Jan 192015
 

Regular readers may recall my October 21st post WalesEye, Jacques Protic and North Wales Police. This was a follow-up to my September 11th offering of WalesEye and Jacques Protic – A Marriage Made in Hell, written soon after becoming aware that the WalesEye blog had quoted from what appeared to be police documents about an investigaWalesEye logotion into me or my blog, as a result of complaints made against me – oui! moi! – by Jacques Protic. I suggest you read both posts before proceeding otherwise what follows may not make a great deal of sense.

As might be expected, I contacted North Wales Police. Let’s start with this document dated 15.10.2014 which contains both the substance of my Freedom of Information request of 12.09.2014 and the NWP response. This letter came as an attachment to an e-mail and although the e-mail had a name to it the letter itself had neither name nor signature. Basically, what this says is, ‘Because you are the subject of this information we can’t give you this information’. Which I suppose has a certain kafkaesque logic. I responded with this letter addressed to the Chief Constable on 22.10.14 and e-mailed to North Wales Police’s Professional Standards Department.

On the same day I e-mailed the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Police. This I did by filling in the online form. The first response – within hours – said that my complaint had been passed to the Chief Constable’s office, and the second response, shortly afterwards, said that my complaint had been passed to the North Wales Police’s Professional Standards Department – to which I had already written! – as this section investigates complaints against the police. Read it all here (from the bottom up). I found this rather confusing because I’d complained to the PCC believing it was independent of the police, and yet my complaint was immediately handed over to the police. If the police retain control of investigating complaints against them then what is the point of the PCC?

Around the same time I filled in a SA1 form to find out what information North Wales Police held on me, as suggested in the response to my FoI request, paid my £10 and sent it off. This is the acknowledgement of receipt of that form dated 24.10.2014, and this is the response. Although dated 11.11.2014 I did not receive this response until 17.12.2014, after I telephoned North Wales Police querying its non-arrival. You will also note that this is another letter without a name or a signature. I don’t know whether to attribute this to bad manners or to our police thinking ahead.

Though in fairness, my next communication from NWP dated 17.11.2014 was signed, by Chief Inspector D. Roome. This was the response from the Professional Standards Department. The letter talks of “an action plan” and tells me that my complaint has been passed to the “Chief Information Officer” and that I can shortly expect to hear from a “local manager” assigned to my case. And so it came to pass. On November 19th I was telephoned by an Ian Davies . . . but I was out that day taking some US visitors around Pembrokeshire before bringing them chez nous. I tried ringing him the following day before we went out again, but no one answered.

We eventually spoke on November 24th, and a weird conversation it was. Ian Davies assured me there had been no investigation by North Wales Police into anything I had written on my blog. Consequently he had no idea how the WalesEye blog could have written what it did. Nor could he offer any explanation as to how WalesEye could name two serving NWP officers has having been involved in an investigation that didn’t take place. I got the impression that Ian Davies was choosing his words very carefully. He promised to send me a letter stating what he had just told me.

I waited for the promised letter, and after leaving a few messages on his answering machine, I eventually spoke again with Ian Davies on December 17th. He claimed that after speaking with the department that sends out such letters mine was “eleventh in the queue”. On January 10th I eventually received the promised reply. It contained four documents. First, a covering letter from Detective Chief Inspector David Roome. (In the previous letter signed by him he was ‘Chief Inspector’.) Next was the report I’d been waiting for. To give it it’s full title, North Wales Police Local Proportionate Investigation Report. Finally, there was another copy of the response to my Subject Access Application of November 11th and another copy of the October 15th reply to my initial request for personal information. Gogplod badgeLet’s look at the first two a little more closely, see what they say, or don’t say, as the case may be.

The covering letter from DCI Roome tells me that “Untrue or inaccurate published comments about individuals is covered under the Deformation (sic) Act 2013 . . . ” (thankfully things have not gone that far in this case). DCI Roome goes on to advise me that I could bring “legal actions against the author(s)”. He ends by thanking me for bringing the matter to the attention of North Wales Police. Wasn’t that a nice letter, boys and girls? . . . well, apart from the suggestion that I might have been deformed by the experience.

Now we move on to the main course, the report itself. This was, I assume, compiled by Ian Davies, for his name is at the foot of the document. The report breaks my complaint up into three parts, which are:

  1. Complainant has made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the information but has been refused.
  2. Complainant alleges that information concerning him has been released by the Police to other persons and has appeared in a public forum – the Wales Eye blog which has caused him distress.
  3. Complainant believes that as the Police did not ask for the article to be removed from the WalesEye blog, it constitutes approval or collusion by the police.

The response to Complaint 1 is basically a rehash of what I’d already been told in other documents – ‘you can’t have information about yourself’. This section concludes with “I have subsequently instructed the system administrators to search our databases, and can confirm that Mr Royston JONES has not been investigated, nor is a suspect in this matter. I can neither confirm nor deny that the existence of any complaint, as this would not be Mr Royston Jones’ personal information.” Which means, what, exactly? “Not a suspect” in which matter? If this means what he told me verbally on November 24th then I and my blog were never under investigation as a result of a complaint made by Jacques Protic. But on the other hand, Ian Davies cannot confirm or deny the existence of any complaint.

Complaint 2 is answered with an assurance that no information (about me and any investigation into my blog?) was ever released into the public domain.

Complaint 3 deals with my suggestion that as North Wales Police did not insist that the WalesEye post be taken down, this could be interpreted as “approval or collusion by thePolice”. The report says, “I have found no evidence to suggest that NWP was aware of the article on the WalesEye blog . . . “.  In fact, North Wales Police was made aware of the offending blog post in my original FoI request to the Chief Constable on September 12th, 2014. A letter NWP acknowledged receipt of in their letter of September 17th. A letter that says: “The content of your letter has been noted and logged”. It is now January 19th, four months on, and ‘Don’t Call the Boys in Blue’ is still available on the WalesEye blog, naming serving police officers and referring to a (non-existent) investigation into something I had written on my blog. Leaving me to conclude that NWP has no problem at all with this article.

Elsewhere in the response to Complaint 3 Ian Davies mentions telephone conversations with me on 24/11/14 and 04/12/2014. We can agree on the first, and while I have no log of the second I won’t quibble, but we most definitely had another telephone conversation on December 17th, which Ian Davies does not mention.

So what have we learnt? If I had to sum up what I’ve been told by North Wales Police it would be, ‘There was no investigation into anything you might have written on your blog following a complaint by Mr Jacques Protic . . . but even if there was we wouldn’t tell you’. Which advances us not at all, leaving me with little more than my original suspicions.

The post that appeared on WalesEye clearly stated that I had been investigated by North Wales Police following a complaint by Jacques Protic. The post (available here in PDF format) even names the officers involved, and claims one of them was disciplined for not doing his job properly. Yet Ian Davies assured me in a telephone conversation on November 24th that there had been no investigation into anything I had written on my blog. And this appeared to have been confirmed in the Local Proportionate Investigation Report. So where did WalesEye get the information? Was it all a fabrication? Unlikely. (And it’s not as if this post was the first; just eight days earlier WalesEye had taken another pop at poor old Jac with this post.)

I see no reason to change my initial suspicion that Protic complained about me to North Wales Police and they went through the motions before fobbing him off with some story about a botched investigation . . . which he then took to WalesEye and they ran with it because – and for reasons I cannot fathom – I am not universally loved in that quarter. (Yes, I know, it’s difficult to believe.) Why do I suspect this is what happened?Waldorf T. Flywheel

Largely because of what Protic was writing under his own name at around this time. On September 9th, the day before the piece appeared on WalesEye, Protic put out this example of his state of mind on his Glasnost blog. (Here in PDF format.) He rails against “cybernats”, and talks specifically of damage to his car, claiming that North Wales Police is “doing nothing tangible” to protect him. Later he refers to “the ongoing erosion of policing standards”. The article also deals with another complaint he’d made to North Wales Police about Conwy Education Authority illegally forcing children to learn Welsh. Read the piece, especially the highlighted sections in the PDF version, and you’ll see that here is a man who sees enemies everywhere and feels let down by North Wales Police, the local Police and Crime Commission (who is a Welsh speaker!) and even the IPCC, that Protic says “effectively said, ‘Bugger Off'”. This man’s hatred for everything Welsh, but especially the language, has affected his reasoning and sense of proportion. How detached from reality does one need to be to believe that Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones belong to some nationalist conspiracy – because they are “Welsh speaking Celts”?

In this shocking episode I have been both lied about and lied to, and now I want the truth. So I am looking for a lawyer to advise me on a possible case of harrassment / slander / defamation (mercifully not ‘deformation’?) / and whatever charge(s) might attach to the wrongful release or misuse of police data. I need some leonine figure to bound from the jungle of jurisprudence to take up my case, an exemplar of his profession comparable to my hero, Waldorf T. Flywheel, shown in the picture. (Moustache, cigar and funny walk all optional.) Said paragon will be expected to offer advice gratis and to take any case on a No win, No fee basis. Offers to: admin@jacothenorth.net.

Jan 162015
 

By one of those delightful coincidences that brighten up our lives I was working yesterday on an update to the previous post, ‘White Water Up Shit Creek’, when I received a phone call from someone I’d mentioned in that piece. Mark Williamson and I then had a lengthy and interesting discussion. He even invited me over to the White Water Centre at Frongoch to see some of the wonderful things going on there . . . and promised not to drown me!

After giving the discussion a little thought I realised that an update would be no way to handle this development, and so I decided on a new post. Also, I decided there and then – impetuous devil that I am! – to give Mark Williamson a chance to respond to the points I had intended raising in the update. I had no idea how this was going to work out – or even if it would work out – but the promise had been made so I was prepared to give it a try. (In the end Mr Williamson decided not to take up my offer, but phoned on Friday morning to suggest a couple of changes.)

Such an offer would have been unique in the history of Jac o’ the North, and may never be repeated. So I don’t want Third Sector shysters, Labourites, white flight colons, BritNats, etc., etc., thinking that this courtesy will be extended to them, because it won’t – you are ever in my cross-hCanoeistairs.

Before proceeding there are a few things that need to be said, points that emerged from the discussion on Thursday that might help with the understanding of what follows.

1/ Mr Williamson was keen to stress again that the National White Water Centre at Frongoch is run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd not Canoe Wales . . . though Canoe Wales does have staff on site.

2/ Mr Williamson readily admitted that things had been handled badly in the past, but that this was why he’d been recruited – to clear up the mess. He assured me that an improvement in the finances would be observable in the most recent accounts, submitted towards the end of 2014 and not yet publicly available. While the accounts for year ending March 31st, 2015 would be even better.

3/ When I raised the question of why the Centre’s website is ukrafting.co.uk Mr Williamson admitted that that’s mainly what happens there, it’s used for the purposes I mentioned in the post. Though this was qualified by telling me that Canoe Wales runs lots of courses – using the Sport Wales funding – at other venues around the country. He also assured me that none of this funding finds its way to Frongoch or Canoe Wales Sales and Servicing Ltd because the Centre is separate and entirely self-financing.

*

Despite telling myself (and you) I needn’t bother, curiosity got the better of me and I did after all buy the DueDil credit report on Canoe Wales. A few points extracted from that report were to have been the substance of the update. (Incidentally, I was able to download and open the report, in pdf format, but was unable to save it. Does anyone know what a (135) error message means on Adobe Acrobat?)

  • As we have learnt since the banking crisis of 2008, credit ratings are important for countries, but credit ratings started off as a means of gauging companies’ credit worthiness. Canoe Wales’ credit rating was paddling along serenely at 97 or 98 (out of 100) until it hit choppy water in July 2013 that took its rating down to 87. By January 2014 it was down to 70 and bobbed up and down until nearly going under altogether in September 2014 when the rating sunk to 12. Canoe Wales managed to right itself and stay afloat, with the last recorded rating of 53 in October 2014.
  • A curiosity I would welcome an explanation for is that in the DueDil credit report for Canoe Wales ‘Wages & Salaries’ are £294,260 for year ending 31.03.2013 but show nothing for previous years.
  • What is the explanation for Day Smith & Hunter resigning as the Canoe Wales auditors on May 9, 2013 and Salisbury & Co resigning as auditors Canoe Wales credit reporton March 31st, 2014? Who are the auditors now?
  • Salisbury & Co were so unimpressed with the state of Canoe Wales’ finances that, according to the DueDil credit report, they were unsure whether Canoe Wales was a going concern. (See panel.) Did anyone at Sport Wales pick up on this? Is this in any way connected with the same auditors’ resignation?

*

Although Mark Williamson declined my offer of 250 words he did have a few things to say in a third phone call this morning. Unfortunately, this call caught me at an awkward moment and I wasn’t able to remember all the points on which I wanted clarification.

For example, I should have raCanoe Wales Tree Top Adventureised the point that he (Mark Williamson) has been recruited to get the finances of Canoe Wales into better shape. Which should not be difficult given the large amounts of public funding being received from Sport Wales (and possibly other sources). Another advantage – from now on – is that Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd has folded and been written off. Further income is anticipated from the profits of the Frongoch Centre, now being run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd; this from the rafting and other activities available there. These include 4 x 4 off-road driving, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking and ‘tree top adventure’ (see panel). In fact, when you take all that into account, it would be difficult for Canoe Wales not to show a profit.

Though this still leaves unresolved the status of the mysterious Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. There are no accounts yet available for this company, so it might still prove a burden for Canoe Wales. Additionally, what if Canolfan Tryweryn does not make a profit, how will it survive seeing as it’s run by a separate company from Canoe Wales and unable to access Canoe Wales’ public funding? I ask this because the most recent figures available for Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd show current liabilities of £164,131.

Despite what the helpful Mark Williamson told me I still have difficulty regarding these three entities as separate. A difficulty due to the fact that Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd has just two directors, David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, who are also the only directors of Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. Both these companies are wholly owned by Canoe Wales of which Wakeling and Booth appear to be the controlling directors. So with the best will in the world, I remain unconvinced that public funding given to Canoe Wales will not find its way to one or both of the subsidiaries. And seeing as both subsidiaries are wholly owned by Canoe Wales then the parent company is responsible for any losses these might incur, as with Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd. (Refer to previous post.)

*

Over and above these financial and structural concerns there are other, less material considerations that would probably not occur to those running these ventures, and even if they did, would be unlikely to resonate.

Everything at the White Water Centre has been made possible by the drowning of Capel Celyn and the expulsion of its people; our people. Now stag parties and other groups from England – Liverpool included – go there to have a good time, to drink and laugh, to career about the countryside on quad bikes and in 4 x 4s, to whoop and holler almost within earshot of the drowned village. Another example of tourism in Wales but not of Wales.

The whole concept of Canolfan Tryweryn is insensitive, almost vindictive and triumphalist. Perhaps not a lot different to dancing on the grave of a vanquished foe.

Jan 132015
 

Some of you may recall that I recently put out a message on social media asking if anyone had any information on the National White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn, at Frongoch, near Bala. (Two names there resonant of England’s imperialist past, Tryweryn and Frongoch.)

My reason for asking is that the Centre’s website gives neither Charity Commission number nor Company number; there is no indication of how the centre is run, for not a single individual’s name Cofiwch_Drywerynappears on the website for management, staff, trustees, or anyone else. I searched both the Companies House website and the Charity Commission website but could find nothing for the National White Water Centre. Then I noticed that the e-mail address is info@ukrafting.co.uk so I searched for ‘UK Rafting’, but I drew another blank. (Interestingly, the Centre’s website address is ukrafting.co.uk.) The only conclusion I could draw was that there is a third entity, other than UK Rafting and the National White Water Centre involved, which is nowhere named on the website.

So on Monday morning, bright and early, before driving the missus to work (car not whip), I e-mailed the Centre asking four questions:

1/ You are called the ‘National White Water Centre’. Is that the ‘Wales / Welsh National White Water Centre’, the ‘UK National White Water Centre’ or the ‘England / English National White Water Centre’?

2/ No management is listed, nor is there any mention of trustees, so how is your Centre run?

3/ Are you registered with the Charity Commission, if so, what is your number? Are you registered with Companies House, if so, what is your number?

4/ How are you funded?

Within a few hours I received a telephone call from a suspicious Scotsman named Mark Williamson who apparently works at the Centre but was phoning me from somewhere in “south Wales”. In answer to my e-mailed questions he was able to tell me that the Centre is not a charity but a commercial enterprise, run by “C W Sales and Services”. When I asked what C W stood for, he told me Canoe Wales. So the Centre, on Afon Tryweryn, would appear to be a commercial arm of Canoe Wales. Yet on the Canoe Wales website I could find no mention of the Bala Centre until I used the search facility, and this page came up. On funding. Mr Williamson was rather vague, and when it came to which nation the ‘National’ element in the name refers to, even vaguer. Saying that when the Centre opened (in 1986) it was the only one of its kind in the UK, so presumably it is the UK National White Water Centre.

*

So, by Monday afternoon, I had something to get my teeth into, C W Sales and Services. The Companies House website told me that this PLC was Incorporated 06.11.2012 and its Company Number is 08282630. On the Companies House website I also found, Canoe Wales (Incorporated 09.03.1990, Co. No. 02478971) and Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd (Incorporated 02.11.2012, Co. No. 08278776). All three have their registered office at ‘Canolfan Tryweryn, Frongoch, Bala, Gwynedd LL23 7NU’.

Next stop was DueDil for financial and other information that I might have to pay for on the Companies House website. First, CW Sales and Services Ltd., to which Mr Williamson had directed me. Without getting bogged down in figures, the company is not healthy with, at 30.03.2014, net current liabilities of £164,131. The current directors are David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, and the company is wholly owned by Canoe Wales.

Moving on to Canoe Wales itself,CW Turnover the accounts are overdue at Companies House but the most recent figures, at 31.03.2013, show net worth at £199,786, down from a high of £542,036 at 31.03.2008. (The net worth may in part be attributable to property or land as Canoe Wales has two outstanding mortgages.) The current directors are David William Wakeling, Glyn Royston Stickler, Alan John Baker, Emma Aldridge, Andrew Jeremy Booth and Paul Donovan. (More info available here.)

The most recent filed accounts confirm what Mr Williamson told me, “As at 1st April 2013, commercial trading activities and the operation of the white water centre at Canolfan Tryweryn were transferred to CW Sales and Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary”. The accounts also showed that two of the directors had made loans to Canoe Wales, David Wakeling £45,000 and Emma Aldridge £10,000. “Government grants” amounted to £222,736. Despite the white water canoeing and the educational angles promoted on the website and elsewhere the accounts show that the largest source of income is “rafting”, which I suspect is little more than stag parties, supermarket middle management on beery ‘bonding’ courses, and Islamist terrorists having fun, which makes the White Water Centre at Frongoch little more than another insulting ‘Playground Wales’ tourist business. The SW of course refers to Sport Wales, public money, yours and mine. (Click on panel above to Canoe Wales adverse reportenlarge.) The DueDil pages for Canoe Wales also suggest there is an adverse credit report available. I don’t feel the need to pay the £11.99 requested to tell me that Canoe Wales is heading up Shit Creek.

Finally, Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. The only directors are Wakeling and Booth and the company is 100% owned by Canoe Wales. I was unable to get financial figures as, according to DueDil, the company did not trade during year ending 31.03.2013 and the most recent accounts, for y/e 31.03.2014, are still being processed.

When looking through the information on Canoe Wales I noticed that there was another company mentioned as being part of the group. This was Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd, Registered at a Manchester address with the Company Number 04613689 and Incorporated 10.12.2002. The directors at the time the liquidators were appointed in August 2013 were Paul Eamon O’Sullivan, Philip Blain, David William Wakeling and Ashley James Charlwood. Familiar names such as Baker, Aldridge and Stickler abandoned the sinking canoe 31.03.2013. The lack of white water facilities in Manchester meant that Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd took advantage of the Frongoch Centre and other facilities in Wales. The company’s website is closed but the company almost certainly had some connection with Rescue 3 Europe. The folded company had a share issue of 50,000 £1 shares and was wholly owned by Canoe Wales, which obviously took the hit when Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd folded. Explained in the CW accounts thus (click to enlarge):

Rescue 3

Let’s recap. Canoe Wales started life in 1990 as the Welsh Canoeing Association, explained here in the Document of Incorporation. Its purpose to represent canoeists in Wales. Though I couldn’t help noticing that this first document lists among its objects: “To act as the Association governing the sport and recreation of canoeing in Wales on behalf of the British Canoe Union. How often have we read something like that? Then, at a meeting held on October 5th 1996, at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff, it was decided that henceforth the Management Council would be known as the Board of Directors with Council Members becoming Directors and all the other attendant changes. (Click here for details.) The Chairman at this meeting, also the Chairman of the Association, was a Mark Charlton. Blain was elected Vice-Chairman and Wakeling Treasurer. I suspect that the name was changed to Canoe Wales in November 2008. One question someone may be able to answer is, if the Welsh Canoeing Association wasn’t formed until 1990 who opened the White Water Centre at Frongoch in 1986?

*

What we have with Canoe Wales is a model I have encountered many times before. To begin with, there is the parent body, all fluffy and lovable, doing wonderful things with kiddies, the disabled and the disadvantaged, run by frightfully nice people with silly names and rings in assorted orifices. This set-up relies for its very existence on hefty dollops of public funding, for Wales is a wealthy country with money to spare. Problems start when those running these Third Sector outfits see themselves as entrepreneurs (a word for which there is no equivalent in Welsh, by the way), and they set up ‘trading arms’ and branch out in other ways. A good example would be the one and only Naz Malik, who was not only operating in Wales but also, as this Charity Commission page tellAWEMA Charity Commissions us (click to enlarge), in Kenya and Pakistan! Why was he allowed to operate outside of Wales with Welsh public funding? Was I the only one to notice this? But as I say, it doesn’t really matter because Wales is so wealthy.

The status of these offshoots can vary. Some will be wholly owned by the parent company, others will be free-standing private companies, with any profits going to the directors who, in a parallel dimension, are also the officials of the publicly-funded body. These private offshoots will invariably use facilities and equipment owned by the parent body and paid for out of the public purse. I was introduced to this angle a couple of years ago when told about a women’s ethnic minority charity in Cardiff, I believe the name began with the letter B. The problem was that the husband of the woman running the show had a private company doing very similar work, and they saw no problem in him using the equipment and facilities of the charity that had been bought with grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government and other sources. But they were both well connected in the Labour Party and so nothing was done about it. In fact, the husband was ‘promoted’ to run another charity in the Valleys.

The next problem encountered is entirely predictable. It invariably transpires that our Third Sector grant-grabbers are not the next Richard Branson (unless they’re replicating Beardie’s success in space tourism). This results in spin-offs hitting the rocks, with considerable sums of money having to be written off, as in the case of Resue 3 (UK) Ltd. So who covers these losses? Are they paid for out of grants to the parent body? Perhaps the bigger question is, who keeps track on behalf of the funders of where the money goes, and how it’s used, especially when the body to which the grant is given has spawned a number of offshoots that do not themselves qualify for grants? The question is partly rhetorical, because I am one hundred per cent certain that there have been many examples of funding being misused in this way. But as with Malik’s ‘Today Swansea, tomorrow the world’ approach, no one seems to care. It would be too embarrassing for those giving out the grants to have all these cases exposed.

Something else I noticed while wading through the Canoe Wales paperwork is that they’ve changed their auditors four times, or rather, the auditors have resigned. It happened in 1999, 2002, 2013 and 2014. It may be nothing, but losing two auditors in the past couple of years may suggest something more than carelessness. Were I a funder I would certainly be asking questions.

In conclusion, I suspect that Canoe Wales is breaking up on the rocks of mismanagement and over-ambition, kept afloat only with public funding (and loans from the directors!). This funding from Sport Wales is presumably given because it’s believed Canoe Wales fulfils some educational or other worthy role. But as the accounts make clear, the bulk of the punters come for the fun and games of rafting (as the website URL suggests) – so why are large amounts of Welsh public funding being used to keep open a water ride for drunken jollying that probably employs no Welsh people and lies so close to Capel Celyn? Insult piled upon insult. Canoe Wales is an expensive failure that should not receive another penny from the Welsh public purse. Pull the plug!

*

FOOTNOTE: One reason I enjoy doing posts like this is that once you start digging there’s just no telling what you’ll unearth. This case being a perfect example. For when I started digging into the background of David Wakeling, to find out what his day job was, and how he could afford to loan Canoe Wales £45,000, I discovered that he owns Toucan Systems of Abertillery, Company No 02068869, which manufactures high-spec electroPippa Bartolottinic components. Another director is Mark Williamson, the Scotsman I spoke with on the telephone. Mr Williamson is also a director of Beaufort Tenants Management Ltd of Monmouth, Company No 02847525. So was Williamson recruited into Toucan because Wakeling knew him through Canoe Wales, or vice versa?

Perhaps even more interesting was another name on Toucan’s list of previous directors (April 2001 – May 2003) – a Ms Pippa Bartolotti, self-styled leader of the equally self-styled ‘Wales Green Party’. What a small world! Some Greens suggest that Ms Bartolotti is not what she seems, that she is persona grata with the Israeli authorities and that she has been involved with companies connected with the military. Toucan is such a company. The woeful ‘protests’ she organised for the NATO summit in Newport last September did nothing to lift the cloud of suspicion hanging over that head of wild, abundant hair.

All of which raises the possibility that Canoe Wales is indeed a dead duck financially, but is being kept open for reasons that cannot be stated.

Jan 072015
 
This post is a revised version of an article that recently appeared in Cambria magazine

When I was growing up in Swansea in the 1950s most of the people I knew lived in terraced houses owned by people we didn’t know. For our house, the rent was collected by a chain-smoking bottle blonde from Mumbles who would enter the payment in her rent book with the kind of yellow fingers that persuaded me to become the only 10-year-old in the area who smoked his Woodbine from the other end of a cigarette holder. (Well, I was too young to give up smoking.) Despite our rent-collector’s aesthetic shortcomings, her caBuddy Hollylling was considered a steady job, and quite respectable. There were a lot of them about. Another I recall was a man with a bicycle that had a small motor affixed to the back wheel, which I found fascinating. I can see him now, tackling hills with the tails of his long, drab mac flapping behind him.

Some of these rented properties would then be sub-let, or lodgers would be taken in to help pay for a ‘telly’, or a week in Tenby. One such sub-lettee was ‘Old Sam’, who lived in someone’s front room across the road from us. Sam had piles of pennies (he had piles of just about everything, come to that!) and I’d be sent across the road when the gas meter was running low. Then, some tme in 1958, my father decided to join the property-owning classes. This rise in the status of the Joneses was not without disruption; for example, our new home needed a bit of work, things like a kitchen and an indoor lavatory.

So while the builders were in I was farmed out to my maternal grandmother over on Pentregethin Road. And it was from there, walking through a building site to Penlan School one bitterly cold February morning, that I overheard a trio ahead of me talking; “‘Ave ew ‘eard, mush – Buddy Holly been killed”. There’d been a light snowfall and the wind had blown the snow against the piles of builders’ sand. It was so cold that the snow didn’t melt, yet the fall had been so light that I could almost make out the individual flakes. That’s how I heard of the death of my idol, though the rest of that day is lost.


Those of our acquaintance that didn’t live in privately rented properties tended to live on council estates, such as Penlan, through which I had walked that dreary February morning. Penlan belonged to a new generation of post-war council estates, supplementing those Swansea had constructed in the inter-war period – Lloyd George’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ – most noticeably the massive Townhill-Mayhill estate, collectively and colloquially referred to as, ‘The ‘Ill’. As in, ‘Whe’ by do ew live, luv?’ ‘Up on the cowinʽ ‘Ill!’. (I’m making myself quite homesick here.)

Despite the allocation system for council tenancies being, theoretically at least, needs based, it was a decided advantage if one was a Labour Party member, trade union official, or friend / relative of a local councillor. Of course, as a young lad the complexities of this allocation system were beyond my ken, though it must be said that many of my elders were also confused. Especially those who thought they had enough points to put them near the top of the waiting list, only to find that they had been queue-jumped by a woman no better than she ought to be whose only ‘points’ seemed to be . . . no, let’s not go there, or I shall be accused of picking on the Labour Party again.

Yet it’s worth remembering that prior to World War One there had been very little housing built by local authorities; in fact, I’m not sure there was any council housing built in Wales. Before the Great War housing had either been built by the big companies and mine owners or quarry owners for their workers, or else the need for rented property was met by speculative developers. (In the village where I live most of the properties over 30 years old were built by the owners of the local quarry in the 19th century to be rented to their workers.) But the fact was that just about everybody had a home, even if it was a little room like Sam’s, piled high with pennies, newspapers and God knows what else in a permanent fog of stale urine. Well into the 1950s unmarried adults (and many young married couples) lived with their parents, the elderly invariably lived with their adult children, while single men and young women who left home to work ‘took lodgings’ or found a ‘bedsit’.

So we can safely say that council or social housing, despite our familiarity with it today, has been a feature of Welsh life for less than a century. With its hey-day probably already in the past, for today most Welsh local authorities have lost their housing stock to housing associations. Another big difference between 1915 and 2015 is of course that most people today are home owners, and many more aspire to be, which is another need being met by housing associations with ‘shared ownership’ schemes and other imaginative arrangements. All of which makes housing associations worthy of closer inspection.


Despite self-applied labels such as ‘social enterprises’ and ‘not-for-profit organisations’ most housing associations are registered as Industrial and Provident Societies; registered with, but not regulated by, the Financial Services Authority. And unlike companies limited by guarantee they have share capital. Then, and despite wanting us to believe they are public bodies, housing associations are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. (Your local council is of course covered by the Act.) All that being so, and it suggesting they are not public bodies, why have housing associations in Wales received billions of pounds in public funding since the arrival of devolution in 1999? And why is so much of this Welsh public funding seeping over the border in the form of maintenance contracts and sub-contracts for English companies?

If you think I’m exaggerating, just remember that thirty years ago the housing departments of our councils provided many tens of thousands of jobs, making this sector one of the biggest employers, especially in our rural areas. There were those employed in building and maintaining the hundreds of thousands of council properties, and there were also jobs in administration, allocating properties, collecting rents and dealing with all manner of queries. Thirty years ago local authorities were big players in the economic life of the country. ‘But surely’, you ask, ‘the council staff simply transferred to the new owner of the properties?’ Well, usually . . . some . . . and to begin with . . .

To explain what’s happening now I shall use an example I have studied on my own door-step – literally from my own door-step! In 2010 Gwynedd council’s housing stock was transferred to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (Gwynedd Community Housing), and to begin with, things seemed to carry on much as before. More recently, worrying changes have been apparent. The contract for maintaining the properties was awarded to Lovell, a major English company which has its ‘local’ branch office in Cheshire. Lovell in turn sub-contracted to smaller companies over the border. Let me explain how this works in practice.

In 2013 Lovell’s sub-contractors were working in the Tywyn area and my next-door neighbour waited months for his bathroom and kitchen to be re-tiled. The tilers travelled every day – when they bothered to turn up – from Wigan. Their day worked out at roughly four hours of travelling and five hours of work! And this lunacy, remember, is being perpetrated with Welsh public funding and at the expense of Welsh sub contractors!

More recently we have seen the controversy over CCG’s attempts to bring in English managers. Defended and disguised with arguments such as ‘unable to find suitable Welsh-speaking applicants’ and ‘seeking the best for the job’, when the truth is that it’s a move to better ‘integrate’ CCG with the Englandandwales social housing setup. Those it is hoped to recruit will have contacts in England that will ensure Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd secures more tenants from the lucrative – but damaging to the host community – ‘vulnerable’ sector. The real question is, where did this diktat originate? Because CCG’s chief executive, Ffrancon Williams, seems to be just a mouthpiece in this, and the acquiescing Board member nothing but a smokescreen. The decision was certainly taken elsewhere.

The table below (click to enlarge) shows the amounts of funding given to Welsh housing associations in just one six-year period and from just one funding stream, the Social Housing Grant. Couldn’t that seven hundred million pounds – and all the rest! – have been better used?

Social Housing full

There are just so many problems attaching to the current arrangements for social housing. The one I have just dealt with in Gwynedd is replicated across Wales, resulting in thousands of jobs being lost and billions of pounds of Welsh money flowing over the border – Welsh public money that is supposed to be used to boost the Welsh economy! In addition, Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system that means a large family of English social misfits (or worse) can qualify for social housing in Wales ahead of locals; as can criminals, drug addicts, paedophiles and other who qualify as ‘vulnerable’, and therefore generate more income for whoever houses them. With such rich pickings on offer no one should be surprised to learn that many housing associations are building properties in numbers that cannot be justified by local demand – especially in some rural towns – and are only being built at all to meet the lucrative demand from England. As an example of what I’m talking about let’s remember the paedophile gang housed by Gwalia in Cydweli, which generated a lot more income than if those properties had been used to house law-abiding locals.

STOP PRESS: Just before posting I learnt that police in Haverfordwest are warning interested parties (schools, etc.,) that convicted sex offenders are now being housed in the centre of the town.

I don’t wish to paint an overly depressing picture (recalling ‘The Day the Music Died’ has already had me reaching for the Kleenex!), but social housing in Wales is an indefensible system. To conclude this section, and expose the lunacy from another angle, consider this. Apart from hundreds of councillors worried about losing their allowances just about everyone else in Wales believes we need many fewer local authorities. That being so, why does our ‘Welsh’ Government encourage the proliferation of housing associations – actually funding them to compete with each other? Or to put it another way: why should an area deemed too small to have its own local authority have half a dozen or more housing associations on its patch fighting like ferrets in a sack over the social housing racket?


The day of council-owned social housing is clearly coming to an end, dealt its death-blow by Margaret Thatcher’s Housing Act of 1980 and its ‘Right-to-Buy’ provisions. I would like to believe that we are approaching the end of social housing altogether and heading towards a system in which all rented accommodation will be provided by private sector. Housing associations are obviously a half-way house towards such a system, and were probably designed to be just that. What I would like to see in the next few years is their full privatisation. The writing may be on the wall, and it’s in David Cameron’s own hand.

In January 2012 the UK Prime Minister announced new legislation (due in 2015) for the governing of co-operatives (including Industrial Provident Societies), and he said, “We know that breaking monopolies, encouraging choice, opening up new forms of enterprise is not just right for business but the best way of improving public services too”. What I’ve underlined is a strange term to use in relation to what purports to be nothing more than legislation to consolidate earlier Bills and iron out anomalies. ‘New forms of enterprise’ in the same sentence as ‘public services’ should also have raised a few eyebrows.

Then we have the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014. On the one hand this seeks to further integrate Wales with England but it also has a lot to say about the ‘Regulation of Private Rented Housing’, with little of it aimed at your average ‘Buy-to-Let’ investor. My reading of Part One of the Act (by far the largest of the nine Parts) is that it sets the ground rules for a major shift in the provision of social or rented housing. And why not?

Housing associations already borrow money from banks and other institutions, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to look for commercial investors and shareholders? They would have little trouble in attracting them given that they have solid assets in the form of their housing stock. Housing associations would be ideal investment vehicles for pension funds, and socially acceptable for the more ‘ethical’ investor. Fully privatised social housing, with the right legislation in place to guarantee secure tenancies, prioritising locals, fair rents, etc., would not only provide investment opportunities but such an arrangement would also relieve a great burden on the public purse.

And there is of course another great advantage to handing the provision of rented housing over to the private sector. There is unquestionably a housing shortage, not in Wales, but in England. Despite the platitudes and promises, there is no intention of ever meeting the needs of all those wanting to own their own home, because to do so would reduce the value of millions of other homes people have invested in. So the demand remains. So why not meet it by letting the private sector build decent homes for rent, dwellings with – as on the Continent – more cachet than social housing and its connotations of problem families, pit bulls and sink estates? Give people a decent home, solve the housing crisis, and create jobs in the process, something that could be done without causing revolution in the suburbs.


Those buffoons down Cardiff docks who persist in masquerading as the ‘Welsh’ Government need to decide whether they want to start living up to their billing, or whether they continue allowing Wales to be run by English civil servants taking orders from London and doing little more than feeding the parasites of the Third Sector. If they choose the former, then one of the most convincing ways of showing their newly-grown gonads would be to devise Welsh laws for Welsh needs, rather than being bullied into accepting English laws with ‘(Wales)’ inserted into the name. Social housing might be a good place to start.

The table below shows that the fastest growing hoising sector in Wales is the private rented sector. Much of this is accounted for by ‘Buy-to-let’ mortgages but, increasingly, major companies and corporations are moving into the sector. Again, why not? As I’ve said, the demand for home ownership will never be met because to do so would lead to a collapse in property values; so why not allow private and commercial landlords to provide more salubrious accommodation than is currently provided by housing associations?

Housing by tenure

As I hope to have persuaded you, the current, Twilight Zone model of publicly-funded quasi-private companies is an unsustainable nonsense resulting from Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right-to-Buy’ legislation. The irony being that it is currently sustained by ‘Welsh’ Labour and it’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector. This situation leaves us with two options. The first would see a new model of publicly-owned social housing, serving Welsh needs, employing Welsh people, and giving contracts to Welsh companies. The second option is to cut housing associations adrift (from public funding) and say, ‘Right you’re on your own now, behave like private companies, find shareholders and raise your own funding using your massive assets as collateral’.

The first option takes us back to that system we were once comfortable with (and so proud of); whereas the second option takes us back to private landlords (but without the bottle blondes with nicotine-stained fingers). Either option will be an improvement on the absurd system we know today; which sees far too many housing associations in Wales, and too many of them wanting to employ English staff, give contracts to English companies, and take in English tenants – and do it all using Welsh public funding!

After reading this you may wish to sign the petition advertised at the top of my sidebar.

Dec 272014
 

Despite fierce competition from Channel 17 in Albania and the Nova Scotia Parrot Breeders’ Monthly Jac o’ the North is delighted to have secured exclusive rights to First Minister Carwyn Jones’ end-of-year Review. Enjoy!

                                *Carwyn Jones 9

Hello there, I’m Carwyn Jones, you may not know me, but I’m the First Minister of Wales. More importantly, I also run the local branch of the Labour Party (along with Owen Smith MP and a few other people). I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas, I know I did. It gave me a chance to put my feet up and relax for a change, after another hectic and hugely successful year in Wales. Let’s go through it month by month.

P.S. Jac has kindly added some pictures showing me at work, so click on them to make them bigger.

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JANUARY: The Dylan Thomas Centenery Year got off to a wonderful start when documents were found at Transport House showing that Dylan was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party, joining the party in 1938 while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Not only that, but a previously unknown poem also came to light. Here’s a brief extract showing both his mastery of pomes and stuff and also his commitment to the party he loved: ‘I’ve always been ronk Labour / Its meeCarwyn Jones 2tings are never missed; / Its nostrums are adhered to, / Even when I’m pissed’. The second verse is playfully romantic: ‘I love the Labour Party, / It’s meetings are such fun, / The branch secretary’s a honey, / I wouldn’t mind giving her one’. Chokes me up, it does. And I bet it brings tears to the eyes of all poetry lovers.

FEBRUARY: It was brought to my attention that some foolish people are campaigning to re-open the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line, possibly even go on to Bangor. It should be obvious to everyone that if you’re travelling by rail from north to south (or even south to north) then the existing route via Norwich is clearly the best option and gives people hours, days even, of extra working time. As the old English saying goes, ‘East to west is always best (especially in Wales)’. Who can argue with this tried and tested legitimisation of colonialism?

MARCH: I was surprised to receive from Mr Sargeant and his friends in the Planning Inspectorate a report saying Wales needs one million new homes by 2025. In fact, I said to him, “This seems like a lot, Carl”. But then it was explained to me that this number is due to our soaring birthrate fuelled by the booming Welsh economy which can only be attributed to 15 years of wonderful WelshCarwyn Jones 3 Labour controlling the Assembly. So when you look at it like that it makes perfect sense. In fact, a million may not be enough. (Which is what the Planning Inspectorate is already suggesting.)

APRIL: The London media, at the behest of the Coalition government, said terrible things about the Welsh NHS, so let me put a few things straight. The reason Mrs Rhian Evans of Llanrwst’s baby was delivered by the men re-possessing her three-piece suite was not because we had no ambulances available, it was because she tried calling for one in Welsh! Another calumny (a posh word taught to me by Mrs Hutt) being bandied about is that people have to wait ages before being seen by a doctor. Mr Bowen Owen of Ystradgynlais – fleeting cause celébrè of the right-wing English press – would not have spent three weeks in the waiting room if he’d told staff he was deaf. (And it goes without saying that patient confidentiality is our watchword.)

MAY: No, not Mrs May up in London, over whom certain men fantasise. (Ych a fi!) I’m thinking of the European elections, which Labour won with a stonking majority when almost 10% of those elligible to vote in Wales voted Labour. There’s no arguing with a victory of that mCarwyn Jones 4agnitude. Though of course some nit-pickers did try, saying that Ukip got nearly as many votes as us. But that’s to miss the point, because – and I’m not talking about Europe here – on the issue that really matters, Labour and Ukip are gobbing into the same spittoon.

JUNE: Unkind things were also being said about our higher education sector, so let’s put the record straight. To suggest that some of our universities are lowering entry requirements and cutting corners in pursuit of money is both insulting and incorrect. The fact that Aberystwyth now accepts students with two F grades and a new toothbrush should not deflect from the excellent work being done there by the very popular Ms April McMahon and her loyal and supportive staff. As for Glyndŵr university, degrees were not – as was alleged – being sold in Turkmenistan, far from it. The truth is that a Welsh university broke into new markets by respecting local traditions. In this case, courtesy demanded that certain local dignitaries be allowed to take away examination papers and return them at a time of their own choosing. When it was accepted that the fruit of the potentates’ loins Carwyn Jones 7had completed the papers unaided, with everything above board due to the process having been overseen by invigilators provided at said potentates’ expense. How could anyone question such an arrangement?

JULY: Even though I was on holiday with Mrs Carwyn and the kids I couldn’t stop thinking about the job. One day, whilst sipping a mint julep (with shaved ice, natch), I was forced to concede that there are ‘issues’ in local government. That said, all the problems in Caerphilly were clearly the responsibility of the previous Plaid Cymru administration. If they had paid the chief executive a decent whack then there would have been no need for him to conspire arrange to have a massive salary increase from Mr Gezwell Kirby and his Band of Bruvvers in the incoming Labour administration. While down in Carmarthenshire the Independent Party and Plaid Cymru made a terrible mess of things. Later in the year, the leader of Swansea council had my full support . . . until the coup, after which the new leader had my full support. The bottom line is that everywhere you look around Wales you see the same problem – everything going to pot because people won’t let the Labour Party run things unhindered. (Or the chief executive, whichever applies.)Carwyn Jones 8

AUGUST: I went to the National Eisteddfod, held this year in Llanelli. As you can see from the photograph, I was mobbed by hordes of young Labour activists. (Phwoar!) While there I made a firm commitment to defend the Welsh language at all times . . . unless it meant contradicting the Planning Inspectorate, annoying the Secretary of State, pissing off Labour MPs, interfering with the colonisation strategy, damaging the profits of Wimpey, Redrow, Persimmon, etc., or alarming anyone in London. Those minor caveats aside, let there be no questioning of my firm resolve to do everything I can to ensure that Welsh-speaking communities survive and prosper.

SEPTEMBER: First, I summoned all the world’s leaders to a NATO summit in Newport so I could tell them how to deal with ISIS, Putin, Salmond and assorted threats to our perfect Western system. (Thankfully, no one realised there were any ‘protests’ in Newport because they were sabotaged organised by Ms Bartolotti of MI6 the Green Party.) Next, I flew (from Bristol) to Scotland to confront the aforementioned Alex Carwyn Jones 1Salmond and frustrate his dastardly plan to make Scotland democratic, fair and wealthy. (Jesus! think of the trouble that would have caused!) Due to some very nifty work backstage and in the wings (by those I dare not name) the referendum vote was an emphatic and overwhelming No. It was so emphatic and overwhelming that support for the Scottish National Party has now collapsed as Scots have come to their senses and flock to join the Labour Party. Mr Salmond himself is a broken man, and has abandoned all political ambitions to open a barber shop in Kirriemuir.

OCTOBER: Due to the thousands of new businesses that were created by Welsh Labour with the first two rounds of EU Structural Funds, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that came with them, those nice people in Europe wisely gave us another two billion pounds to continue with our wonderful work. We are open to imaginative suggestions on how to use this money. Applications containing words or phrases not unlike those here listed stand a good chance of scuring funding: ‘eco-‘ / ‘community space’ / ‘CVs’ (as in ‘help with completing . . . for non-existent jobs’) / ‘enviro-‘ / ‘Labour Party’ (as in, ‘I am a member / supporter . . . ‘) / ‘self-esteem’ / ‘Green’ / ‘multicultural’ / ‘holistic’ / ‘LGBT’ / ‘social enterprise’ / ‘England’ (as in, ‘recently moved frobucket 3 am . . . ‘) / ‘raiki’ / ‘not-for-profit’ / ‘empowerment’ / ‘real job’ (as in, ‘never had a . . .’).

NOVEMBER: After reading that every Norwegian is now, theoretically, a millionaire, due to the success of Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, I decided we must have one in Wales. (Though I have reservations about using the term ‘sovereign’.) Starting in January, groups of highly-trained financial analysts will be touring the country with state of the art buckets taking up a national collection. So give granny a good shake, slash open the sofa and chairs, and give whatever you can find to Welsh Labour because, deep inside, you know we’ll use it wisely.

DECEMBER: Mr Vincent Tan has made such a favourable impression on Cardiff City fans that we decided to capitalise on his popularity and fast-track him into the Assembly. He’ll be taking over Vaughan Gething’s seat of Kerdiff South and Penarth. We haven’t told Vaughan yet, it’ll be a surprise! . . . a hell of a surprise seeing as we’ve spread a rumour that he’s my annointed successor! (Well, laff!!)

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2015: I look forward to 2015 with great optimism. Due to the wonderful work of the Welsh Government’s Bread and Circuses Division our boys will either win the Rugby World Cup or fail heroically; either way, if celebrated properly (with the help of our wonderful Welsh media), it should then give us a majority in the Assembly elections of 2016. As if that wasn’t enough, a string of blockbusters will be filmed at Valleywood: cruise liners will make their first, serene appearance on the Llangollen canal; the roar of F1 cars will be heard at the Circuit of Wales; Cardiff International airport will enter an exciting partnership with Bristol and be re-named Bristol (West); thousands of jobs will be created at the Margam Superpit; Llanelli town centre will become the favoured location for post nuclear holocaust movies; and Rhyl will be twinned with any other shit-hole desperate enough for the connection.

Cardiff airport

Take my word for it, 2015 is going to be a great year in Wales. Everywhere you go you’ll hear shoe-shine boys and beggars, bailiffs and food bank staff, whistling that old Harry Secombe number, Every day when I wake up, I thank the Lord I’m Labour.

Dec 242014
 

Christmas

 Posted by at 09:20 on 24/12/2014
Dec 172014
 

The ‘Welsh’ Government has just announced the first allocation of the 2014 – 2020 EU structural funds. Twenty million pounds is to go towards a new £40m innovation and enterprise centre at Aberystwyth university, to be built next to IBERS (Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences).

Writing in Monday’s Wasting Mule self-styled ‘Finance and Government Business Minister’ Jane Hutt waxed lyrical about this project in an article headed ‘Vital that we make most of EU investment to transform Hutt pieceWales’. (Click on image to enlarge and click here for online version.) A headline that is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who appreciates why we – almost uniquely in Europe – are now receiving a third round of structural funds. The reason is that the ‘Welsh’ Government squandered the first two rounds of funding on projects with no chance of success or wasted it on Labour’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector, who have flocked to Wales since devolution to get their noses in the trough. Let me spell it out. The reason Wales is getting a third round of structural funds is because the ‘Welsh’ Government, ‘Welsh’ Labour, and the London-answering civil servants who run Wales, have all screwed up. And it may have been deliberate.

Let us all understand that simple fact before proceeding, because as someone once said, if we don’t learn from past mistakes then we are almost certain to repeat them. Seeing as all the mistakes with EU structural funds have occured within recent memory no one should have forgotten what went wrong. Moving on . . .

As I’ve already said, the new centre is to go up alongside the IBERS complex at Gogerddan, making it reasonable to assume a connection, so here’s another chance to link with the IBERS website. You will note that the Wasting Mule piece mentions alongside IBERS the ‘Beacon Centre of Excellence for  bio-refining’, so I also checked out their website. It was no surprise to read that this partnership between the universities at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea “is backed with £10.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government”. But to do what exactly? Well, it seems that the academics and students at IBERS and Beacon experiment with crops, animal feed and the like, the idea being that some of them will come up with a good idea that can be marketed and make oodles of money. As, I say, that’s the hope. The Beacon website provides a list of companies with which it is in partnership. Let’s look at them one by one.

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ABER INSTRUMENTS seems to be a partnership between Aberystwyth university and the Centre for Alternative Technology in Corris and sells to the brewing industry. Given the partners, Welsh involvement is predictably minimal. The company seems to be in reasonable financial health.

AGROCEUTICAL PRODUCTS is based in Glasbury on Wye, close to the border, which might raise queries about the use of EU structural funds allocated to west Wales. Its claim to fame appears to be that “Agroceutical Products’ work on the production of Galanthamine from daffodils grown in Wales was featured in the BBC’s Countryfile program which was broadcast on Sunday 24th April 2011.” Which seems to jar with what we read elsewhere on the website about the company not being formed until 2012.

AXIUM PROCESS Ltd is certainly based within the ‘Objective One’ area, in Hendy, just outside Swansea. Axium’s business is stainless steel fabrication, so it’s not immediately obvious what links it with academics in Aberystwyth specialising in biorefining. Financially, Axium appears to be up Shit Creek, with DueDil suggesting net assets of -£624,000. The major shareholder, with some 76% of the shares is Moda Systems Ltd of the same address, and with the same directors. Moda appears to be in better financial health than Axium with net assets (at June 2010) of some £200,000, but the company does not appear to trade.

CLIFFORD JONES TIMBER GROUP appears to be an established Welsh company based in Rhuthun with a net worth of over four million pounds.

COMPTON GROUP is a property development company based in Swansea which “invests in biotech research at Welsh universities”. This munificence is explained thus on the Compton website: “Compton Group’s interest in research projects is primarily financial; we look to out-license the intellectual property at an early stage . . . “. Phew! thank God for that; for one terrible minute I thought the ugly lovely town was producing philanthropists!

DTR Medical is another Swansea company, formed in 2005, this one produces medical and surgical instruments. The company is owned 100% by its managing director John Richard Salvage, of Surrey, and is part of his Medsa Group Ltd. Mr Salvage is quite the entrepreneur, though some of his ventures, such as Saifer Hygiene Ltd, are among the departed, while others struggle on through this Vale of Tears, including the Medsa Group itself which, if DueDil is correct, has liabilities of £1.5m.

FARMACEUTICAL INNOVATIONS is a new company, Incorporated July 2011, based at Llanfair P G and involved in “the clean extraction of phytochemicals from sustainable sources”. Financial health would appear to be shaky, with liabilities climbing and assets dropping. The company is run and owned (33.33% each) by Richard Douglas Henry Potterill (aged 29), Dr Kevin Wall (58) and Jennifer Helen Wall (29). The two younger partners seem to haFruiting Bodiesve no previous business experience but Kevin Wall is also a director of Ingenious Extractions Ltd and Zun Energy Ltd, the first based at an address in Holywell, Flintshire, the latter in Rhuthun.

FRUITING BODIES deals in fungus extracts and is part of the Red Pig Farm, a hippy venture located in Bethlehem, near Llangadog. A 100ml bottle of fungus extract will set you back £17,50. (Though you can get 6 bottles for £100. Click on image to enlarge.) I could find no company number for either Fruiting Bodies or Red Pig Farm, suggesting they are not registered companies. Maybe they deal in cash, or barter.

MDF RECOVERY is another very small enterprise, a two-man band by the look of it. The website is odd in that it does not divulge where the company is based, nor does it give a company number. Though the STD code given locates the company in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and I was about to leave it at that before another line of enquiry presented itself. This told me that the company is in fact registered at 36 Castle Street, Beaumaris, which is an office of the Letterbox Recruiting agency. I suspect Letterbox lives up to its name by providing a Welsh address for MDF Recovery. Financially, MDF is not a well outfit.

PENNOTEC is another company that does not provide either a postal address or a company number on its website. Pennotec is almost certainly part of the Pennog group, with which it shares a phone number and, despite the Welsh-sounding name, the ‘phone number suggests that Pennog is based in Huddersfield. Yet, here again, despite the telephone number suggesting an operation in England, the company is actually registered at a private residence in Nefyn. And once again, I must report a company with assets dipping and liabilities on the rise.

PHYTOQUEST provides the welcome opportunity for me to tell you that this is a Welsh company, with an Aberystwyth address and an Aberystwyth telephone number. In fact, the registered company address is c/o IBERS. Though when I say ‘Welsh’, I mean it’s located in Wales, for there don’t seem to be any Welsh people involved with the company. Unlike some of the other companies I’ve looked at I’m pleased to be able to report that Phytoquest is in reasonable financial health, though these things are relative. By which I mean that between May 2013 and May 2014 Phytoquest’s net worth dropped by 75.11% and its liabilities increased by 1,177% in the same period.

PLANT FIBRE TECHNOLOGY was Incorporated in 2005 but the website is still under construction! Based in Bangor the company is wholly owned by a Gary Newman, who may not be an academic, whereas the company secretary glories in the name of Dr Mary Anne Pasteur. Mr Newman is involved with a few other companies, all of them unlikely to ever trouble the Stock Exchange. Plant Fibre Technology itself leads a precarious financial existence with net assets of £88 at March 2014 and total liabilities of £11,616.

SPENCER ECA is based in Penrhiwllan near Llandysul and is definitely a growing company . . . unfortunately liabilities seem to be growing as fast, if not faster, than assets. That said, Spencer ECA seems to be one of very few of the companies on the Beacon list that actually employs people, let’s hope they’re Welsh. Spencer ECA also has a presence in Ireland, Scotland, England, Swansea and Newtown.

*

So those are the companies listed as ‘partners‘ on the Beacon website, and Beacon is linked with IBERS, the recipient of £20m of EU Structural Funds. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say about these companies is that they’re a mixed bunch. What we have in many cases is academics deluding themselves they’re entrepreneurs, but what the hell! it’s someone else’s money. And that’s a major problem nowadays, dream up any ridiculous project using the magic words ‘eco’, ‘bio’, ‘enviro’ and you can just hold out your hands and wait for the money to drop. Throw in a glossy new building and lots of publicity in the specialist press and civil servants and politicians can’t give out the money fast enough.

Though what are we to make of what appear to be English companies taking out letter-box addresses in areas of Wales qualifying for Structural Funds? That looks a bit iffy.

There is nothing wrong with universities co-operating with business, I support that, but the difference between what’s happening in Aberystwyth and what happens elsewhere is obvious. Real universities in England, Scotland and elsewhere have major corporations fighting to invest hundreds of millions of pounds, yet here in Wales there’s no queue of big companies, the money has to come in hand-outs of EU funding. Hardly surprising when we remember that Aberystwyth is a refuge for third-rate English students . . . with academics to match. Are these going to come up with world-beating ideas? No; so why waste money on them?

You will have noticed as we went through Beacon’s partners an almost total absence of Welsh involvement. So will the latest £20m create any jobs for Welsh people? No. Will it provide facilities or amenities that will benefit local communities? No. Will this money create infrastructure that will be of wider benefit than just for the university? No. Like the countless millions already wasted on Aberystwyth University this latest £20m will be squandered on academics’ playthings, hippy ventures and companies that will never employ a single Welsh person.

The first two rounds of Objective One / Structural Funds were wasted. Now, with this announcement it looks as if the third round of funding will also be wasted. This money has been given by the EU to raise living standards, to create employment, to build infrastructure, in the poorest areas of western Europe and the people living in those areas. If it is not used for that purpose then the EU should step in and withhold the funding. Seeing as we Welsh get no benefit from EU funding it would be better to go without it entirely than see it used to fund the colonisation of our country.

Dec 092014
 

Many people will hate me for saying this, but political parties of the Right are invariably more honest, and therefore more ‘comfortable’, with their supporters than parties of the Left. The reason for this is that they appeal to perfectly natural human sentiments such as patriotism, family, Mom’s apple pie, or even baser impulses such as prejudice and greed. Whereas parties of the Left pretend – even delude themselves – that their voters are motivated solely by the desire for a nicer, fairer world, where the sun shines all day and we’re all nice to each other, when the truth is that those who vote for them are motivated by the same self-interest as the most venal, cigar-smoking capitalist.

Or am I exaggerating? Well, consider this: Throughout history there has been opposition to organised religion, monarchy, the military, landowners, the aristocracy, industrialists, the bourgeoise, etc., not because of any deep moral or philosophical objections but simply because malcontents believed such institutions and groups disadvantaged them. What I suppose could be described as a combination of envy and greed, which some would argue is the true basis of socialism.

Occasionally this resentment flared up in events such as England’s Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 which, despite the best efforts of historians in subsequent centuries to portray it as such, was not a mass movement with a coherent ideology and long term plans for a better society . . . it was simply a spontaneous rising of people motivated by anger and envy. In subsequent centuries, such episodes of unrest played into the hands of radical groups and political parties using these waves of popular discontent for their own ends. France would certainly have seen disturbances towards the end of the eighteenth century, but these would not have amounted to the French Revolution had there not been clever and ruthless men on hand to exploit the public mood and reshape France.Decembrists

In the following century Russia knew her movements for liberalisation, all of which failed. Some were glorious failures, none more so than that of the young officers who made up the Decembrists. Others were almost farcical. I particularly enjoyed reading many years ago of the Narodniki of the 1860s and ’70s and their ‘Going to the People’, which meant moving to the countryside in order to educate the peasants and help them in their struggles against the kulaks and other oppressors. The conservative peasants were so terrified by these young idealists that they couldn’t hand them in to the tsarist authorities quick enough.

The problem in nineteenth-century Russia and elsewhere was that the radical intellectuals of the aristocracy and the middle-class might eulogise and idealise the peasants and the workers but they had absolutely nothing in common with them, which usually resulted in suspicion and hostility from those they were trying to help. Little changed when Lenin and his gang came to power. There was a massive disconnect between the underdogs and those who saw it as their mission to help make the world a better place, either for, or at least in the name of, said underdogs.

By comparison, those defending privilege and the established order almost always belonged to the class whose interests they defended. More than that, they also appealed to the aspirational, those with a foot or two on the ladder. And never forget that those who defended the status quo also had an audience among the poor, perhaps those of a religious bent, or others who saw the rabble-rousers as harbingers of chaos.

Within my lifetime, in the USA, I can recall the Democrats cobbling together ‘rainbow alliances’ of disparate groups that had nothing in common other than not being Republican, while, on the other hand, the GOP represented an almost homogenous interest of the prosperous, the relatively satisfied, the patriotic, the religious and others who were reasonably happy with America the way it was. Both may have involved a degree of consensus but one didn’t need to be a great psephologist to predict which was the more likely to fall apart.

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This gulf between the underprivileged and those who sought to speak for them has, at its best, been a kind of distant paternalism; at its worst, it has resulted in oppressive systems operated by fanatics in the name of those they very often despised. This has something to do with the fact that radical and anti-establishment parties can never entirely trust their constituencies. External enemies threatening war, or a rise in their living standards, could send the ‘oppressed masses’ flocking to the opposition. By comparison, the Right has always been able to trust its supporters.

Which meant that while the Right represented a coherent ideological continuum, from the richest in the land to the poorest patriot or the widow crossing herself before a picture of the tsar, the self-appointed saviours of the downtrodden always struggled to find common ground with those they spoke for. As the Narodniki and others found this can be very frustrating, tFarage bogeymeno the point where educated and motivated radicals look at those they’re trying to help, and ask, ‘Is it worth it?’ . . . before pulling themselves together and remembering that these drunken, slobbering, superstitious oaves are their hope of power.

This gulf was almost unbridgeable in tsarist Russia, and it’s still there in today’s Western democracies. With a small number of exceptions the modern UK Labour Party is made up of middle-class people and professional politicians, that is, those who studied politics in university then went on to become political assistants – perhaps doubling up as councillors – before making the logical step up to becoming an MP. How do these really feel about beer-swilling, Sun-reading, Reality-TV-obsessed Labour supporters who think Jim Davidson is a great comedian? The truth is that many Labour politicians would sympathise with the Narodniki who came to loathe the peasants who handed them in to the police.

But ‘Ah!’, you say, ‘what about those Old Etonians running the UK government, aren’t they out of touch?’. Out of touch with whom? Certainly not with their friends and relatives in the City, nor with the great English middle class, nor with those lower down the pecking order who feel it’s perfectly natural to be ruled by toffs. Consequently there is no great disconnect between Cameron, Osborne et al and those who support them.

Yet this disconnect on the Left goes a long way to explaining Labour’s fear and loathing for Ukip, and Nigel Farage in particular. The rise of Ukip has exposed another fundamental truth I touched on earlier – many people vote Labour out of pure self-interest, believing that Labour in government will raise wages and benefits, lower taxes and do all manner of things to benefit them. Altruism and a better world have nothing to do with it. As I said in a recent post. ” . . . your average working class, Labour-voting, tabloid-reader is very often a conservative and even a racist. Not a violent, Hitler-worshipping nutter, but a person who undemonstratively shares almost all the prejudices of the far Right. The identikit Ukip voter (as the May Euro-elections showed). We all know them. We work with them, we talk with them down the pub.”

What Labour – and socialists in general – will not admit is that Ukip has out-bogeymanned them. Whereas Labour has traditionally scapegoated capitalism, the banks, international finance, etc., Ukip has come along and said ‘No, no, the real problem, the reason you’re having a hard time, is “Europe” and immigrants’. What makes it worse for Labour is that during the Blair – Brown ( – Mandelson) years Labour got as close to big business and international finance as the Tories, so the traditional bogeymen can no longer be attacked.

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Due to the reckless behaviour of these traditional but now inviolate bogeymen the Western world has just gone through – or may still be experiencing – the worst Recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the UK has a national debt of 1.4 trillion pounds, the Chancellor’s autumn statement last week will lead to public service cuts on a ‘colossal scale‘. . . so where are the massive protest marches behind the banners of socialism? One answer lies in the preceding paragraph. In addition to believing in Ukip’s ‘bogeymen’ we alse see an illustration of what I said in my opening paragraph: “parties of the Right pander to perfectly natural human sentiments such as prejudice and greed”, and gain the rewards.

What of Wales? Surely here, in this fastness of fraternity, this citadel of comradeship, this bastion of brotherhood, this . . . (ah, bugger it!). Surely here socialism still courses through the veins of our people, the Internationale still rings out at the end of ballet performances in the local Institute? Well . . . no. The truth is that in the most recent elections in May Ukip, with 27.6% of the vote, came damn close to beating Labour, on 28.1%. But of course Labour isn’t the only socialist party in Wales, we also have Plaid Cymru (15.3%), which is probably more socialist than Labour, and still moving Left. I don’t wish to be too cruel, but from where I’m sitting, becoming more ardently socialist in 2014 is the political equivalent of buying Confederate Bonds in 1865, or seeking a title in 1788 France.

Having turned its back on the Welsh people and given up almost all hope of success Plaid Cymru is now desperately looking for allies among other ‘progressive’ elements’. (Don’t you just love the labels these Lefties attach to themselves!) This of course is in addition to its long-standing policy of not jeopardising any future coaltion by being too hard on Labour. The ones being courted most assiduously, and unwisely, at the moment are the Greens.

This I have dealt with in a number of recent posts, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of Englandandwales and More on the Green Party of Englandandwales. From reading assorted blogs and other sources I have picked up on references to a proposed eco-socialist alliance which seems to be welcomed by Plaid Cymru luminaries going out of their way to assure English Greens in Wales that Plaid has nothing to do with nationalism (scroll down to comments). Which must raise the question: What is Plaid Cymru for if not for defending and representing Welsh nationhood, this being my understanding of nationalism? I can see why such an anti-colonialist stance might offend those of a colon disposition, but not why Plaid Cymu candidates should have to pander to such susceptibilities.

I have asked it before and I make no apology for asking it again “How can a Welsh political party be in existence for ninety years without realising that its greatest – perhaps its only – selling point is its Welshness? Blame England! – play on Welsh grievances! – stir the passiChyba Bartolottions! – reap the rewards! Better to do that and fail than be a bunch of mealy-mouthed compromisers satisfied with crumbs.”

But, no, Plaid Cymru has refused to be a truly Welsh party for fear of alienating those ‘progressive elements’ with which it is so keen to form alliances. People like Pippa Bartolotti of the Green Party of Englandandwales who regards Welshness as a “regional identity”, she of the checquered past and the recent anti-Nato fiasco in Newport. Or maybe the spotlight will fall on Andy Chyba, who believes the Welsh language is “moribund”. The more one looks at some of these people Plaid Cymru wants to get into bed with the more one can see that they may indeed be progressive in their attitudes to logging in the Amazon and similar issues, but when it comes to Wales and Welshness their attitudes are most definitely nineteenth century and Rule Britannia.

As things stand, Plaid Cymru is of more use to the British system than it is to the Welsh people. All it does is fill the space that should be taken up by a nationalist party. Plaid Cymru mistakes being ignored (due to its impotence) as evidence of its ‘respectability’ (of paramount importance to a certain Welsh mind-set). Plaid Cymru’s taken-for-granted heartlands are being lost due to the colonisation Plaid Cymru is afraid to speak out about; the party has never connected with the anglophone Welsh; yet now it believes it can increase its appeal by linking up with colonialist-minded Greens and other oddballs! This goes beyond wishful thinking, this is self-deluding bollocks.

I hope that Plaid Cymru and its ‘progressive’ allies fail to get a single MP next year and suffer badly in the Assembly elections of 2016 because that’s what they deserve. More importantly, it’s what Wales deserves. Plaid Cymru today is little more than a ‘zombie’ party; not quite dead, but incapable of making any meaningful contribution to the life of Wales. Only when it becomes obvious to everyone that Plaid Cymru is finally dead can Wales start making any real progress.

Dec 042014
 

Few people seemed to have noticed the passing last Friday of the deadline for our 22 local authorities to submit their Expression of Interest (EoI) on agreed council mergers to the ‘Welsh’ Government. Only 3 EoIs were received, covering just 6 local authorities. It seems that Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen would be happy to tie the knot, as would the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend, while in the north, the only two to have taken the first, hesitant steps to the altar are Conwy and Denbighshire.Population density

To help you with what follows, and to give the current lie of the land, the map on the right shows the distribution of our population (this can be enlarged by clicking). It tells us that, in the north, the population is concentrated in Wrecsam, Deeside and the coastal strip; while in the south it’s Swansea Bay, Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys. The area in between the two, and further west, is more sparsely populated or, in some areas, almost uninhabited. You will notice a rough corellation between population distribution and the size and configuration of the existing councils.

It’s also worth remembering that certain constraints were put on the exercise by the Williams Commission. Which, as the BBC reported ” . . . recommends the new councils should be within current health board and police force areas and also not cross the geographical areas governing eligibility for EMap1 (eng)U aid.” So let us look at a few more maps showing. top to bottom, the EU aid map, which also shows the current council boundaries, the health board areas, and the police force areas. (Again, all can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Looking at the maps we see that the highest level of EU aid does not cross local authority boundaries. The health boards also keep to local authority boundaries. However the police forces, while also observing local authority boundaries group them differently to the  health boards. (Though other than pandering to the ‘Monmouthshire is English’ lobby I have no idea what the justification is for retaining the Gwent Police.) Finally, just for fun, and to show how silly it is to stick rigidly to the existing boundaries of other organisations I have thrown in (below right) the fire and rescue service map. While also respecting local authority boundaries this shows yet another way of dividing ufire and rescue servicesp the country.

Also bear in minHealth boardsd that these divisions have not been handed down to us from our ancestors on tablets of stone. Take the seven health boards, which came into effect in 2009. These replaced the seven Local Health Trusts and the twenty-two Local Health Boards that went all the way back to 2003. (So are we due another reorganisation in 2015?) The point to be taken from these various maps is that for different purposes Wales is divided up in different ways, but each and every organisation dealt with here follows local authority boundaries, thereby establishing their primacy. So rather than screw up local government reorganisation, again, by being too restrictive with the ground rules, let’s be more flexible – get the new local authority boundaries right then – if necessary – let other bodies reconfigure their boundaries to fit the local government map, not the other way round.

A final consideration may bepolice forces that some of these other boundaries may not exist for much longer. For example, many people believe it’s only a matter of time before Wales has a single police force (like Scotland). Perhaps we’ll also have a national fire and rescue service. And as for EU Structural Funds, well, if the ‘Welsh’ Government uses this funding wisely, rather than squandering it on its sponging cronies in the Third Sector, then this will be another internal division that disappears. And even if ‘Welsh’ Labour does make the same mistake for a third time the 2014 – 2020 round is the last tranche of Structural Funds we’ll see. So it would be foolish to use boundaries that may be gone in three or four years time to determine the map of a local government structure we hope will last at least a couple of generations.

Even though the ‘Welsh’ Government only received three Expressions of Interest that doesn’t mean that other local authorities haven’t been discussing mergers and suggesting options. The most interesting proposal I know of is the paper put out by Swansea council, which stated as its preferred option a merger with Neath Port Talbot and, more surprisingly, linking with Llanelli, and also taking in part of Powys, presumably the area around Ystradgynlais at the top of the Swansea Valley. This would create a council with a population of some half a million and would obviously be the core for the proposed Swansea city region.Swansea Bay

Clearly, Swansea, Neath, Llanelli and Port Talbot is a ‘natural’ unit, already a contiguous urban-industrial complex. That Swansea should have made this proposal its number one option suggests to me that preliminary talks have already taken place with Labour councillors in Llanelli, who are known to be unhappy with their party’s leadership on Carmarthenshire county council and the coalition with the Independent Party. (Yes, it is a party.) For Neath Port Talbot the Williams Commission mooted a merger with Bridgend, yet Bridgend, as we know, has already agreed a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan, for which the Commission had Cardiff lined up as a suitable match. The full Williams Commission recommendations can be seen in the table below (click to enlarge).

Looking north, we see that the Commission suggests mergers giving us three authorities instead of the current six, yet others are calling for just two, or even a single authority for the whole north. If we went for two, then presumably Conwy would join with Gwynedd and Ynys Môn while Denbighshire would link up with Wrecsam and Flintshire (maybe the latter authority can be called West Cheshire). Though perhaps the biggest problem is what to do with Powys, currently our largest authority in terms of area but with a population less than that of Wrecsam or Bridgend. Though with the relentless policy of colWilliams Comm 12onisation now being implemented its population is guaranteed to rise faster than almost any other part of the country. Looking again at some of the other recommendations you have to wonder at the reasoning behind them. Why link Pembrokeshire with Ceredigion but leave Carmarthenshire as a stand-alone authority?

Another problematic authority is obviously Monmouthshire. For many of those living in Monmouthshire being part of Wales is bad enough, but having to link up with burger-eating oiks in Newport or the Heads of the Valleys is just too too much. For such people the preferred option would probably be to join Herefordshire or Gloucestershire, which is why I suggest linking Monmouthshire with Blaenau Gwent, Newport, Torfaen (and perhaps part of Caerffili) in a new authority with ‘Gwent’ as the sole official name.

The Williams Commission and the silly restrictions it imposed on the exercise – no crossing existing council, police or health bouundaries – made it impossible to come up with the best solution for Welsh local government. Another concern I have is that in asking for ‘voluntary’ mergers, who exactly is being asked? The answer seems to be whoever ruEight countiesns the council, be that councillors or officers, which means that we shall end up with political stitch-ups. For while I support the plan for the new Swansea Bay authority I am not blind to its attractions for the Labour Party. And where is the public consultation – or will the public be invited to give its views on done deals? Has there been input from business and other sectors of Welsh life? And isn’t the exercise somewhat undermined by Cardiff planning to leave Wales and join up with Bristol?

My view remains that the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 threw out the baby with the bathwater. Admittedly, the two-tier system of 8 counties and 37 districts introduced in 1974 was a confusing and expensive mistake. But another mistake was made in 1994 when we should have kept the 8 county councils as the new unitary authorities instead of ditching them in favour of 22 new unitary councils, including that unworkable sop to Labour sentimentality, Merthyr. Had it been done properly in 1994 we wouldn’t be discussing local government reorganisation again today.

That’s two huge and very expensive mistakes in the space of just forty years, and surely all the more reason to get it right this time rather than trying to do it on the cheap by sticking with existing boundaries we know will be changed, or even cease to exist, in the near future. So, my advice would be – with a few modifications, such as Swansea Bay – revert to the eight pre-1994 councils and have done with it.

Nov 272014
 

Last Thursday found me entertaining visitors from the USA in Rhuthun, a pleasant town I’m rather fond of, where I was amazed to see a few people still wearing poppies. Even stranger, there were large poppies fixed to lamp-posts! (This, remember, was November 20th.) This reminded me that the of wearing of poppies may originally have honoured The Glorious Dead, but nowadays the poppy is used to relentlessly promote British unity and patriotism. Understandable, I suppose, for social cohesion is always desirable, but the growing economic disparities defeat that object, leaving the poppy exposed as a fig leaf behind which a corrupt and increasingly reviled elite seeks to hide.Cameron poppy

A political elite supported by a media that is looked upon by the rest of the world’s journalists with a mixture of awe and revulsion. Led of course by the BBC, the State mouthpiece that played such a prominent role in seeing off the threat of Scottish independence in September. Following behind is the print media, those newspapers that have hacked phones, paid bent coppers, etc., then denied doing anything wrong before – after being exposed – arguing that everything they did was in the public interest.

As I say, events in Scotland have played a big part in influencing the recent behaviour of the UK media and the output of the ‘entertainment industry’. In the final year of the Labour – Lib Dem coalition in the Scottish Parliament (to May 3, 2007) there were just 25 separate programmes that had ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title. Between January 2013 and January 2014, with the SNP in power and the independence referendum looming, the number of ‘Britain’ / ‘British’ programmes had risen to 516! Yet we are supposed to believe that the threatening political situation in Scotland had nothing whatever to do with this upsurge in patriotic productions south of the border. Read more about it here.

This discredited elite and loathsome media also promote ‘Remembrance’ with a considerable degree of coercion, one only has to watch television in the weeks leading up to November 11th to realise that no one is allowed to appear on UK television without a poppy. The poppy must appear everywhere, from footballers’ shirts to newspaper front pages. (There’s something rather odd about seeing German and Argentine Premier League footballers with a poppy on their shirts.) The only Premiership player I’ve seen with the courage to refuse was James McClean, when with Sunderland (now with Championship side Wigan). Something else I’ve noticed is that the commemoration of ‘Armistice Day’ now seems to start around mid-September.

I make that observation because when I was a boy people would wear poppies on November 11th (or the Sunday nearest to that date), these were then either placed on graves or left on the mantlepiece, perhaps for next year; but now, like Christmas, the whole thing starts earlier every year. And just as sybarites of your acquaintance insist they wouldn’t really bother with all the over-eating and getting steaming drunk “if it was’t for the kids’, so the sinister and discredited elements I’m referring to want us to believe that the poppy cult is motivated solely by respect for The Fallen. I say cult because that’s what it has become. If anyone doubts what I’m saying, then just recall the Tower of London display this year and the crowds turning up to worship at the ‘shrine’.

Stepping back from that exercise in overkill we can see the bigger picture and the poppy cult as just one tactic in a wider strategy. For with the unity of Britain beset by threats as diverse as the SNP and jihadism, yet with nothing in modern Britain able to serve as the focus for a unifying loyalty, a discredited establishment is forced to employ the past, and to exploit those beyond all criticism. (The wisdom of which is questionable, given that those who died on the Western Front can be seen as victims of the same discredited establishment.)

poppy fig leaf

Of course, this promotion of an unquestioning patriotism that tolerates no criticism has its risks. Such as encouraging those on the uglier fringes of English / British nationalism into believing that this State-sponsored nationalism shows approval of their stance on various issues – not least immigration – which then results in the kind of behaviour we saw in George Square, Glasgow the day after the independence referendum. By waving Union flags on every conceivable occasion, by making endless programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title, the British elite and its media encourage the extreme Right to think its beliefs are being endorsed or gaining acceptance. Which leads on to another problem.

For many of these SuperBrits are Nazis, and admire the army that killed so many British soldiers. I have never quite understood the reasoning at work here, does the English extreme Right think Britain should have made common cause with the Nazis in World War Two, maybe fought alongside them against the RusWhite vansians? It’s obvious there are many who see no contradiction in being a Nazi and a British patriot, as we saw in George Square, with people bawling out Land of Hope and Glory before yelling Sieg Heil! This confusion probably explains the nutter who gave a Nazi salute at the Remembrance Day service in Wrecsam. He may genuinely have believed that a Nazi salute is an acceptable way to show respect for Britain’s war dead. Think about that.

This ‘confusion’ presents a dilemma for our masters. Because I believe there are sinister forces within the establishment who think that in a shit-hitting-the-fan scenario, with Muslim neighbourhoods becoming no-go areas, Scotland declaring independence, social unrest among the English underclass, the thugs of the BNP and Britain First, Rangers fans and assorted other misfits would make ideal foot-soldiers, so we mustn’t be too hard on them. But it’s playing with fire.

Another problem for the British establishment presented by White Van Dan and his ilk is that while the Unionist elite desperately seeks ways to defeat Scottish nationalism, to combat the alienation of ethnic and religious minorities, and hold the UK together, the English Right is circling the wagons. It wants as little as possible to do with foreigners of any description or complexion, and the ‘scrounging’ Celts can also sod off if they so wish. How far can the British Unionist establishment go in appeasing those who want nothing less than an English England, and are as ready to see Britain dismembered as any Scottish nationalist? It’s a circle that cannot be squared without convincing English nationalists that Scotland and Wales are little more than subject territories, with the predictable consequences . . . in Scotland, anyway.

This dilemma almost certainly explains the swift removal from the shadow cabinet of Emily Thornberry last week. You may recall that during the Rochester and Strood by-election (won by Ukip) Ms Thornberry tweeted a photograph (shown above) with the caption, ‘Image from Rochester’. She was accused, among other things, of being “snobbish”. It would be difficult to prove in any court of law what Ms Thornberry meant by that tweet, it all depends on what you read into it, but Mrs Thornberry’s party leader, and the media, decided she had insulted the patriotic English working class and so she had to go. A curious decision for a political party that no longer understands the working class; but then, with Ukip on the rise Ed Miliband must pretend he’s a soul-mate to car dealer and cage fighter Dan. Incidentally, Dan says he put up the flags for the World Cup and just forgot to take them down. Reminder: England started packing their bags to come home on June 24th.

poppy fig leaf

Something that must be ignored by the establishment is that The Glorious Dead of previous generations were prepared to die for a country they loved and an establishment they believed – despite a few black sheep – was basically honest and doing its best for the country. They even believed what they read in their newspapers, and heard on the ‘wireless’. None of this applies today, which is why so many people are searching for political, religious and other alternatives, and why the poppy has become a fig leaf behind which a discredited elite tries to hide its obvious and multiple failings. And when it’s not poppy time then it’s sport, or royal weddings / pregnancies, or any other Great British Bollocks.

Britain today displays many of the features associated with civilisations in a state of terminal decline. The imperial family is not respected as once it was, too many have brought on it shame and ridicule. Few pay any attention to organised religion, other than ‘subversive’ faiths from the farther reaches of the empire. The political elite is distrusted as never before, perceived by the masses to be liars interested only in lining their own pockets. The money-lenders are crooks and the merchant class avoids paying taxes. With the result that the gulf between rich and poor grows year on year. The capital still prospers while provincial cities decline, and one of the more important provinces threatens to break away altogether. The masses grow restless and look to new leaders, back-slapping populists who can be found in the taverns and the wine shops. These are clearly dangerous times for the established order, so it must pretend to listen to the masses, promise to be strong against the foreigner, provide bread and circuses, while recalling the days of glory and urging the restless masses to be more like their unquestioningly loyal fathers.

That paragraph could have been about the decline and fall of imperial Rome (or France just before its Revolution) but I am of course writing about modern Britain, and I didn’t need to make up anything. As we know, things turned out badly for Rome and they’ll turn out badly for Britain’s discredited elite. The Britain I grew up in is disappearing before my eyes, and as with Rome, the collapse is not due to the barbarians at the gates (or indeed within the walls), it is due entirely to a corrupted, self-serving elite having become divorced from, and contemptuous of, the great majority of the population (though there’s some irony in the Daily Mail reminding us of this). This situation can persist only until enough of the ruled realise the true nature of those PX*2956596ruling them. We have almost reached that point.

The more one looks at modern, shyster-run Britain, with its never-ending scandals that must result in splurges of ever more contrived and unconvincing calls to patriotism, the more we should appreciate Dr. Johnson’s prescience in making the constantly re-forged link between patriotism and scoundrels.

And what of Wales? There will be those who argue that everything is fine, relax! chill out! while others will tell us we can all be rich and happy by replacing the incumbent shysters with a different crew of shysters. Of course we can. Others may pretend that devolution will save us. Well, we’ve had fifteen years of devolution and unless you’re a property developer in Cardiff or a Third Sector grant-grabber then you haven’t seen any benefits. Next year could give us a coalition government with the Tories linking up with the friendly face of fascism. Isn’t that something to look forward to? Wake up, the only hope for Wales is to start disentangling itself from the disaster unfolding before our eyes. That disaster is England.

I would readily honour the memory of those who lost their lives in combat if doing so hadn’t become politicised by those for whom I have no respect. Perhaps Wales should have a different poppy, one to honour the dead without being associated with those seeking to exploit the dead.