Oct 292012
 

People sometimes say to me, ‘Jac, you’re a miserable old sod, moaning about this and that, but your blog is a bit light on solutions’. (Bastards!) So following on from some of the issues dealt with in previous posts here’s some original, joined-up thinking that could solve two major, and worsening, problems we suffer in Wales. This could be done quite easily if the political will was there, leading to the right legislation being enacted by the deadbeats down Cardiff docks our enlightened tribunes.

So here are the two ‘birds’ I advocate killing.

CARAVAN SITES

As I pointed out in the previous post, the problems with static caravans, or (non-mobile) mobile homes, is that we have them in such numbers in Wales that they scar the landscape, especially our coastlines; yet they generate little wealth for the areas in which they are found. So you have to ask why we have them at all. Not least because they present us with one of the many paradoxes or contradictions of tourism: ‘Come to Beautiful Wales’ . . . and see mile after bloody mile of mobile homes destroying that beauty.

Here on the Meirionnydd coast, what we see is an arrangement that grew up to serve, on the one hand, the greed of local landowners; and on the other hand, the demand for cheap and regular holidays for the skilled working classes and the petit bourgeoisie of the English Midlands. Though many of the larger caravan sites have now passed out of local ownership, to the point where tracking down who ultimately owns them can be difficult.

So caravan sites are ugly, they put little into the local area in terms of money and jobs, they merely attract large numbers of low-spending tourists; who generate traffic, leave litter, use local services, etc. The only people who could find this situation acceptable would be the owners of caravan sites.

DECAYING TOWNS

Now I don’t want you to confuse me with Hugh Pugh and think I’ve got it in for Rhyl, but the truth is that this town is a bottomless pit for Welsh public funding, due to private landlords and other agencies buying up derelict or unwanted buildings, converting them into multi-occupancy buildings, then shipping in from east of the border petty criminals, drug addicts, assorted indigents and other ‘problems’. But Rhyl is simply the worst and biggest example of a spreading problem.

A problem usually explained by the traditional seaside holiday having been superseded by cheap overseas holidays, and this making many small hotels and former bed and breakfast establishments redundant. These were unsuitable for any other purpose so, short of selective demolition, which would have left us with gap-toothed seafronts and streets, planning permission was allowed (or not even required) to turn them into flats.

The influx encouraged then generates the inevitable superstructure of third sector organisations to administer to its ‘needs’. And housing associations to provide better accommodation than the slum-boxes the new arrivals originally move to. Both third sector and housing associations are largely funded by the Welsh public purse.

SOLUTION

So what do we do about these problems? Well, first, we need a new tourism strategy; one that includes a national planning presumption against caravan sites and chalet complexes. This must mean no new sites, no expansion of existing sites, and no replacement mobile homes for those coming to the end of their useful lives.

To replace the caravans and chalets incentives would be offered to convert empty and redundant buildings into holiday apartments, either locally owned or sold to buyers from outside Wales. It might even be possible for councils or local co-operatives to be involved in order to maximise the local income. Reducing the numbers of self-catering options would also lead to a growth in small hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation.

Arguing that fewer tourists would come to Wales as a result is not thinking it through. Tourism is about making money. At present we have large number of tourists spending very little per head, and each one making a contribution to environmental and other damage; fewer tourists spending more per head is a win-win situation for Wales.

To summarise, following the strategy I suggest would provide the following benefits:

Phasing out caravan parks would help restore our coastline and countryside to something approaching their former beauty.

Serviced accommodation would provide more employment than caravan parks and chalet sites. Both in direct employment and through work for those employed maintaining them (unlike owner-maintained caravans).

Serviced accommodation would also source food and much else locally, in contrast to the present situation that sees many of those now staying in caravans bringing a great deal of their food and other necessities with them.

This strategy would be more likely to encourage year-round tourism. (Given the choice between spending a winter break in a wind-rocked caravan or a cosy holiday apartment which would you choose?)

Our currently decaying and exploited resort towns could be cleaned up and revitalised with legislation making it more profitable to convert redundant buildings into holiday flats than social security lets.

The new flats could either be rented out by the building owners or else sold as holiday apartments (with enforceable stipulations against full-time occupancy).

With the influx of undesirables greatly reduced the Welsh public purse would be saved a lot of money.

Obviously there would be some losers; in the main, the caravan site owners. But these could be compensated. Other than those making and selling caravans – few of whom are in Wales – I can think of nolosers other than the racketeering private landlords; the drug-dealers, money-lenders and others plaguing our decaying resorts; the councils and other agencies in England that are currently dumping so much of their dross on us; the third sector luvvies leeching off the public purse; and the politicians who capitalise on the existing situation to harp on about ‘Poor Wales’.

The winners? Us Welsh. Roughly 99.9 per cent of us.

Maybe I’m too optimistic, perhaps I’ve overlooked a few things, but I see this as a workable way of linking and solving two apparently disparate problems. But because it might be of benefit to Wales I suspect it will be rejected by our masters in London. And if it meets with hostility in London then our overseers in Cardiff will never touch it.

 

 Posted by at 12:31 on 29/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 262012
 

My previous post was reasonably well received, and provoked a number of interesting comments. The mainstream media also picked up on the ONS figures, but with mixed results. A good example would be this piece on the BBC website’s News Magazine, by Tom de Castella. The title – ‘Do Ceredigion people have the most second homes?’ – and the first part of the article seem to be premised on the idea that many Ceredigion people have holiday homes. But then, half way through, it’s almost as if someone whispered in his ear, ‘It’s the English students, Tom, distorting the figures’, for the article changed tack.

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Inevitably, I suppose, most media outlets concentrated on the figures for holiday homes, and the alarming statistics for Gwynedd. (Or, quite acceptable statistics, depending on how you view holiday homes.) On Tuesday morning someone tipped me off about a Radio Wales programme that was to discuss the issue, so I tuned in. (Here’s a link, but it won’t last long.) To begin with, the prog was hosted by Jason Mohammad, who belongs to that coterie of Welsh ‘journalists’ believing that Welsh identity is defined and exemplified by a Shane Williams try or a Catherine Zeta Jones frock. So I’ve always had difficulty taking him seriously; and I was alienated further by the holiday home owner who was allowed to spout his self-justifying nonsense unchallenged, before I was finally turned off – as was Radio Wales – when we were subjected to a hesitant and totally unconvincing spokesman for Cymdeithas yr Iaith. So let us consider holiday homes, and the manifest bollocks that to them attach.

Among the predictable nonsense we heard from the English holiday home owner on Jase’s show was, ‘ . . . derelict . . . no local wanted it . . . I spend a lot of money locally . . . lucky to have me . . . ‘. While elsewhere, a spokesperson for the Welsh Government reminded us that holiday homes play an important role in Welsh tourism. Well, you can either buy all that, or you can give the matter some thought. The second option will, I guarantee, bring you to different conclusions.

First, let’s deal with this ‘no one wanted it’ defence for holiday homes, suggesting that they’ve all lain derelict out in ‘the wilds’ for years. Truth is, most holiday homes are within established communities. In the village where I live virtually all the English-owned holiday homes are terraced – former quarrymen’s – properties of the kind that would be ideal for first-time buyers . . . if the demand from holiday home buyers and English colonists did not push the prices beyond the financial reach of those young locals. The advantages of a terraced property as a holiday home are obvious. Less garden to keep in order, and grass to cut. Easier to keep warm in winter, thereby reducing the risk of burst pipes. Greater security from burglary or other attack.

Then there’s the ‘I spend a lot of money in this area’ argument. Maybe; but there’s no way a property used as a holiday home can be putting more money into the local economy than that same property if it was lived in all year round by a Welsh family. Which leads me to consider another aspect of holiday homes’ economic value. Because I know that those coming here for holidays appreciate that in rural Mid Wales prices are higher than in the English Midlands. So most stock up with petrol, food, and just about everything they’ll need, before leaving home. Of course they spend money when they’re in Wales, but that amount is overstated.

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Holiday homes are part of the wider problem of an unregulated, alien and damaging tourism industry. Consequently, what I’ve said about holiday homes is true for caravans (mobile homes), chalets and all self-catering accommodation. In addition, they sustain few jobs. A caravan park with hundreds of trailers (the upkeep of which is the responsibility of the owners) can tick over with few employees beyond the family owning the siteor, in the case of larger sites, the (usually imported) management team. Because that’s the suppressed truth about caravan sites and chalet developments – they make a lot of money for those owning them, but put little into the wider economy in terms of spending, or the community in terms of employment.

For Wales to have a tourism industry that benefits us Welsh, rather than disadvantages us, as at present, we need to question just about everything that currently passes for accepted wisdom in the field. Most fundamentally, the raison d’être for ‘Welsh’ tourism, which was always to serve English needs and interests. This was true when the railways first reached ‘Wild Wales’ and it has recently taken on the renewed necessity we see with the UK government’s call for ‘staycations’. That’s because most of the money spent by English tourists in Wales willmake its way back to England, in taxes, purchases and by other routes
. It doesn’t seem to matter how much tourism harms Welsh identity, Welsh communities, the Welsh language, the environment . . . this is acceptable collateral damage.
 
From a Welsh perspective, then, we have the worst possible kind of tourism. For in addition to all I’ve written above, most of the businesses parting tourists from their money are English-owned. Making tourism in Wales blatantly colonialist. We do not have Welsh tourism; we have an English tourism industry that just happens to be based in Wales.

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Thoughts of tourism bring me, by a roundabout route, to the subject of the Welsh Government acquiring powers to borrow money. Those of you with lives so empty that you have followed this debate will know what I’m talking about; so what follows is for those out there who are not losing the will to live and have better things to do than heed the vacuous and self-serving utterances of those deadbeats down Cardiff docks. Or, for that matter, their counterparts in London
 
As things stand, our tribunes down in Nick Edwards Bay are not allowed to borrow money. (Perhaps due to the very real fear that they’ll waste it on Third Sector shysters.) Unfortunately, this gives them yet another excuse to blame someone else for the mess Wales is in. However, it now looks like their bluff may be called. For it is being mooted that borrowing powers might be granted by the Silk Commission (currently looking into the Welsh devolution settlement).
 

According to the piece in today’s Wasting Mule (here’s the WalesOnline version), agreement has been reached between Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander; Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones; both representing the UK government; and Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, representing the Cardiff docks deadbeats Welsh Government. In her selling of the deal to an expectant nation Ms Hutt referred to ” . . . the needs of a maturing country like Wales . . .”. In which way is Wales a “maturing country”? Wales is, by European standards, a very old country. So is Hutt referring to the Welsh Assembly, or her Government? If so, why confuse devolution with the interests of the Welsh nation? The two are almost completely divorced, as we are learning to our cost, almost daily.

But let’s look ahead and assume that in the near future the Welsh Government is given power to raise funding through borrowing, what options might it have? Imposing a tax on holiday homes would be one popular option, that could be extended to static caravans and chalets. Also worth considering would be the kind of tourist tax levied elsewhere in Europe, and not just in independent countries, for Cornwall has discussed the idea. Even English cities have toyed with imposing a tourist tax. A few years ago, writing in Cambria magazine, I had this to say about a tourist tax in Wales:
“The money raised should be spent in the areas from which it has been levied to alleviate the problems suffered by the indigenous population. It could be used in grants to help locals in the private housing market, or to help locals compete for the business opportunities that now go to wealthier buyers from over the border. A larger portion could go to local authorities to repair the damage done to local infrastructure or to reduce council tax charges. Thus funded, councils might even be able to build new council houses.
To argue that such a tax would reduce the numbers coming to Wales is no argument at all. Many more Welsh are disadvantaged by tourism than benefit from it, so how can we as a people lose out if fewer tourists come? Five million tourists paying the tax is better than twenty-five million untaxed tourists. Five million people staying an average of seven nights and paying two pound a head per night amounts to £70,000.000 every year.”
 
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If we are serious about tourism, if we are to make it serve Wales, then we need to do what other countries do. The first step is for our politicians to realise that the form of tourism we are lumbered with was never designed to serve Welsh interests. It simply uses our homeland as England’s playground. This was insulting enough before we had a Welsh Government, now that we have a body so designated, it is intolerable. Reform can no longer be delayed.

  • Phase out all large caravan parks, especially those disfiguring our coastline. Aim for small, well screened sites on farms and other locations where a) they will benefit Welsh site owners and b) be less intrusive.
  • Replace the caravan parks by encouraging the growth of locally-run small hotels and bed and breakfast establishments. Because serviced accommodation generates a) more income than caravan sites and b) more jobs.
  • Introduce a tourism tax of £2 per head per night.
  • Double the council tax on all holiday homes and put a limit on the percentages allowed in each community, but never more than 15 per cent. In communities currently suffering higher percentages, no further properties will be allowed to be used as holiday homes until the figure falls below 15 per cent.
  • Use the money raised by the above measures to benefit the communities affected. Improve infrastructure, reduce council tax, provide training and funding for local people to start up new tourism enterprises and buy existing ones.
  • Underpin these and other changes with the realisation that it is in Wales’ interests to go for quality over quantity. That is, fewer, but higher spending visitors rather than millions upon millions of tourists who bring their own food with them.

‘Playground Wales’ tourism and the English colonisation that accompanies it have done great harm to Wales, the Welsh language, and to Welsh identity generally. Today one can spend a week in a tourist ‘hotspot’ like Llandudno or St David’s and hardly realise one is in Wales. Unless checked, the damage inflicted by tourism can only increase until it becomes fatal.

The Welsh Government may soon have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. For it can fund its borrowing requirements by revenue raised from a reformed tourism industry serving Wales and the Welsh people. Alternatively, it can underwrite those borrowing requirements by taking yet more money from us Welsh. If it chooses the second option then we shall have further proof that this is a Welsh Government in name only.

 Posted by at 14:38 on 26/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 242012
 

The latest release from the 2011 census findings covers those with more than one address.The Office for National Statistics has conveniently broken down the findings into seven Tables covering the different categories. So here they are, each with a brief comment. (Click on Tables to enlarge.)

Although I’m concentrating on the Welsh figures you will find it rewarding to make comparisons with the figures for the English local authorities. Particularly those that show up the relative poverty of Wales; for example, the ownership of foreign holiday accommodation. The Tables below can be found on the Office for National Statistics website, along with lots of other interesting information, and by clicking on an area you will get the exact figure.

The figures quoted by the ONS are “per 1,000 of the LA’s usual residents”. Clear?

table 1

These first two Tables are worth taking together. The first shows those living in a local authority (LA) area with a permanent address elsewhere. For Gwynedd the figure is 99. For Merthyr the figure is 16.
Students will account for some of this number, as will those working in these areas temporarily; maybe also other categories, such as those who have been placed in care homes but retain an address somewhere else. Three things worth remembering in relation to these figures: military personnel will not affect the Welsh figures;the areas of Wales with the highest findings did not have major construction projects in February 2011; tourism jobs will have had very little influence on a census taken in February.

table 2

This second Table is the one that I know many readers will be interested in, as it shows the percentages of holiday homes. Predictably, the problem is most pronounced along the western seaboard, with Gwynedd the worst affected with a rating of 64. The figures for Merthyr and Caerffili are both zero!
Obviously, there are few holiday homes in the Valleys, but as the population runs down and the region is tarted up holiday homes will appear. Particularly along the Heads of the Valleys, already attractive due to the close proximity of the Brecon Beacons, and house prices being very low. The dualling of the A465 will bring this sub-region within two hours driving time of most English conurbations.

table 3

This third Table links to some extent with Table 1, seeing as it shows those with a working address in one LA area and a home address in another. Though I suppose it also shows up again the ‘managed decline’ of the Valleys.
When we look at Powys and the west coast, this seems to suggest that when the census ‘snapshot’ was taken in February last year there were quite a few working in these areas, presumably temporarily, but living elsewhere. Most, one can safely assume, in England; which seems to be another example of locals losing out in employment. The figure for Pembrokeshire was 7, Neath Port Talbot 1.

table 4

The major influence on this Table is students. For the LA with the highest percentage having an address elsewhere is Ceredigion, influenced by the universities at Aberystwyth and Lampeter. Gwynedd also shows a high figure, in the same bracket as Cardiff, with Swansea in the next lower bracket. That Rhondda Cynon Taf shows up is due to the University of Glamorgan (or whatever it’s now called) in Pontypridd. Comparative figures: Ceredigion 107, Swansea 47, Torfaen 12.
The high percentage of students in the population of Ceredigion is a reminder of how the student vote can – and has – influenced elections in this constituency. And is surely an argument for students to vote only where they live permanently.

table 5

Table 5 is another that doesn’t immediately set the pulses racing, but is nevertheless interesting. It shows those with a second address used for work. Predictably, the urban areas have the lower ratings, with the rural areas higher. Gwynedd again tops the Welsh chart but the figures are low. For example Gwynedd is 7 and Bridgend 4. In the case of Gwynedd, I can only attribute this to people living in Gwynedd having business premises or offices outside the county; in Llandudno, Newtown, Wrecsam, Aberystwyth and other places. I know people myself who fall into this category.

table 6

Returning to holiday homes . . . this next Table tells us where those people live who own holiday accommodation elsewhere in Englandandwales. It will be noted that Ynys Môn, Pembrokeshire and Swansea come bottom of the Welsh listings, which would normally be taken as an indication of poverty. But Rhondda Cynon Taf has a higher rating than Wrecsam or Newport, so what’s going on here? In fact, RCT scores 5 while Monmouthshire scores only 4!
My interpretation . . . many Jacks have a chalet or caravan on Gower – in Swansea, the same might apply to a lesser degree in Pembs and YM; as for RCT, the call of the sea still draws Valleys’ people to Trecco Bay and similar locations even though the mines are gone.

table 7

The final Table, 7, takes us to a genuine (if unacknowledged) indicator of wealth, or otherwise, at an Englandandwales level; for this tells us where we can find those rich buggers with holiday accommodation overseas. (No, not a 20-year-old caravan in Amlwch!) In Wales the figures range from 1 (per 1,000) in Merthyr to 5 in the Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. Yet no matter how wealthy we may consider the Vale and eastern Gwent, they cannot compete with those areas of England shaded dark purple. It says something that the Englandandwales mean is 4, yet only 2 out of our 22 local authorities reach that level.
And something else . . .something the ONS will not tell us, but I’d bet my house on it. If we take Powys, Ceredigion, Denbighshire, Conwy, Gwynedd and Ynys Môn, then I guarantee that very few of those living in these areas owning foreign property are Welsh.

If pressed on these figures I‘m sure most of our politicians, at all levels, would try to make a virtue of our poverty and turn the exploitation and colonisation of Wales into a parable of selfless concern for one’s neighbour, to be held up as an example to all humanity . . . Bollocks! These figures show what all the other figures show – we are being shafted! And the worst, the most damning figures, are yet to come.

 Posted by at 21:47 on 24/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 192012
 

The Wales Audit Office (WAO) has produced its report into the calamity known as AWEMA, or the Malik family business, that swallowed up £7.15m of public funding. Here is the BBC website account of the saga, together with a contribution from the Assistant Auditor General, Anthony Barrett. The WalesOnline account can be found here.

Both accounts agree the WAO has dismissed allegations of political interference, or protection, that had been made due to the Malik family’s links with the Labour Party. So I hope this now puts the matter to rest. I don’t expect anyone to make this scurrilous suggestion again. Moving on . . . An interesting reference in the WalesOnline account (absent from the BBC version) was to the “equalities unit”. Using the search engine on the Welsh Government website I could only find references to the ‘Welsh Local Government Association’s Equalities Unit’ in reports such as this.

From which it would appear that the Equalities Unit is an arm of the (Labour Party controlled WLGA) yet funded by the Welsh Government, to do . . . what exactly? Well, one of its roles appears to be informing, or, in the case of Jane Hutt, misinforming, Welsh Government Ministers. This strikes me as a bloody odd set-up, what do readers think?

Whatever the arrangement, the Equalities Unit seems to be answerable to, or otherwise connected with, Jane Hutt, the bubbly and vivacious Minister for Finance. Staying on the Welsh Government website I poked around (as is my wont) to see what else I could turn up. This (left) was one of the first rib-ticklers. It talks of bisexual people as if they have a problem. I have bisexual friends who would find that funny. Possibly insulting. And how many transgender people are there in Wales? But look at the wording – “large gaps in the equalities evidence base . . . prioritise the filling of those gaps . . .”. In other words, Look for a ‘problem’ to keep the funding flowing.

Elsewhere I found other gems. Such as this load of old bollocks (right) which seems to suggest that gender, religion, age, even being married, are further ‘problems’ that can only be solved by big dollops of lucre to those in the Equalities Unit . . . for how else are they to fill the gaps in the equalities evidence base? Human nature being what it is I can understand the shysters of the Third Sector trying it on with nonsense like this. What I can not understand is politicians accepting and funding this deception. Still wondering I moved on and encountered another vein of politically correct enlightenment.

Take Objective 1. What the hell are “protected characteristics”? I’ve got a big nose – can I get it protected? Will the Equalities Unit take up my case? Objective 6 is an absolute – though doubtless unappreciated – insult. The ‘needs’ being prioritised are in reality those of the people producing this rubbish, those who have created an industry out of identifying and capitalising on ‘differences’ that most of those with these ‘differences’ did not realise qualified as ‘protected characteristics’ – and could therefore be exploited – until told by those who had built up a cottage industry of identifying these ‘problems’ – and all sustained with public funding. The prize though must go to Objective 3. We all want to see fewer youngsters – NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) – doing absolutely nothing. But the way to do it is not by pumping money into the Third Sector to rent some place, then fill it with pool tables and computer games to keep these kids off the streets, but by creating real jobs for them to do! But then, that would remove part of the the justification for funding the Equalities Unit. Giving the Equalities Unit, and similar Third Sector leeches, a vested interest in undermining the creation of genuine employment. Funny old world innit!

Obviously I haven’t yet read the WAO report, but one thing I found worrying in both the press reports I’ve used here is that neither mentioned the source of the money squandered on AWEMA. Anyone reading these reports might therefore conclude that the funding came from the Welsh Government, probably from the block grant received from London. Wrong. The bulk of the funding given to the Malik family came from the EU. As is shown by the clip (below) taken from the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) website. The clip is dated February this year, when WEFO stopped funding AWEMA.

 

So the Wales Audit Office report might not close the book on AWEMA after all. For if I was working for the EU, in say, regional funding, then I might start taking an interest in how the money we had given to Wales to create jobs had been wasted. Obviously the money created and sustained jobs for the Maliks, but I think the EU would have expected more. And this becomes more important seeing as next year we are to be surveyed again in order to prove that we are now poorer than Slovakia, and so qualify for another tranche of top-whack funding. Not all of Wales, obviously . . . just those areas that voted Yes in the 1997 devolution referendum.

And who knows, maybe some continental cynic who doesn’t need to show respect to the Labour Party might conclude that the comrades do not emerge blameless from this scandal. Anyone wishing to ensure that the facts reach the right man should write to Johannes Hahn the Commissioner responsible for Regional Funding. I have.

In conclusion, let me assure you that I am not the callous, reactionary, sexist, bastard some would paint me. But surely, the Third Sector is now ready for scrapping; with the money saved used to provide real jobs. Because this ‘equalities’ racket is nothing more than people making a publicly-funded career out of their skin colour, their religion, their sexuality . . . or exploiting these “protected characteristics” when they appear in others. I mean, just think . . . if Naz had gone for “gender re-assignment” he could have ticked yet another box. And made himself almost untouchable!

Oct 172012
 

Many reading this will have seen last night’s screening of BBC Wales’ Week In Week Out (WIWO). For those who didn’t, here’s a link to the programme allowing you to Robertswatch it on BBC iPlayer. For those without BBC iPlayer, here’s the BBC website story. Certain things were inescapably obvious from the programme, but the more I think about what I saw, the more I begin to worry that a) we didn’t hear all the facts and b) the programme may have lacked objectivity.

Let’s state the facts as we know them. The complainants, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, moved from England to Carmarthenshire in 2003, since when they have been in dispute with their neighbour, Andrew Thomas. Their complaints to Carmarthenshire County Council and Dyfed Powys Police were consistently ignored. The Ombudsman found for the complainants against Carmarthenshire County Council and ordered the authority to apologise.

The problems centred on Andrew Thomas (and his now deceased wife) running an unauthorised haulage business from their farm. The pair were also engaged in small-scale quarrying and what appeared to be a scrapyard. The evidence is plain, and the case proven. So one question is why, over such a long period, with film evidence supplied, the council refused to act against Andrew Thomas. The alternatives are almost unbelievable incompetence on the part of the council or BreckmanThomas having influence with the council. I was disappointed that WIWO did not explore this latter option, which might have led somewhere seeing as, on the evidence we have, this is the most plausible explanation.

Something else that worried me was the black and white nature of the presentation. Being familiar with disputes between neighbours, both as a participant and a peace-maker, I have never before encountered a case such as that presented last night by WIWO, in which one side was 100% right, and the other side 100% wrong. It’s just not possible. This was Bambi against Godzilla with the Ombudsman playing some superhero and WIWO standing in for Walt Disney.

WIWO tried to use the Ombudsman’s decision to prove that everything the couple said was true. Which was wrong, for the Ombudsman was dealing with specific allegations against Carmarthenshire County Council; he was not adjudicating on the personal squabble between the couple and Andrew Thomas. Yet WIWO accepted unconditionally the version presented by Breckman and Roberts without giving Andrew Thomas the chance of putting his side of the story. What might Thomas’s version have been? What might his films have shown? Yet, while both the council and the police were invited to comment, Thomas was not.

Having mentioned the police, one clip – again from the couple’s footage – showed Ms Breckman being taken away in handcuffs following yet another contretemps between the couple and Thomas. This I found very odd. Because I cannot believe that the police would have arrested Ms Breckman for her involvement if it had been limited to what WIWO showed us from the couple’s film. Something else must have happened, or been said, that we were not told about, to result in the ‘cuffs. Or are we to suspect that Andrew Thomas also has ‘pull’ with Plod!Andrew Thomas

Here’s my take on it. We did not get a full and balanced story last night. This was because WIWO got carried away with the footage Breckman and Roberts were able to supply and WIWO was able to gather itself: galloping horse . . . gates being erected . . . cockerel crowing . . . disagreeable Welsh peasant . . . ‘expert’ pontificating as requested . . . Ombudsman sticking to script . . . etc. Unfortunately the makers of Week In Week Out got so carried away that any consideration of balance went out the window. Andrew Thomas may not be everybody’s idea of an ideal neighbour, but he should have been allowed to defend himself.

The one thing to emerge clearly from last night’s programme was that, from this and other cases, it’s now obvious that Carmarthenshire County Council is a dysfunctional organisation, and the Welsh Government must intervene. The evidence is now stacked high enough.

Some reading this will accuse me of turning it into a Welsh v English thing. I’m not, but I fear someone else might be. I say that because we’ve been here before, with different actors but the same stock characters: meek yet articulate, wouldn’t-harm-a-fly English good-lifers falling victim to a vicious, vindictive – if not ‘racist’ – Welsh local.

If you think I’m wrong just remember how WIWO presented it. The ‘baddies’ were all Welsh, the ‘goodies’ all non-Welsh (apart from a rather vague contribution by a neighbour named Rees). We know there are plenty wanting to promote that kind of narrative. By abandoning any pretence of objectivity Week In Week Out last night gave them further ammunition.

 Posted by at 21:43 on 17/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 152012
 

I suppose we all knew it was coming, but the announcement still left a bad taste in the mouth. I’m talking about the UK government’s plans to exploit the centenary commemorations for World War One in order to influence the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. I even joked about it here a few weeks ago. Well, now PM Cameron has confirmed my fears by firing the first salvo, with his announcement that £50m is to be given to a “historic” commemoration.

The BBC story I’ve linked to exposes the exploitation we can expect perfectly. First, it says that a survey claims 69% of people want Remembrance Day 2014 to be “a special national day”; but then quotes David Cameron talking about “commemorations”, and saying that the National Lottery is looking for “more applications for WWI-themed ideas”, and that £5.3m is being given to pay for English schoolchildren to visit WWI battlefields. So using the justification that a majority wants a single day, November 11th 2014, to be a bit special, the UK government intends going overboard with a whole series of events . . . that will, by happy coincidence, link with the Scottish independence referendum.

That referendum is planned for the autumn of 2014, the date has yet to be fixed. But ‘autumn’ means September, October and November. So what could be ‘celebrated’? June 28th marks the anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo that started it all. No real British interest, but it will have to be marked somehow. August 1 saw Germany declare war on Russia and Serbia. Again, no real British interest other than the involvement of other branches of ‘the firm’. August 3, Germany declares war on France. Getting closer now! August 4, Britain declares war on Germany. Now it really starts.

One problem for the UK government is that the fighting of 1914 on the Western Front involved mainly French and Belgian troops facing the German onslaught, with Britain’s contribution limited to the small regular army and reserves. (Conscription wasn’t introduced until 1916.) By the end of 1914 this regular army had almost ceased to exist, but it had served its purpose in doing enough to help halt the German advance and save Paris. Perhaps the major battle in this period was the first Ypres (‘Wipers’) where, of a combined Allied strength of 4.4 million men, the British army supplied just 164,000. (There were 247,000 Belgian soldiers.)

Which presents Cameron with a problem. For if he does go overboard celebrating the British army’s contribution in 1914 he risks being reminded by the French and the Belgians of just who did most of the fighting. In addition, by celebrating the killing of Germans (which is what it amounts to) he runs the risk of antagonising what, a century on, is still the most powerful country in Europe. And all being done to keep the English empire in one piece! But why celebrate it anyway?

I’m no pacifist but the First World War makes me angry for so many reasons. Mainly because it was so bloody unnecessary. There were no great issues at stake. A Serb nationalist killed an Austrian Archduke in a territory the Serbs wanted to take over; which led, within months, to the great powers of Europe mobilising tens of millions of men for no better reason than they were locked into various alliances. Germany with Austria; Russian with Serbia; France and the UK with Russia; etc., etc. Resulting in millions of men dying for nothing; communism getting the kick-start it needed; Europe ending up in hock to the USA; and the ‘settlement’ at the end of it all guaranteeing the rise of Nazism. What the hell is there to celebrate! The only thing to be thankful for is that – largely due to trench warfare – there were so few civilian casualties.

No doubt these ‘celebrations’ being planned by our Old Etonian government will make use of the poets, particularly Rupert Brooke and others of a ‘foreign field’ bent. To which I would answer, Bollocks! Instead make the greatest anti-war novel ever written compulsory reading in schools. No, I am not referring to All Quiet on the Western Front, which I love; but Jaroslav Hasek’s masterpiece, The Good Soldier Svejk. The thing is, you see, Svejk is an idiot (with the papers to prove it), but devious with it. Before being called up to avenge the Sarajevo assassination – and become ‘the only loyal Czech in the Austrian army’ – he made his living touring the streets of Prague picking up stray mutts, which he then clipped and painted, and in other ways ‘modified’, before selling them on to unsuspecting buyers as rare pedigree dogs. The war that Svejk lives through is an absolute, and literal, bloody shambles. Anyone looking for glory and honour will be badly disappointed. And yet, you can’t help liking him; perhaps because if there’d been a few dozen Svejks in each army the whole war would have ground to a standstill. The (unfinished) book ends, predictably perhaps, with Svejk, wearing a Russian uniform, being captured by his own side. Though I suppose nobody’s really sure which side he’s on, if anybody’s.

Returning to the survey I mentioned earlier, the one that found 69% want Remembrance Day 2014 to be a bit special; well, the poll was conducted by YouGov, on behalf of an organisation called British Future. Which, as far as I can make out, promotes an integrated, unified Britain; perhaps as part of a wider strategy to take the issue of immigration away from the Right and the extreme Right. The Director, Sunder Katwala, is a Fabian and a writer for the Observer. So what we seem to have here is the Unionist soft Left. Very English, very putting-the-world-to-rights-over-an-agreeable-Merlot sort of outfit. And when push comes to shove, very English and unashamedly nationalistic. Because Fabians and writers for the Observer would not normally want to ‘glorify war’ – so what’s different about 2014? British Future’s concern with Remembrance Day 2014 is, like Cameron’s, tied up with the Scottish independence referendum. Katwala spells it out here, or rather, he did to a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference. (Fabians and Observer hacks wouldn’t normally be seen dead at Tory conferences either!) Which proves yet again that when it comes to dealing with the Celts the English sink their ideological differences in order to hang on to their discredited little empire. (But take heart! For Katwala’s piece celebrates 1914, but the accompanying map shows the Irish Free State, which didn’t come into existence until 1922! Tut, tut.)

Before today I’d never heard of British Future. So I’m wondering how many more organisations there are like this. How much money, public and private, is available to these groups pushing their English-rule agendas? How dirty is it going to get? It seems that with two years to go to the referendum the gloves are already coming off. So from now on we Welsh must do anything we can to aid the Scottish campaign for independence. Partly because it is the right thing to do for Scotland. Partly because even if there were no referendum it would still be right to challenge organisations like English Future. And, finally, because it is the right thing to do for Wales.

 Posted by at 13:09 on 15/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 142012
 

I am indebted to an anonymous contributor to my previous post who drew my attention to a reply by Jonathan Edwards MP to a tweet by Owen Jones, the columnist and author of Chavs. These two are agreed on the socialist interpretation of WWI which says the ruling classes sent millions of men off to die for no good reason other than the propagation of their corrupt and decrepit systems. Which is right only up to a point.

Implicit in that interpretation is that these minions were forced to fight, or marched off reluctantly. Both of which are untrue. Disillusionment may have set in later, but the declarations of war were received with wild celebrations in the streets of Berlin, Belgrade, St. Petersburg, Paris, London and countless provincial cities. Those cheering belonged to all classes; for the First World War was a war of nations and nationalisms, old and new. You can argue that the ordinary soldiers had been brainwashed, or got carried along with the euphoria, but you cannot argue they were forced to fight.

The specific criticism made is that Jonathan Edwards is merely following the English Left’s interpretation of the Great War, when we have every right to expect from him, and from other Plaid politicians, a Welsh nationalist “narrative”. In other words, Welsh soldiers dying needlessly for the English empire in a pointless and bloody continental conflict against peoples with whom we Welsh had no quarrel. With which I agree totally; but this Twitter exchange exposes a deeper problem with Plaid Cymru and ‘Welsh’ socialists generally, which I shall return to later. For the time being let us focus on one of the few pluses to come out of World War One.

This was the emergence of new States, homes for small nations previously submerged under the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Nations such as Finns, Czechs, Lithuanians, Romanians, Poles and others. (Ireland can not be included in this group because the empire to which it belonged did not fall; even if it was WWI that encouraged the Easter Rising which ultimately led to the creation of the Irish Free State.) This truth attracts a special irony to Cameron’s attempts to use the World War One commemoration to help him thwart Scottish independence.

Small nations sneaking out from between the cracks, with their ‘revisionist’ and bourgeois interpretations of the past is anathema to English, French, German and Russian socialists. As is the fact that many of the submerged nationalities chose not to set up a workers paradise but a nice little bourgeois-capitalist State of their own. In fact, the greatest resistance to the war came not from the beloved proletariat of the major States but from the small nations reluctantly part of States and empires that were enthusiastically gearing up for the blood-fest (and that included their working classes). The coal miner in Silesia or the student in Bohemia viewed the conflict in a totally different way to their counterparts in Yorkshire and Bavaria.

The commenter also mentions Plaid’s response to the unionjackery of this past summer, or as he / she put it: “Look, the Brits have seen how there was no organised campaign against the Butcher’s Apron being flown across Wales. Plaid played the ‘sensible’ politicians, ‘let it be, it’ll go away’ . . . and what’s happened? The Brits have gone ahead and are now piling on MORE Brit Fest and curtailing the Assembly’s powers. Hmm, that sophisticated argument worked very well didn’t it?” This, I would suggest, is part of Plaid’s long-running attempt to be seen as a ‘reasonable’ and ‘responsible’ party. The objective of which is to be an acceptable dogsbody for Labour. What the anonymous commenter and I agree on is that Plaid Cymru is primarily a socialist party. A British, regionalist, socialist party . . . when what Wales needs is a nationalist party.

The problem with being a party that is both socialist and regionalist is that the socialism invariably dominates. Plaid Cymru has proven this many times over the past thirty or forty years. We have seen the party pursuing socialist policies that are inimical to Wales’ interests. A perfect example would be Plaid Cymru’s support for social housing for anyone ‘in need’ whether or not they even live in Wales. Which results in indigents and undesirables being brought to Wales – and this being paid for out of an already overstretched Welsh budget. And of course it too often leads to Plaid politicians falling into line with English socialists, even when these are hostile to Welsh interests! So to answer the point made by the commenter; in the recent orgies of unionjackery Plaid has certainly not adopted a nationalist position; but neither has Plaid adopted a socialist position; Plaid has simply adopted the coward’s position . . . which always results in further bullying.

One of the major problems I find with socialism is that it is anti-national. Or rather, when espoused by members of large nations, or members of the majority group in multi-national States – whether Russian, Castilian, English, Han – socialism nearly always promotes the idea that ‘big is beautiful’, that unity, even bland uniformity, are to be cherished; and that minorities seeking to break away are invariably following some deplorably atavistic impulse that higher forms of political life – such as unionist-socialists – have long outgrown. This does not apply to our patriotic Welsh socialists of course – heaven forfend! – but they are so happy in the company of other socialists in Wales – the non-Welsh and the anti-Welsh – that some of this ‘primitive nationalism’ interpretation invariably rubs off onto them. (Which of course explains Plaid Cymru’s deviant behaviour in recent decades.)

So while we need to oppose the British imperialist interpretation of 1914, we must also reject the socialist narrative, which has an unwilling proletariat sent off to war by megalomanic kings and emperors or an uncaring capitalist system. For this is not an alternative, it’s simply a variant British unionist interpretation. (Which explains how the ‘All in it together’ mantra serves both.) Instead we need to argue that Europe sacrificing the cream of her manhood for no good reason ranks as one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed. Consequently, to ‘celebrate’ this, especially for cheap, political advantage, would be insulting to all those who died. Remembering that World War One led to Stalin and Hitler, anything other than profound apologies from the States (and their successors) that went to war in 1914 would demean the memories of those who died between 1914 and 1918, and also the tens of millions more who died in World War Two, and those who perished in the gulags and the concentration camps.

If there is to be a commemoration, then let us remember those men who went off to war, too many of them never to return. Due to the stupidy of the politicians and the incompetence of the commanders. That, and the only positive outcome of the conflagration – the emergence of previously oppressed nations in States of their own. And this time, let us be prepared for the inevitable attempt to turn 2014 into another excuse for a drunken knees-up; another squalid orgy of unionjackery.

 Posted by at 21:56 on 14/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 082012
 

I made a trip on Saturday to Dolforwyn, to see the remains of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s ambitious castle and settlement on a hill above the Severn valley. I suppose most Welsh are unaware of its existence. Admittedly, it played no great part in history, but that was possibly because Llywelyn’s enemies realised as well as he the potential of Dolforwyn, and so it was besieged and forced into surrender in 1277, soon after it had been completed (made easier because Llywelyn’s garrison hadn’t got round yet to sinking a well).

Dolforwyn mapBuilding work started in 1273, partly to consolidate Llywelyn’s hold over his newly acquired territories of Ceri and Cedewain, and also as a statement of his authority and status vis á vis his neighbours. For Dolforwyn is just four miles from the great English border fortress at Montgomery, and roughly twice that distance from Powis castle, the seat of his great rival, the ‘variable’ Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, from whom he had taken Ceri and Cedewain.

In the context of the period, there is something very ‘in yer face’ about Dolforwyn, and Llywelyn must have known the risks he was taking in being so provocative. Not least because Edward I of England had told him not to build it. Llywelyn’s response was along the lines of, ‘My land by right of conquest, and I’ll build whatever I like on it’. But as we, and the Scots, were soon to learn, ‘Longshanks’ was not a man who forgot or forgave insults. While for Llywelyn, Cilmeri was just five years away when Dolforwyn fell.

Given all these factors there can be no doubt that Llywelyn was serious in his intentions. For in addition to it being highly provocative Dolforwyn was well outside the borders of Gwynedd; it cost him a great deal of money; and he even laid out a township alongside the castle, maybe filled with loyal settlers from Gwynedd.

So why take these risks, and go to such lengths; because if Llywelyn simply wanted to raise a couple of fingers to the king of England there were far cheaper ways of doing it than a major undertaking like Dolforwyn? I suppose that’s the mystery of Dolforwyn. Virtually all the other castles in Wales, Welsh or not, can be explained. We know why they were built. We know their role and purpose. Given what I’ve just said, I believe that the traditional explanations given for Dolforwyn are inadequate. So I think it’s worth considering that Dolforwyn was intended to be more than just the military outpost of an over-ambitious Welsh prince.Dolforwyn 1

Dolforwyn was clearly Llywelyn’s most forward base, but was it intended to be his future capital? Because while Gwynedd was a fine location from which to launch attacks and in which to receive invaders, by the late thirteenth century it was far from the growing centres of wealth and power. And what a pastoral economy like Wales sorely needed was towns and trading centres – but under Welsh control, providing taxes for a Welsh ruler.

There were maybe other considerations; because for an ambitious man like Llywelyn Dolforwyn had the advantage of being more accessible to the southern Welsh; and also perhaps less intimidating than the far north would have been. And who knows, having an assertive Welsh presence so close might also have stiffened the resistance to English rule of those Welsh stranded in what had become the counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire.

From whichever angle we look at it, a successful and prosperous Dolforwyn held immense possibilities for Llywelyn, Gwynedd, and even Wales. For those very same reasons, Edward I and the local power-brokers would have viewed the whole undertaking as a threat, something to be dealt with. Meaning it was probably doomed from the start.

And yet, what if it had succeeded, what if it had become the capital of a united and independent Wales? Dolforwyn today could have been a capital city like so many others in Europe, with the castle that gave it birth high up on the hill overlooking a bustling and prosperous modern city. Instead, like so many Welsh dreams, Dolforwyn lies in ruins.

There are some excellent photographs to be found here. These are by Jeffrey and Parthene Thomas, who post many photographs of Welsh castles on the internet. I took some photographs myself, of course, one of which I reproduce here, though I’m not sure how I feel about it. I suppose I would be more comfortable to see ‘Free Wales Army’ daubed on an English castle, or a more modern building representative of our colonial status, such as the Assembly building. Then again, whoever did it probably intended DSCF3065it as a show of solidarity and respect; ‘the struggle goes on’, kind of thing. I only wish it did.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to be on the A483 between Welshpool and Newtown. (See map, above.) Just north of the turning for Abermiwl you will see a Cadw sign for ‘Castell Dolforwyn’. Turn off the highway and follow the narrow track up towards the castle for a couple of miles. You will then come to a tiny car park on your left that accommodates no more than five cars. Park there and follow the signs up the steep hill for about half a mile. And I mean steep!

Fortunately, Saturday was dry and sunny, but even so I nearly lost my footing a couple of times. But it’s all worth it when you get there. Virtually every section of the castle has its own information panel, and the views are impressive . . . and they’d be even more impressive if the trees were cut back.

 Posted by at 15:53 on 08/10/2012  Uncategorised  Tagged with:
Oct 052012
 

Siôn Barry, the Wasting Mule’s Business Editor has sought to remind us yet again of the benefit of city regions with his piece in today’s issue. I covered this topic in an earlier post, but today’s article is a little more open in stating the Cardiff case, and is therefore deserving of further comment. To briefly recap what I said in that earlier post . . .

To all intents and purposes the proposed Swansea City region already exists. It follows the M4, and the major roads connecting with that motorway, from the eastern outskirts of Port Talbot through Neath and Swansea to the western outskirts of Llanelli, running also into the valleys that go north from these major centres. It is a contiguous urban-industrial area with a great sense of unity and homogeneity from Baglan in the east to Burry Port in the west.

The proposed Cardiff City region on the other hand takes in the rest of south Wales, from the city of Cardiff itself up to the Heads of the Valleys region; with the city of Newport and wealthy Monmouthshire thrown into the mix. Here, the homogeneity found further west is missing. What has Lisvane got in common with Merthyr? And how do people in Newport feel about being swallowed up by Cardiff? This Cardiff City Region is a hotchpotch of communities being forced together to suggest that Cardiff is now a major city with a ‘metropolitan area’ population of 1.4 million. This will result in investment and jobs being focused in Cardiff itself and those living outside the city expected to commute. That is the long term plan.
In the shorter term, the reason why the city region debate is so important now lies in the prospect of another round of EU structural funding from 2015, with the assessment being done next year. The threshold is 75% of of the EU average per capita GDP. Below that and you qualify, above it you don’t. Here again, we see the homogeneity of the Swansea City Region, where all parts qualify for structural funds, but in the so-called Cardiff City region we again see vast disparities. For if the Cardiff City Region were a single local government unit, then the wealth of Cardiff and other areas would mean the region not qualifying for structural funds. This explains why, as Barry concedes, ” . . . the word on the street is that some local authorities in the proposed city regions are less than enthusiastic . . . “. (If he’d been honest he would have said that the opposition is restricted to authorities in the Cardiff City Region.)For while there are people in Cardiff who’d like to see the Cardiff City Region embedded in a single local government area, people in the Valleys can see the dangers of such a development; resulting in investment focused on the city, with the Valleys – by being part of ‘Cardiff’ – denied even the compensation of EU funding. For within the existing local government boundaries the Valleys will qualify for a further round of structural funding, as Barry makes clear, and puts into a wider perspective:“At is stands, with a GDP per capita of around 70% of the EU average, West Wales and the Valleys could receive as much as £2.8bn – while the whole of Slovakia could find itself excluded as its GDP is currently at around 78%.”

So Bratislava is now wealthier than Swansea! What an indictment of the union with England, the Labour Party’s ‘free prescriptions and minimum wage’ economic strategy, and 13 years of Cardiff-centric devolution!

With resistance growing in the Valleys to ‘Greater Cardiff’ the focus must shift to diverting more structural funding from the Valleys into Cardiff. As things stand, only 10% of structural funds may be spent in adjoining, non-qualifying areas. Siôn Barry is quite open in stating this objective (even if he can’t be honest about the reason for it):

“Perhaps Wales has not capitalised enough in seeking to move funding around South East Wales into non convergence areas. It needs to lobby the EU for the adjoining area threshold limit to be increased to say 20%.”.

This is breathtaking. He talks of “Wales”, ‘capitalising’ . . . but how would ‘Wales’ – e.g. Amlwch, Bangor, Denbigh, Welshpool, Brecon, Pembroke, Llanelli, Swansea – benefit from diverting EU funding from the Valleys into Cardiff? Come to that, how would the Valleys benefit?

The Swansea City Region is obvious and natural, not a wholly artificial unit designed to benefit one small part at the expense of the rest. It already exists and merely needs to be formalised. The Cardiff City Region, as currently planned, is a non-starter. It might work if the Heads of the Valleys, Monmouthshire, Newport(?), were detached. But as it stands, the plan is doomed; partly because the region is simply too diverse and unwieldy, and partly because the true motives of the project’s promoters are becoming ever clearer.

All this talk of the south should not allow us to forget that according to too many in Wales, including Dr. Elizabeth Haywood – aka Mrs Peter Hain – the only future for the north is for the eastern side to be subsumed into north west England and the western side to be totally anglicised through tourism and immigration. These are the people I constantly refer to as the ones who really run Wales. They, along with the civil servants and countless other groups in the third sector, academe and elsewhere, prepare the surveys, reports and studies that our stupid, lazy AMs adopt and implement. They are the enemy. And they must be confronted.

 Posted by at 17:42 on 05/10/2012  Uncategorised
Oct 042012
 

If the title to this post makes you scoff, thinking that Wales has nothing in common with a large Mediterranean island controlled by gangsters, think again. Wales may not be a sun-blest isle; judges are not shot down in the street; and drug-trafficking is not (yet) the major industry, but if we stick to the corruption of political and public life then the comparison is valid.

The Mafia has been a powerful influence in Sicily for a long time, so long that its tentacles now reach into almost every aspect of Sicilian life. This allows it to corrupt public life on the island in its interests, and for the benefit of its members and followers. Here in Wales it’s the Labour Party that controls things, to its electoral gain and for the financial advantage, and status, of its members and supporters.

But the problem in Wales is made worse, and the corruption deepened, by Wales’ colonial relationship with England. This relationship ensures that the corruption often benefits English individuals, English companies and agencies. These agencies, in the form of charities, ‘social enterprises’ and other imaginative constructs, are collectively known as the Third Sector. They are linked, first, in their loyalty to the Labour Party; second, through many of their leaders being ‘graduates’ of Common Purpose, an organisation building power structures in public life designed to by-pass or ignore the democratic process. Common Purpose is pro EU and almost certainly shelters under the Bilderberg umbrella. I have written about these organisations recently.

Let us now look briefly at examples of how Wales suffers from the incestuous, corrupting relationship between the Labour Party, the Third Sector and Common Purpose.

The most celebrated case (to date) is that of AWEMA (All Wales Ethnic Minority Association). AWEMA was the creation of Labour Party stalwart Naz Malik of Swansea, but thanks to generous public funding he soon went national and was able to provide jobs for the whole Malik family. Nepotism, misuse of funds, bullying, sexual harassment, you name it, AWEMA had it all. Warnings were given – in 2003 and 2007 – to the Labour administration in Cardiff that things were not right at AWEMA, but these warnings were ignored.

Eventually, the resignation of Board members triggered the collapse of the Malik family empire. For family empire it had become. In addition to supporting the fruit of Naz’s loins AWEMA was also linked with his sister’s charity, Lynk Reach, and even operated – with Welsh public funding – in Kenya and Pakistan! In chronological order, my postings on AWEMA can be found here, here, here, here and here. Another major scandal, has been Plas Madoc in Wrecsam. In brief: the regeneration of a ‘troubled’ estate, and the funding that went with it, was entrusted to Miriam Beard, from Manchester, who brought her family with her and ensured they also benefited from Welsh largesse. (And quite a family, the Beards, such a gain for Wales.) The enduring mystery is why an unqualified woman like Miriam Beard was ever put in charge of this ‘flagship’ project. Connections, possibly with the Labour Party, seem the only explanation.

But not all these scandals see the light of day, as I have realised since blogging on AWEMA. For following the AWEMA revelations I was sent information about another ethnic minority charity, one specifically for women. The problem here – apart from the usual bullying – seems to be that the woman running the show is married to a man whose business interests overlap with those of the charity. This, predictably, leads to ‘confusion’ over what’s what. From available evidence, we can safely assume a Labour Party connection.

Changing tack slightly, in August I posted a blog about the Wales Rural Observatory. This is a group of English academics (with of course a token Welsh presence) that gets paid millions of pounds to dream up policies and initiatives for rural Wales, which the Welsh Government then presents as its own handiwork. And results in another fudge between the academic and business worlds. I support links between the worlds of academe and business; my objections kick in when the ‘businesses’ are reliant upon public funding, and Welsh interests are harmed.

Another example of harming the interests, even threatening the safety, of Welsh people would be the turning of parts of Llanelli into what the town’s mayor describes as “an open prison“. Due to the Probation Service (for Englandandwales) and other publicly-funded agencies, such as Caer Las, taking advantage of a) cheap housing and b) a refusal by the Welsh Government to legislate for Houses of Multiple Occupation, to ship in criminals from England.
All facilitated by the fact that Llanelli is in Carmarthenshire, a county with a fading memory of democracy. This due to the local version of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, between Labour and Independents (i.e. Conservatives), handing over power to the dictatorial chief executive and his Common Purpose cohorts, who brook neither discussion nor dissent from those elected by the plebs. Especially those plebs foolish enough to vote for a party not represented in the Pact.
 
As might be expected, when we reach Labour’s stronghold of the Valleys then the corruption, and the waste of public funding on Labour’s favourites, takes on proportions that would shame any self-respecting dictatorship. Here are a few examples.
  • Penywaun Enterprise Partnership (PEP) in Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf. Set up, with public funding, to revitalise one of the most deprived wards in the Valleys. The Labour luvvie entrusted with this task was Helen Boggis. When Ms Boggis decided to run for the council she seemed to forget that the staff and resources of PEP (a charity) could not be used in her campaign. But then, the boundaries between Labour and the Third Sector are so blurred it probably never occurred to her she was doing anything wrong.
  • Or how about Rhondda Life Ltd, yet another ‘social enterprise’ that seems to have done little more than spend a few mill of public money to provide Ferndale with another watering hole and, in the process, run up considerable debts. The incestuousness of the system I’m describing is exemplified perfectly by telling you that the chief executive of Rhondda Life, the man who insisted there were no debts or other problems, just happens to be Travers Merrill, the ‘businessman’ referred to above, linked with the ethnic women’s charity, and the outfit ABESU. Merrill has also worked for the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, as good a grounding as anyone could hope for in learning how to ‘draw down’ public funding. (Love that term!)
  • My previous post dealt with another scandal in the Rhondda, the Penrhys wind farm scam regeneration project. This has seen a £40m contract go to a Labour Party member in England running a shell company that keeps moving – three known addresses in the past year! A sort of a hermit crab of a company!
  • Another scandal currently breaking is the sale of assorted plots of Welsh Government-owned land for £21m to South Wales Land Developments which, despite the name, is based in Guernsey. Fronted by one Langley John Davies. A busy boy our Langley. Any of these companies ring a bell with anyone? One of them, Nemo Personal Finance Ltd is a money-lender with very poor reviews, making Langley Davies and his secret friends just the kind of people the Welsh Government should be selling public land to . . . just before it’s announced that the land is to be built on, thereby vastly increasing its value. Insider information? A suspicion given strength by the company’s name, for seven of the parcels of land are actually in the north . . . but it’s the southern ones – especially those around Cardiff – that are going to make Lang and the gang rich. Nemo Personal Finance is “Part of the Principality Building Society Group” which explains why Langley is also a non-executive director of the Principality Building Society . . . so if you fall behind with your mortgage repayments you can get a loan from Nemo. Neat! These plots of land have quite a history, being originally bought by the Land Authority for Wales, run by Sir Geoffrey Inkin, Nick Edwards’ chum who simultaneously ran the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, pulling in all that lovely public funding for Nick and his other chums at Associated British Ports. Ah! les neiges d’antan.

What is so revealing is that many of those involved in this musical chairs system of milking the public purse are not even Welsh – they’ve been drawn here because it’s just so easy to get public funding for any ludicrous ‘project’ or ‘social enterprise’.

With the result that Wales is corrupt from top to bottom. Our homeland is run by English civil servants, academics moonlighting as consultants, and Third Sector shysters ‘advising’ our politicians – in Estuary English, of course – what legislation they should implement. This done via ‘focus groups’ and ‘consultations’ of which we are usually unaware. Our politicians then do as they’re bid. Our politicians . . . that shower of useless, stupid, lazy, cowardly, drunken misfits down Cardiff docks. This is not democracy.

And it has crept down to our local councils, where those we elect are ignored as local government gets taken over by Common Purpose ‘graduates’. Made possible by the fact that the councillors we see today are of an inferior quality to those of the past. Our elected councillors should be giving orders to the senior officers, and taking only advice from them. Now, increasingly, it’s the other way round, with the councillors ignored. This is not democracy.

I began this longer than intended post by comparing Wales with Sicily, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m being unfair to Sicilians, even mafioso. North Korea is probably the only fitting comparison.

 Posted by at 13:21 on 04/10/2012  Uncategorised