Feb 062017
 

Just to reiterate what Big Gee said in a comment, my computer is shot, so until I get a new one and transfer everything, I will not be able to post anything new. So please be patient, and those of you who thought I’d given up the ghost – hard luck! For I shall soon be hunting you down again, re-armed and refreshed from my wee break.

UPDATE 11.02.2017: I’ve splashed out on a new machine but it’s going to take a few days to get back in the flow. It seems I screwed up the hard drive rather than the motherboard, and not everything was backed up. Ah well!

UPDATE 16.02.2017: I was pushing on, I’d set up my e-mail accounts – downloading 11,000+ old messages from one account! – and even getting somewhere with unlocking the folders on the external hard drive, when disaster struck in the form of a power cut, or perhaps a power surge; either way, it scrubbed almost everything from my new machine and now I’m back to the bare bones and trying to put it all together again.

If it hadn’t been dark, and if my lump hammer hadn’t been in the shed, this latest episode could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, ending my association with computers in a very ugly scene.

I shall try to pick up the pieces, again, but another major setback could be the end of the line.

UPDATE 19.02.2017: I have persevered with my ill-judged purchase for long enough, so last night I filled in the online form warning PC World that I shall be returning it in the morning. I am prepared to splash out a bit more money to get a better machine and – on Big Gee’s recommendation – a UPS unit to protect from power cuts and surges.

After Aberystwyth (and if it’s OK with him) I plan to mosey on down to Aberaeon and leave my old machine with Big Gee in the hope that he can breathe on it, and if a full recovery is out of the question then I’ll settle for being able to salvage what I need.

While I remain computerless I can only apologise to my readers, and the ladies in Tywyn library who’ll be wondering why I’ve suddenly become such a regular visitor. As my phone isn’t set up for e-mails Twitter might be the only way to contact me, it’s @jacothenorth.

So there we are. Fingers crossed!

 Posted by at 11:31 on 06/02/2017  Uncategorised
Jan 292017
 

THE DRUGS RACKET

Once upon a time, in a city far, far away, a clergyman came up with the idea of a charity to help those addicted to drugs. This charity has – like so many others! – recently moved to Wales, it now gets lots and lots of funding, and is quickly taking over the Welsh ‘rehabilitation’ racket.

The Kaleidoscope Project is a company and a charity that began life in 1968 in Kingston-upon-Thames, London. In 2013 it relocated to Newport, Gwent, to share premises at Integra House with The South Wales Association For Prevention Of Addiction Ltd. This outfit, usually known as Drugaid, is also a company and a charity and wouldn’t you know it – I wrote about Drugaid in November 2015, read it here.

Even though Drugaid now has a partner to share the load its funding has increased. For if we look at the most recent accounts, for y/e 31.03.2016, we see that income for the year was £6,200,222, against just £2,698,651 for the previous year (page 11). And of that £6m+ total no less than £3,102,866 went on salaries (page 22), with a further £950,363 going on “partner charge salaries” (page 20). Does this refer to Kaleidoscope? Throw in all the other charges and expenses and you have to wonder just how much goes on treating the ‘clients’.

Turning to the 2016 accounts for Kaleidoscope, we find a similar picture. Total income for this Englandandwales operation was £6,855,603 against £4,973,281 for 2015 (page 9). Yet salaries totalled £5,018,767 against £3,561,817 for 2015 (page 17).

As with so many Third Sector bodies we see that seventy or eighty per cent of the income is spent on salaries, wages, pensions, expenses and other staff costs that appear to have little to do with treating drug addiction or alcohol dependency.

Something else you will have noticed is that by adding the figures for Drugaid and Kaleidoscope we see that their combined income almost doubled in a year, going from £7,671,932 in 2015 to £13,055,825 in 2016. Has there been a massive increase in drug addiction or alcohol dependency? I don’t think so. So how do we explain this increase?

One way of explaining it might be through expansion, into GwentDyfedPowys, the Central Valleys, and The North where Kaleidoscope is working with CAIS, an organisation exhibiting the same pattern of an expanding budget most of which goes on staff costs.

And even though the Kaleidoscope website doesn’t say so, I hear that Kaleidoscope now has an interest in 39 St Mary Street in Cardigan. The mortgage on this property had been held by Cyswllt Contact of Aberystwyth, which finally went belly-up last November (though the mortgage may have been inherited by Drugaid before the final collapse). The link for the Cyswllt website now takes us to this other English outfit.

So since moving to Newport in 2013 Kaleidoscope has been able to pull down many millions in grants and loans from the ‘Welsh’ Government’s civil servants and also from local authorities. It has spread like a rash across the country apart from Swansea and Cardiff. Significantly, Drugaid has no presence in these cities, either.

Somebody’s taking the piss here (and it’s not for urine testing!). An English-based, English staffed, cross-border agency is rapidly expanding in the addiction-dependency-homeless racket, raking in millions in Welsh public funding every year – most of which goes on salaries – yet there appear to be no safeguards in place to ensure that Welsh funding isn’t used in England or that English drug addicts aren’t being imported!

Kaleidoscope’s move into Wales is yet another example of Welsh-based bodies being replaced by English counterparts. Which of course further integrates Wales with England, and further exposes the sham of devolution, and ‘Welsh solutions for Welsh problems’.

Though let me make it clear that I do not believe that our politicians are directly culpable. The problem is at the level of senior civil servant/local government officer and Third Sector management. The former taking their orders from London and the latter believing they must operate in an Englandandwales framework.

Our politicians are guilty for not stepping in to put a stop to these squalid shenanigans.

SWANSEA LABOUR PARTY (always good for a laugh!)

Until May 2012 Swansea council was run by a coalition led by the Liberal Democrats whose leader was Chris Holley. In a campaign of dirty tricks waged by the local bruvvers one tactic was particularly naughty – even for Labour.

It was alleged that secret talks had taken place between the Lib Dem-led coalition and the Tories, with promises of increased spending in Conservative-held wards if an ‘understanding’ could be agreed. The matter was referred to the police, the CPS and the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. The three councillors named were Holley, his Independent deputy John Hague and Conservative councillor Paxton Hood-Williams.

Nothing came of the inquiries. Read a report here from BBC Wales, and note the curious fact that the original story of October 2011 attributed the referral to the council’s chief executive and that it took four and a half years before the correction was made!

We shall never know how much public money and police time was wasted investigating this spurious allegation, but what the hell, this is how Labour does politics, the cost is irrelevant when pursuing a vendetta.

Now it appears that Labour is doing something very similar to what it falsely accused Holley et al of doing, in that it’s buying votes. I’m told that Labour councillors were instructed some time ago to improve their chances of re-election in May by giving money they’d been allocated for environmental improvements to high-profile local groups. Among the recipients are said to be the street markets in Uplands and Morriston. Should this be investigated?

peas from the same pod

The deeply divided Swansea Labour Party – which now insists that ward branches report back each and every thought and deed – is also demanding that all candidates in May adhere strictly to Comrade Corbyn’s Ten-Point agenda for Britain and that all new candidates be loyal to Momentum.

Absent from the glittering array to be presented to Swansea’s electors will be John Charles ‘John Boy’ Bayliss. Although he quit the ugly lovely town some time ago John Boy has managed to hang on as an Uplands councillor.

Now he plans to stand in Cardiff and I look forward to reporting on his defeat, after which he might slink back over the border and never trouble us again.

UPDATE 02.02.2017: More information reaches me insisting that a deal was done, a deal that included the coalition offering to support Paxton Hood-Williams’ nomination to chair the council’s Child and Family Overview and Scrutiny Board.

Also, I have received a copy of an e-mail from chief executive Jack Straw to René Kinzett, leader of the Conservative council group at the time, in which Straw clearly says that he is referring the matter to the Ombudsman. We must assume that’s what he did, so why did the BBC make the ‘correction’? Read the e-mail for yourself.

For those wondering about ‘Rocking’ René, this post from April 2013 might help. Thankfully, Kinzett is now long gone from Swansea. Here-today-gone-tomorrow councillors are clearly not the sole preserve of the Labour Party.

LLANDOVERY YMCA

This is another subject about which I’ve written a number of times. If you want to catch up, start with The Impoverishment of Wales (scroll down) and then Ancestral Turf.

It’s a familiar tale. Middle class English people move to a small rural town and wonder how the locals managed without them. They then set about ‘improving’ things and providing ‘services’. Of course, this impulse to serve the inhabitants of one’s adopted home is not unconnected with the ready availability of moolah, and the salaries and pension pots it provides.

While the YMCA seems to be a focal point for these activities there have been other ventures. One worth mentioning would be the bunkhouse, launched in 2013 and bust by 2016. But what the hell, it’s only money, and with the system we have in Wales there’s plenty more where that came from.

But now I hear of something more worrying than just ripping off the public purse.

As you might guess, the YMCA caters for children and young people. Which explains the concerns many involved there have over the husband of one of the leading lights. A man who is said to spend a lot of time ‘hanging about’ the place. For I’m told that this man is currently on police bail accused of sexual offences against children, with his wife away from work on the pretext that he’s unwell and she’s looking after him.

She wants to return, but, for obvious reasons, this is being opposed. To complicate matters, there is a Big Lottery People and Places grant of £500,000 waiting in the wings.

My position is this: there can be no further investment in Llandovery YMCA of any kind and from any quarter while the wife of the alleged paedophile is still involved. There should also be a thorough investigation by those agencies that have hitherto given such unquestioning support: the ‘Welsh’ Government, Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council, and of course the Big Lottery Fund. One question might be, ‘given that he likes hanging about the building has the man in question ever had a DBS check?’

The unacceptable option would be to ignore what’s happening in Llandovery to save embarrassing certain people in positions of authority.

PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN WALES

A curious tale has reached me about the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

To cut a long story short, a dispute between neighbours was taken to Cardiff council, and then one of those involved, unhappy with the way the case had been handled by the council, took the matter up with the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. At which point things took a strange turn.

When he later asked to see the documentation that had passed between the council and the Ombudsman the complainant was informed that this correspondence was “exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act or DPA” (Data Protection Act). Explicitly mentioned in justification for not providing the information requested was Section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (reproduced below).

If we look at part (1), then if (a) or (b) applied it would be easy for the Ombudsman’s office to quote the relevant ‘enactment’ or ‘obligation’. They chose not to. As for (c), there was no court case so I fail to see how contempt of court can be applicable. Which leaves (2), on which you can make up your own minds.

The Ombudsman’s office eventually relented, to the extent that they were prepared to release a single document – but only if the recipient signed a gagging order! Which makes you wonder what secrets could possibly be contained in correspondence between Cardiff council and the Public Services Ombudsman discussing a relatively minor dispute.

My understanding is that information provided under the FoI Act is considered to be in the public domain. It’s reasonable to assume that this does not apply with the Data Protection Act, and that this explains why the correspondence was released under the DPA rather than the FoI Act.

This case raises more questions than answers. Not least, is Nick Bennett the PSO for Wales a law unto himself, above and beyond the control of those who appointed him? Or, given that he was appointed by a Labour government, and Cardiff is a Labour-run council, is this a bit of quid pro quo?

Has anyone reading this had a similar experience? Can anyone offer suggestions on how to challenge this decision?

MAKING USE OF THE FOI ACT 2000 (by ‘Big Gee’)

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities. More information HERE.

It does this in two ways:

•   public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and

•   members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in Cymru (Wales), England and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces. However, the Act (unfortunately) does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.

Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.

Why is this of interest to us?

Obviously, by our very nature, as a blogging site that deals specifically with political and politically associated subject matter in Cymru, we often have a need to prise information from the sources referred to above, who do not necessarily publish or release information that is often of public interest or benefit. Information is power, public bodies retain power by holding on to information, the public gain power by accessing information. The process also holds authorities in check and makes them accountable.

How do we presently make FoI requests?

At present, any individual or body can make a direct request for information by letter or e-mail to the public body they require information from. Alternatively there is a web-site run by a voluntary group called ‘What Do They Know’. That site covers all of the UK, it is only one of it’s kind in the British Isles. This excellent web-site does all the donkey work for anyone who wishes to use it. It has a database that covers thousands of public bodies. Anyone wishing to use it can simply choose the organisation they want information from. The site then allows them to post their request on-line. The request is automatically forwarded to the selected authority. All replies are sent back to the site and are automatically displayed for public viewing. The requester is notified of the reply and is given the opportunity to proceed as they see fit with the request. The site also sets deadlines for replies and offers the opportunity for the requesters to ask for an internal inquiry within the authority they made their request to. The site also allows the requester to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, if the situation requires that action.

The only drawback with the ‘What Do They Know’ site is that it has to deal with requests on various levels, throughout the UK. By virtue of the sheer numbers involved, it does not bore down to all parish/ community levels, especially in Cymru. Although many of those small ‘parish’ authorities do not have e-mail contacts that can be used, so they are generally overlooked. We could help rectify that.

How can we improve on this service In Cymru?

The software that powers the ‘What Do They Know’ site is readily available from Alaveteli. Whilst it takes a considerable amount of technical know-how to set up a FoI site, the ones involved with the Jac o’ the North blog site have that technical expertise.

What we would like to explore is the viability of setting up a ‘sister’ site to the Jac o’ the North blog site. It will hopefully provide a FoI service to the citizens of Cymru. It’s database will contain contact information for FoI departments within authorities and the public bodies that serve Cymru, from Y Senedd (the Welsh Assembly) down to local parish/ community councils, where possible. This will fill the gap not provided by the current ‘What Do They Know’ web-site.

The initial work is the heaviest, which entails not only setting up and customising the proposed site, but the harvesting of information for it’s database. In order to achieve this we need a ‘team’ put together to achieve that very important primary step in the process. When the site is up and running it will require minimal supervision, maintenance and moderation.

All those interested in being involved in this project can either contact the Jac o’ the North’s web-master, or contact Jac directly. We will keep you posted of our progress.

A FoI web-site specifically customised for use within our own country would be a huge boost to the availability of information to the ordinary man and woman across our communities.

♦ end ♦

Jan 232017
 

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know about the takeover of Cantref, a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, a company with strong links to the Labour Party. For those catching up, I advise starting with the post Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged? To give some chronological marker, the takeover was officially registered with the Financial Conduct Authority 19 September 2016.

Even before the takeover I was receiving information from a person or persons I must assume were ‘in the know’. This information came by a number of routes, and was of varying degrees of confidentiality; what came as comments to this blog I can use in full, but information received by more discreet routes will require more circumspect treatment.

Let’s start with a comment from July 2015. Two points from it are worth noting. First, I believe the “something else going on” is a reference to the increasing suspicion that Cantref was about to be sold down the river. Second, the reference to “David Hedges of Cyngor Da” (Good Counsel/Advice) was a little confusing at the time because Hedges is a consultant and Cyngor Da is his company, yet he’s described as one of Cantref’s directors.

I shall return to our Dai, son of Glamorgan cricketer the late Bernard Hedges, later.

As we now know, Cantref was indeed sold down the river, taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, ‘Welsh’ Labour’s favourite housing association. (Though the ‘Association’ bit was dropped from the name in 2012, now it’s just Wales and West Housing.)

As the takeover was going through I was being told about Wales and West “surveyors” evaluating Cantref’s stock and joking about taking down opposition party – mainly Plaid Cymru – placards and posters from WWH properties in the Cardiff West constituency during last year’s Assembly election campaign. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Wales and West Housing is ‘Welsh’ Labour by another name.

Something else I was hearing through other channels – though I confess I paid little attention at the time – was that Wales and West is linked somehow with the Mid Wales Housing Association. Now MWH inherited much of its stock, either directly or indirectly, from the Development Board for Rural Wales, that agency set up to ‘repopulate’ the five counties of central Wales. Part of the DBRW strategy included building homes for ‘key workers’, which in practice meant housing the complete workforces of relocating English companies or factories.

As I say, I should have paid more attention to this Mid Wales Housing reference if only because something interesting had emerged a few years earlier.

The nub of the story I’m referring to can be found in this news item from 2012 which tells that the Development Board for Rural Wales borrowed money at 14% interest over 50 years to build those ‘key worker’ houses, and when the DBRW (together with the Land Authority for Wales) was merged with the Welsh Development Agency in October 1998 that debt was transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Which if you think about it was odd . . . if not impossible.

Because the devolution referendum was held on September 18th 1997 and the first Assembly elections on May 6th 1999. Which means that when this transfer was effected in 1998 there was a devolutionary void. The transfer was therefore accomplished by Westminster, and this saw our incoming AMs confronted with a fait accompli. (Makes you wonder what else might have been dumped on our Assembly before it came into existence.)

In addition to the news story there was an interesting discussion on the blog of Montgomeryshire Tory MP Glyn Davies. Davies was the last chief executive of the DBRW.

Now we hear of deals being struck between Mid Wales Housing, Wales and West Housing and an unnamed English housing association to bring in tenants to Llandrindod. The ‘Paul Diggery’ referred to is Paul Diggory, currently chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales, and before that, for over 15 years, chief executive of North Wales Housing.

The ‘Ann Hinchy’ mentioned is Anne Hinchey, chief executive of Wales and West Housing, wife of Graham Hinchey, Labour councillor for the Heath ward in Cardiff.

Naturally, I tried to make enquiries about WWH developments in Llandrindod. Turning to Google I came up with this . . . but the link is broken. I was unable to find anything for Llandrindod on the Wales and West website, either.

So what ‘Jonny English’ seems to be saying is that Wales and West Housing, with its HQ in Cardiff, its new western office (the former Cantref office) in Castell Newydd Emlyn, it’s northern base on Deeside, is now trying to get a footprint in the middle by linking up with Mid Wales Housing and some English housing association.

Entirely predictable, because when we look at who’s running MWH we see the usual English mediocrities staring back at us from the Executive Group page. Without whom we’d still be living in caves.

I’m sure ‘Jonny English’ will read this, as will others with information, so please let me have more details, most importantly, the name of the English housing association involved in this scheme. I’d also appreciate clarification on the relationship between WWH, MWH and the English outfit (the one from England).

Let us return now to David Hedges. After being at Cantref when the transfer to Wales and West was arranged, the word on the street is that he’s now ensconced at Pembrokeshire Housing! What can it mean?

Again, for newcomers, or those with short memories, Pembrokeshire Housing is a body I have written about many, many times. Not just the parent body but also its bonny offspring Mill Bay Homes. I suggest you start here with Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and then Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2.

The set-up is as follows. (And here I have to be careful cos writing about this lot has resulted in Jac getting solicitor’s letters.) Pembrokeshire Housing appears to be a normal housing association, grabbing its whack from the Welsh public purse to build social housing, much of which is allocated to persons and families having no previous connection with the area, or indeed with Wales.

Back around 2011 someone came up with the wheeze of using the dormant Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd to build properties and sell them on the open market. The name was soon changed to Mill Bay Homes. Now, after £7m+ has been transferred from parent to subsidiary, and houses built for retirees, investors, and friends of the MBH management, it seems that questions are – belatedly – being asked about this highly unusual arrangement.

This might explain the recent ‘retirement’ of Peter Maggs, Pembrokeshire Housing’s chief executive, and the arrival of David Hedges as – so ‘Dai the Post’ tells us – interim housing director.

Even allowing for the fact that within the social housing racket field in Wales there are bound to be connections and linkages, there seem to be far too many between Cantref, Pembrokeshire Housing, Wales and West and Campbell Tickell, of whom more in a moment.

As I said at the outset, David Hedges appeared in Cantref just before it was handed over to Wales and West Housing, like some harbinger of doom. Now we hear that he’s involved with Pembrokeshire Housing, and we’re also told that Wales and West is again manoeuvring into position to pounce. Interestingly, if we consult David Hedges’ Linkedin profile we see that he has worked for Wales and West. (If you can’t access the Linkedin profile click here for a downloaded version.)

UPDATE 26.01.2017: An anonymous source tells me that Dai Hedges is more of a fire-fighter than an assassin, sent in when things are going pear-shaped. Which may be true, but won’t be much consolation to those at Pembrokeshire Housing.

I’m reasonably certain that Jonny English is somewhere in the north, while Dai the Post is probably in the south west, so it’s interesting that both mention Campbell Tickell; which gives me the opportunity to explain for late arrivals where this management consultancy fits into the big picture.

Campbell Tickell is the company of Greg Campbell and James Tickell, both Labour Party supporters. And as his Linkedin profile tells us, Campbell has even worked for the party. Also note the reference to Common Purpose, that shadowy, some say sinister, Labour-leaning, globalist organisation for professionals in public life.

In addition to being rather suspect in its motivation and workings Common Purpose has a distinctly contemptuous attitude towards Wales. Check out this list of CP’s programmes for 2017. Scotland and Northern Ireland are covered, as are the regions of England (even individual cities in Scotland and England), but Wales might as well not exist. Search for ‘Wales’ on the Common Purpose website and you’ll turn up this little story about Chinese students on a flying visit to the Assembly in December 2015, nothing more.

Here we have a network that results in English appointees to many Welsh jobs. On the ground, it operates thus. ‘Welsh’ Labour helps its very own housing association to expand within Wales to the point where – already the largest – Wales and West Housing becomes dominant. (What’s the next stage?) To avoid accusations of cronyism it passes the recruitment process to Campbell Tickell, a Labour-supporting Common Purpose recruitment agency.

This procedure is not confined to housing associations, it can be found across public life in Wales, to the extent that I sometimes wonder if devolution is nothing but a scam to create a few thousand jobs for our neighbours in the £50,000+ salary bracket. Worth asking because devolution is achieving sod all for us Welsh.

This system satisfies two vaguely linked agendas.

On the one hand, it helps the Labour Party compensate for its declining electoral support by spreading the party’s influence, via Wales and West Housing and other agencies, into areas where many would rather Glasgow kiss a rough stone wall than vote Labour. Areas such as Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Powys.

But the system also serves the agenda of civil servants in Cardiff and elsewhere, who answer to mandarins in London, and whose overarching ambition is to keep a check on – even roll back – devolution. One of the best ways of achieving this to ensure that as few Welsh people as possible fill positions of authority. This creates the impression that we Welsh can do nothing for ourselves and also comes in useful when ‘consultations’ are undertaken to determine future policy direction.

All of which brings us back to my post earlier this month Housing Associations: Secret or Public?, in which I explained why Labour politicians and civil servants wish to maintain the secretive status of our public funds-guzzling housing associations. I suggest you read it.

And if you have a beef with a housing association then there’s no point in appealing to Nick Bennett, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. Bennett was CEO of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations, from July 2006 until July 2014. Bennett is also close to ‘Welsh’ Labour, having been in business with a former Labour minister.

HE’S NOT AND HE IS (if you want to watch the video click here)

To take the explanation a stage further, we have a system of social housing, increasingly controlled at national level and managed at local level by people who know nothing about Wales and without any concern for – or even contemptuous of – Welsh identity, using vast sums of Welsh public funding, and regularly housing people with no connection to Wales. Because of course social housing in Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system. I have that on impeccable authority.

Back in early December 2010 I wrote a reader’s letter to the Wasting Mule seeking answers from Nick Bennett to a number of points. Instead of publishing it the Letters Editor passed my questions on to Bennett who then e-mailed me directly, saying: “Strong local connection cannot be the only acceptable qualification for social housing in Wales. Social housing is a scarce resource for homeless people and those on low incomes who can’t access housing in the private sector. There are over 2 million people on waiting lists for social housing”.

Wales is the most corrupt country in Europe because it suits so many to have it that way. This corruption helps the Labour Party in Wales maintain power and influence despite declining support at the ballot box. Facilitated by Common Purpose and other bodies, this corruption discredits devolution and thereby strengthens England’s hold on Wales to the point where assimilation will have been achieved before most of us realise it.

If I was working for Pembrokeshire Housing I’d be getting worried now, because the vultures are circling – they may already have landed! And yet, just like Cantref, you brought it on yourselves, in your case with the insane decision to fund a private house builder subsidiary. And what will happen to Mill Bay Homes when Wales and West Housing takes over?

To understand how this system of colonialist corruption operates you have to recognise and understand the linkages, how they influence and contaminate public life in Wales. Social housing is the perfect example because it brings together so many threads. And it explains why the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants who ‘advise’ it want to save housing associations from public scrutiny.

But don’t think for one minute that the corruption is confined to our housing associations. Corruption is endemic in Welsh public life – because it’s encouraged.

♦ end ♦

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

Regular readers will know that one of the ‘staples’ of this blog is the wasting of public funding by Third Sector organisations. Exposing this waste is not something I really enjoy but it’s so prevalent in Wales – and has become worse with devolution – that it just cannot be ignored.

In a very general sense it’s possible to divide most Third Sector organisations into two main groups.

The first is the local group set up to ‘regenerate’ a run-down area, with most of those involved being local people, and a surprisingly high percentage of them having connections with the Labour Party. I say ‘surprisingly high percentage’ because, while less than a third of Welsh voters may now support Labour, the party’s supporters seem to make up a clear majority in this category. Let’s call this the Community sector.

The second is not so easy to categorise. Perhaps the best way to put it is that this group is about things rather than people or a community, perhaps an old building, or a specific area of countryside. Those involved in bodies like this are unlikely to be local. Let’s call this the Conservation sector.

Despite this helpful distinction, there are of course overlaps. But it tends to be one way, with outsiders involved in, often leading, Community groups rather than finding many locals in Conservation projects.

I’ve given you this introduction because it might help with what follows. This post being about two stories breaking that involve one group from each category.

NSA AFAN

As the name suggests, NSA Afan is based in Port Talbot, and its website tells us, “The purpose of the organisation is to support regeneration to enable a better quality of life for people living in the most disadvantaged communities in the Swansea Bay Area.”  (I am grateful to the ever-alert ‘Stan’ of Neath Ferret fame for tipping me off about this story.)

The original media mention on the ninth of this month said that police are investigating the possible misuse of public funds, and tells us, ‘A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Following initial investigations into allegations concerning possible misuse of public funds at NSA Afan, we have suspended funding while further investigations are undertaken.”‘

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

The second report, two days later, says, quoting a police source, “We can confirm that South Wales Police has arrested a 35-year-old woman from the Port Talbot area on suspicion of theft on August 11, 2016 following a complaint received from NSA Afan.’

Now in cases like this I make my way to the figures, and so here are the most recent accounts for NSA Afan, these being for year ending 31.03.2016. A quick perusal of the nitty-gritty will tell you that income is falling, dramatically, down from £2,005,262 in 2014 to £1,428,901 in 2015 and £923,210 in 2016.

Even so, you’ll be pleased to know that despite this drop in funding staff costs at NSA Afan for 2016 were still over £800,000. Which means that in 2016 income just about covered staff costs.

‘Ah, Jac, you cynical bastard’ I can hear in the background, ‘that still still leaves a hundred grand to help people, at the Dalton Road Community Employment Academy and the Glyncorrwg Con Club’. Maybe, maybe not.

My equivocation is due to the fact that if we go to the Companies House website, there we find more information on (to give it its full name) the New Sandfields Aberafan and Afan – Community Regeneration, Company Number 03674953. Click on the ‘Charges’ tab and you’ll see that there are nine outstanding Charges against NSA Afan, that is loans or mortgages. Put it all together, the falling income, the high staff costs, payments on loans and mortgages, and it becomes clear that NSA Afan is not in the best of financial health.

In fact, the independent auditors say as much in the Accounts for 2016 (page 21, para 3), where we are warned of ” . . . material uncertainties which may cast doubt about the Charities (sic) ability to continue as a going concern.”

The more generous among you may think that the theft currently being investigated by South Wales Police plays a major role in NSA Afan’s parlous state. Not so. For elsewhere in the Accounts (page 20, para 9) we are told that “£50,000 was refunded by the credit card company during the year, however the remainder of the theft is unlikely to be recovered”.

The “remainder” may be the £46,144 we find on page 28, under ‘Donations and Legacies’. If so, how do we reconcile this amount with the statement quoted in the previous paragraph? Or is the £46,144 part of the £50,000 refunded by “the credit card company”?

Despite the falling income NSA Afan is still expanding. Curious, really, considering it’s a Communities First project and that last October even the ‘Welsh’ Government was forced to admit that Communities First had been a very expensive failure. Among NSA Afan’s recent acquisitions was Youth of Bettws (YOBS). So I made some enquiries.

What I’d assumed to be just a youth club is in fact registered with Companies House, Number 06719083. Under the Charges tab we learn that YOBS has an outstanding loan of £267,350 with the Big Lottery Fund, a loan it took out on June 29th 2011 to buy the leasehold of a former school owned by Bridgend County Borough Council.

The same property is now listed as a Charge against FSA Afan, but the details have changed. On May 27th last year The Big Lottery Fund made a ‘grant’ to NSA Afan of £388,384. This was presumably done to take over the leasehold of the property inherited from Youth of Bettws aka Bettws Boys and Girls Club, but what was the extra £121,034 for?

A question worth asking seeing as the Land Registry document tells us (page 3) that “The value as at 15 August 2016 was stated to be under £100,000”. Maybe NSA Afan is using some of the money it got from The Big Lottery Fund for some other purpose? Apparently not; because the Charge document mentions only the Bettws Boys and Girls Club. (In case you’re wondering, this is a repayable grant, what you and I would call a loan.)

To recap: we have a property, Bettws Boys and Girls Club, owned by a Labour-run council and valued – or possibly the leasehold is valued – at “under £100,000”; but a Labour-controlled, Communities First body goes out on a limb for £388,384 to lease this property! Unless NSA Afan has massive plans for YOBS I do not understand what the hell is going on here. All I see is the regular pattern of public money being shuffled around between Labour-controlled bodies to create the illusion of employment and economic activity.

And what of the Big Lottery Fund? I’m sure most of you think of the BLF as a generous body gifting large sums of money to worthy causes, money we have given to this organisation through playing the National Lottery or its other games. Did you know that the Big Lottery Fund is a commercial lender?

Perhaps lending to groups that might have difficulty getting a loan from a regular financial institution – those it describes as “community and voluntary groups”? I wonder what the interest rates are? And if those groups receiving a loan default, does the BLF take possession?

To conclude. The Communities First scheme operated in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales, in other words, areas controlled by ‘Welsh’ Labour. This gave the party a golden opportunity to engage in cronyism. Which is exactly what it did, and this explains why the Communities First project was such a disaster.

Dealing specifically with NSA Afan, I don’t doubt that someone stole money, but this is not why it’s folding. It’s folding because it was badly run. Even when it was half-way up Shit Creek with income falling it was still taking on new liabilities!

If this refers to 2017 I don’t see much point

As for the alleged theft, how was an individual employed by a body reliant on the public purse able to steal over £50,000 through a credit card? Was there no credit limit on this card? I do hope that the prosecution of this individual is not allowed to distract from the bigger problems at NSA Afan, all of which can be traced back to ‘Welsh’ Labour and the cronyism and nepotism on which it relies.

This system is now so discredited that it places ‘Welsh’ Labour at something of a crossroads. The party can either clean up the Third Sector and perhaps alienate many of those who benefit from it, or else it can stick with this system of corruption and see its electoral support slip even further.

If NSA Afan is – was? – a Community type of Third Sector organisation, this next case is most definitely about a Conservation body . . .

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

This outfit has starred more than once on this blog, but before looking at previous posts let’s get the background on the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd (CHRT). It was Incorporated with Companies House on February 28th 2003 as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar (Carmarthenshire Heritage and Regeneration Trust) and appears to have been a joint venture between the County Council and Coleg y Drindod.

Lord Dynevor came on board on April 9th 2003. A few other local worthies joined on the same day, including a Meryl Gravell, described as “Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council”. Another was Roger (now Sir Roger) Jones, then of the Welsh Development Agency, and a former BBC Wales Governor. While yet another director was William Powell Wilkins, who came up with the idea of the National Botanic Garden. Quite a crew.

Though for the purposes of this article I suppose the most important recruit was Claire Deacon, who became a Director on October 8th 2008. At the time, Ms Deacon, based in Marloes, Pembrokeshire, was working as a lecturer and also as a consultant (possibly to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park). Ms Deacon served as a director until June 9th 2010.

The reason for Ms Deacon resigning as a Director was to take over as CEO, soon after the Trust bought its main project, Llanelly House in Llanelli. Though she rejoined the Board on June 1st 2011 as Secretary.

LLANELLY HOUSE

The name of the body was officially changed, with Companies House, from Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar to Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on February 25th 2015. (All the information here, and more, can be found under Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on the Companies House website.)

In addition to the main company, there is also the charity of the same name, and down the years there have been a few of what I can best describe as subsidiary companies. The only one I think is worth bothering with is Plas Llanelly House Cyf, where we again find Ms Deacon as Secretary.

Previous posts told how the CHRT is branching out, first to Merthyr, with the purchase of the YMCA building in Pontmorlais, and then in the other direction, down to the ruins of Ystrad Fflur (Strata Florida Abbey) with the purchase of the farm buildings at Mynachlog Fawr. So you may wish to read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism, both by a guest writer.

The reason for CHRT branching out from Llanelly House was quite simple – the funding was running out, and there was no way that Llanelly House could ever pay its way – and Ms Deacon’s salary – unless a fairy godmother stepped in with oodles of loot.

The time had come to find another project, concoct another ludicrously optimistic business plan, rake in the grants, live high on the hog for a few years, get plenty of good publicity, improve the CV . . . until it becomes clear that this is yet another project that will never survive without the drip-feed of public funding. By which time people like Ms Deacon have usually moved on to the next project. And so it continues. This is the Conservation element of the Third Sector in Wales, and the beneficiaries are almost always, like Ms Deacon, from over the border.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this piece. The word on Stepney Street is that Ms Deacon recently parted company with the CHRT. And when you read the latest accounts you’ll understand why. The auditors state quite clearly (page 11, para 1) that the net deficit at 31.03.2016 of £114,038 “. . . may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

A number of entries in the Accounts caught my eye, and if I was involved in CHRT or Llanelly House I’d be asking questions about them. The first is to be found on page 18 in ‘Direct Costs of Charitable Activities’, where we are told that in the year that ended 31.03.2016 £262,482 was spent on “Legal and Professional Fees” (£168,146 the previous year). That figure seems very high, and I’d like to have it explained.

Another perplexing entry, on page 26, tells us that . . .

How does the CEO get taken on as a consultant? CEO Claire: ‘Oh, hello, Claire, this Claire here, would you like to work for a while as a consultant, for a much higher rate than your CEO salary?’ Consultant Claire: ‘Well, thank you, Claire, I’d love to‘. This is bizarre, but I’ve reported on it before, so it’s not new to me.

As if the figures for CHRT weren’t bad enough the Plas Llanelly House Cyf Accounts tell us that that venture is sixty-five grand down the Swanee. But perhaps worst of all is that – just as with NSA Afan – in addition to falling income and rising debt there are Charges against CHRT, held by Finance Wales, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. If the Trust can’t meet its obligations then presumably each of these Charges will become the responsibility of its guarantor, be that the ‘Welsh’ Government, Llanelli town council, or Carmarthenshire county council.

In case the escape plan in the forms of Merthyr YMCA and Ystrad Fflur don’t work out, Ms Deacon has now gone into business on her own account, with Marloes Conservation Ltd. This company was only Incorporated on December 1st (soon after the latest Accounts were published), which lends credence to the suggestion that she is no longer with CHRT. Perhaps she’s had a vision – Meryl Gravell leading the band into Abide With Me as the good ship Llanelly House heaves her last and slips into the abyss.

It will be interesting to see what work comes the way of Marloes Conservation Ltd. And where from.

Although very different in their fields of operation, and those involved, NSA Afan and CHRT have a lot in common.

To begin with, both have swallowed up large amounts of public funding. And now, with both projects in serious financial difficulties, it becomes clear that much of that public funding has been wasted. Which is not to say that some people haven’t benefited from NSA Afan’s courses, or that good work hasn’t been done at Llanelly House, but the issue is surely priorities.

With an economy in serious trouble, with EU funding bound to end soon, how do you feel about paying for classes on ‘The American Century’ in Port Talbot, and a new rococo balustrade for Llanelly House, when sick people have to spend hours on a trolley in our hospitals?

Obviously that money would be better spent on the hospitals, and on training doctors, nurses and other staff we need.

Another troubling issue with these and other projects is the ease with which they secure Lottery funding. In the case of NSA Afan it’s Big Lottery Fund, and with CHRT it’s Heritage Lottery Fund, but it’s still money we’ve given. It’s almost as if Lottery funders take their cue from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Is there a connection?

In a poor country like Wales, what funding we have must, in the first instance, be spent on what we need, and in the longer term there must be investment in making Wales wealthier, not in glossing over the deprivation with publicly-funded Labour cronyism, or by restoring Georgian mansions into which our ancestors would only have been allowed as servants.

It’s long past the time when the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants it claims to control did what other governments across the globe do – prioritise, and stop wasting money we can’t afford to lose.

end ♦

Jan 082017
 

I’ve argued many times that Wales is in a bad way, a condition I described in a recent blog as “a basket case country with a begging bowl ‘economy'”. We’re at the bottom of every table measuring the state of the nation – PISA results are woeful, GVA figure are terrible and the number of economically inactive people is worrying.

Devolution has achieved nothing; in my more cynical moments I think it’s just a distraction, or a placebo.

All that seems to matter is that the money keeps rolling in to prop up the edifice and keep the politicians and their legions of cronies in jobs; with Labour trying to soothe away every damning statistic or latest piece of bad news with yet more platitudinous bollocks. Despite having had almost 18 years to improve things, the truth is that ‘Welsh’ Labour has made things worse.

The only conclusion to draw is that the party is either incapable or unwilling to improve things for our people. (Or maybe that devolution is designed to fail.) Which makes you wonder why so many Welsh people have stuck with Labour for so long. But now, after a hundred years of failure, I sense that more and more people realise that these clowns will never deliver a democratic, prosperous and confident Wales.

Despite Labour’s countless shortcomings there always seemed to be little point in looking to Plaid Cymru for meaningful change. (Regular readers will know my views on that score.) Though that said, one new face among Plaid politicians has caught my eye, I’m referring now to South Wales Central AM Neil McEvoy.

Let me make clear that I have never met Neil McEvoy, but it’s obvious from a distance that he’s cut from a different cloth to most Plaid politicians. He comes from neither the cultural nationalist wing nor from the Left-Green wing. He seems to be a man with both feet firmly planted in his own community, not looking to save the planet or pander to Guardianistas. This rootedness makes it almost inevitable that he confronts Labour head-on, and exposes the corruption at the heart of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

In addition, he seems to be that rarity among Plaid politicians, a street fighter, a species of which Labour has always had plenty, but dear parchus Plaid always found rather, well . . . not neis.

I find this refreshing, because as I’ve always argued, there are too many in Plaid Cymru who allow outdated and discredited ideology to dominate their thinking, and then they pile one mistake on another by lining up with their Guardianista friends in seeing the Tories as the enemy. But the biggest party in Wales, and therefore the real enemy of Wales, is Labour.

As I said just now, McEvoy fights Labour on their own turf. And it’s working. In the May 2016 Assembly elections voters in the working class estates in the west of Cardiff turned out to get him within 1,000 votes of unseating Mark Drakeford, Labour Health Minister at the time. That means that the former seat of Rhodri Morgan, head of the Morgan dynasty, is now a key marginal for the next election.

Understandably, this has sent Labour into something of a panic, and it’s not solely attributable to the votes McEvoy’s taken from them. For example, since being elected AM he’s called for an official Welsh register of lobbyists. When Carwyn Jones said lobbyists had no access to Labour Ministers McEvoy produced photographic evidence of Labour Ministers meeting with lobbyists. Backtracking followed, and Jones had to confirm that lobbyists do have access, just not formal access. In other words, and like so much else with ‘Welsh’ Labour, it’s all done in the shadows.

I’m also glad to report that McEvoy has been asking questions about David Goldstone and his influence on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s property deals. Questions that other politicians should have been asking a long, long time ago. He exposed the scarcely believable loss of £1m on just 2 shops sold by the ‘Welsh’ Government, without a valuation, in Pontypridd. (My 9-year-old grandson could have got a better deal than that! Come to think of it, so could his kid brother.)

UPDATE, 13.01.2017: We were paying for Goldstone’s trips to Cardiff, and his stays at the Hilton Hotel.

Now I hear he’s chasing up something unearthed by the Public Accounts Committee, on which he sits. It seems Cardiff Aviation at St Athan doesn’t pay rent; one suggestion being that someone, somewhere, possibly belonging to a certain political party, gave the OK for Cardiff Aviation to enjoy the St Athan facilities rent free. Then there’s an issue with planes being unable to land in fog, which it seems lost Cardiff the EasyJet link. And if that’s not enough to get the bruvvers worked up, allegations of institutionalised corruption have been made against Cardiff’s Labour-controlled council.

Despite that litany of nasal intrusions what may have really marked the South Wales Central Member’s card with ‘Welsh’ Labour is his objection to the billions likely to be made on the Cardiff Local Development Plan. Labour campaigned on the promise to protect Cardiff’s green fields. As soon as they were elected they announced plans to build on most of them. Contrived population projections from the English Planning Inspectorate (dealt with more than once on this blog) being used as the justification.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the land has already been sold off at knock-down, agricultural prices. Read my posts Pies, Planes and Property Development and Pies, Planes and Property Development 2.

Make no mistake, there is something very shady about the Cardiff LDP, and challenging it will make you a target. Though I don’t think anyone expected Labour to be so desperate as to try to tarnish McEvoy a racist for his objections (a default position for Labour politicos), with even the First Minister getting involved. Bizarre in the extreme given Neil McEvoy’s multi-ethnic family background.

So deeply under Labour’s thick hide has Neil McEvoy managed to wriggle that I have it on very good authority (a former Labour councillor) that up to a third of Labour group meetings in Cardiff are dedicated to plotting his downfall. I was unable to confirm if voodoo dolls and pins are involved.

So no one should be surprised that he’s now being investigated by Wales’ Public Services Ombudsman in a desperate attempt to find him guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute – after trying to stop a bedroom tax eviction! How could anyone be charged with bringing a Labour council into disrepute!

The ‘charge’ seems to be that he was overheard saying that he can’t wait for Cardiff Council to be re-structured after May’s election. ‘Welsh’ Labour’s hope is to get the Local Government Panel to ban him from council elections – for talking about a policy of restructuring! The PSO, Nick Bennett, is hardly politically neutral himself (see my previous article here).

The article linked to reminds us that in an earlier existence Bennett was the business partner of an up and coming Labour politician who went on to become a Minister. Combine this with his lobbying for the tobacco industry and his role in huge wage increases for executives at Community Housing Cymru – the umbrella group for our housing associations (of which he was then CEO) – and it all tends to tarnish his credentials as an impartial arbiter of behaviour in political and public life.

Nick Bennett is an insider, he’s part of the ‘machine’, and in a working democracy he would never have been appointed Public Services Ombudsman.

But things go beyond run-of-the-mill political corruption when we remember that twice in the last 12 months Neil McEvoy has been burgled. In 2016 he came home from a public meeting about a landfill site to find the house ransacked by intruders, but while they took a great deal of trouble to break in they ignored the money, jewellery and pocket-sized iPads. Preferring to rifle through his paperwork, stealing some documents.

And McEvoy’s ‘Welcome to 2017, you bastard!’ was an office burglary, with valuable items once again ignored, but papers rummaged through and locked drawers broken open. This is simply too much of a coincidence not to be coordinated.

When the two burglaries are linked to the persistent allegations of the stalking of his sister, with the boys in blue refusing to interview independent witnesses, to the mass theft of placards during his election campaign (some removed by a Labour-controlled housing association!), we begin to get an understanding of the breadth, the depth, and the bitterness of the campaign against him.

I cannot think of any Plaid politician who has got under the skin of Labour in the way Neil McEvoy has – too many haven’t even tried. No Plaid politician before has ever stood up in the Assembly and named just some of the Labour cronies earning huge salaries in the public and third sectors. And no other Plaid politician has had the guts to take on the corrupt land deals that the Labour Party waived through.

One bad apple may spoil the barrel, but one good apple doesn’t save the cider either. Plaid is still too cosy with the liberal, statist, anti-Brexit, ‘Isn’t Trump ghastly’ elite, so embittered since they learnt what ordinary people really think of them and their ideas. But whether you support Plaid Cymru or not, if you believe in honesty and democracy, then you should support Neil McEvoy.

If devolution is ever going to be more than a chimera then at the very least we need more AMs prepared to take on the corrupt establishment and stand up to the vested interests. If that establishment can be so rattled by one ballsy Plaid politician then it makes you realise what effect a few more could have.

But from where I’m sitting too many in Plaid’s hierarchy seem to be ‘uncomfortable’ with Neil McEvoy. Because there have always been people in Plaid Cymru reluctant to make a ‘fuss’, terrified of actually succeeding, some have even worked to undermine the party when success threatened.

By comparison, the Labour Party in Wales has always been ruthless in maintaining its hold on power in order to support its networks of cronyism and corruption. Labour has been so dominant for so long that people seemed resigned to these abuses, but times are changing, and with Labour losing electoral support – getting just a third of the vote in last May’s Assembly election – there’s a growing perception that a century of political control – and the power of patronage that goes with it – may be coming to an end.

Which is wonderful news for Wales, but this fin-de-siècle moment is not with us yet. The system is decayed and rotten, like a dangerous tree, but while we are trying to push it over there are still many people reliant on it for sustenance, and they’ll fight dirty to keep it standing. But it will fall, that’s now certain; so it’s up to us to make sure that when it comes down it topples on the right people.

Let it be clearly understood – in case any lawyers read this – that I am not for one minute suggesting that the Labour and Unionist Party was implicated in the break-ins suffered by Neil McEvoy. No, sir. It could well be that these offences were committed by an insomniac with an insatiable urge to read political documents by torchlight. If so, then that person clearly needs help.

If there is no help available then I shall set up the Welsh Insomniac Burglars Aid Society and whack in a grant application for a couple of mill to tackle this horrendous problem; then it’ll be a new motor . . . a few months of wine-tasting in Argentina, maybe go watch Boca . . . apartment down Mumbles . . . conferences in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Rio . . . Why not? That’s how Labour’s Third Sector operates.

I’d have to use a false name of course, and pretend to be an English Labourite luvvie who’s just arrived in Wales.

end ♦

Jan 022017
 

It’s difficult to know where to start with this rather complex story. Maybe we should go back to 2008 and the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, presented as an attempt to improve the standard of social housing. The WHQS was in fact nothing more than the Decent Homes Standard that operated in England. Another example of ‘Welsh’ legislation being just renamed and repackaged English legislation. Though in this instance, there was one very important difference, to be found in this National Assembly document, which says . . .

If the ‘Welsh’ Government can fund housing associations and also fund councils that retain their housing stock, then surely it can find the money for ALMOs? To argue otherwise doesn’t make sense. Limiting the choice to those options might make sense though to those in the social housing sector who saw WHQS as a weapon that could be used to get local authorities to hand over their housing stock. But do housing associations really exert such influence?

Well, consider this. The umbrella body for housing associations in Wales is Community Housing Cymru (CHC). From July 2006 until July 2014 the group chief executive of CHC was Nick Bennett. Prior to that he’d been a Spad for a few years until October 2002 and in between he’d been a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications. Another director of this long-defunct company was Alun Davies, who had not long before switched his political allegiance from Plaid Cymru to Labour, and would be elected as a regional AM in 2007.

So Nick Bennett was in business with a rising star in the Labour Party – who’d already stood for the party in Ceredigion in the 2005 UK election – and this would have done him no harm when he applied for the post of group chief executive of Community Housing Cymru in 2006. Bennett’s strong links with ‘Welsh’ Labour also explain why he got the job of Public Service Ombudsman for Wales in July 2014.

In addition, many housing associations, particularly in the south, are stuffed with Labour Party members and supporters, and the party goes out of its way to help these associations. A recent example would be the takeover of Cantref by Wales and West. I’ve written about this disgraceful episode a few times, my posts can be traced back from Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged?

Cantref is a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, operating in a bilingual area with bilingual staff. It hit a rocky patch and a scavenger soon appeared in the form of Wales and West Housing, whose chief executive is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Business is now conducted in English only and ‘Welsh’ Labour has an important beachhead in an area where it has very little electoral support.

The latest example of the influence housing associations exert over the Labour Party and its ‘Welsh’ Government comes with the news that, “In September (2016), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced housing associations should be considered part of the public, not private, sector. But the Welsh Government promised to take “whatever steps are necessary” to reverse the change, following concerns.”

The key to understanding what’s going on here is, firstly, that these “concerns” come from housing associations and their umbrella organisation Community Housing Cymru. I am not aware of anyone – other than CHC’s fifth column inside the ‘Welsh’ Government – who believes that housing associations becoming public bodies is a bad thing.

The reason given for opposing the ONS initiative is, “Community Housing Cymru (CHC) said it could affect their (housing associations) ability to borrow money and to build new homes.”

Let us look at the first of those claims that, if reclassified as public bodies, housing associations would find it more difficult to raise private funding. Which suggests that housing associations are now borrowing considerable sums from banks and other financial institutions. But are they? In my investigations into housing associations I have found little evidence that they rely on commercial loans. So where does housing associations’ income come from?

The largest and most obvious source of income is rents from their housing stock, most of which they inherited from local authorities. Yes, these properties have to be maintained and improved, up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard, but as we’ll see below, the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me – pays for it all! And there are other funding streams, as I explained in Housing Associations – The Great Deception. (Nov 17, 2015.)

As I said back then, “One of the facts unearthed is something called Dowry Gap funding, paid to certain housing associations for them to use in upgrading the housing stock they’ve inherited from councils under voluntary transfer (i.e. through a vote by tenants). This funding is currently being paid to ten housing associations and in 2015 – 16 the total cost will be £43.8m. Tai Ceredigion Cyf’s ‘Dowry’ will be paid at the rate of £1.6m a year for 30 years. If this 30-year term applies to the other, larger housing associations, then the total cost will be £1.3bn.

This Dowry Gap funding seems to complement the Welsh Housing Quality Standard legislation, which demanded that all RSL properties be up to WHQS standard by 2012. This deadline – and its funding of £108m a year – has now been extended to 2020. Introduced in 2004 and running to 2020, £108m a year totals up to £1.7bn.

Adding the two we get a total figure of £3bn for ‘improvements’. Seeing as Wales has 143,790 RSL properties, this works out at almost £21,000 per property! (Is this right? Will somebody please check the figures.) That is a lot of moolah for windows and doors, especially when we accept that many of the dwellings inherited from local authorities were in good condition, certainly not needing ‘refurbishment’ to the tune of 21 grand per property.”

Another lucrative source of ‘Welsh’ Government funding for housing associations is the Social Housing Grant. The latest figures I have tell us that between 2008 and November 2015 £771,708,622.59 was paid in Social Housing Grant.

We are talking billions of pounds of public funding going into social housing. Perhaps four billion pounds by 2020.

The second part of housing associations’ objections to becoming public bodies is that they claim it could affect their ability “to build new homes”. Why? They’d still have the income from their rents, and they’d still receive public funding. This claim is just baseless scaremongering done to hide the real objections those running our housing associations have to them becoming public bodies.

As things stand, housing associations, or Registered Social Landlords as they’re also known, have the best of all possible worlds. They operate as private companies, but with massive advantages over what we would normally consider to be private companies.

To begin with, most of them inherited their housing stock for nothing when council tenants were given a vote (often after receiving misleading information). Then, as I’ve just explained, they receive staggering amounts of money from the public purse, despite, with their assets, being able to raise private funding just like other businesses. Being registered as Industrial and Provident Societies with the toothless Financial Conduct Authority means that they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act – yes, despite all that public funding! Finally, oversight and monitoring by the ‘Welsh’ Government is non-existent.

This last fact explains how we can have a situation in which a publicly-funded RSL like Pembrokeshire Housing can set up and fund a subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, for it to build and sell homes on the open market to retirees and investors (with of course Mill Bay Homes having an unfair advantage over independent house builders in the county).

When Pembrokeshire Housing will get back the millions of pounds it is has ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes is anyone’s guess . . . but why should you worry when nobody in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems in the least concerned by this bizarre arrangement. I have written about Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes many times. Work back from Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System (Oct 23, 2016) to Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2 (June 14, 2016).

Those of you who enjoy a good read should settle down with this report into the workings of the Pembrokeshire Housing Group compiled by a concerned member of the public. (No, not me.) It has been circulated to interested parties, too many of whom seem to believe that if they whistle and look elsewhere the embarrassment will disappear.

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

The most recent stock transfer seems to have been in Gwynedd, in 2010, when the council transferred its housing stock to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG). Among the first things CCG did was to hand over the maintenance contract for its properties to English company Lovell, which then brought in sub-contractors from north west England. I saw this first-hand in my village, and wrote about it in The Impoverishment of Wales (Aug 26, 2014).

Another issue I recently unearthed was that of housing associations leasing properties from shady offshore companies, the biggest of which is called Link holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. I wrote about it in a piece entitled, unsurprisingly, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd (Oct 10, 2016). Equally unsurprising is that the ‘Welsh’ Government’s civil servants don’t want to talk about this scandal, ‘All a long time ago . . . leases taken out by previous incarnations . . . stop bothering us’. But nothing changes the fact that Welsh housing associations in 2017 are putting a lot of public money into companies hiding in tax havens. Should public money be used in this way?

A long-standing problem with housing associations, perhaps more visible in rural areas, is that in order to appear busy, to pretend there’s a demand in order to keep the funding coming, they will often bring into Wales misfits and petty criminals. This was certainly an issue with Cantref. Note the reference in the information below to “young tenants from the hostel”. I’m told that Cantref brings in from England young tearaways and within a very short time extended families of scruffs and roughs are wandering Aberteifi. Other housing associations do the same, because it pays well.

One of the worst cases in recent years was the gang of paedophiles and rapists housed in Kidwelly by Grwp Gwalia. I wonder how much Grwp Gwalia was paid to inflict these creatures on a small Welsh town? Were those responsible ever reprimanded or sacked? Did Grwp Gwalia compensate the victims?

It was in attempting to get information on this case that I realised housing associations are not bound by the Freedom of Information Act. Because when I asked for details a door was slammed in my face . . . a heavy and expensive door paid for with public money.

Finally, before leaving this section, let’s ask ourselves exactly who is complaining about the ONS proposal to make housing associations open and honest public bodies? Well we can be sure that the minions employed by our RSLs don’t have a direct line to Stuart Ropke, Nick Bennett’s successor as Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. The opposition is coming from much further up the food chain.

From people like the £150,000 a year chief executive of RCT Homes. After that bit of bad publicity RCT Homes rebranded itself as Trivallis. Most people in the Central Valleys are still trying to figure out what Trivallis means, and how much it cost to change everything. But, hey, it’s only public money, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

With social housing we have bodies operating in a Twilight Zone that allows them to pretend they’re private companies, free from bothersome FoI requests and any worthwhile official scrutiny, yet enjoying assets they did nothing to build up while having their finances constantly topped up by the public purse. With overpaid CEOs pretending they’re part of the business community.

Registered Social Landlords are part of the Third Sector, that monkey that we must shake from our backs if we are to build up a healthy economy and a prosperous country. Wales is over-dependent on hand-outs, but instead of using even that funding wisely, far too much of it is passed on in further hand-outs. This is trickle-down economics Welsh style.

The fundamental problem with the Third Sector in Wales is not that it exists – for there will always be shysters looking for some ’cause’ to exploit in their own interest – but that it is so interwoven with the ‘Labour movement’; which in itself might not be a problem were it not for the fact that ‘Welsh’ Labour is the recipient and distributor of the handouts.

We should be thankful to the Office for National Statistics for giving us this chance to clean up the expensive mess that is social housing in Wales. We should grasp this opportunity with both hands and make our housing associations public bodies, open to public scrutiny.

The worst possible outcome would be for the ‘Welsh’ Government to be swayed by individuals like Nick Bennett, Stuart Ropke, the £150,000 a year CEO of Trivallis, and too many others with a vested interest in maintaining the indefensible status quo.

To maintain that status quo would be to pander to a selfish, sectional interest against the national interest. Of which we have seen far too much since 1999.

♦ end ♦

P.S. Here is my submission to the Public Accounts Committee for its Inquiry into the Regulatory Oversight of Housing Associations.

Dec 212016
 

Well, boys and girls, it’s that time of year. Those of you who haven’t done a runner with the Christmas Club money will be relaxing at home wrapping your bottles of Old Sheepshagger with festive ribbons before immediately opening them, feigning joy and surprise, then getting quietly pissed. For now, as Christmas approaches, we tend to look back and contemplate the year past, before looking forward to 2017. Why should I break with tradition?

This year saw the revolt of the Hitherto Ignored, and 2017 will see those who’ve done the ignoring swear to change their ways. This is explained by the angst and confusion now being experienced by ‘progressives’. (I laugh every time I type that word!) For these exalted and superior beings always justified their vacuous spoutings and their laughable posturing on the grounds that they were the voice of the inarticulate Mob.

This year the Mob has found its own voices and, surprise, surprise, its spokesmen are not Leftists and liberals. Which means that those self-appointed spokespersons are now left high and dry, exposed as speaking for none but themselves. This has made them angry and bitter, to the extent that some of them now slag off as ‘fascists’ those they so very recently eulogised and patronised!

Truly is it written, ‘Hell hath no fury like a ‘progressive’ made to look an utter twat!’

Let us start this review with May’s Welsh Assembly elections. (Check the results here.) Labour’s share of the vote continued to decline, down 7.6% in the constituencies and 5.4% in the regions). The Tories did marginally better with figures of -3.9% and -3.7%. For the Lib Dems the figures were -2.9% and -1.6%. The parties to increase their share of the vote were Plaid Cymru +1.3% and +3.0% and, most spectacularly, Ukip, +12.5% and +8.5%.

Despite all the noise they make, and all the publicity they’ve had (including some from me), the Green Party of Englandandwales achieved the mighty totals of 2.5% of the constituency vote and 3.0% of the regional vote. The latter figure being less than the 4.4% won by the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party on its first outing.

The single most noteworthy result was of course Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood taking Rhondda from Labour heavyweight Leighton Andrews. Though given the imperfect electoral system Labour today is still in control of the Assembly after getting a third of the votes cast.

For anyone interested, I told you my voting intentions in Assembly Elections 2016 and picked through the bones in Assembly Elections 2016: Hopes and Ashes.

Next came the EU referendum in June. Again, I made my position clear before the event with EU Referendum: Why I Want OUT! Even so, I was rather surprised to be on the winning side.

Then, in November, our cousins across the Pond elected Donald Trump to be their next president. I can safely say ‘our cousins’ because, as Welsh people, there is a greater likelihood of us being related to those who voted for Trump than to those who voted for Clinton. Unpalatable though that may be to many Leftists among us.

Meanwhile, our continental cousins almost elected a nationalist president in Austria, and followed that up by giving the Italian establishment a kicking in voting out Signor Renzi via a referendum.

Liberals and socialists interpreted these results as disasters, some of the more overwrought viewed them as the first steps on the road to the Fourth Reich. In truth, the Leftists should have asked themselves why so many millions of ordinary, decent people detest them, their politics, their media and their distant, out-of-touch systems so much that they were prepared to vote for a self-obsessed buffoon, a gang of saloon bar hearties, and a clown.

Next year sees elections in France, Germany, Netherlands and other countries. In France, the Left is hoping that the victor will be François Fillon, the presidential candidate who takes a hard line on Islam, hopes to do away with the 35-hour working week, wants to abolish wealth tax, is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, and is a great admirer of both Margaret Thatcher and Vladimir Putin. Because it’s a straight fight between him and Marine le Pen of the Front National.

This gives you some idea of how far the political pendulum has swung in the Western world, because socialists in France wrote off the chances of their candidate – whoever it might be – a long time ago.

In Germany Dr Merkel (or Frau Sauer) is under pressure for a number of reasons, not least her decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees. It went well for a while, German guilt for WWII overcoming reasonable apprehensions that most of those arriving seemed to be able-bodied young men and were not coming from Iraq and Syria, but from North Africa, the Sahel, Pakistan, the Balkans . . . mmm, were these really refugees?

The ‘Willkommenskultur’ soon began to dissipate, and disappeared almost entirely after the truth eventually leaked – despite the best efforts of politicians, police and media – about the rapes and other sexual assaults that took place on New Year’s Eve in Köln, Hamburg and other cities. The recent attack on a Christmas market in Berlin dealt it another blow.

Another factor contributing to the evaporating sympathy for the ‘refugees’ was that Angela Merkel had hoped to take them in, garner the kudos, and then, with rather less publicity, offload as many as she could onto neighbouring countries. These countries, quite rightly said, ‘You invited them, you look after them’.

Immigration is clearly a major issue in the Western world; it has influenced the votes of 2016 and it will do the same in 2017. So let us be thankful that calling someone a ‘racist’ can no longer close down debate. Equally, that wanting an honest discussion on how to deal with Islamic terrorism can no longer be dismissed as ‘Islamophobia’.

I suspect that the rise of Islamic extremism over the past couple of decades has played a big part in undermining the Left in western countries, and this of course contributed to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. For two main reasons.

First, the Left – certainly its more extreme and vocal elements – has a default position dictating that it must always support the West’s enemies, on the grounds that these are bound to be victims of Western colonialism or ‘oppression’. Pure evil, intolerance, racism, etc., are crimes of the white man, and the white man alone.

Those promoting this nonsense tend to be celebrities, students (and others equally gullible or brainwashed), plus of course members of ethnic and other minorities. This has inevitably alienated many white people, to the point where they now view socialism and liberalism as ‘luxuries’ they cannot afford, or else as viewpoints hostile to them, attacking who and what they are.

Second, in the recent US presidential election liberals and Leftists around the world rallied to Hillary Clinton, yet her financial links with the Gulf states – countries where stoning is practised, where women aren’t allowed to drive, where immigrant labour equals slave labour – undermined her liberal credentials while exposing the gullibility of the ‘progressives’ who supported her.

Slowly but surely, more and more people are waking up to the hypocrisies of the liberal elite, and the lies of its manipulative media. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

‘But what has this to do with Wales?’, you mumble through a mouthful of mulled wine whilst absent-mindedly stroking the maid’s derrière. Well, it’s quite simple – do you really think that politicians and their mainstream media only tell porkies about faraway lands and our more distant cousins? Of course not.

First of all, let’s consider this island known as Britain or, when six counties of Ulster are added, the United Kingdom. Now the big political debate at the moment is what kind of Brexit we should have. Should it be hard or soft? Should it be red, white and blue? (Don’t ask me what these mean, I haven’t got a clue.) Should there be a West End musical version?

The truth is that the type and the timing of the EU exit is irrelevant, a distraction. I say that because the United Kingdom is going down the tubes no matter what. And if things are bad in the UK then they’re even worse in Wales. Let’s look at a couple of recent news items to explain what I mean.

First, education. The Pisa rankings (for 2015) released earlier this month tell us that the UK came 27th in maths, 22nd in reading, and 15th in science. Within the UK, Wales came bottom across the board.

Then last week, we learnt that our GVA figure for 2015 again confirms our position at the bottom of the UK heap. Gross value added figures measures money generated per job within an area, which explains why Cardiff has the best figure for Wales (£22,783), though much of it will have been generated by commuters living outside the city. Overall, Wales accounts for 5% of the UK population but is responsible for only 3.4% of the UK economy.

As the report I linked to (by BBC Wales’ Sarah Dickens) also tells us, “It would be wrong to say Wales has a strong economy purely because unemployment is relatively low. Only 72.9% are employed – lower than the UK figure of 74.4%”. Which tells us that Welsh politicians crowing over Wales having a lower unemployment rate than the UK as a whole are talking their usual bollocks. The truth is that more of us are economically inactive and too many of us are doing shitty, low paid jobs.

These dire figures don’t say a lot for devolution, nor for ‘Welsh’ Labour, which has run the show since 1999. Things are bad, and getting worse. There is no other interpretation unless you’re a politician or some other kind of professional liar. These figures also tell us that the EU funding given to the poorest parts of Wales since 2000 has been wasted by ‘Welsh’ Labour. So it won’t be missed.

(22.12.2016: I didn’t expect support from this quarter, or so quickly, but Victoria Winckler of the Bevan Foundation says – among other things – that too much EU money was used to replace UK government, ‘Welsh’ government and local authority funding, with the result that, because it wasn’t spent on new projects, people saw little improvement.)

But then, I’ve always argued that devolution is a chimera. Now I have been vindicated by no less than the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns. When he announced that Air Passenger Duty would not be devolved to Wales (i.e. Cardiff airport) he was quite open about the decision having been taken to protect the interests of Bristol and other English airports. This, remember, is the Secretary of State for Wales and the MP in whose constituency we find Cardiff airport!

More recently, more honesty; when his department underwent something of a face-lift and dropped the dragon which had suggested the Welsh Office exists to serve Wales. Why anyone should get worked up about this is beyond me. Would you rather be lied to? Is that more comforting?

Face it – Wales is screwed, good and proper. All that matters is that enough money comes in to keep the politicians and their cronies in jobs that no one would miss, and the rest of us in a state of resigned acceptance. A basket case country with a begging bowl ‘economy’. Nothing will improve because there is no force for real change. Plaid Cymru gave up decades ago and threw in its lot with the English Left and the colonialist system.

The party’s position was summed up recently by leader Leanne Wood, when she stated, without any hint of irony or sarcasm, that “We’ve got no problem in attracting people here to retire” (0:31) before going on to express concern about the high levels of elderly people in Wales!

Which means that Plaid Cymru has “no problem” with the inevitable burden placed on our NHS and other services. Or that Plaid Cymru has “no problem” with locals being outbid for homes in rural and coastal areas. I suppose it also means that Plaid Cymru has “no problem” with the anglicisation of Wales. But what it really means is that Plaid Cymru, more than at any time in its history, is a party that has completely lost its way. It is now an irrelevance.

For a start, Plaid Cymru has lost touch with the Welsh people. We voted to leave the EU, yet Plaid Cymru carries on as if we voted the same way as Scotland. We didn’t. And the reason we didn’t is that Plaid Cymru isn’t even a pale shadow of the SNP.

The voters that Plaid has been trying to detach from Labour for decades – in the Valleys, on Swansea Bay, the north east – voted for Brexit and they are also turning to Ukip, yet Plaid is in denial. Plaid Cymru the socialist, environmentalist, statist, EU friendly party has lost the plot. Big time.

And because Plaid Cymru has lost the plot due to its socialism and its inflexibility on certain issues, and because some within the party now regard as crypto-fascists many of those who were once viewed as potential converts, they risk driving many of our people towards Ukip and, worse, alienating them to the extent that they begin to think there is no alternative to Englandandwales.

In many respects, Plaid Cymru is now viewed as part of the out-of-touch, liberal elite that drove so many people into the arms of Farage, Trump, and others yet to arise. That is some achievement.

Which is why Wales needs a new voice that speaks for the nation and the national interest. A voice that is ideologically flexible but immovable in its defence of the Welsh people. A voice that will never say, ‘We have no objection to being colonised’.

This is the task for 2017.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Dec 132016
 

Before memories fade of what is being described on Twitter and elsewhere as “the best Cilmeri ever” it gives me great pleasure to be the first to publish this poem by a Welshman who has been away from us for far too long. An indication of his whereabouts may be gleaned from knowing that in recent years he has, among other things, spent time translating classical Chinese poetry.

Not far from the Banks of Irfon

You see, it must have been somewhere,
in this sloping field or that;
where Dafis walked his dog today,
whose snout went snuffling
in a certain broom-choked patch;
where lovers lay last summer in the flattened sun-dried grass,
or lay, for that matter, in that self-same spot
a hundred or so years ago;
or there upon the hillside where the fat, incurious sheep
chew now upon the cud.
Or beneath that rooted blackthorn, succoured
by the good black soil that sucked the seeping blood.

But no-one knows the exact place, now,
where the broad-axe bit into close-knit mail,
where the long sword’s steel struck at the flesh
and the whetted blades hewed thick and fast –
and those alien hands tore the cross away
from round his neck.

And now the needle thrusts against the sky
in a chosen place that’s plain to see,
in the still, the cold December air, where the chill is felt
as it might have been those seven hundred years ago.
And banners flap yet in a rising breeze as they did in that age gone by –
and songs are sung and verses read
for the one who fell, nearby, somewhere,
– but no-one knows exactly where –
in whose living name fresh tribute is paid
from year to passing year, from one year to the next.     

Dafydd Hughes Lewis

Dec 082016
 

When the incoming Labour government offered us devolution in 1997 I didn’t get too excited, but still, if Kinnock and George Thomas are against it, I thought, then it might have something going for it. So I voted Yes, but only because I saw devolution as a step on the road to independence. Encouraged by Ron Davies calling devolution “a process, not an event”.

Once the Yes vote had been arranged everyone assumed that the new Assembly would sit in Cardiff City Hall, but a dispute over costs blew up that was never satisfactorily explained. I believe that this spat was contrived, dreamed up in London to compensate Associated British Ports for not getting the planned opera house designed by the late Zaha Hadid.

It was no coincidence that the driving force behind the opera house project – as head man at Welsh National Opera – was Nicholas Edwards (later Lord Crickhowell), Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher, and chairman of Associated British Ports, the company that owned Cardiff docks.

With Cardiff City Hall ruled out we had a national ‘competition’ to find a replacement. The ‘winner’, in the sense that it was the only entrant to meet the requirements of price and immediate availability, was Swansea’s pre-war Guildhall designed by Percy Thomas. But in April 1998 Secretary of State Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be sited in Cardiff after all.

Swansea Guildhall (picture from 1991)

Everyone in Swansea – and indeed people in Cardiff and the rest of Wales – then realised that the ‘competition’ had been a charade, and that the Assembly was going to Cardiff even though there was no site for it. As late as 2001 Swansea politicians were still claiming a conspiracy.

Further, I have always believed that Ron Davies, being vulnerable to pressure, was ‘leaned on’. His justification at the time for ripping up the ‘competition’ rules and awarding the prize to Cardiff was that to have located the Assembly in Swansea would have undermined Cardiff’s status as capital of Wales. So why have a ‘competition’?

Without a building for the Assembly it was decided to lease Crickhowell House down Cardiff docks, named after Lord Crickhowell. The ‘Welsh’ Government is still leasing Crickhowell House, now renamed Tŷ Hywel. You might be interested in the figures.

From 1999 to 2012 the public purse splurged £40,654,093 on leasing, maintaining and improving the building. The current lease runs until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m plus VAT. When I submitted my FoI in 2013 the building was owned by Crick Properties, but was bought in March 2014 for £40.5m by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The final bill for leasing and maintaining this building will be well over £100m, after which it will still belong to whoever owns it at the time. We could have had a new, purpose-built building for a tenth of that figure. But of course, that would not have suited Associated British Ports and those linked to the company.

The squalid saga of how the public purse was abused in order to transform Cardiff docks into Cardiff Bay for the benefit of Associated British Ports is explained in the Corruption Bay document I put together in 2000-2001.

It’s well over 18 years since Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be located in Cardiff . . . somewhere. In that time Cardiff – which, incidentally, voted against devolution – has prospered greatly from hosting the Assembly, and gained from politicians and civil servants making decisions that talk of ‘Wales’ but benefit only Cardiff.

To the point where, today, it seems that all investment is focused on Cardiff while other urban areas are condemned to managed decline and our countryside and coasts serve as recreation and retirement areas for England. The north, certainly the north east, is, with the connivance of the ‘Welsh’ Government (acting on the recommendation of a Mrs Hain), being detached from Wales to become commuter territory for Merseyside and Greater Manchester. For some time now, dwellings around Wrecsam have been advertised by estate agents as being in ‘West Cheshire’!

The Mersey Dee Alliance is the plan for north west England to absorb north east Wales

This process of dismembering Wales is made easier by Cardiff’s distance from and indifference to the north east.

Few things illustrate the Cardiff-centricity of contemporary Wales – and more worryingly, how it has become accepted in official circles as the template for all development – than the Cardiff Capital Region project and its associated Metro system.

The City Region is nothing but a scheme for encouraging further investment in Cardiff but, by improving local transport links, it’s hoped that the Valleys and the M4 corridor from Bridgend to the border will feel part of this enterprise. In truth, it’s the formalisation of a city-commuter region arrangement. To dress it up as anything else is dishonest.

That this project has progressed so far with so few objections from those communities being reduced to dormitory status can be attributed to the malign influence of a Labour Party that may be losing its grip but still deals ruthlessly with dissent. Plus the fact that opposition parties seem to share the ‘Everything in Cardiff’ mindset.

To ensure that the focus remains on Cardiff major developments elsewhere in the region may be sabotaged, and this explains the recent attacks on the Circuit of Wales project at Ebbw Vale. These attacks came from the traditional mouthpiece of the Cardiff business community, the Western Mail, and BBC Wales which, as I remarked in Circuit of Wales Revisited“has as much claim to being our national broadcaster as the Mule has to being our national newspaper”.

Despite my criticisms, what I’ve dealt with thus far is understandable, even excusable, in that it’s the duty of the politicians and the business community of a city to promote the interests of that city.

Of course my absolution does not extend to Assembly Members from other areas who simply nod through every project to promote and enrich Cardiff. Nor does it extend to those who pose as our ‘national media’, or other institutions and bodies claiming to represent the whole country.

Cities, even capital cities, looking out for themselves is one thing, but we have now reached the stage in Wales where Cardiff serving its own interests, and being encouraged to do so by the media and the ‘Welsh’ Government, is working against the interests of the country as a whole.

Worse, we are now seeing the corruption that is almost inevitable when the public life of a country is concentrated in a relatively small city, and when this concentration sees those with the power of patronage and control of the public purse rubbing shoulders on a regular basis – and too regularly in social environments – with those wishing to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Two examples will help explain what I’m talking about.

First, a case that attracted much attention was the deal to sell off land on the outskirts of Cardiff to a very well-connected group of Cardiff businessmen at a knock-down, agricultural-use price, despite the fact that everybody knew the land had been earmarked for housing. I dealt with this in Pies, Planes & Property Development and Pies, Planes & Property Development 2. Let’s not beat about the bush, this was corruption, pure and simple.

Next, have you ever wondered why Wales – unlike Ireland and Scotland – does not have a national cricket team? The answer is that we are represented by England. No, honestly, and to be precise, by the England and Wales Cricket Board (though the ‘Wales’ bit is never used).

Swalec Stadium, home to England Test matches and the reason Wales has no national cricket team

In 2015 Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was an honour to welcome the Test match between Australia and England to Cardiff, adding: “Attracting major events not only boosts our international profile, but has clear benefits for our economy”. 

Two points: First, a national team would boost our ‘international profile’ far more, because many people around the world now believe that Cardiff is in England; second, how much of the money generated by the Test match did other parts of Wales see?

Of course, at one time, we did have a national cricket team, but that was before Glamorgan County Cricket Club and others surrendered to England in order that Cardiff could enjoy the publicity, the prestige, and the revenue, from hosting England ‘home’ matches. Another example of the counter-devolution strategy at work and another step towards Englandandwales.

Another way Wales loses out to Cardiff is in the exodus of too many of the brightest and best from other parts of the country. ‘Ah, but the same thing happens in Ireland’ shout Cardiff’s defenders. Not really. The fastest growing cities there are Cork and Galway, and perhaps more importantly, Donegal and Kerry, Sligo and Roscommon are not being overrun by tens of thousands of retirees, problem families, good-lifers, hippies, paedophiles, white flighters and tourist trappers.

The economic imbalance in Wales that makes Cardiff so attractive to our young people deprives many rural communities of their future leaders, their opinion-formers, those who might challenge the invasion taking place. Coincidence, no doubt.

We have reached the stage now where that economic imbalance is so severe, and being exacerbated year on year, that those who direct things in Cardiff – including those who not so long ago would readily display their contempt for ‘Welshies’ – are quite open about their long-term strategy of positioning the city as a medium-sized provincial English city, in competition with Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle and others. Slowly but inexorably Cardiff is turning its back on Wales.

For Cardiff has the advantage that, as capital of Wales, it can always argue that projects in the city are ‘national’ in importance, and being done for the benefit of 3.2 million people. Which makes it odd that Plaid Cymru politicians get exercised over Crossrail 2 and HS2 being described as ‘national’, yet seem oblivious to the same thing happening under their noses in Cardiff.

Though sometimes the brew gets really heady and ambition stretches beyond competing with Sheffield, proven by an article this week by Siôn Barry, Business Editor of the Wasting Mule, whose brother Mark is the brains behind the Metro system. Barry quotes some estate agent – a profession renowned for its scrupulous avoidance of exaggeration and misrepresentation – who believes that Cardiff can become a “global capital”.

click to enlarge

Think about that. We are asked to believe that a city of less than 400,000 people can compete with Tokyo and Paris, Buenos Aires and Beijing. It’s laughable; with the laughter ratcheted up to hysterical level by the fact that Cardiff’s just a provincial centre, and the full idiocy is realised by remembering that those pushing this bollocks, at the Wasting Mule and elsewhere, oppose Welsh independence, without which Cardiff is not, and never can be, a real capital.

This kind of stuff gets hyperbole a bad name; it borders on the delusional. Young Matt Phillips of Knight Frank clearly needs help, but rather than waste money on some expensive treatment I suggest that he be slapped around the head with a freshly-caught halibut until he recants. (It never fails.) As for those who repeat such nonsense, well, they want to believe it, but worse, they also want you to believe it.

Welcome to the never-never world of devolution. An estate agent tells a journalist that Cardiff is about to go head-to-head with Paris, this is repeated as gospel by our ‘national newspaper’, yet it takes place to the backdrop of Wales being colonised and by other means having its identity eroded as the prelude to complete assimilation into England.

While it yet lasts, this fantasy I’ve described bears some resemblance to a corrupt Third World country where all the goodies are concentrated in the capital and the provinces are allowed to rot; what’s missing is the dictator and his extended family and friends ripping off the state finances, but standing in we have ‘Papa’ Jones and his Labour Party, plus Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector and gangs of well-connected businessmen.

As I said at the start; when I voted Yes in 1997 it was only because I saw devolution as the first step on the road to independence. Devolution has been a complete failure in that regard, and it has even failed as a devolved system – apart from the growth of Cardiff. And this week we were told that even the devolution some thought we had is worthless because Westminster can overrule the ‘Welsh’ Government any time it chooses.

To remedy the situation in which we find ourselves Wales needs to be ‘re-balanced’. I believe that the quickest and surest way of achieving that necessary objective is by moving the Assembly out of Cardiff. Which is why I have launched a petition urging that the Assembly be moved to Aberystwyth. Click here to sign that petition.

end ♦

UPDATE 20.12.2016: Well, bless my soul – Plaid Cymru agrees with me!

Dec 052016
 

I am indebted to Brychan Davies, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to this story and for doing a considerable amount of the initial research.

Featuring on the BBC Wales Sunday Politics show yesterday, and also topping the News was a report on the poor quality accommodation in which asylum seekers are being housed. There’s little doubt that the story was delivered, ready-written to the BBC by the Welsh Refugee Council.

Which is why I would caution against believing that the Welsh Refugee Council’s motives are entirely altruistic. For it could be that they’re a bit pissed off with an English company running the refugee/migrant/asylum seeker business on their patch. Knowing that the Clearsprings Home Office contract is up for renewal next year, the Council could be putting the boot in in the hope that it can take over.

Don’t get me wrong, if I believed that the Welsh Refugee Council was attacking Clearsprings for the right reasons, if there was anger that 17 years into devolution the Home Office in London can still award contracts like this, allowing English companies to operate in Wales, then I would unequivocally support the Welsh Refugee Council.

But the Welsh Refugee Council is part of the Third Sector, and so I suspect that the ‘outrage’ might have something to do with the allocation of  public funding. Which would make the report on BBC Wales yesterday – and the story run last year about Lynx House – little more than a propaganda offensive in a turf war.

UPDATE 06.12.2016: A trip to the Charity Commission website and a scan of the most recent accounts available would appear to bear out my suggestion of jealousy and desperation motivating the Welsh Refugee Council.

Income for the Council fell from £2.48m in y/e 31.03.2011 to just £610,000 in y/e 31.03.2015. Perhaps more significantly, in 2015 staff costs were £355,944, down from £748,470 the previous year. So there must have been quite a few redundancies and the organisation’s future might be on the line.

So let’s examine the facts. The company named by the BBC as providing the sub-standard accommodation is Clearsprings Ready Homes, here’s the Companies House information. You’ll note that it’s a relatively new company, only Incorporated on Jan 24, 2012. The original name – used until Dec 12, 2012 – was Clearel Ltd. The company’s address is given as 26 Brook Road, Rayleigh, Essex.

If you go to the latest set of accounts, up to 31.01.2016 – under the ‘Filing history’ tab – you’ll read the following –

clearsprings-operates

It would be reasonable to assume that Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd was set up to run the contract with the Home Office that research tells us began in 2012. The contract is due for renewal in 2017 which, as I’ve suggested, almost certainly explains the timing of BBC Wales’ hostile coverage at the instigation of the Welsh Refugee Council.

If you stay on the Companies House website and type in ‘Clearsprings’ it will offer you a number of other companies, most of them sharing the same Essex address. Among them, Clearsprings (Management) Ltd. You’ll see that one of the directors is a Graham Ian King, whose address is also given as 26 Brook Road, Rayleigh, Essex. If you stick with Graham Ian King and bring up his other directorships you’ll see among them Kings Leisure Ltd, which I suspect is the original family firm, Incorporated back in January 1958.

The Kings are a family that seem to be involved in the entertainment and holiday industry, among their interests is a large caravan park on Canvey Island. A business that drew some adverse publicity last year when it was alleged that benefit claimants from other parts of England and ex-offenders were being ‘dumped’ there.

clearsprings-dumping

If we click on the ‘Charges’ tab of Clearsprings (Management) Ltd we see that this company – not Clearsprings Ready Homes – owns a number of properties in Swansea. In fact, despite what it says in the Clearsprings Ready Homes accounts about “London and the South of England”, and despite the Cardiff emphasis of the Welsh Refugee Council and BBC Wales, Clearsprings and Mr King seem to be very active in Swansea.

Here’s a list of the properties owned by Clearsprings (Management) Ltd in Swansea (according to Companies House): 14 Kildare Street, Manselton, SA5 9PH; 26 Clare Street, Manselton, SA5 9PQ; 3A Robert Street, Manselton, SA5 9NE; 57 Courtney Street, Manselton, SA5 9NR; 406 Carmarthen Road, Cwmbwrla, SA5 8LW; 16 Colbourne Terrace, Waun Wen, SA1 6FP; 42 Llangyfelach Street, Dyfatty, SA1 2BQ; 9 Portia Terrace, Mount Pleasant, SA1 6XW; 41 Landeg Street, Plasmarl, SA6 8LA; 359 Neath Road, Plasmarl, SA6 8JN; 5 Ramsey Drive, Clase, SA6 7JD; 13 Lon Hafren, Morriston, SA6 7EH; 59 Pentre-chwyth Road, Bon-y-maen, SA1 7AN; 162 Peniel Green Road, Peniel Green, SA7 9BE.

I was only able to find the title documents for four of these fourteen properties on the Land Registry website: 57 Courtney Street, 42 Llangyfelach Street, 41 Landeg Street, and 13 Lôn Hafren. You’ll see that they were all bought in 2007 and 2008 with loans from Barclays Bank. Interestingly, the last two properties named have a link with the Beaufort Estate, which will soon be dumping a wind farm on common grazing land at Mynydd y Gwair, and not so long ago demanded (and got) £280,000 for allowing the council to put a footbridge over the Tawe. (The Marquess of Worcester is the eldest son of the Duke of Beaufort.)

clearsprings-marquis-of-worcester

Another curiosity is that the Companies House website gives a title number, CYM66501, for 59 Pentre-chwyth Road, but when I entered this into the Land Registry search box it was refused. I suspect it’s a typo by Companies House, for I’m reasonably sure there should be six digits; but even when I tried to type in the address I still got nowhere.

As for the other properties identified as being owned by Clearsprings (Management) Ltd, and assuming these were also bought in 2007 and 2008, why haven’t they been registered with the Land Registry?

But then, Mr King is a busy man, what with everything. For he also got himself involved in the strange business of the Aquarius Film Company which, not to put too fine a point on it, was a tax scam reminiscent of, and perhaps inspired by, The Producers.

Another frustration I encountered was that even though the ‘Welsh’ Government is now supposed to maintain a register of private landlords, it’s less than useless.

It’s here on the Rent Smart Wales Website. Go to the ‘Check Register’ tab and you’ll be offered four options – Property Address, Landlord, Agent, Reference Number. Type in ‘Clearsprings (Management) Ltd’ and it brings up a list of other companies that have no connection with Clearsprings. ‘Clearsprings Ready Homes’ gets the same frustrating result. So I typed in the post code for 59, Pentre-chwyth Road, SA1 7AN, and the site came up with addresses in SA10 – Neath!

In my experience, searching for anything on a ‘Welsh’ Government website is like trying to conduct a conversation with an old and very deaf person, the ‘answer’ never matches the question: ‘It’s cold out today, Auntie Glad’. ‘Oh, thank you, two sugars please, and a couple of Digestives . . . I likes Digestives, I do’.

This post may be no more than an introduction to the King family and the various Clearsprings companies, for I suspect that there’s a lot more information to come. Some of which might be encouraged out of hiding with the following questions:

1/ Who at the Home Office thought it a good idea to give a contract to house asylum seekers to companies and a family whose main line of business seems to be a down-market caravan site on Canvey Island?

2/ Can we assume – as the Welsh Refugee Council is obviously hoping – that the contract will not be renewed in 2017?

3/ Who owns the Lynx Hotel on Newport Road in Cardiff, used by Clearsprings, for the ownership appears not to be registered with the Land Registry?

4/ Why does Clearsprings own houses in residential areas of Swansea which are clearly different to the Lynx Hotel in Cardiff in that they are not Houses of Multiple Occupation? Who is being housed in these Swansea properties? Why is the ownership of most of them not registered with the Land Registry?

5/ Does Swansea council know who lives in these properties? Does Swansea council care? Has Swansea council even been consulted? (Maybe people living near these properties can tell us who lives in them.)

6/ What is the ‘Welsh’ Government’s role in a system that sees the Home Office in London award a contract to an English company to house people in Wales? Does the ‘Welsh’ Government have any role at all? Was the ‘Welsh’ Government even consulted?

7/ Are the ‘Welsh’ Government or any of our local authorities contributing financially to the Clearsprings operations in Wales?

8/ Given the allegations made last year against the King family at their Thorney Bay caravan park, are benefit claimants and ex-offenders (perhaps others) being brought from England into Wales?

9/ If we are talking of genuine asylum seekers, then some of them will be the opponents or enemies of ruthless and bloodthirsty regimes. Regimes that may seek revenge. So is it wise to locate these asylum seekers in residential areas of Welsh cities?

10/ If what we are discussing here has been done without any input from the ‘Welsh’ Government, then what is the point of devolution?

♦ end ♦

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