my mate, who was on the planning committee, and also voted in favour, got a phone call from the Indian restaurateur. He said, ‘Mr R——, you must bring your wife down for a meal’. Taken slightly aback my mate replied, ‘That’s very kind of you but councillors have to be careful about that sort of thing’. The disappointed restaurateur responded with, ‘But the other councillors have been! And (a leading Labour councillor) even had his wedding reception here!’ (I should add that this is a very upmarket Indian restaurant.)

Let me make it clear that I am not for one minute suggesting that this hospitality was not paid for in full. Labour councillors – as we all know – do not accept freebies.

This restaurateur is expanding his empire, and recently sought permission for a takeaway in Killay (where he already has a restaurant), and the property in question is on the busy Gower Road, which at that point has double yellow lines. Again, the Labour members on the planning committee nodded it through despite the obvious issues and some 25 individual objections plus a petition with a further 77 names.

The Indian restaurateur in question himself lives in one of the big houses further along Gower Road, here’s a photo of his home taken within the past couple of days.

Gower Road

*

SUMMARY

The Labour Party came into being to fight entrenched and unrepresentative power, yet now, in Wales, it has become that very same thing itself; corrupt and representing nothing but the selfish interests of its members and hangers-on.

Because Labour can offer favours, jobs, sinecures, council seats, and positions as an MP or an AM it inevitably attracts chancers, crooks, careerists and just about anybody looking for easy money and a cushy life.

This contempt for the public at large is nowhere more evident than in Swansea where Labour is in a permanent state of civil war. Its members more concerned with plotting against each other than with running the city effectively.

But this is what results when any political party enjoys unchallenged power for too long. It gives us a corrupt and self-serving gang able to hang on to power because Wales lacks a party like the SNP to apply the coup de grace.

Worse, the party that likens itself to the SNP, the party whose leader loves to be photographed with Nicola Sturgeon, will be in coalition with Labour after May 5th. Which means that nothing will change.

 ~ § END § ~

 

COMING SHORTLY: In my next post (out perhaps on the 25th) I plan to look at what’s happening in our housing associations. There’s talk of collapse, council takeover, merger, incompetence and God knows what else. I shall be paying particular attention to Cantref and RCT Homes, so I would welcome any information on these, or indeed any other housing associations.

Either use the contact box at the head of the sidebar or write to editor@jacothenorth.net.

Apr 142016
 

I learn that our tribunes have received a strange e-mail in the past few days from a Gary Watton; that e-mail is reproduced for you below. I particularly like the jaunty ‘Hello, Sailor Councillor’ way it starts.

Gary Watton e-mail

Politics Wales will, unsurprisingly, focus on Welsh affairs, and who but the rats scuttling about in the darkness could argue that we don’t need more light shone into the murky world of Welsh politics? But will Politics Wales provide the needed illumination?

In the hope of answering that question I decided to take a look behind the scenes, as it were, and ask a few pertinent questions, such as: Who is Gary Watton? Where by is he from? What’s he been up to before he launched the imaginatively titled creation?

It seems that Gary is from the Six Counties or, as I suppose he would prefer, ‘Northern Ireland’, or ‘Ulster’ (even though NI only contains 6 of Ulster’s 9 counties), possibly ‘the Province’. His politics are obvious from the bio he has written on his Amazon page.

The giveaways to his political orientation and loyalties are ” . . . county Londonderry . . . and “In September 2012, Gary lobbied a number of MPs regarding the need to fine the next of kin who permit the funeral of their loved ones to be hijacked by a firing of shots over the coffin, as practised primarily by Irish republicans”. (Whatever your political outlook you may think that fining grieving relatives is going a bit far.)

From the Amazon page we also learn that Gary has a number of self-published books to his name, many of them about sport; including rugby, cricket and football. He also writes about music. And despite his background it seems his passion is Chelsea not Glasgow Rangers. (The ‘Billy’ referred to in the link is William of Orange*, victor at The Boyne, after which the defeated Irish bestowed the sobriquet Seamus an Chaca [James the Shithead] on their Stewart leader.)

But let us focus on the exciting new magazine, which is published (if that’s the right word in this context) by Newsstand, which has been ‘Setting Magazines Free Since 1995’, and quite right too . . . poor things . . . caged up in W H Smith . . . Flipping through the Newsstand site soon made it clear that Politics Wales complements Politics Scotland.

Both are “ground-breaking”, both are “regional” (regional!) both are “neutral”. Though they differ in that Politics Scotland has “readable material from cover to cover” whereas Politics Wales has “readable material throughout from cover to cover”. (One up on the Jocks!) After this minor deviation it’s almost word for word again, with only difference being the formatting.

Gary Watton merged

Mr Watton tells us that Politics Scotland ” . . . is neutral in its outlook, featuring a range of individuals, from all corners of Scotland. Politics Scotland is a platform where people on the right of centre and the left of centre can speak out about subjects that matter to Scotland.” Now what’s odd about that?

I’ll tell you. A stranger reading that might conclude that political debate in Scotland is nothing more than the dreary old slanging-match between Left and Right. Which would be a gross misrepresentation, because as we all know, the issue in Scottish politics is the independence question, where we find the whole political spectrum represented on both sides.

So how can anyone launch a magazine called Politics Scotland in which – if the blurb gives a true picture – the independence debate is ignored? The clue probably lies in Watton’s own politics. And even though independence may not be a hot topic in Wales, devolution and other specifically Welsh issues are, because we certainly aren’t fighting over ideological differences.

I don’t know what to make of Politics Wales, partly because I haven’t read it, and I certainly have no intention of paying £5 to read the contributions of “three Assembly members and four councillors”. Come on, be brutally honest; given the calibre of our Assembly Members and councillors would you pay a fiver to read their inane wittering? And how did Gary Watton find these contributors anyway, because I bet he knows nothing about Wales?

Picture the scene, gentle reader: Gary is seated at his desk, which is dominated by his prized possession, the signed photograph of Princess Brunhilde of Humperdink, eleventh cousin (three times removed) to Her Glorious Majesty. There is a box stamped on the photograph that reads “Dear (fill in name), Get Well Soon / Congratulations On Passing Your Driving Test! / I Shall Write To The Judge On Your Behalf (Tick appropriate box).”

The Ballybigot Orange Lodge banner decorates the wall behind him as our hero tips back his bowler hat and begins Googling Welsh council websites. He soon alights on the intriguing and mercifully short name of “Dai Dwp, Labour, Cwmscwt”. An introductory e-mail is sent. Dai’s eight-year-old grand-daughter goes through the daily ritual of opening the Inbox for him on his council-issue laptop. Dai reads . . .

‘Dear Councillor Dwp, could you, in no more than 2,500 words (plus diagrams and tables), give me your views on how you believe the Russian military intervention in the Middle East might impact on the price of laverbread in Swansea market?’ (There will be no payment.)

Upon reading “no payment” Dai’s face contorts into an ugly mask, he gurgles his last, and the mighty brain that had cracked so many expense-claim forms goes into meltdown as he falls from his chair.

As he lies on the floor, the spark of life yet flickering, Dai smiles as he recalls that weekend conference in Llandrindod where he sank 47 pints, 18 whiskies, shagged the fraternal delegate from the Slovenian Workers Party – or was it Slovakian? – and still came away well in pocket. That’s what politics is all about!

So obviously there won’t be an article by Dai Dwp in Politics Wales (unless his grand-daughter ghost writes it), but joking aside, I’d still like to know who did write for this magazine, and what they had to say. So has anybody out there actually bought it?

But perhaps more than that, I’d like to know why an Ulster Unionist / Loyalist has launched a magazine about a country of which he knows nothing? (Maybe two countries.) What’s behind it? Or who’s behind him?

 

* Though there are strong suggestions that the song originated as homage to Billy Fullerton, Glasgow gangster and fascist of the 1930s, before being adopted by the Orange Order and ‘cleaned up’.

*

COMING SOON: In the next post (out on Monday or Tuesday) I plan to focus on Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, recently embroiled in a rather unsavoury business. Anyone who has anything to contribute should write to editor@jacothenorth.net.

 

Apr 112016
 

THE TRAVAILS OF CANTREF

Over the years I have written exhaustively on housing associations, I’ve explained the funding they receive, their staffing levels, and the fact that at a time when politicians argue our 22 local authorities must be cut to 8 or 9 those same politicians are quite content to see Wales lumbered with 50 or so housing associations, often with three or four operating in the same area, duplicating each other’s work and sometimes competing for clients and funding.

The contradiction in the differing attitudes to local authorities and housing associations is obvious, with the result that it has become increasingly difficult to defend the generosity extended to so many housing associations. But rather than openly admit that the social housing system is a very expensive shambles, it now appears that our masters have chosen to make changes to the social housing system by subterfuge.

Cantref logo

One housing association I have written about more than once is Cantref (formerly Tai Cantref), based in Newcastle Emlyn and operating mainly in Ceredigion, plus north Carmarthenshire and north Pembrokeshire, with an outpost in the Machynlleth area of north west Powys.

I haven’t been the only one training a beady eye on Cantref, others are the ever-watchful Wynne Jones, even the ‘Welsh’ Government! Though given the way the ‘Welsh’ Government cossets housing associations things must have been really bad for that lot to step in. But we aren’t allowed to know what ailed Cantref because the report will not be made public and FoI requests have been refused.

To fill in the background . . . It was known by July 2015 that Cantref was being investigated, the Cantref Board received their copy of the report in December, and early in the new year the chief executive, Lynne Sacale, and others, left. Cantref is now looking for a merger.

As is the way with such things, and just before it was publicly known that Cantref was being investigated, I received a revealing comment to this post alleging Bacchanalian excesses at Cantref’s expense in the grounds of Chateau Tucker. Read it for yourself.

Cantref piss-up

As the writer states, one reason for Cantref’s woes was undoubtedly that it had invested in student accommodation in Aberystwyth at the very time Aber’ Uni began sliding down the various league tables, with the predictable consequence of student numbers dropping.

Though it has to be asked who funded this student accommodation. Presumably the funding originated with the ‘Welsh’ Government, which then raises the question: Should money allocated to social housing have been used for student accommodation? Perhaps not, so maybe the report is being withheld to save the blushes of Carwyn and his gang.

The good ship Cantref now appears to have at its helm a Hilary Jones, of the Bro Myrddin housing association. Ms Jones’ husband (sub fill in name) is said to be a former finance director at Grwp Gwalia HA. And according to ‘Dai the Post’ in a recent comment she, ” . . . has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West HA from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony.”

You’ll note from the Gwalia website that it has recently merged with the Seren Group of Newport to form Pobl. And this site seems to tells that Charter Housing is also part of Pobl. So mergers, or takeovers, whether voluntary or enforced, are obviously in vogue.

Another change in personnel that may be relevant to recent events at Cantref was the appointment in July 2014 of Kevin Taylor to the management board, where he now serves as interim chair. It may simply be a coincidence of timing, but the problems for Sacale and the others seem to have started soon after Taylor arrived on the scene. So who is he?

According to his Linkedin profile Taylor was employed by Forte Hotels between 1977 and 1987, then, from 1987 until 2013, he worked in Bermuda. More recently, from January 2013, he has been a ‘Hotel Financial Consultant’ for Taylor Accountants, a company for which I can find no record. (I do hope it’s not registered offshore!)

An interesting employment record that raises a number of questions:

  1. Does he have any knowledge or experience of social housing?
  2. Is he familiar with the social patterns and housing issues of rural Wales?
  3. Assuming the answers to 1 and 2 are No, who appointed him, and why?

As I say, Cantref is now looking for a partner, and referring again to the comment from ‘Dai the Post’, there are said to be five suitors. One is Millbay Homes, the ‘Welsh’ Government-funded ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing that builds homes for sale to ‘investors’. Another is Carmarthenshire County Council, though whether the executive board knows anything about this is open to question, and we can guarantee that the common herd of councillors is completely in the dark.

Elsewhere in his comment ‘Dai the Post’ tells us that someone answering to Robin Staines, Head of Public Protection and Housing at CCC, has been parachuted in to Cantref, possibly to prepare the ground for a takeover. ‘Dai’ further suggests that this aggressive move is viewed within Cantref as a bit of empire building ahead of local government reorganisation. I think the suspicion is correct, and we could see more such moves, all done in the shadows with the connivance of a ‘Welsh’ Government committed to ‘openness’!

pobl

Despite not having seen the WG’s report into Cantref the executive board of Carmarthenshire County Council will, on April 19th, be expected to approve in principle the council taking over Cantref. Not for the first time, chief executive Mark James will present councillors with a fait accompli. Ain’t democracy wonderful!

Another source tells me that despite what are alleged to be its failings Cantref is the largest employer in Newcastle Emlyn, it employs locals and conducts most of its business in Welsh. The fear is that if the takeover goes through then the HQ will move to Llanelli and, given the recent recruitment record of the council, it will swiftly lose its Welsh character.

The James Gang

Thinking about Carmarthenshire County Council and the record of Mark James raises the obvious question – why is he still there? After using council money to fight a private libel case, after wasting council money to fund Christian fundamentalists in building a church and a bowling alley (yes, a bowling alley!), and after turning Sir Gâr into the Welsh equivalent of North Korea, why the hell hasn’t the ‘Welsh’ Government stepped in to remove him?

Let me answer that by taking a little detour. When inexplicable things happen there is very often a simple explanation, but one that the media and our political class would rather not touch. I have recently written about the land deals conducted by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales that might eventually lose the public purse as much as £200m. Let’s stop beating about the bush – this is corruption, pure and simple.

Many times we see things happen in public life that are difficult to explain; contracts given without a tendering process; people being promoted above their ability; wrongdoers escaping justice. In such cases Freemasonry or other secretive groups can often be behind such corruption. Then there are the instances where outright and obvious criminals are ignored by the police. Such persons may be police informers, or relocated witnesses.

I’m not suggesting that Mark James owes his survival to any of these explanations, but I believe he does have a ‘guardian angel’. It may have been pressure from this celestial quarter that persuaded him to carry on after ‘standing down’ in 2014 rather than the council panicking when they realised the size of his severance package.

Mark James may have been put in place as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, and has been maintained in that position, to oversee the anglicisation of the county.

Let me explain.

If you listen to Labour Party historians they will talk about towns or areas that are ‘iconic’ in the party’s history and development, Merthyr and the Rhondda come to mind. For those of a more patriotic bent, Carmarthenshire fills this role through Gwynfor’s 1966 by-election victory and the county delivering the votes that won the 1997 devolution referendum.

In addition, Carmarthenshire is the geographical ‘bridge’ between the rural heartland (or former heartland) of Plaid Cymru and the urban south. Add to that the fact that Carmarthenshire’s seats at Westminster and Assembly level are either held by or are vulnerable to Plaid Cymru, and the county becomes a prime target for the kind of attention I’m suggesting.

Carmarthenshire LDP

Part of this ‘attention’ is the insane and unneeded housing developments being imposed on the county . . . yet welcomed by Mark James and his circle of senior officers, almost all imported from England. Despite being born in Merthyr, Mark James has no feelings for Wales or her identity whatsoever, and is actively working to see Carmarthenshire anglicised.

That may be the reason he was directed to Wales, and why he has been allowed to keep his job when anyone else would have been forced out years ago.

But of course this does not explain the woeful impotence of Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire.

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NATHAN GILL MEP

News reaches me from an anonymous source concerning our much beloved UKIP MEP Nathan Gill of Hull and Menai Bridge. You may recall that I have written of Mr Gill more than once – about a dozen times in fact – so you may care to refresh your knowledge of the great man by starting here then working back from the links provided.

In particular, I would draw your attention to this post, Nathan Gill: It Just Gets Worse, because the information I have received concerns an incident mentioned in this particular post. Mr Gill owned a church in Hull that he was hoping to develop in some way, but on November 5th 2001 it caught fire, Mr Gill was quoted in the Hull Daily Mail as saying that ” . . . some residents had seen youngsters aiming fireworks at the church”.

Though a source I had in Hull a while back described the fire as “suspicious”, and insisted that Nathan Gill’s application for planning permission had been refused.

Gill church

The information I received a couple of days ago says, “Before the fire in the grade 2 listed Hull church Gill had all the Oak paneling and benches stripped out, Brian Quilter sanded and reused them to Oak panel Lledr House and make window shutters.”.

Brian Quilter is one of Gill’s US Mormon brothers-in-law, married to Gill’s sister Melanie, and the couple lives in Lledr House, Dolwyddelan. Maybe the panelling referred to can be seen in this photo from TripAdvisor. Read more about Brian Quilter in Nathan Gill, Family Man.

Now there’s nothing wrong in what is described. Obviously Gill bought the church, planned to do whatever he planned to do, and in preparation for that – though perhaps in advance of receiving planning permission – stripped the building and let his brother-in-law have the panelling and the benches. All perfectly innocent.

Though less generous souls than what I am might suggest the possibility of foreknowledge.

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JOHN BOY BAYLISS

I know you’ve been asking what our wandering boy has been up to lately, and the answer is, well, a bit more wandering. You will recall that last October I wrote The Case of the Disappearing Councillor in which I expressed deep concern for the whereabouts and welfare of Councillor John Boy Bayliss of the Uplands ward in Swansea. (In fact I have written quite regularly about John Boy and his friends, most of whom have now deserted him. Sob!)

At the time of writing the post just referred to, John Boy was giving his address as a property in Cambrian Place, in the city centre, a row of fine old town houses near the marina. In fact, where his friend and fellow-councillor Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Theaker had lived ere his departure to Araby. But now, I’m informed, he has moved again.

My concern for John Boy’s whereabouts last year was two-fold. After learning that he had taken a job in Bristol I was worried that the daily travelling between Swansea and Bristol might tire the poor boy. So I was almost relieved to hear that he was in fact living in Bristol, and merely using the Cambrian Place address as a letter-box. But then I thought, ‘Hang on, if he’s living in Bristol how can he remain a Labour councillor in Swansea?’

A message over the weekend directed me to updated information on John Boy’s council website bio (see below) which now has him living in Llangyfelach, still not in his Uplands ward, and as far from it as Cambrian Place.

Bayliss address

‘But still’, I generously and paternalistically thought (well you know me), ‘it might not be in his ward, but at least he’s got a place of his own now’, but then I read the message I’d received again, and it suggested that this address is in fact the residence of one David Collins. So who is David Collins? Here’s his Linkedin profile.

Collins is clearly a Labour professional who appears never to have done a real job, having studied History and Politics at Brunel from 1992 until 1997 and then starting work in January 2000 as a Researcher and Political Assistant to Ann Jones, the former Labour AM for the Vale of Clwyd. (Leaving two and a half years unaccounted for on his Linkedin profile.) He now works as a Political Assistant to the Labour group on Swansea council.

So is John Boy shacked up with Collins, or is he engaged in a nightly tussle with the cat for the rug in front of the fire? I think we should be told!

David Collins

Put both images from your mind, because further reading of the revised bio tells us that his correspondence address is “c/o Members Support Unit, Guildhall, Swansea SA1 4PE”, which suggests to me that he might not be living in Llangyfelach at all, and that this address doesn’t even serve as a letter-box.

The PR outfit John Boy works for recruited him because he is a councillor, and for no other reason. That being so they will of course give him time off to attend the important council and planning meetings, which in turn helps the Labour group on Swansea council maintain the fiction that their boy is still living in Swansea. Everybody’s a winner . . . except the people John Boy is supposed to represent.

This ‘Now you see him, now you don’t’ could be interpreted as a conspiracy on the part of the Labour Party in general, and certain individuals in particular, to maintain the deception that John Charles Bayliss still lives in Swansea and daily represents the interests of the people in the Uplands ward. If so, then perhaps the Local Government Ombudsman might be interested.

We know Councillor John Charles Bayliss does not live in Swansea. So my advice to the Labour Party in Swansea would be: Come clean, make John Boy Bayliss resign, and call a by-election in the Uplands ward.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention that John Boy is standing for the Assembly next month, he’s third on the list for Mid and West Wales, a region he knows intimately. His chances of being elected are slim, but of course Cardiff is nearer than Swansea to Bristol, so it would easier for Bayliss to commute from Bristol and turn his back on Swansea for good.

UPDATE 23:00: I am informed that David Collins no longer works for the Swansea Labour group, he has, I’m told, “been released” . . . into the wild? If so, will he be able to fend for himself, cut adrift from the Labour Party, all he’s ever known? I await reports that he has been spotted at night, scavenging in the back streets of Morriston.

 

Apr 022016
 

Yes, I know, Port Talbot isn’t the only Tata plant affected by the company’s decision to put its UK operation up for sale, but it is the biggest, and serves as useful shorthand.

Rather than giving instant remedies or exposing my ignorance by trying to discuss EU regulations on state aid, or the impact of carbon tax and business rates, let alone the statistics on Chinese steel production and exports, I shall stick to my comfort zone by considering political responses and impacts, winners and losers, and also the possible outcomes.

But first, let me indulge in a little reminiscing.

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I grew up just around the Bay from Port Talbot steelworks and I can remember the plant in the mid-’60s when it employed 20,000 men and the wages paid earned it the soubriquet ‘Treasure Island’. Much of its steel went on to the tinplate works at Trostre in Llanelli and Velindre on the north side of Swansea (where I worked for a short while). Velindre is long gone, but Trostre has struggled on and is now in the same position as Port Talbot.

And if you’ve driven past and think the smells and the smoke of Port Talbot are bad nowadays, then you should have seen it in the ’60s and ’70s. It wasn’t just that the steelworks produced more smoke and smells back then, there were other plants nearby making their contribution.

Just up the road, on the Swansea side of the steel plant, in Baglan Bay, we had one of the largest petrochemical sites in Europe, employing another 2,500 men. A couple of miles inland there was the Llandarcy oil refinery with the same number of employees. Then there was the Tir John power station taking us up to the eastern outskirts of Swansea, where the East Side made its contribution to the shit and the smell with the never-to-be-forgotten Carbon Black plant.

Llandarcy

This spewed out such filth that it resulted in regular protests by local housewives, who couldn’t put washing on the line to dry without it being covered in a dust that also got indoors and clung to everything.

My first-hand experience of Carbon Black came through a summer job I took when at Coleg Harlech. I was employed to sweep the floors inside the plant, where the filth lay inches thick. I was provided with a brush and a rudimentary face mask . . . and that was it. I handed in my brush after a few hours and went to a nearby pub to ease my throat.

The whole area from the east side of Swansea over to Neath and down to Port Talbot was a complex of heavy industry, a nightmare for any proto-Green. And yet, if we add in Swansea docks, the ancillary jobs in transport and other fields, this triangle of smoke and smells provided tens of thousands of well paid jobs for semi-skilled and unskilled men. Most of these jobs have gone, and will never be replaced.

I had many friends and family members working at these various plants, and of course at the steelworks, and not just for the then owner, the Steel Company of Wales. For example, there was a boy I met in Penlan school with whom I became good friends (after the introductory fight); his family had come down from Kilmarnock and his father worked for British Rail in the steelworks’ marshalling yards, said to be the biggest in the world after those at the Chicago stock yards.

Then there was a friend of ours in the post-school era working in the steel works. One night he went over to Port Talbot to hear a promising young singer named Tom Jones. On the way back into Swansea, driving along the Jersey Marine in his Wolseley 1500, he was somehow thrown from his car, which then rolled over onto him. I think Keith was the first close friend I lost.

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THE POLITICAL DIMENSION

The Conservatives

I suppose the Tories’ attitude was summed up accurately and succinctly by Paul Mason when he wrote, ‘Steel Crisis; they do not give a shit’. There are a number of reasons for this being true beyond the Tories being wedded to a blind and unthinking neoliberalism.

The future the Tories envision for the UK is of smart people doing clever things and making lots of money in clean environments with the economy topped up by sheikhs and oligarchs investing hundreds of billions in property and other deals that can be accomplished with a signature. Fundamentally, it’s a fantasy world in which people make lots of money doing very little, certainly not from producing anything other than hi tech gadgetry or financial packages that no one can understand.

There is no place in this vision for steel works and towns like Port Talbot. Such places are alien to Old Etonian politicians. Not only are they distant in terms of miles, and in considerations of social class, they are also distant in time, because they belong to the past, they have no place the glittering future I bewitched you with in the previous paragraph.

Gold cars

Of course, one of the major problems with this vision is that it’s very London-centric, extending only as far as the Home Counties in which many of the new elite will be living. Because you can bet that Sheikh Mohammed bin Slaveholder al Head-chopper is unlikely to be looking for a £30m mansion in Llanelli or Scunthorpe any time soon. Which explains attempts to placate the increasingly resentful natives north of Watford with ‘beads’ like HS2 and talk of a ‘northern powerhouse’.

On a more pragmatic, electoral level, the Tories have nothing to lose in towns like Port Talbot or any similar community in Wales, Scotland or England. You can’t lose support or seats if you haven’t got any to start with. So the truth is, as Paul Mason says, the Tories don’t give a shit.

Unconvincing expressions of concern will be heard, money will be doled out – there might even be a short-term nationalisation – but this hiccup will not be allowed to interfere with the march towards the post-industrial Bright Tomorrow, in which the sons and daughters of today’s Port Talbot steelworkers will be City traders or internet tycoons . . . or, more likely, working just up the road at the vast Amazon warehouse, on the minimum wage, with one toilet break a week.

Though it will be interesting to see how the local Tories deal with the steel crisis in the Assembly election campaign. Who will they blame?

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The Labour Party

For Labour the steel crisis is much more complex and worrying. Not least because it was the equally laissez-faire New Labour governments that helped get us into this mess by nodding through British Steel’s merger with Koninklijke Hoogovens of the Netherlands in 1999 to form Corus, and then twiddling their thumbs when Corus was bought by Tata Steel of India in 2007.

The New Model Labour Party of Citizen Corbyn seems rather more concerned than the party led by Blair and Broon, but there’s little they can do out of power. Though in fairness to young Owen ap Dai ap Smith he didn’t wait for the fat lady to sing before putting the boot in, here he is at the start of February accusing Cameron and Osborne of kissing China’s arse!

Another scion of an anti-Welsh Labour family, the Boy Kinnock, actually took himself off to Mumbai, where the Tata board was deliberating. Quite what he hoped to achieve beyond a little self-promotion is a bit of a mystery. But then, showboating was always part of his father’s political repertoire, though I advise the young ‘un to avoid beaches with incoming tides.

Labour logo

Closer to home, our self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ can only be compared to rabbits caught in the headlights. There are a number of reasons for this. One, they have no experience of business, let alone business on this scale. Two, they simply aren’t aren’t up to the challenge intellectually. Three – and for this they are probably thankful – they don’t have the power to do anything.

That said, this announcement comes at a good time in the electoral cycle for ‘Welsh’ Labour, with Assembly elections just over a month away they can blame the ‘heartless’ Tories for everything and hope that voters don’t remember their party’s role in this tragedy.

And as usual there will be a cynical appeal to the ignorance and confusion of many Welsh voters as Labour – despite being impotent in Cardiff and in opposition in London – urges people to vote for Carwyn and the gang so that Labour can ‘save Port Talbot’.

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Plaid Cymru

The steel crisis should be Plaid Cymru’s Christmas, Easter and St David’s Day all rolled into one. It gives them the chance to attack both major parties, English rule, and foreign ownership of Welsh assets. Thus far, I can only assume that Plaid is waiting its chance, holding its cards close to its chest . . . or maybe it doesn’t realise it has these cards.

I would suggest that rather than asking for anything absurd or impossible – such as demanding that the ‘Welsh’ Government nationalises the steel industry – Plaid Cymru should gather the evidence on the merger and the take-over that Labour allowed to go through when in power, and the Tories’ opposition to the EU raising tariffs on Chinese steel, the refusal by both parties to reduce energy costs for plants like Port Talbot, and compare those betrayals of the Welsh people with what Plaid Cymru would do if it was in power down Cardiff docks.

And stressing a betrayal of the Welsh people should be Plaid Cymru’s approach, rather than going all socialist and linking arms with Labour and the trade unions. Because unless Plaid Cymru’s voice is distinctive, and distinctively Welsh, then there’s really no point to Plaid Cymru, in this debate, or any other situation.

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Liberal Democrats

I know I’m normally harsh on the Lib Dems, but over the years it’s been difficult not to be harsh, and at times almost impossible to take them seriously. And then, in my more mellow moments (not always induced by alcohol!) I think, ‘Weeel, maybe they’re not too bad’. ‘What brings this on?’ you ask.

To start with, there’s Kirsty Williams, the LD leader in Wales. Things have been tough in recent years for her party but she’s stuck with it and deserves a break. She’s a gutsy woman who I’m warming to.

Another LD AM who’s impressed me is William Powell. For one thing, he turns up at Cilmeri in December, where we rarely see Plaid politicians and never Labour or Conservative. (Nor UKIP, come to that!) And then there was the petition I submitted to the Assembly asking that it do something to stop chief executives taking over councils.

Petitions Committee

It was clear that Powell recognised the importance of this issue but the two committee members who ‘discussed’ my petition, Labour’s Joyce Watson and Plaid’s Elin Jones, couldn’t dump it quickly enough. Powell might get my second vote on May 5th.

But I digress.

On the specific issue of the sale of Tata’s UK operations, the Lib Dems – in the shy, retiring form of Peter Black – have called for the Notional Assembly to be recalled. Which might sound like a good idea until we remember that the Assembly is impotent, and what calls itself the ‘Welsh Government’ is nothing but a collection of buffoons. A recall would be nothing more than a pointless gesture and a platform for narcissistic buggers like Black.

In many ways the Lib Dems’ position should not be a lot different to that of Plaid Cymru – ‘A pox on both your houses!’ So I would suggest that Kirsty leads her troops forward with all guns blazing . . . hoping few will remember that her party kept the Tories in power between 2010 and 2015, during which period the problems that have brought us to this crisis were allowed to build and build.

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The Wales Branch of the Green Party of Englandandwales

They won’t like me for saying this, but I know that the Greenies were secretly jumping for joy when they heard that all those smelly, polluting steel plants are to close. But of course they can’t admit that.

What they can do, apparently, is write stupid letters to the press, such as the one below that appeared in Friday’s Wasting Mule. The writer seems to believe that the Port Talbot steel works can be powered by wind turbines, solar panels and fairy dust.

Then again, it could have been a piss-take, for Friday was April 1st.

Green steel

I issue these rebukes with a heavy heart, fearing that I might lose some of the many friends I’ve made in the Green Party over recent years. Oh yes.

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UKIP

If any political party is crass and insensitive enough to make cheap political capital out of tens of thousands of people losing their jobs, then of course that party is UKIP.

Not only does the steel crisis give M. Farage et Co the chance to go nuclear on ‘Europe’, it also provides the opportunity to put the boot into Conservatives and Labour, with the cherry on top being the chance to have a go at the Chinese, the Indians, and just about anybody else they can think of.

UKIP will I’m sure argue that this steel crisis thingy would never have happened if everything was still managed by those splendid chaps down the clubhouse. Better decisions are made after six or seven drinks and a few cigars – everyone knows that! Don’t laugh, a lot of people will believe them.

A few months ago UKIP was predicted to win anything up to nine seats in May’s Assembly elections then, more recently, I’ve seen polls suggesting that support is slipping. The steel crisis could put them back to where they were earlier in the year, and the Tory-supporting media transferring the blame onto the EU might even take the UKIP vote in Wales to new heights.

However you cut it, UKIP is the party with most chance of gaining in May’s elections from the steel crisis.

*

SNP

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but bear with me.

There were a couple of steel plants in Scotland, admittedly much smaller than Port Talbot, that were saved from closure in the past few weeks thanks to decisive action by the Scottish National Party government. Here’s a report from the Guardian.

But this action didn’t please everybody. Here’s a more recent report from the Labour-supporting Daily Record (the Scottish version of the Daily Mirror) telling us that the Labour-controlled Community union is ‘questioning’ the deal.

To explain . . . there are elections in Scotland on May 5th also, and the SNP is almost guaranteed to win by a landslide. So one interpretation of this bizarre intervention by Community is that embittered Labour supporters are prepared to sabotage the Scottish steel deal for short-term political advantage.

Surely Labour wouldn’t do that?

Oh, yes, and remember, the Boy Kinnock was chaperoned on his trip to India by representatives of the same trade union. Whose interests were they looking out for – the steelworkers or the Labour Party?

*

EU Referendum

Speaking of the EU reminds us that on June 23rd we have the referendum on whether to stay in or to leave. The fate of the steel industry is bound to influence the way many people vote, especially in Wales. And seeing as Wales gives us the paradox of many Labour voters reading English Tory newspapers then prolonging the crisis can only help the Brexit cause.

Thinking more obliquely, this realisation that the steel crisis could decide a currently too-close-to-call referendum might prompt the EU into action; and if Cameron is serious about staying in the EU, then he might have to discreetly explain to his Chinese chums that – until the referendum is won – he might need to sound a little ‘hostile’, even agreeing to raise tariffs on Chinese steel imports.

When you consider all the possible ramifications you realise that, serious as the crisis in the steel industry is for those directly – or even indirectly – involved, the closure of Port Talbot and the other plants could have long-term and far-reaching implications that overshadow the loss of jobs.

In many ways Prime Minister Cameron is the one to watch, because with the EU referendum complicating things, him not wanting to be seen as a callous toff, yet having to protect the interests of his mates in the City by not offending the Chinese, the next few weeks could be interesting for those who like to watch nifty footwork.

As the Chinese themselves are reported to say, ‘May you live in interesting times’. (Though some say it’s delivered as a curse, not a blessing.)

 

Mar 242016
 
RCT HOMES

Earlier this month Martin Shipton of the Wasting Mule and WalesOnline had a brief bout of outrage on learning that RCT Homes was advertising for a chief executive at a salary greater than that paid to the UK Prime Minister or Wales’ First Minister. Here’s the advertisement – with a London recruitment agency – that occasioned his momentary unhappiness with the colonial system.

This recruitment follows on from a number of personnel changes at RCT Homes (mentioned in the same article) that are worthy of reporting, not least the departure of Andrew Lycett, the previous chief executive. So let me hand you over to a correspondent who explains the complexities of it all. I have added links and a few comments to help you understand better who’s who and what’s what.

Now read what follows carefully and join up the dots.

“The Wasting Mule tells us that Andrew Lycett left RCT Homes for reasons that were unexplained on the grounds of “confidentiality”. A more typical corporate response to that question is that he “has found career opportunities elsewhere” which led me to investigate.

Lycett submitted his resignation from RCT Homes at the same time as Cllr Kieron Montague (Labour) announced he would step down and not seek re-election. He is Cabinet Member for Tackling Poverty, Engagement & Housing. He also sat on the RCT Homes board, on behalf of RCT council.

Lycett has actually taken up the role of Finance Director with the Jehu Group, a real estate development company, who beside being a major player at the SA1 development in Swansea, but also has expanded to the west, opening a new office in Haverfordwest, under their subsidiary Waterstone Estates.

Montague, meanwhile, has now taken up a role with Cynon Taf Housing Association, who unlike RCT Homes, has a substantial holding of vacant development land.

In a previous post (here, scroll down) you correctly pointed out the outsourcing of estates administration by a number of local authorities to PwC. A partner of PwC, Lynn Pamment, also sat on the board of RCT Homes, alongside Lycett and Montague. She will, of course, be very conversant with the issues which PwC has been required to ‘assist with’, that of, balancing the budget for Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion councils. This includes selling off land for development.

This, of course, is the very footprint that Waterstone Estates has opened an office for in Haverfordwest for. Waterstone Estates is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jehu Group, which Lycett is now director.”

We are all familiar with the links between the Third Sector and the Labour Party, but now we see a third element become more evident, that of private businesses, which recruit people with local government and Third Sector experience to help ‘smooth the way’ with the acquisition of land, the gaining of planning approval, and of course the clamping of the sweaty paws upon the funding public.

The supplier of the information mentions the RCT Board, and so I took a peek for myself. It hasn’t been updated, so here it is before it’s changed.

kieron-montague-978729428

It’s the usual mixture of Labour time-servers, Third Sector spongers and token residents. But as we were warned just now, there’s also the PwC representative, looking after her company’s best interests. Lynn Pamment is of course one of those selfless English missionaries without whom we Welsh would be running around naked doing unspeakable things to each other and gabbling away incoherently.

Also on the Board is someone I’ve mentioned before, a regular contributor to the Letters page of the Wasting Mule, where he can be relied upon to fly the flag for Queen and Country (his country that is, not ours), Kel Palmer. And talking of flying, his bio describes him as “A former fast jet pilot in the RAF” . . . not to be confused with those slow jet pilots . . . always getting in the bloody way . . . slowing down the bombing runs. It’s a wonder regime change is ever achieved.

This I think is one to watch. Particularly the future careers of Andrew Lycett and Kieron Montague.

[With so many different people sending me stuff I seem to have lost the original e-mail containing the information used above. So will whoever sent it please get in touch to remind me who you are.]

APPRENTICE APPARATCHIKS

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need to provide apprenticeships, with political parties trying to outdo each other in the number they’d provide if elected, but did you know that the ‘Welsh’ Government has its very own apprenticeship scheme?

I am indebted to another correspondent for drawing this to my attention. Though he’s very concerned by the fact that most of those chosen for these apprenticeships seem to be related to someone already working for Carwyn and his gang.

Which, I suppose is only to be expected. For it seems that these apprenticeships are advertised only on the ‘Welsh’ Government website. Now with the best will in the world, I doubt if many young people visit the site . . . unless advised to do so by family or friends.

Is this how it should be done? Doesn’t it risk getting nepotism a bad name?

WG Apprenticeships

And by the way, Carwyn, I wouldn’t give a job to that shifty-looking little bugger in the middle, the one fiddling with his tie. If he’s going to do Oliver Hardy impersonations he needs to put on about 150lb . . . and also develop a personality.

CHRISTOPHER MUNDAY, GOAT-TETHERER

A third supplier of information has very interesting things to tell us about Christopher Munday who, you may remember, is the genius who set up the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales which I – in my previous post – likened unto tethering a goat and waiting for the predators to appear.

He writes . . .

“CM is typical of many public sector employees who see their advancement “up the greasy pole” by avoiding decision making and adopting the mantra of “plausible deniabilty” if anything goes wrong.

He joined Welsh Development Agency in the 1980’s having formerly been a “site finder” for a medium sized house building company. He progressed through a number of low and medium grade clerical jobs, as the WDA expanded through the 1990’s, and then became employed in a department seeking to access private sector money to add to the Agency’s budget for property development purposes.

As he had little knowledge of funding (and no knowledge of property development), his approach was to appoint  major firms of accountants to “write reports” as to how private funding might be accessed. It was quickly realised in Cardiff, that operating a large budget for the purposes of employing private sector accountants, made CM a prime target for the KPMGs, PWC, Deloittes of this world in “keeping him sweet”. He attended, for many years, the annual MIPIM property junkets in Cannes, where his time was spent networking (i.e. being entertained) by his accountancy pals.

Once these reports had been completed, at costs between tens of and hundreds of thousands of pounds, these would be “topped and tailed” by CM and subsequently presented to his line managers and, ultimately, ministers as “all his own work”. On two or three occasions the reports suggested “arms-length” initiatives, with a view to private sector organisations participating in the development of offices and factories in Wales. 

In at least one of these initiatives (called WISP) the “partner participant” was a company called Babcock and Brown. By this time WDA had been “absorbed” into the Assembly. The basis of WISP was that the Assembly would take a long lease on an office block before it was built, and the investment would be pre-sold to provide the funds to build it in the first place.

Unfortunately, after a couple of office developments, Babcock and Brown went bust, and the WISP idea terminated.  Babcock and Brown’s contact with CM was Leo Bedford(LB), and LB started up another company out of the ashes of Babcock and Brown, called Amber.

It was, therefore, of little surprise that when the RIFW (a.k.a. JESSICA) initiative was suggested to Welsh Government, CM was put in charge of running it, and (surprise, surprise again) Amber was appointed as Fund Manager. It is not clear who decided Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) should be appointed as Property Advisers, but it is clear that Welsh Government appointed both firms (see attached press release). It is also interesting to note that when the RIFW s**t hit the fan, CM denied flatly that Welsh Government had appointed LSH, and insisted that LSH had been appointed by Amber without his knowledge (!).

I know several people who have worked, and still work with Mr Munday, and it is the case that work colleagues, AMs and Ministers largely regard him as a . . . at which point I have to intervene because it gets rather personal, and I’m down to my last couple of mill. Munday commutes to Cardiff from Wiltshire.

What are we to make of this, boys and girls? Now as you know, Jac is a simple soul, and talk of conferences in the South of France, and big numbers that I can’t get my head around, send me into a tizzy. But if half of what my informant tells us is true, then this man sounds like a complete asshole! But of course he’s an English asshole, so he’s guaranteed an important job in Wales, losing millions and millions from the Welsh public purse.

JAMES BOND COMES TO CARDIFF

The ‘Welsh’ media has gone overboard reporting the fact that Aston Martin is to build a new plant in Sant Tathan, just outside Cardiff. Now me explain this to you.

This has nothing to do with jobs; the number of jobs created is almost irrelevant for those who persuaded the ‘Welsh’ Government to bribe Aston Martin to set up on the outskirts of Cardiff. The motivation, pure and simple, is the promotion of Cardiff.

The Aston Martin plant is just another prestige project to add to the Millennium Stadium, the Millennium Centre, the Swalec Stadium, the National Ice Rink and all the other developments we’ve seen in recent years, including – don’t laugh! – the Assembly building itself. Within a very short time I guarantee we shall be hearing, ‘Cardiff – Home to Aston Martin’.

Many are already asking how much the ‘Welsh’ Government paid Aston Martin to move to the Vale, but nobody’s answering. I am indebted to @tomgallard for letting me publish this letter in which the ‘Welsh’ Government refuses to disclose how much it invested in this wonderful project that will be of benefit to the whole of Wales.

If you think I’m just an embittered old Jack, and that the ‘Welsh’ Governments’s prime consideration was jobs, just ask yourself this – would they have rolled out the red carpet with gold thread for Kia, or Dacia, even if these companies were creating 3,000 jobs? And answer that honestly.

Aston Martin Logo 1

And if you believe that employment / investment was the prime consideration, and that’s why the ‘Welsh’ Government was prepared to break the bank to get Aston Martin to Wales, then why weren’t the jobs directed to an area where they are much more needed than the Vale of Glamorgan, where I guarantee residents will soon be opposing all the disruption the Aston Martin development threatens?

Oh, and one final thing. Scroll down on the letter to Tom Gallard and see who signed it. Yes, that’s the same Christopher Munday we discussed just now. Whenever there’s Welsh public funding to be wasted, Munday’s yer man! 

P.S. Another factor worth considering is that this rush of automotive good news – Aston Martin to the Vale of Glamorgan, TVR to Ebbw Vale – comes just ahead of the Assembly elections on May 9. The Labour Party must be calculating that news like this is worth a few thousand votes, maybe saving the party a couple of seats. Very important when we remember that Labour currently holds 30 out of the 60 seats and is predicted to lose anything up to 5 of them.

 *

What we see in these examples, and in other cases I’ve highlighted over the years, is utter contempt for the democratic process and the public purse – which works to the detriment of us all. Basically, it’s, ‘Sod off! we don’t have to tell you anything’.

When RCT Homes was questioned by Martin Shipton about the £150,000 salary for its chief executive he could only tell us, “A spokeswoman for RCT Homes said the body would not be offering a comment.”

And when Andrew Lycett left RCT Homes to take up his post with real estate company the Jehu Group, the reasons for his leaving were unexplained on grounds of “confidentially”. This, remember, is a Registered Social Landlord getting large dollops of funding from the public purse.

The ‘Welsh’ Government apprenticeships are obviously aimed squarely at those in the know. Otherwise they’d be advertised properly so that everybody’d have a chance.

The RIFW scandal for which Christopher Munday is so culpable is still shrouded in mystery because so much information is being withheld and so many lies are being told.

Finally, we have the countless millions lobbed Aston Martin’s way to get another blue chip company to Cardiff. Yet we cannot be told how much because this information is – so someone at the ‘Welsh’ Government argues – “exempt from disclosure”. Is that really true?

And all this is happening in a system that prides itself on ‘openness’, focussed on a building made of glass, so that we, the people, can see what they’re up to. What a load of deceitful symbolism and absolute bollocks!

(Calm down, Jones.)

Now a compete change of subject, but another indictment of how Wales is run, and the priorities of those who run our county and our cities.

BEDD GWYROSYDD
Bedd Gwyrosydd

Feel free to use this photograph

When I was a boy, I used to catch the school bus at Brynhyfryd Square, which would then make the long haul up Llangyfelach Road, past the ‘Public Hall’ and its bust of Daniel James, before the turning left and along Heol Gwyrosydd to Penlan School.

Of course I knew the hymn Calon Lân, and I knew that the words had been written by local man Daniel James. (Bit of a hero of my mamgu!) Which was just as well, because I wasn’t going to learn things like that in Penlan School, or any school in Swansea. Trigonometry, Latin, and the history of British imperialism would stand me in much better stead for the world that awaited me.

These memories came back when I opened an e-mail and saw a photo that someone had sent with it. The photograph was taken the day after Palm Sunday, and it shows Daniel James’ sorry-looking grave in Mynyddbach cemetery. The person who sent me the photograph said he had to avoid huge Victorian headstones leaning at dangerous angles to reach the grave, and that a machete would have helped to get through the undergrowth.

Doesn’t the man who wrote perhaps our most famous hymn deserve better than this? If I was talking here about some monument to our subjugation, or a reminder of our colonialist exploitation, or some house where Nelson had enjoyed Lady Hamilton, then Cadw, or the National Trust, or some other bunch of colonialist grant-grabbers would demand a few million to ‘maintain it for the nation’. (And we know which nation.)

If you feel as I do, that Daniel James deserves to be remembered better than this, then write to somebody; Swansea council, the ‘Welsh’ Government, anybody. Send a letter or e-mail to your local paper, or the Daily Post, the Western Mail.

Because how much would it cost to maintain this grave with the dignity it merits? Less than a set of tyres on an Aston Martin. Probably less than Christopher Munday earns in a week. One per cent of what the chief executive of RCT Homes will be paid in a year. Wake up people! let’s start getting our priorities straight. Let’s start remembering who we are.

UPDATE 28.03.2016: Good News! A mystery benefactor has appeared to help with the restoration of the Gwyrosydd headstone.

 

Mar 212016
 

TO RECAP . . . 

You will recall that in the previous post dealing with the highly questionable disposal of publicly-owned land by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales we encountered two Guernsey-based companies, Imperial House Investments Ltd (Incorporated 30.11.2013) and South Wales Land Developments Ltd (Incorporated 01.02.2014) both of which had just two directors, Langley Davies and Jane Pocock.

It became clear that South Wales Land Developments was set up to serve as a vehicle for the real purchaser in the land deal with RIFW, Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas, originally of Merthyr, but now resident in Guernsey. So what might be the purpose of Imperial House Investments Ltd?

The obvious question, to me, was, ‘Is there a specific Imperial House that might answer the question?’ Yes, and unsurprisingly it’s to be found on Imperial Park in Newport, listed among the publicly-owned assets disposed of by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.

RIFW Land Sales

IMAGE COURTESY OF BBC WALES

As I shall explain below, Imperial House was bought by Langley Davies and South Wales Land Developments on behalf of Stan Thomas in the controversial ‘portfolio disposal’ of RIFW assets. But is there anything in the pipeline – as with the housing planned for the Lisvane land – that might affect its value in an upward direction? And come to that, does SWLD still own Imperial House?

The answer to the first question is that Imperial Park will be very close to the projected M4 relief road / ‘black route’ announced by Edwina Hart in July 2014, which is bound to increase its value. ‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘Imperial House Investments Ltd of Guernsey was created in November 2013, a full eight months before Redwina spoke’.

Which could suggest that Stan Thomas and Langley Davies are gifted with second sight . . . or there may be a more mundane explanation

The answer to the second question is where it gets interesting. For Imperial House – or at least, part of it – is now owned by yet another Guernsey-based company involved in these shenanigans.

Here are the details and the documentation.

Imperial House was bought on July 13th, 2012, from South Wales Land Developments Ltd by Imperial House Investments Ltd – a company that didn’t officially exist until November 2013 – for the sum stated on title number WA701104 as being £1,750,000. Here is a link to that document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, showing the land bought bordered in red.

Then, on October 26th, 2015, it appears that part of the Imperial House site – known as “Phase II” – was sold for £3,853,823 (title number CYM664986) to Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd of PO Box 25, Regency Court, Glategny Esplanade, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 3AP. Here’s a link to the title document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, with the Oxenwood purchase bordered in red. It’s worth comparing the two plans.

So what do we know about Oxenwood? Not a lot. I couldn’t turn up anything for Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd. (And what does YPL stand for anyway?) There is however an Oxenwood Real Estate LLP based in London which might or might not be connected. Though Imperial House doesn’t show in its portfolio.

While searching for Imperial House I did turn up an advert for offices for hire in Imperial Courtyard, which forms part of the Imperial House purchase. The agent is Lambert Smith Hampton, the company that advised RIFW on the sale of its assets.

Imperial Courtyard

PICTURE COURTESY OF https://propertylink.estatesgazette.com

The building is shown above, with Unit 6 being the ground floor. Is this still owned by Stan Thomas or was it part of the sale to Oxenwood Real Estate LLP, which might have been no more than Stan Thomas selling from one of his Guernsey companies to another?

(To save you taking your socks off, 4,134 sq ft x £15.00 = £62,010.)

Or is this a new build on the “c1a (circa one acre) development site” that was part of the Imperial House transaction? And if “Unit 6” is offered in this ad can we assume that there are at least five other units?

Another big question is – how much did SWLD pay the RIFW for Imperial House? Whatever the answer we can be sure that it will be a very good deal for Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas.

Reminding us that while the Lisvane site may be the ‘jewel in the crown’ there are a number of other lucrative elements to this portfolio sale by the RIFW that the media may have overlooked.

THE DELOITTE REPORT, INTRODUCTION

One thing that’s become clear as I’ve looked at the RIFW story is how the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party and its laughable ‘Welsh’ Government has procrastinated and dithered, how hard it has tried to stop the truth emerging while simultaneously trying to distance itself from the fall-out. Among the tactics employed has been to regularly trot out the line that the RIFW is an “arms-length” organisation.

The Deloitte report that we shall now consider might also be seen as another bit of procrastination, another effort to buy time in the hope that the critics would get tired and give up. The report was presented to the ‘Welsh’ Government on August 8th, 2013. Its findings are so conclusively damning that it should have resulted in immediate action, but those clowns down Cardiff docks continued to dither.

Before progressing with a detailed look into the Deloitte report I also recommend that you read Owen Donovan’s Oggy Bloggy Ogwr blog, where you will find an excellent analysis of this scandal stage by stage and learn how the Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government have handled it. Here’s a link to his most recent contribution, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap VI: The Debate and you can work back from there to read the earlier pieces.

Click on the title to open the full report, Welsh Government Peer Review – RIFW Asset Portfolio Disposal and keep it open in another window. I know I always say this, but this time I really mean it – please set aside an hour or so to read the report through. I should warn you that it is redacted, but not so heavily as to detract from the seriousness of its findings. (Though of course it did make me wonder, given what is left, how damning were the redacted parts.)

I shall now list what I consider to be the most important of Deloitte’s findings, page by page, but before that maybe I should explain who’s who, and what their roles were.

  • Chris Munday is the civil servant behind the creation of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales. There is surely a knighthood awaiting Mr Munday . . . or possibly a posting to the Gurnos community centre (personal injury insurance provided).
  • Lambert Smith Hampton is the commercial property consultancy that advised the RIFW on the sales, through its Cardiff office headed by Lee Mogridge, with input from Jeremy Green who is based in London.
  • Amber Infrastructure was the other RIFW adviser and is now considering taking action against LSH. (The second link contains the sentence, ” . . . they [the Public Accounts Committee] were concerned that one of the company’s [LSH’s] employees was working for both RIFW, which was selling the sites, and South Wales Land Developments, which was buying the site.” This is also referenced in this report from 2013 into the internal governance of the RIFW – page 29 iii – but the individual is not named.)
  • The public interest was supposed to be have been safeguarded by the five people appointed to the RIFW Board by the ‘Welsh’ Government. These were Richard Anning, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Englandandwales; Ceri Breeze, a ‘Welsh’ Government civil servant; Richard Harris, another apparatchik; Chris Holley, the former Lib Dem leader of Swansea council; and Jonathan Geen, of Acuity Legal, the Endgame Group, and, more recently, Bellerophon Scotland, plus of course, South Wales Land Developments Ltd and, ultimately, Stan Thomas.
THE DELOITTE REPORT (by page and column heading)

Page 12: Note that the original value put on Imperial House was £5.2m, yet SWLD was able to sell the property to Imperial House Investments Ltd for £1.75m, so I ask again, how much did SWLD pay for Imperial House? And remember, the £5.2m value was given before anyone knew of the M4 ‘black route’ coming right by Imperial House.

Imperial House

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Page 14 Observations: January 31st, 2011: “The Investment Manager’s Report and the Minutes of the Board Meeting at which this document was discussed make no mention of consideration of a portfolio disposal”. Suggesting that the original intention was to sell the lots individually, or perhaps in batches.

The reference in the lower box to Imperial House could be interpreted as someone trying to drive down the asking price.

Page 15: This theme of driving down the supposed value of Imperial House continues.

Page 17 Description: The reference in the lower box makes it clear that by March 28th, 2011, an offer has been received to buy all the properties in a “portfolio disposal”.

Page 21 Observations: It seems clear that Deloitte cannot understand why the Realisation Value of Imperial House has fallen since 2011, and no explanation is offered.

Page 24 Description: This tells us that in the early part of 2011 there were a number of companies interested in the RIFW land, it lists them. Legat Owen, for example, had a client interested in all the sites in the north. But the job lot had already been promised to Stan Thomas.

Page 25 Observations: Lambert Smith Hampton – the Investment Managers to the RIFW, entrusted with securing the best possible deal for these public assets – has not advertised the properties but has “informally canvassed” likely purchasers.

Also note something I commented on in my previous post. Jonathan Geen is dealing with Langley Davies of South Wales Land Developments, Stan Thomas’ front man, but SWLD didn’t officially exist!

Page 26 Observations: Read it all. “No advertising took place” says Deloitte. Though there are more vague references to “informal canvassing”, making it clear that the deal was already done and dusted.

Page 27 Description: Some time before April 21st, 2011 it was known that an offer had been made by Stan Thomas. May 10th, 2011, Langley Davies says that Stan Thomas (through GST of Guernsey) will be lending him the money to make the purchase “at 3% over interbank rate”. So Langley is the real purchaser, with Stan just lending him the money?

               Observations: On April 21st, 2011, Board member Jonathan Geen declares a “potential conflict” (of interests). AT WHICH POINT HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OLD HEAVE-HO FROM THE RIFW.

Page 28 Description: Here we learn that the “portfolio offer letter from GST Investments Ltd” was received on March 4th, 2011.

Also that, “LSH met Sir Stanley Thomas and Langley Davies to discuss the sale” on March 30th, 2011. Was no one else present?

Page 29 Description: Value of Imperial House downplayed, again.

Page 30 Description: At 20th April, 2011, we learn of the first written evidence of LSH recommending acceptance of the Stan Thomas offer. We also learn that Carwyn Jones and the “IM” were informed of this development.

We also see yet another mention of no due diligence carried out with regard to GST or SWLD.

Pages 32 & 33: With a few minor caveats the Board decides by the end of April 2011 to (officially) accept Stan Thomas’ offer.

Page 38 Description: Lambert Smith Hampton “writes to Martin Pollock of Barclays Wealth (acting for Stan Thomas) accepting an offer of £22.5m based on three staged payments” on June 15th 2011. Anyone who’s been paying attention will have noted that this purchase figure has changed a few times.

               Observations: Note Deloitte’s curious and rather worrying mention of the Board’s recorded vote.

Here’s some more information on the Board, “From January 2011, the Board comprised five voting members: two Welsh Government officials (one of whom served as Chair), a Welsh Local Government Association representative and two external members appointed following an advertised public appointments process. Although Welsh Ministers appointed the Board members, under the LLP model all of the Board members had a legal responsibility to act in the interests of RIFW, even if those interests were not entirely aligned with those of Welsh Ministers(?). LSH told the Committee that they felt the composition of the Board contained the right expertise for this venture.”

I’m quoting there from the January 2016 report by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (page 18). Which goes on to say, “The small size of the RIFW Board meant that its capacity to discharge its responsibilities was weakened when a conflict of interest regarding the portfolio sale to SWLD arose when one of the external members, Jonathan Geen, started to act as the legal advisor to SWLD on the sale transaction.”

Further documentation on the Public Accounts Committee investigation is available here.

Page 39 Description: It is noted on July 22nd 2011, Redrow offers “£2m unconditionally for the Bangor site”. This offer was made to Lambert Smith Hampton’s Manchester office. Why didn’t Redrow go to the Cardiff office handling the sale? Did they know something?

Whatever the answer, this offer seems to have slipped through the floorboards, though of course we should remember that the deal with Stan and Olly had already been stitched up by then.

Page 40 Description: Heads of Terms between RIFW and Newco Ltd (acting for Stan Thomas), July 15th, 2011,“describes the sale of 18 properties, but it also states that RIFW may not be in a position to dispose of Imperial House and Garth Park”.

                Observations: “Jonathan Geen is noted as the purchaser’s solicitor”.

Page 44 Description: Against the date November 15th, 2011, we read, “Purchaser is now TBC – a Guernsey Registered Holding Company wholly owned by St Lawrence Property Investments Ltd, registered in UK and funded by GST”. 

St Lawrence Property Investments can be found at Unit 6, Imperial Courtyard, the property for rent we looked at earlier. Its directors are Langley Davies and Jane Pocock, but as a new face we have a Karen Davies, who could be Langley’s wife or, given that she was born in the same month as him, his twin sister.

This company, Number 07545621, was Incorporated February 28th, 2011, and before moving to Newport its address, until August 17th, 2011, was 3 Assembly Square, Britannia Quay, Cardiff Bay. The same address as Acuity Legal, where Jonathan Geen is listed as “Partner – Real Estate”.

If St Lawrence Property Investments was registered at 3 Assembly Square, the address of Jonathan Geen’s company, Acuity Legal, and Incorporated on February 28th, then it’s reasonable to assume that Geen was representing Stan Thomas and Langley Davies some two months before he confessed to his “potential conflict” on April 21st. It may have been longer.

THOUGHTS

The ‘Welsh’ Government seems to think that the RIFW fiasco was all over with the Public Accounts Committee report in January. That was certainly the opinion of Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities . . . the very communities that have lost out by RIFW not realising anything like the potential of the assets it was entrusted with.

RIFW Lesley Griffith

We have since learnt that the ‘Welsh’ Government is getting tough, and earlier this month it was announced that there are plans to take legal action against Lambert Smith Hampton, which has also been referred to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

This is the very least the ‘Welsh’ Government could do, because the performance of LSH leaves only two possibilities:

1/ Those allocated by LSH to the RIFW contract were so utterly inept and unprofessional that they should never be given another job more complicated than a house sale.

2/ The company, or one or more of its employees, was in the pay of Langley and Stan, which is what is suggested by more than one source. If an employee of LSH was simultaneously working for the RIFW and the Langley and Stan show, then surely that person can be prosecuted?

It is therefore wholly correct that Carwyn and his posse should ride off into the sunset in pursuit of the LSH gang. But I don’t understand why Jonathan Geen has been allowed to leave town unmolested. I’m assuming he’s left Cardiff, for as I suggested just now, he seems to have moved to Scotland, where he is currently starring on the Bellerophon Scotland website, now calling himself ‘Jon’ Geen but using the same, Acuity, photograph. (Open out for full profile.)

Jonathan Geen was appointed to the RIFW Board in December 2010. The Terms and Conditions of his appointment can be found here (page 31). I’m linking again to the somewhat neglected report, published in April 2013, into the governance arrangements of the RIFW, written by Gilbert C. Lloyd FCA CPFA. You can read it for yourself, but I can save you the trouble by telling you that Mr Lloyd concludes that the RIFW is a bit of a shambles.

The penultimate Duty reads, “Acting in the best interests of the Fund”. Was it possible for Jonathan Geen to act in the best interests of the Fund while also serving Langley and Stan? His responsibility to the Fund should have meant maximising its profits, yet the gruesome twosome wanted to pay as little as possible for the land.

The final Duty says that the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Seven Principles of Public Life are adhered to. Read them and you may think that Jonathan Geen broke most of them while acting as a Board member of the RIFW, supposedly safeguarding the public interest.

So why was Jonathan Geen allowed to take the high road?

RIFW Jonathan Geen

PICTURE COURTESY OF ACUITY LEGAL

CONCLUSIONS

The Regeneration Investment for Wales was a cock-up from the outset. A perfect example of what goes wrong when civil servants and politicians with no knowledge of the real world try to deal with ‘businessmen’. Setting up the RIFW in the manner it was done was like tethering a goat and waiting for the predators to appear.

Another contributing factor was that, despite its grandiose ambitions, Cardiff remains a relatively small city, and those in particular sectors – such as property sales and development – will almost certainly know each other. Not only professionally, but also socially. Perhaps they’ll belong to the same Lodge or golf club.

While I consistently argue for contracts and jobs to be given to local companies, in the case of the RIFW land disposal, the contracts should have been dispersed to people unknown to each other. This must be borne in mind for all similar business in future and, indeed, more generally when awarding contracts.

For as I travel around Wales I notice signs on development sites telling me that the architect, or the surveyor, or the agent involved, is based in Cardiff, and almost certainly got the contract because he is close to the ‘Welsh’ Government, perhaps in more senses than one.

So let’s learn from the RIFW scandal and in future spread the contracts and the wealth they generate around the country.

All that said, the ultimate blame for the Welsh people being deprived of £200m or more does not lie with Langley Davies or Stan Thomas, Jonathan Geen or anyone at Lambert Smith Hampton, for these were simply being true to their natures. No, the blame lies squarely with the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government down Cardiff docks.

The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales was a disaster waiting to happen, and it was obvious as early as March 2011 that the disaster was playing out, that there were conflicts of interest, that companies showing interest in doing deals were being cold-shouldered in favour of a single buyer, who seemed to be known to all involved, and was at the very same time making a tidy profit out of selling Cardiff airport to the ‘Welsh’ Government!

And while this tragedy was unfolding those buffoons were hiding behind the ‘arms-length’ defence. Yet the RIFW was their creation and they could have stepped in at any time to protect public assets. And that’s exactly what they should have done. It was their duty.

The response of the wretched Lesley Griffiths sums up not only the ‘Let’s move on’ attitude of her administration, but also ‘Welsh’ Labour’s complete lack of ambition for Wales, which could be summed up with, ‘Ooo, we’ve got about 5% of what these assets should have realised – isn’t that wonderful’!

As I’ve said, these clowns will be asking for your vote again in May. Anyone who votes Labour does not – cannot – have the best interests of Wales at heart. Vote for anyone but Labour!

Let’s get the Labour monkey off Wales’ back!

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