Apr 232017
 

WHEN WAS YMCA WALES?

The answer to that question is, from the mid-1980s until some time in August or September of 2014, when YMCA Wales went into administration. In the report I’ve linked to you’ll read, “While the head office for YMCA Wales is in the Llansamlet area of Swansea, the majority of the staff are based in West Wales where the charity ran an outdoor education centre at Newgale.”

The “outdoor education centre at Newgale” in Pembrokeshire was YMCA Wales’ prize asset, worth some half a million pounds. Like a restless spirit that refuses to pass over the Newgale website is still available, though of course it hasn’t been updated since 2014.

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From the information I’ve been able to gather it would appear that the Centre was bought in June 2015 for £507,000 by Captiva Holdings of Haverfordwest, and is run by another company at the same address known as The Development Company.

While I’m glad to see that this property (made up of three bunkhouses) was bought by a local company (Land Registry document), I was disappointed when told that all the money raised went to pay off creditors, with the administrators of course taking their cut, rather than it being distributed among the surviving YMCAs scattered about the land.

With the parent body demised, the jewel in the crown flogged off, and the coffers empty, it seems that the various YMCAs left standing affiliated themselves to YMCA England. The clip below is taken from page 3 of YMCA England’s Annual Report 2015/6.

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I put this clip out on Twitter a few days ago and one response likened it to an acclamation of Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938. For there is something chilling and totalitarian about making the “federation stronger” and adopting “the national brand”, which of course can only mean the English national brand.

YMCA Wales was put into administration at the start of September 2014. Its CEO until July had been Mo Sykes, though she had not been at work for a few months, it’s possible she had been suspended. She certainly left under something of a cloud, to the extent that the ‘Welsh’ Government called Plod in to sniff around.

Courtesy of ‘Third Sector’

The feedback I was getting in 2014 and earlier argued that the real problem lay in affiliated YMCA groups being taken over and asset-stripped in order to a) fund the parent body run by Mo Sykes, b) pay off its debts, c) benefit projects favoured by Ms Sykes or d) any combination of those three.

One of the more bizarre of those projects was YMCA Wales wanting to build housing on land it claimed to own in Penrhyndeudraeth, just south of Porthmadog in Gwynedd. I wrote about this in July 2013 with YMCA ‘Wales’, Another Trojan Horse At The Trough. It soon became clear that YMCA Wales was in fact fronting for an evangelical church, Green Pastures, which has, quite unashamedly, commercialised homelessness, to the extent of seeking investors and partners. I explained this linkage in YMCA ‘Wales’ And The Green, Green Pastures.

A curious feature of this arrangement was the link between Green Pastures and YMCA Flint. To begin with, it appeared that YMCA Flint was not affiliated to YMCA Wales yet YMCA Wales seemed to be paying its salaries; also, there was funding coming from Flintshire County Council.

It only made sense when I realised that Green Pastures, an outfit with a presence all across Lancashire and Yorkshire, was invisible on Merseyside, instead it seemed to be dealing with the homeless of that conurbation through a group of evangelical churches in Flintshire, assisted by the local YMCA.

Another disturbing tale concerned Bargoed YMCA, where Mo Sykes and YMCA Wales displaced the locals who had been running this local outpost. A dispute arose, which went legal, and with perfect Christian timing those who dared challenge Mo Sykes and YMCA Wales were served with a notice to pay £9,800 – on Christmas Eve!

Though perhaps the major casualty was the YMCA Wales Community College, a multi-million pound adult education business that had been going well, expanding year on year. There seem to have been issues in certain quarters over ‘duplication’ and the Community College has since merged with the Workers’ Educational Association Cymru to form Addysg Oedolion Cymru / Adult Learning Wales.

Even though YMCAs in Wales have affiliated to YMCA England that body still brought out a Welsh Manifesto . . . or, rather, a YMCAs in Wales Manifesto 2016, ahead of last year’s Assembly elections. Why? Because the YMCA is a social landlord and a Third Sector body, so it wants to continue screwing money out of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

LLANDOVERY YMCA

Having dealt with the more general picture, I’m now going to focus on a specific example of how a YMCA operates. I’ve written a few times about this subject, trying to explain what a racket it is. Unfortunately, it’s a familiar story and not confined to Llandovery.

It goes something like this: a bunch of incomers/good-lifers get together and wonder how the area – Wales, even – managed without them. This acceptance of their missionary duty is coupled with the realisation that there’s a lot of easy moolah sloshing around. Next step is to get some semi-numerate ‘adviser’ to concoct a business plan, spew forth bollocks about ‘community space’, providing ‘facilities’, blah, blah, blah, then whack in grant applications to all and sundry.

The real purpose of these schemes is of course to further boost the egos of those involved while also providing salaries and pension pots.

You can find these schemes all over the country but certain areas are affected worse than others because a number of factors come into play. One being whether an area receives EU structural funding (pissed away by the Labour Party at a rate which makes the half-time deluge at rugby internationals look like a trickle). Another consideration is how attractive an area is to good-lifers, white flighters, hippies, enviro-shysters and others. Finally, there’s the local council’s attitude towards such parasites.

By way of example, the Heads of the Valleys may qualify for Objective One funding, but Ebbw Vale, Merthyr and other towns won’t attract many belonging to the groups I’ve listed; furthermore, the local Labour hetmen have always been reluctant to see money over which they have any control pass out of the ‘family’.

On the other hand, the more scenically attractive and rural areas suffer greatly from this influx. One such area is the Tywi valley, and one such town is Llanymddyfri. Which is where we encounter Jill Tatman and her friends.

One source of funding made available to Tatman and her gang was Carmarthenshire County Council’s Rural Development Plan: Supporting Rural Carmarthenshire. Here’s a RDP video put out in September 2013, you don’t need to be a nationalist to be struck by the fact that the only Welsh voice we hear is in the introduction.

What we see here explains why the funding allocated to Wales has achieved so little. In the world of funding, dishing out the money so as not to jeopardise next year’s dollop is all that really matters. When the system is run on such lines then funding becomes nothing more than a box-ticking exercise, and money is inevitably wasted.

Thankfully, the Llandovery racket seems to be coming to an end. For I hear that the gang is no longer allowed to use the YMCA name, the Lottery funding may have stopped, and now they hope to keep afloat solely on what they make from room hire. Which means that it might all come tumbling down fairly soon.

It should not surprise anyone to learn that Jill Tatman, educated at a privately run evangelical college in Derbyshire, was for a time a trustee of YMCA Wales; in fact she was personal assistant to the CEO, which probably explains why Mo Sykes became a trustee of Llandovery YMCA, and was almost certainly instrumental in securing the grants and other benefits for her friend Tatman Llandovery YMCA.

WHO’S WHO IN LLANDOVERY YMCA

Those still involved are an interesting crew, and serve to remind us yet again that our rural areas are being ripped apart by a combination of neglect, tourism and colonisation.

  • First of course we have Jill Tatman herself. I hear that the CPS will not be pressing charges against her husband but it’s suggested there are questions about the wisdom of allowing children near the (former) YMCA building in future.
  • Next up is Andrew Barker, owner of the Tŷ Gwyn tea rooms in Llanwrda. He tweets as Pastor Emeritus @barkerswoof. Barker was a teacher in Essex who married one of his pupils, moved to Wales, and now has eight children. A religious cove, our Andrew, who obviously went forth and multiplied.
  • Julie Richards is another ex-teacher, this time from northern England. She taught for a while at Ysgol Pantycelyn, but had to give up teaching due to bipolar disorder. She now helps run the Gwynfe Cat Welfare in Llandovery, which rescues cats . . . from whom or from what I know not.
  • Then there’s the man described to me as “a self-ordained and self-appointed ‘rural pastor'”, Simon Bowkett who runs a charity called Y Grwp or, to give it its full name, Grace Rural Wales Partnership. To judge by the photograph he wears the Horse and Hound clothing no authentic Welsh countryman would ever wear.
  • Another member of this circus may be encountered at the Cibola emporium in Llandovery. Owner Diane Fontenoy supplements her income by fostering children on her farm near Llandovery. I have it from more than one source that fostering is regarded as a nice little earner among the colon population.
  • Moving on . . . Anna Battek-Kosiorowska is – as the name might suggest – Polish, a vet and a friend of Julie Richards.
  • Let’s not forget one of the current trustees, Anne Swift, an elderly spinster, retired barrister and High Tory. Said to be from Gower, but might respond with the Duke of Wellington’s horse and stable analogy if accused of being Welsh. To judge by her Twitter account she has little time for people, being one of those elderly women who is obsessed with cats and dogs.
  • Finally, let’s remember two more seen in the video (at 1:47), Gill Wright and Jane Ryall. They took over the old North Western pub and had it converted into a bunkhouse called the Level Crossing. I don’t know how much public money went into this venture, but however much it was it was wasted. The venture collapsed last year after less than three years in ‘business’.

You will have noticed that a number of those involved are of a religious bent but do not belong to anything most of us would regard as mainstream religion, more the ‘happy clappy’ element, Evangelicals of the kind we met earlier in Penrhyndeudraeth. Nothing wrong with this, or course, but the Land Registry title document for the building makes interesting reading in this context.

You’ll see that the property was transferred to YMCA Wales by the Church in Wales, with certain covenants. I have no reason to suspect that Tatman and her clique hold Bacchanalian orgies in the building so it’s reasonable to assume that the conditions outlined in 2.1 have been adhered to, but what of 2.2?

Clearly the building has been used “other than for residential purposes”, indeed, except for Lee Mattocks – who can be found on the video at 2:53 – living there rent free for two years, I’m not sure the building has ever been used for residential purposes.

Perhaps of more worry should be that the building is said to be regularly used for happy clappy gatherings, which clearly contravenes 2.2 in that these belong to a “religious denomination or sect” other than Anglican.

The latest news is that the remaining Welsh trustees are being elbowed out and Tatman and her gang are seeking new sources of funding.

Though anyone minded to fund these people should insist on a rather more transparent accounting system than the one I’m told is currently in use. For La Tatman is said to pay for things with her personal debit card and then reimburse herself from YMCA funds!

And although there is only one known YMCA bank account some wonder where the £18,000 magically appeared from when that account was running low. Suspicions persist that there may be accounts existing that are unknown to those outside a gilded circle. Perhaps YMCA money is ‘resting’ in personal accounts, away from prying eyes.

RETURN TO LLANSAMLET

Mo Sykes walked away from the wreckage of YMCA Wales and set herself up as a consultant before landing the post of New Beginnings Manager with the Swansea Young Single Homeless Project in November 2016, yet another ride on the Third Sector merry-go-round. SYSHP income for y/e 31.03.2017 was £1,190,550 (down from £1,349,594 y/e 31.03.2012) and salaries took a very hefty £860,031 of that (£994,721 y/e 31.03.2012).

Under her full name of Maureen Patricia Sykes she also started, in December 2015, a company called Clydach Craft House Ltd which appears to be dormant. Her next planned career move is to become a Labour councillor for the Llansamlet ward in Swansea next month, though the website I’ve linked to suggests she’s already a councillor – that’s confidence for you!

(I bet you’re surprised to learn that Mo Sykes is a member of the Labour Party! And this being Swansea, it should go without saying that she’s not Welsh. Sykes is from the Six Counties.)

Llansamlet is a ward I know quite well. I recall my old mate John Ball becoming the first Plaid Cymru councillor in Swansea when he won Llansamlet back in the early ’70s. I sank many a pint with Phil Henri in the Smiths and the Star. And I think the last time I ever spoke with Viv Davies the FWA veteran was in the Smiths. It all seems a lifetime ago now.

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The vacancies in Llansamlet were caused by the departure of Bob and Uta Clay, the Anglo-Austrian Trotskyist duo, of whom I have writ more than once. I shall miss them. But I’m sure Mo Sykes will provide me with inspiration. I can say that because Labour never fails to give me something to write about. Add the Third Sector and it often becomes an embarrassment of riches.

And so we’ve come full circle to Llansamlet. I wonder if, when she’s out canvassing, any local will ask Mo Sykes, ‘What happened to YMCA Wales?’. I’d certainly like to know. Anyone out there with answers is more than welcome to get in touch.

EPILOGUE

When it comes to grant-grabbers I take the view that they’ll always be with us, as will those, with their Labour Party connections, who think that a ‘career’ in the Third Sector puts them on a par with people who contribute to the economy by creating wealth and jobs. But they should be slapped down not encouraged and patronised.

What really concerns me in the case of YMCA Wales is that a body serving our country was wrecked, almost certainly by people with Labour Party connections, and the debris was then hoovered up by YMCA England without anyone raising a murmur. And this was happening 16 years into devolution. Unfortunately YMCA Wales is no isolated example.

It’s a pattern that sees Wales being integrated with England at a faster rate than we’ve known since the Tudors. It shows itself in countless ways, from the England (andwales) Cricket Board to Dee Valley Water being taken over by Severn Trent. Yet the politicians in our Assembly, which is supposed to be serving Welsh interests, say little and do nothing.

When they do put on a show of ‘doing something’, it often turns out to be the kind of thing I wrote about in the previous post – handing Wales over to the likes of Bear Grylls and Gavin Lee Woodhouse.

HOW BUSINESS IS CONDUCTED BETWEEN WALES AND ENGLAND           English businessman to Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure: ‘We’re prepared to take this valuable asset off your hands, but you’ll have to give us a lot of money’. Ken thinks, ‘Yes, sir, anything you want, and we’ll throw in some women too’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, devolution is a chimera; the civil servants who run Wales change a few words in laws that have already been passed in England, add (Wales), and then get the BBC or Trinity Mirror to pretend it’s all the work of a real government. And while we’re being lied to in this way Wales is either being killed off or sold off all around us.

From now on Wales needs people who will not get bogged down debating whether registration of denture makers should be devolved; now that we can see devolution has failed we must reject it, and push for independence. There is no acceptable alternative.

♦ end ♦

Apr 182017
 

THIS PIECE BEGAN LIFE AS JUST ANOTHER ITEM IN ONE OF MY REGULAR NEWS ROUND-UPS, BUT AS IT GOT MORE INTERESTING I THOUGHT IT MERITED A POST TO ITSELF. SO HERE IT IS

About a week or so ago WalesOnline, one of Trinity Mirror’s Labour Party mouthpieces, told us of an exciting new development in Cwm Afan, behind Port Talbot. The article generated some interesting comments, here are a couple, but I urge you to read them all.

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As the comments tell us, this development is fronted by television ‘personality’ Edward Michael Bear Grylls, though it seems to be the brainchild of a Gavin Lee Woodhouse of Yorkshire, through his Northern Powerhouse Developments. There are a number of companies – all new – sharing that name.

You can have, in chronological order: Northern Powerhouse Developments LtdNorthern Powerhouse Developments Adventure Resorts LtdNorthern Powerhouse Developments Adventure Resorts Management LtdNorthern Powerhouse Developments (Holdings) Ltd and Northern Powerhouse Developments Hotels Ltd.

In addition to being new companies these five also share a single director – Woodhouse – have just a few quid in share capital and are yet to submit any accounts or returns.

Alternatively, another company that might fit the bill for Cwm Afan is Active Resorts UK Ltd, which, again, was set up last year. Or perhaps Afan Valley Ltd (formerly Caerau Parc Ltd). In fact, Gavin Lee Woodhouse has been involved in a surprising number of companies for a man of 39 years. As many as 78, many of which seem to change their name soon after starting up, often the address as well.

And yet, I cannot find him shown as a director of any company before the latter part of 2014, so what was he doing up until then, and why so many companies since? If we go back to his Linkedin profile it doesn’t really help. For it tells us that he founded the MBi Group of Companies in November 2011 with nothing before that except, under ‘Education’, “Norwich City, Law 1995 – 1997”. Which means what – did he do night classes while playing for Norwich City Football Club?

The Company Check website (below) confirms a sudden irruption into the world of business some three-and-a-half years ago but does nothing to explain what he was up to between 1997 and 2013. Also note that according to this source Woodhouse is a director of 58 extant companies, and has been involved with 45 dissolved companies. All in the space of less than four years!

What we can be sure of is that since he decided to take the business world by storm he’s become familiar with the exploitation of Wales. For among his other companies we find the Carmarthen Bay Hotel Ltd, which may refer to the Fourcroft Hotel in Tenby, which was probably bought last year. Another of his companies, the Wyncliffe House Hotel Ltd, may own the Fishguard Bay Hotel.

In the north, among Woodhouse’s companies, we find the Caer Rhun Hall Hotel Ltd which runs the establishment of that name in Conwy (and serves as the address for many of his other companies). There’s the MBI Newborough Hall LtdQueen’s Hotel (Llandudno) Ltd, Llandudno Bay Hotel & Spa Ltd and, also in Llandudno, there’s the Belmont Hotel Ltd.

Just one more company might be worth mentioning. Again, this is a company set up very recently, on 10 November 2016, and once again Gavin Lee Woodhouse is the sole director. Though what the purpose of Woodhouse Family Overseas Ltd is I do not know, but the name does make one think.

At this point you’re probably shouting, ‘No more bloody companies!’, so let’s continue in my coruscating – yet informative! – narrative style.

Looking at those companies in the north you might think – as I did – that Newborough Hall is somewhere near the village of that name on Ynys Môn, but no, Newborough Hall was a name used to market Plas Glynllifon, near Caernarfon. A short time later, in what became something of a minor cause célèbre, the former mansion of Lord Newborough was marketed as Wynnborn.

Plas Glynllifon

The Daily Post article I’ve linked to tells us that late in 2015 Plas Glynllifon was bought from receivers by “MBI Hotels, part of the MBI Consulting group”. MBI Hotels was a relatively new company Incorporated with Companies House on 13 May 2015. The two founding directors were Robin Scott Forster and Gavin Lee Woodhouse.

Following the furore over ‘Wynnborn’, Forster and Woodhouse resigned as directors on 11 November 2015 and were replaced by what a cynic might regard as stooges. To further cover their tracks the company name was changed on 1 February 2016 to Giant Hospitality Ltd, under which name you can find the information I’ve just given. Woodhouse re-instated himself as a director of Giant Hospitality Ltd on March 30 2017.

Despite all the ducking and weaving, it appears that MBI’s purchase of Plas Glynllifon fell through, for the Daily Post reported in April 2016 that the pile had now been bought by a “mystery buyer”. The mystery buyer turned out to be a couple named Paul and Rowena Williams who, despite the name, are not Welsh.

The couple have promised to keep the name Plas Glynllifon and that seems to have satisfied Plaid Cymru. For superficial displays of outrage while ignoring the underlying colonialism is Plaid Cymru’s trademark.

The couple have also ‘purchased’ the Seiont Manor in nearby Llanrug through their company Rural Retreats & Leisure UK Ltd aka Plas Glynllifon Ltd. Both companies were Incorporated on 1 August 2016. There are four Charges (loans or mortgages) against Plas Glynllifon Ltd. The lender is Together Commercial Finance Ltd of Cheshire, and the solicitor used was Lanyon Bowlder of Shrewsbury.

Putting it all together there seems to be no Welsh involvement at all . . . oh, wait, I’m forgetting, the Daily Post report told us that Paul and Rowena Williams are “in talks with the Welsh Government about grant support”. So Welsh involvement might be limited to paying for another piece of Wales to pass into English hands!

this is how you ‘buy’ something without any money

I suppose the Charges Companies House lists against Plas Glynllifon Ltd could be bridging loans until the ‘Welsh’ Government grants come through.

Let’s get back to Cwm Afan. I don’t know how well Grylls and Woodhouse know each other, where or when they met, but their relationship makes sense for the following reason.

Woodhouse is a property developer in the tourist accommodation sector, who also has stakes in student accommodation and care homes. Which fits, because, fundamentally, this new development is about 900 lodges in the £149,000 to £249,000 price range. Let’s split the difference: 900 x £200,000 = £180,000,000. There’s also a 5 star hotel, spa, and other facilities. We’re talking big bucks here.

To disguise the fact that this is just an upmarket caravan site (which is all that ‘lodges’ are) Bear Grylls is brought on board to give it that, je ne sais quoi, that, ‘outdoory’ appeal. Bingo! now we have the Afan Valley Adventure Resort, pulling in overweight suburbanites then getting them wet and dirty so they can fantasise about doing special forces training. Much as Grylls has done since inflicting himself on Llŷn. (Which I wrote about quite recently, scroll down in this post.)

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Wales’ past prosperity may have been built on agriculture, coal, steel and other heavy industry, but the ‘Welsh’ Government now believes that any prosperity we might enjoy in the years ahead depends almost solely on zip wires and the like; the more the merrier, zip wires everywhere. ‘Wales – the country with the zip wire economy!’

As one of the comments to WalesOnline (above) suggest, there is already quite a lot in the Cwm Afan area for the public to enjoy, almost all of it paid for by the public purse. I’ll let Brychan, a regular visitor to this blog, take over:

“There are leisure facilities already present in the valley, most notable a mountain bike centre which has had substantial council investment from the taxpayers of Neath Port Talbot, and of course a building up at Glyncorrwg which has a café, which was funded by Communities First.

The ‘ponds’ at Glyncorrwg are a series of reclaimed colliery reservoirs stocked with fish. The cycle paths, which taxpayers paid millions into, are the ones which run along the trackbed of the old Rhondda to Swansea railway line from Blaengwynfi (Rhondda tunnel) down to Port Talbot, and its spur up to Glyncorrwg.

The forest plantation came into the possession of Natural Resources Wales (Forestry Commission). The old coal tips were reclaimed at public expense, the land having been gifted to the council from the National Coal Board.”

So we see that a large amount of public money was spent healing the scars of previous exploitation . . . only for these public assets to be handed over to twenty-first century exploiters in the forms of Gavin Lee Woodhouse and Edward Michael Bear Grylls. Two men with nothing but contempt for what makes Wales Welsh.

For I’ve already told you about Gavin Woodhouse’ attempts to market Plas Glynllifon as Wynnborn. (What the hell is ‘Wynnborn’ supposed to mean, anyway?) Grylls’ record is no better, maybe worse. First there was his tasteless ‘slide’ on St Tudwal’s Island (which he owns), then his attempt to put beach huts at Llanbedrog. In the second of those ventures he was in partnership with the Llanbedrog Headland Company Ltd, of Cheshire.

Who are these bloody people that own so much of our country!

We are dealing here with people who see easy money to be made turning Wales into a recreation and retirement destination for England. They don’t even need money, for they can borrow it on the value of the asset being acquired, or get it from suckers investors, while also relying on the ‘Welsh’ Government chipping in with grants and gifts of public assets. It’s a no-lose situation, for them.

There’s nothing surprising about this, it’s how British business operates. The UK state itself is floating on an ocean of debt, disguised by accountancy practises that have got some people banged up. What should disappoint anyone reading this is that the ‘Welsh’ Government is so ready to be part of this. But then, when you’ve got no ideas of your own on how to generate wealth or create employment you’re going to welcome with open arms any shyster who comes along with a ‘project’.

And as I asked earlier, what do we know about Woodhouse’s background? Well, for a start, he seems to have been convicted for driving while disqualified in June 2009. (Ban extended.) I also learnt that, Prior to founding MBi in 2011 he (Woodhouse) was a director of several other companies”.

The same source tells us that Woodhouse has – according to his lawyer – also suffered the misfortune of holding “short-lived directorships of two businesses that left debts when they were wound up. He was appointed without his knowledge and/or not removed when he should have been”.

The same Bureau of Investigative Journalism report found that MBi’s chief commercial officer was a struck-off solicitor named Alan Cockburn, who “had acted for the buyer, seller and lender in the same transaction and caused the Yorkshire Bank to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

The report also informs us that “Companies House lists Woodhouse as director from late October 2012 until May 2013 of Harjen Limited, which held a sexual entertainment licence for the Leeds strip club, Wildcats, throughout that time. Woodhouse’s lawyer said his client had not been involved with the management of the strip club and that the dates of his directorship listed at Companies House were incorrect. The lawyer said Woodhouse had “immediately resigned” when he found out about the business.”

This is terrible! Some unscrupulous bastards keep making Gavin Lee Woodhouse a director of dodgy companies without his knowledge. Should the ‘Welsh’ Government be doing business with such an unlucky man? Come to that, how did the ‘Welsh’ Government get involved with him in the first place, didn’t they do background checks?

Still, this explains the gaps on his Linkedin profile. Now if I was Bear Grylls I’d use my SAS training to melt into the shadows and then put as much distance as possible between me and Gavin Lee Woodhouse, the Wolf of Wharf Street.

All joking aside, the examples of Plas Glynllifon and Cwm Afan are all too representative of ‘Welsh’ tourism – no Welsh involvement, no Welsh benefits yet, somehow, we end up paying for it! I often think that if Venice was in Wales then the gondoliers and everybody else making the money would be English. That’s because Wales is ruled by England, in the interests of England.

It’s called colonialism; it’s been around since the dawn of time, and although it’s fallen from favour elsewhere in recent decades, here in Wales our elected representatives still prefer supporting colonialism to standing up for Welsh interests.

Unless we start calling time on this variety of tourism we shall increasingly find ourselves strangers in our own country, for the trend is already established along the north coast and elsewhere – where tourism takes hold Welsh people lose out and Welsh identity becomes weakened, trivialised, and eventually destroyed.

♦ end ♦

Apr 082017
 

A few days ago I got an anonymous message telling me about someone, or a group, seeking to raise money to ‘Save English Language Education in Wales’. Here’s the link to the relevant CrowdJustice site. I doubt if those behind this are susceptible to embarrassment, but just in case, and it’s been taken down, here’s what it said (click to enlarge):

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There are so many misleading statements and downright lies in that ‘appeal’ that it’s difficult to know where to start. The opening sentence sets the tone with the ludicrous claim that what’s happening in Llangennech is the prelude to removing English medium schools “across Wales”.

At first reading, the fourth paragraph seems to elaborate on the first, but with the qualification of “potentially”, which serves to undermine it altogether. Potentially means ‘possibly’, or ‘maybe’, or ‘who the fuck knows’. For example, potentially I’m the lost heir of the Hapsburgs. The Monster Raving Loony Party is potentially the next government of the UK. Elvis Presley is potentially alive and running a nice little B&B in Penmaenmawr.

Paragraph five: where’s the evidence that, “The majority from within Llangennech village wish to keep their Dual Stream system school, offering both Welsh and English streams . . .” Has there been a vote on it?

Paragraph six: there are a number of English medium schools within reasonable travelling distance. As for the alleged ‘move to England’ remark, it might have been said, by an individual, but this issue is about a decision taken by Carmarthenshire County Council, what individuals have said, on either side, is of less relevance.

Summary: What “apparent flaws, breaches”? And, again, where is the evidence for “overwhelming opposition”?

“Learning through the Medium of Welsh must be through choice and encouragement not by compulsion.” At last! I’ve found something I agree with, so why not remind those Labour-controlled local authorities that do their damnedest to avoid meeting the demand for Welsh language education?

The people behind this campaign claim to be defenders of democracy; yet they are opposing a decision taken by the democratic representatives of the county and they have no grounds whatever for arguing that they represent the will of the majority in Llangennech . . . apart from a biased on-line poll that attracted most of its support from outside the area.

There is a sick yet dangerous mind behind this fund-raising escapade that is premised on a palpable lie, namely, that there is a plan to “eradicate all English Medium schools”. Whoever is saying this is lying, and they know they’re lying. Consequently, this is a case of money being raised under false pretences. Which is of course a criminal offence.

Inevitably, this campaign is being promoted on social media, particularly the Families website, of which I was blissfully ignorant before this cropped up. From what I can make out this is an open website, with local pages, where people post news about their area, or ‘Ah!’ photos of their kids. Riveting stuff.

Save English Medium Education in Wales is being pushed on various local pages, both in Wales and England. Here’s the Carmarthenshire page. As you work down, you’ll read “Watkins and Gunn partner Michael Imperato”. Watkins and Gunn are the solicitors handling this fund-raiser.

It appears that Watkins and Gunn’s headquarters are in Pontypool with branches in Newport and Cardiff. Although Imperato is described as a partner he is not listed as a director on the Companies House website entry for Watkins and Gunn. The company specialises in personal injury and medical negligence; in other words – they’re ambulance chasers.

Though we do find John Michael Imperato listed as a director of the Bevan Foundation, the Labour ‘think tank’. Imperato has also stood as a Labour candidate; in the Llanishen ward of Cardiff in 2008, the Pentwyn ward in 2012, and more recently, he considered going for the Aberavon Westminster nomination, but was talked out of it, allowing Stephen Kinnock to sneak home.

In fact, the word I’m getting from the now smoke-free rooms is that Imperato was ‘persuaded’ not to throw his hat into the ring by a trade union that may have had ‘dirt’ on him. This same trade union is also said to be ill-disposed towards Lee Waters, Imperato’s mate and AM for Llanelli.

John Michael Imperato

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking a cheap shot here because of his Italian name, but there is something to be said for comparing ‘Welsh’ Labour to the Mafia. Both have contempt for ‘outsiders’, backstabbing is the norm, both are in business for themselves and their members, with the Mob having its rackets and ‘Welsh’ Labour its Third Sector.

You may recall that in News Round-up 24.03.2017 I wrote of a Labour councillor in Plaid Cymru-controlled Gwynedd, Siôn Wyn Jones, and reported that a project of his had been favoured by the local funding agency, Mantell Gwynedd, which is – in the words of my informant – a “Labour closed shop”. I was told the same applies to the Citizens Advice Bureau in Bangor. So it’s no surprise to see that Imperato was once a director of the – now defunct – Cardiff Citizens Advice Bureau.

Which makes me wonder what chance I – someone who has over the years been mildly critical of the Labour Party – would have of getting fair treatment from what appears to be an offshoot of the Labour Party?

UPDATE 10:10pm: Since finishing this piece I have learnt that Mr Imperato has represented parents on the ‘other side’ of the language debate. Ceredigion in 2004, and Newport in 2014. I am happy to put the record straight.

Though in both those cases he was on firmer legal ground, which meant that he, or whoever instructed him, didn’t need to resort to hyperbole, exaggeration and downright lies, as in the Llangennech case.

The Llangennech dispute has inevitably attracted the bigots and oddballs, and they don’t come more bigoted or oddbally than Jacques Protic, a man who blames the Welsh language for his beer going flat. To judge by this Twitter reply he might even have been in the area recently. This obsessive’s blog is one sad but revealing anti-Welsh tirade after another. It paints the picture of a troubled soul.

Inevitably, Protic supports the Save English Medium Education in Wales fund-raiser, here’s a tweet (below) from a few days ago that suggests what’s happening in Llangennech is the fault of the ‘Welsh’ Government and is but a staging-post on the road to a “Welsh Speaking Republic”.

Protic has elsewhere claimed to be a Labour Party member, but believes that both Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones are ‘closet nationalists’, for no better reason than both speak Welsh! As I say, this man is troubled.

Support of a slightly more credible nature came from the Trinity Mirror Group’s Welsh mouthpiece WalesOnline, where someone called Christie Bannon gave an uncritical plug to the flagging campaign and even provided a link to the CrowdJustice page. Though somebody slipped up by using the photo of the bigots lined up with Neil – “do the honourable thing” – Hamilton and his wife-minder.

those with strong stomachs may click to enlarge

Why do ugly people always manage to find each other? Is there magnetism at work?

P.S. The WalesOnline story has finally been updated, at four minutes past three on April 11th. Instead of wondering who pulled the plug on this exercise in misrepresentation, or why, the reporter, Christie Bannon, does no more than say that it’s been taken down before repeating almost verbatim what it said and what is now no longer available on the CrowdJustice website.

click to enlarge

The bias we’ve seen in Trinity Mirror’s coverage of the Llangennech dispute has been blatant from the start. Why anyone still buys this company’s Welsh rags is a mystery. Maybe we should be thankful that sales are falling, though I’m a little sad to see the Evening Post – not so long ago the largest circulation Welsh daily – heading for the knackers’ yard as people in the Swansea area realise that ‘their’ ‘paper is now written in Cardiff.

Anyone who’s been following this story will know that there are disturbing connections between the anti-Welsh campaigners and the extreme right, the BritNats so intolerant of all other identities. To these people we Welsh, and our language, are ‘alien’, even in Wales, and must be stamped out. Everything must be English.

This attitude is not restricted to the Welsh language, it extends to anything that differentiates Wales from England, other than sporting events and other trivia. It’s what I’ve referred to more than once as ‘the package’. Those who are hostile to the Welsh language will usually be opposed to devolution and so on. Essentially, these people are English nationalists. Of course it’s dressed up as Britishness and, amusingly, opposition to ‘narrow nationalism’. But ‘British’ means little today, and once Scotland is independent and Ireland reunited it will mean nothing but Englandandwales.

Few have stirred more assiduously than Gary Robert Jones, who tweets as @poumista, a name taken from POUM, a Trotskyite party during the Spanish Civil War period. Jones is a community councillor and hopes for promotion to county hall next month, for he seeks election in the Llangennech ward.

An odd fish, Jones; sometimes he seems to be one of the more rational inmates of the asylum and then he puts out a tweet like this (below). Gifted to the world on the day – March 18 – when Wales played France at rugby in Paris. He appears to be wearing a poilu helmet from WWII, and the caption would suggest he’s supporting France!

Get your head around that. Here’s a Labour candidate in a Llanelli ward, two months away from an election, who appears to be supporting Wales’ opponents in a rugby international! In the Llanelli I know, that’s a lynching offence. But then, as I keep saying, we are dealing here with very strange people.

Moving up a level we come to the local Assembly Member, Lee Waters. Although Waters is the AM for Llanelli he and his family live 55 miles away on Barry Island. Yet for last year”s Assembly elections he gave a Llanelli address – possibly his mother’s – on his nomination paper and sneaked in by less than 400 votes. Would he have been elected if the Turks had known he didn’t live among them? I doubt it.

And now we have John Michael Imperato, failed Labour candidate; Jacques Protic, who dismisses Welsh as a “tribal language”; and a cast of similar individuals who have serious problems with the truth. In a word: they’re unable to recognise it or produce it.

Finally, with the campaign looking unlikely to meet its fund-raising target the Labour-supporting Trinity Mirror Group, using its Welsh titles and WalesOnline gives a priceless plug and a link to the site for potential donors. Curiously, although the piece asks for comments, it’s not publishing any. I know because I submitted a comment yesterday, and I can’t believe that no one has commented.

This affair has ‘Welsh’ Labour running through it like ‘Pwllheli’ through a stick of rock. The party locally has been behind the anti-Welsh campaign in Llangennech from the outset, conveniently forgetting that the county council was run by a Labour-Independent coalition when the decision on Llangennech school was taken in 2015.

No matter what pious statements Carwyn Jones or Alun Davies might make about wanting to help the Welsh language, lower down the food chain unscrupulous individuals see political capital – against Plaid Cymru – in being hysterically anti-Welsh.

And as these people make up the bulk of ‘Welsh’ Labour we can now label the party anti-Welsh. So stop-pussy-footing around with these bastards, dreaming of coalitions and talking of a ‘progressive consensus’, and fight them with their own weapons. They may be cunning and devious, but they ain’t too smart. They must be destroyed as the SNP has destroyed their corrupt, lying cousins.

I suspect this case will rumble on, so I may return to it at some point. For the full background of the squalid Llangennech saga, and its dramatis personae, I can recommend no better source than the excellent Cneifiwr.

As I finish this post I note that the CrowdJustice site has raised £1,400 of the £7,500 target with 26 days to go. Though what this deception has to do with justice I do not know.

UPDATE, 8pm: The link to the CrowdJustice site Save English Language Medium Education in Wales now comes up with this (below). Which is odd, seeing as the appeal had already been launched and was collecting money. It looks as if it has either been withdrawn by those behind it or else taken down by CrowdJustice. Or have they raised all the £6,000+ they needed this afternoon? If so, then it didn’t come in £10 and £20 donations.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did write to CrowdJustice, using tradition Latin legal terms like ‘bollocks’ and ‘lying bastards’. But surely it was nothing to do with me!

UPDATE, Midnight: I have now been directed to a very strange tale on the Families website. In case this also disappears, I have saved it for you (below, click to enlarge). Quite what all this means I’m not yet sure, so I’m open to suggestions from my erudite readers.

Oh, yes, now I come to think of it, I may have written to Families as well.

UPDATE 10.04.2017: The CrowdJustice page now reads as shown (click to enlarge). It would appear that the appeal was closed down yesterday. But by whom?

UPDATE 2:45pm 10.04.2017: The CrowdJustice page now reads ‘Page not found’.

♦ end ♦

Apr 032017
 

NATIONS

‘The nations and regions of the UK’ is a term used by the BBC and other organisations and it fascinates me for a number of reasons. Primarily I suppose because I can readily identify the former but I’m confused when I read about the latter, especially in a political context. Do you know where these mysterious ‘regions’ are? Let’s start with the relatively easy job of identifying the nations.

There are four nations in these islands. Apart from us Welsh there are the Scots and the English with the three of us making up Britain; and then there are the Irish, with the greater part of Ireland being independent. Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, but as the Troubles made clear, there are two communities there; one that shares its cultural background with the citizens of the Republic of Ireland, and can be called Irish, with the other identifying with Britain, or more particularly Scotland, and insisting it is British.

Which is confusing, because there is no British nation. There is certainly a British state, but that’s a constitutional arrangement. To confuse matters further ‘British’ is a term that was used for centuries by English writers to describe us Welsh and our language, in recognition of the fact that we were the original inhabitants of this island, before the post-Roman Germanic and Irish settlements. (Though this connection is less likely to be made nowadays, for the same English nationalist reasons that ‘Iron Age Britain’ has replaced ‘Celtic Britain’.) So are these people in the northern part of Ireland who claim to British some lost Welsh tribe?

Despite this division into two mutually hostile camps it serves British interests to regard Northern Ireland as one of the nations, on a par with Wales, England and Scotland. Is it not, it is simply a devolved administration, and at some point in the near future it will re-unite with the rest of the island.

I think that settles – for the time being, at least – the nations element of this little piece. Let’s move on.

REGIONS

It seems obvious that if we are looking for the BBC’s regions, then we’ll have to look for them in England. But these regions are arbitrary geographical units, most of which seem to be named after compass points, I see nothing closer to a nation, a geographical area of England where people say – preferably in a distinctive accent – ‘This is my region, I am a native of ————-‘.

At this point you might be tempted to put down your porcelain cup of Darjeeling and wonder aloud, ‘What the fuck is he is on about, why is he writing about the regions of England?’ but please bear with me, for I shall now explain how I believe this is relevant to Wales.

Last Wednesday saw a ‘taskforce’ meet in Cardiff, a gathering of great Labour minds hoping to give the impression that their party has a cunning plan for a new constitutional arrangement post-Brexit.

In attendance were our own Carwyn Jones, former PM Gordon Brown, leader of ‘Scottish’ Labour Kezia Dugdale, ex-deputy PM John Prescott, some bloke named Jon Trickett (described as a strategist’), and among the spear carriers were Christina Rees MP and Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle council. While in the chorus we find the Labour candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, his counterpart for the Liverpool City Region, etc.

Clearly, ‘handing more powers down’ is an attempt to cut off the SNP at the pass, by giving Scotland more powers so that people there will say, ‘See you, Jimmy, we dinnae need independence the noo’. (I bet you read that and thought, ‘Bloody hell! Some Scotsman has taken over Jac’s blog’.)

And in the hope of disguising that this is all about preventing Scottish independence Labour must come up with what looks like a more general plan for all “the nations and regions that make up the UK”.

Which is a bit tricky when we can’t locate these regions, which brings us back to the original problem.

THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

Clearly, England does not have established and distinct regions like France, let alone Germany, where many of today’s länder were independent states well into the nineteenth century. It was a similar situation in Italy, though few today mourn the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

By comparison, England was unified by the middle of the tenth century, with London the capital and major city. When William of Normandy invaded in 1066 he only needed to win one battle, kill Harold, and march on London to be ruler of all England. I can think of no other European country of the time that would have fallen so completely, so quickly.

Consequently, what passes for regions in England today are nothing more than broadcasters’ shorthand – the West Country, East Anglia, etc. And yet, there was a time, a brief window, when England was organised into separate kingdoms, or at least, those parts of England that weren’t still under Welsh control.

It was known as the Heptarchy, or Seven Kingdoms, and those of you of a Time Team disposition will go all a-quiver at the mention of the term. It was that period from (roughly) the early seventh century to the early tenth century, and is illustrated in the map. The western areas, coloured in darker green, were the areas still ruled by our ancestors.

Southern Britain C AD 650

That was then, and since then the problem of delineating England’s regions has taxed many great minds, but there was always resistance to formal regions on the grounds that there was something foreign about them, foreign and divisive. Perhaps because her imperial history had taught England how to exploit divisions. So if – God forbid! – some foreign Johnny ever invaded let him find himself faced with a united country. (Though as we’ve learnt, that was England’s weakness in 1066.)

And this resistance to regions persists, so you’d think Labour would have known better after the abject failure of the party’s Regional Assemblies (Preparation) Act 2003. (What do you mean, you ‘don’t remember it’!) This was intended to pave the way, through referendums, for assemblies in northern England. Just one referendum was held, in the north east, in 2004; but the Geordies, Mackems, Smoggies and the rest rejected the offer by 78% to 22%. The whole project was then abandoned.

As I mentioned, one of those attending the taskforce meeting was former deputy prime minister John Prescott, and the northern assemblies project was his brainchild. So this is either a case of some people never learn, or, a good idea is worth persisting with. Take your pick.

WHY IT WILL NEVER WORK

The idea of regions and regional governments is unattractive to most English people; they will probably have an affection for their town or city, the wider locality, maybe their county, but after that it’s England, or Britain. A region is an odd and unnecessary layer to insert.

And yet, if English politicians, and their Unionist allies in Scotland and Wales are to save Britain then they must pretend to believe in devolution, or even federalism, but the problem remains England, it’s just too big. Federalism works in the USA or Germany because no matter how big and rich California and Bavaria might they’re still out-gunned by the rest.

BBC Regions, used by many politicians as a template

So the only way to sell federalism to Scotland is to suggest breaking England up into regions . . . that the English don’t want. But even if you could get enough English to buy into regions that would still leave the problem of London, infinitely richer than any of the other ‘regions’, and it would almost certainly be the seat of the federal government.

And look at the North West region. Liverpool, Manchester and wealthy Cheshire in the south, and in the north . . . lakes and holiday homes? Come to think of it – where’s Cornwall? Will our Cornish cousins accept being subsumed into a South West region run from Bristol?

The Scots would be foolish to listen to Labour’s overtures, or any promise of more devolution. Ask yourself what would happen in the unlikely event of the Scottish Parliament accepting federalism but the English refusing to accept regions – will the UK government force regions on the English? No.

The second reason for rejecting Labour’s proposals is that we’ve been here before, very recently, in fact, just before the independence referendum in September 2014. Remember ‘The Vow’? In the closing stages of the referendum campaign Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, the leaders of the three main Unionist parties ganged together to promise Scotland something within a whisker of independence. This promise may have guaranteed the No vote, and it was then reneged on.

Thirdly, this taskforce is drawn from the Labour Party, which is unlikely to be in any position to offer anybody anything until around 2025. And just look at who’s in the taskforce; Brown, Prescott, Jones, Dugdale – would you trust any of that lot?

I have faith in the SNP. They know that England and England’s Unionist allies in Scotland are not to be trusted. It must be independence; no more crumbs, no more half measures, no more lies.

It would be nice to report that Wales is on the same path. But she’s not. I fear we’re headed in the opposite direction.

end

Mar 282017
 

Brexit

In a recent post, Welsh Independence Referendum, I looked at the call for a second Scottish independence referendum and a referendum on Irish reunification, before considering an independence referendum in Wales and concluding that such a referendum could not be won.

In this post I’m going to give the possibility of a Welsh independence referendum a bit more of an airing, partly because I may not have made my views clear in that earlier post and partly because I think a few other things need to be clarified. For example . . .

A few days ago I tweeted about the mother of the man who killed people outside Westminster last Wednesday, linking to a BBC report that she lives in Carmarthenshire. I received a response from ‘Cymroewrop’ accusing me of making assumptions about the man’s cushion-making, good-lifer mother. Whoever Cymroewrop is he or she had missed the point.

The point I was making was about English colonisation. And yet, I can imagine the conditioning that resulted in that response – ‘the killer was a person of colour . . . known to be a convert to Islam . . . therefore this man making the comment must be a racist and an Islamophobe’.

Naturally, I wondered who Cymroewrop is, so I checked. In addition to being obviously pro EU this person’s hash tags – #indyrefcymru #indywales @yescymru – tell us that he or she supports Welsh independence. And if we check the profile further then the header photo suggests that Cymroewrop is one of those who believes that only stupid people voted for Brexit. The analogy would appear to be lemmings.

Maybe he or she is one of the ‘progressives’ I wrote about in the post in which I explained why I was voting for Brexit, people on the political left who regard themselves as morally and intellectually superior to those holding different views.

click to enlarge

Cymroewrop’s Twitter timeline is full of retweets of those still fighting the Brexit battle. Predictably, Cymroewrop is also opposed to President Trump. Which brings us to the fundamental problem, and explains my reluctance to get involved in the campaign for an independence referendum.

I suspect that this campaign is attracting too many who see Welsh independence as a route back into the EU. An approach that might – and I stress might – work in Scotland but is more likely to alienate potential support in a country where a majority voted for Brexit. Consequently, promoting EU membership could damage the chances of success in a Welsh independence referendum.

As for Cymroewrop, I don’t know who you are, but it seems obvious to me that while we seem to agree on the need for Welsh independence, we would almost certainly disagree on why we need it.

Getting Personal

The reason I feel so strongly about this link with Brexit is because after the EU referendum last year I received some rather unpleasant messages from people who had obviously voted Remain. Here’s a selection of those I’m prepared to make public, with identification obscured.

The point I was trying to make with the reference to Leanne Wood was that if Brexit is so disastrous for Wales then the day after it was announced I would have expected the leader of Plaid Cymru to be somewhere other than at a Brit feminist conference. This, for me, summed up all that’s wrong with Plaid Cymru.

click to enlarge

These tweets betray the usual precious intolerance of the right-on left. For whom I am an “incomer”, I have blighted the lives of children, I am an utter bastard for exercising my democratic right to disagree with these people who are – remember! – all nationalists in favour of independence.

Perhaps they think that as a child of the Sixties I should now be a mellow old dude; well, I’m not. Yes, I was there, long hair and flares, even the granny glasses; I loved the music, still play my Tom Paxton albums, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins . . . I just didn’t buy into the politics. Or rather, I saw the need for change, but not the change offered by the Soviet Union, or campus ‘radicals’ going through a phase before joining father in the oak-panelled offices of Shyster Shyster & Shyster. For fuck’s sake! I supported the US in Vietnam.* I am a reactionary beyond redemption! Get used to it.

Comments such as those contained in the tweets are water off a duck’s back to me, but they do make me pause, and wonder if I could ever co-operate with such people in an independence campaign. So you may begin to understand my concerns that a movement for independence could be subverted by those still grieving their referendum defeat last June.

*Though let me make clear that I no longer subscribe to the Domino Theory.

Independence

All my life I have wanted Wales to be independent. The earliest manifestation might have been when, as a ten-year-old in Brynhyfryd school, I submitted as my contribution to the St David’s Day eisteddfod a picture I’d drawn of Llywelyn rejecting the terms offered him by Edward I.

I’d copied it from the Odhams Press volume British History in Strip Pictures, a book I still I have. (Sentimental old bugger that I am!) What possessed a ten-year-old in Swansea, after five years of an essentially English education, hearing almost daily the horrors and heroism of WWII, to select that picture from a volume extolling the greatness of England?

For that’s the kind of book it was. The next page was devoted to ‘The Model Parliament’ and that was followed by two whole pages glorying in ‘The Hammering of the Scots’. The inside covers were given over to a parade of kings and queens of England beginning with William of Normandy.

click to enlarge

So you see, independence is not something I’ve come around to because of Brexit. It’s not even a position I’ve adopted because of the sheer fucking awfulness of the quisling Labour Party, or the smackinthegobability of Alun Cairns, Guto Bebb and the Fat Farmer. It’s a multiplicity of things: it’s the slimeball civil servants running Wales for their London masters; it’s the locusts of the Third Sector who have descended upon us to take what little we have; it’s the lying bastards at the BBC, the Wasting Mule and elsewhere; it’s the fact that someone as obnoxious as Mark James can be left to run one of our councils as if it was his private fiefdom; it’s the realisation that I now belong to the Welsh minority in the area I live.

These combine to tell me that Wales is a corrupt, inefficient, poor, fucked up Third World colony . . . yet it could be so much better.

But maybe things are getting better – look what I picked up in Porthmadog today! Bear Grylls has come to live among us . . . well, he’s come to live in Wales, anyway; I don’t suppose he’ll be mixing much with Welsh people seeing as he’s involved in tourism.

click to enlarge

‘Forage For Wild Foods’, it says! (Let Jac recommend those nice white mushrooms.) Or ‘Learn How To Protect Yourself in the Wild From Attack’. Yes, the grizzlies near Pwllheli are particularly aggressive. ‘Will You ESCAPE from Cabin Wood?’ With any luck, no; you’ll all die; Grylls will then be exposed as a self-promoting, money-grabbing bastard, and the world will be spared his puerile exhibitionism for a long, long time.

A Chorus not a Drone

Wales needs independence, to save us from all the above-mentioned ills and, more importantly, to ensure our survival as a nation.

There are those who agree with me on independence but believe socialism and the EU must be added to the mix. A country in the state Wales is in needs socialism like a dog needs more fleas, and I say that because socialism is a system for distributing wealth, not for creating it.

Which is why I could never join an organisation made up in the main of the sort of persons I introduced you to earlier. But if there were other voices, from other political standpoints, then the call for independence might garner more support, and as a result be more difficult to dismiss.

It could be that the more diverse and diffuse the call for independence the better, for different voices can make a choir, and that’s always preferable to the monotonous whine of the smug and the self-righteous.

Of course, too many different voices can also be discordant, so to avoid this let me suggest that those of us working towards the same objective of independence treat each other with a little more respect in future. We may not like each other, but let’s not give gifts to our enemies and waste time fighting amongst ourselves.

Finally, to put your minds at rest, I’m not planning to start any organisation, but I have no objection to this blog serving as a focus for those who want independence but might not feel comfortable with people who regard them as lemmings, and blighters of their children’s futures.

♦ end ♦

Feb 272017
 

I’ve been away. No, not in the pokey, or on holiday, but hors de combat due to a malfunctioning computer, one that had served me well for many a year but finally gave up the ghost. After first buying myself a dud – hoping I could replace my old one on the cheap! – I eventually splashed out on a tidy machine that might accompany me to that stage of life where I can walk around in slippers all day, dishevelled and with a vacant look on my face. (‘So what’s new, Jac?’)

While I’ve been away things have turned quite nasty in Llangennech over the language controversy at the local infants school. Or rather, the nasties behind the opposition to Welsh language education were exposed for pallying up to the English Defence League and for inviting down Neil Hamilton the Ukip AM (and of course his wife-minder).

The day the Hamiltons came a-visiting. Fourth from the left is Neil Hamilton, on his right we find Michaela Beddows, and in the pink-ish trousers, we have Christine Hamilton.

Seeing as many of those opposing Welsh medium education are either Labour Party members, activists, or candidates in the May council elections the Ukip revelations didn’t do the bruvvers any favours. Action was belatedly taken after Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards wrote an open letter to UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Had he not taken this course we would probably still be waiting for the deadbeats in Cardiff to act.

Inevitably, the Labour Party hit back, using the Wasting Mule and, more surprisingly, Private Eye. The former a regular and willing accomplice against ‘them nationalists’, the latter almost certainly misinformed. The outrage that followed the disgraceful Wasting Mule piece resulted in an apology the very next day, and I’m sure someone will put the Eye straight as well.

The day following the apology, Saturday the 25th, there was another article, this one making it clear there was no connection between the school dispute and incidents of tyre slashing in the village, as the original WM article had alleged. Though that original piece had been written by a woman who is said to have ‘a problem’ with the Welsh language. Which I suppose makes her an ideal Education Editor.

While I would love to have written up the daily revelations and developments from Llangennech and beyond I know I couldn’t have done it better than Cneifiwr, who has kept us informed of every twist and turn. I suggest you start with Jacques, Jacqueline & Neil on February the 11th and bring yourself up to date from there. Also worthy of mention is Caru Cymru, which may be a new blog, it’s certainly new to me.

Instead, I shall try to look beyond Llangennech in the hope of putting events there into a wider perspective . . . with a few digressions along the way. (Humour me!)

Before moving on, it’s worth linking to this essay by Dr Huw L Williams, which makes it clear that Labour’s hostility to the Welsh language is not currently confined to Llangennech. He suspects that Labour in Cardiff fears that Welsh medium education is less likely to provide voters for the party, and this explains the reluctance to meet the demand for Welsh medium education. Or, to put it another way, kids from bog-standard schools taught by unmotivated teachers are more likely to vote Labour.

Stripped of its various interpretations and grotesque characters Llangennech reaffirms what I have always known about the Labour Party in Wales. Anyone in any doubt about my feelings could do a lot worse than read Why I Detest The ‘Welsh’ Labour Party, which I penned in March 2014.

As I argue there, to understand ‘Welsh’ Labour we need to go back a century or more, perhaps as far back as the 1880s or 1890s. Those decades when – to quote Gwyn Alf Williams – the ‘human reservoir’ of rural Wales could no longer meet the manpower demands of the industrial south, which resulted in Wales experiencing a great influx of workers from England and elsewhere, especially Ireland.

Up to this point the great majority of Welsh people, both those who remained in the rural areas and those who had left for the industrial belts, supported the Liberal Party, and this persisted into the twentieth century, but the Liberal Party was linked with the nonconformist chapels, which in turn tied in with the Welsh language. To further complicate matters there was Cymru Fydd, which pushed for some sort of Home Rule for Wales. All of which tended to make the Liberal Party unattractive to recent arrivals.

This hostility to the ‘Welsh’ Liberal Party was perfectly articulated by Alderman Robert Bird of Cardiff at the 1896 AGM of the South Wales Liberal Federation when he declared “You will find, from Swansea to Newport, a cosmopolitan population who will not submit to the domination of Welsh ideas!”. Bird of course was English, and though a prominent nonconformist he opposed his own party’s policy of Disestablishment. I often think of the arrogance implicit in Bird’s statement, and of my eight Welsh-speaking great-grandparents living in and around Swansea, and the thousands upon thousands like them who did not belong to any “cosmopolitan population”, being more closely linked with their relatives in Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.

Alderman Bird strikes me as yet another of those we’ve suffered throughout our history; people who know nothing about us, who don’t have our interests at heart, yet tell us what’s best for Wales.

Courtesy of National Library of Wales

The Labour Party found many converts among the English, the Irish and others simply because these found the Liberal Party to be ‘too Welsh’. Though this was never a black and white issue, many Welsh went over to Labour early on, and immigrants – though many fewer – took up the Liberal cause. For example, many of the Irish in southern Wales originally supported the pro-Home Rule Liberal Party before switching to Labour. Explained in this essay by socialist academic Dr Daryl Leeworthy.

(For some unfathomable reason I’m blocked from his Twitter account. Can you believe that! Infamy! Infamy! etc.)

From its early days this Labour Party of Englandandwales exhibited certain attitudes towards all things Welsh. At its worst it seemed that we Welsh were regarded no differently to other ‘primitives’ around the empire who had to be saved from themselves through stern paternalism. In our case, the best medicine was the English language, for many in the Labour Party agreed with the authors of the Blue Books who in 1847 had decreed that the Welsh language led us into all sorts of immorality while also impeding our educational and economic advancement.

As time passed it became convenient to pretend that almost all Welsh workers had embraced the Labour Party from the outset, but this was not true, as I recall from my own childhood. My paternal grandparents lived in Landore, and my grandfather, who’d worked at the Mannesmann tube works, was a deacon in Siloh Newydd. My grandmother’s working class credentials were equally impeccable. They supported the Liberal Party.

(‘The Mannesmann’ figured prominently in the lore of the Lower Swansea Valley when I was growing up. While working on the Evening Post Dylan Thomas covered boxing matches at the Mannesmann Hall. The plant ended its days owned by Stewarts & Lloyds.)

This was the 1950s, remember, and my grandparents’ rejection of the Labour Party was not unusual, even in a working class community like Landore. I concede that their adherence to the Liberals owed much to their age, their religious beliefs and the fact that they spoke Welsh. But that only tells us that there would have been many more like my mamgu and tadcu forty and fifty years earlier.

And I suspect that their parents might have agreed with Cymru Fydd rather than with Alderman Bird, their bollocks-spouting and self-appointed ‘representative’.

However it came about the decline of the Liberal Party and the unquestioned hegemony Labour achieved over the Welsh working class gave us the party we know today.

A ‘hybrid’ party still containing the twin strands of its early days: those who reject almost everything Welsh other than harmless, apolitical diversions such as sport, and the ‘Welsh’ element, which believes that Wales and Welshness extend beyond the rugby field.

This fault line has always resulted in ‘tensions’, but devolution, even the discussion of devolution, exposed the divide vividly. The campaign ahead of the devolution referendum in September 1997 brought out some of the worst anti-Welsh aspects of the Labour Party.

Neil Kinnock was particularly offensive, which may be understood, given his background, but his hysterical vilification of things Welsh was almost matched by his wife, who comes from a totally different, and Welsh, background. (A reminder of how the Labour Party can corrupt.) What we also see in Neil Kinnock is the ‘package’ I’ve referred to in other posts.

I think I first used the term after a visit to Pembrokeshire where I’d encountering the new county flag. When I made enquiries into its origin I saw a name with which I was familiar, a man who had campaigned against devolution, in 1979 and 1997, who had argued to ‘Bring Back Pembrokeshire!’ (because Dyfed was too Welsh) and had then helped devise a county flag to avoid flying the Ddraig Goch.

Show me someone who’s hostile to the Welsh language and I’ll show you someone who is probably opposed to devolution and almost anything likely to distinguish Wales from England – even if it will benefit Wales. In the 1979 devolution debate Neil Kinnock trotted out ridiculous stories of schoolchildren in Ynys Môn wetting themselves because they were unable to ask in Welsh to go to the toilet, coupling his contempt for the Welsh language with his opposition to devolution.

Alderman Bird was another. As a nonconformist and a Liberal he should have welcomed the Disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales. In rural areas poor, Liberal-supporting people were being forced to pay tithes to a church they did not attend in order to support clergymen who didn’t speak their language. And being evicted from their farms when they refused to pay the tithe. Yet Bird opposed Disestablishment, probably because he viewed it as being ‘a Welsh thing’.

A great-grandfather of my wife, a John Jones, was arrested for his part in the Llangwm riot of 1887. John was related by some convoluted route to Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones, the Newtown mail order pioneer. (We really should know more about Pryce from Llanllwchaiarn but, as he was a successful Welsh businessman who brought prosperity to his area, it serves the interests of both our colonial masters and our native leftists to ignore him.)

Courtesy of Casgliad y Werin

And so it is today in Llangennech. A gang of shouty, anti-Welsh bullies with strong links to the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party is opposing the teaching of Welsh – and don’t fall for the bullshit about ‘choice’, there are many English medium schools within easy travelling distance. Llangennech is on the outskirts of Llanelli, a large town.

For many people the most remarkable aspect of this saga is that people belonging to what many believe is still a socialist party should be so ready to mix with Ukip, and be quite open about it. Some of those opposed to Welsh language education in Llangennech have even flirted with elements further to the right. How do we explain this? I believe that as with most irrational fixations hatred for things Welsh clouds the judgement.

To understand that just follow the rantings of Jacques Protic, or someone like K Clements of Llangyfelach, who writes regularly to newspapers bemoaning the fact that we are starving and dying because of the billions spent on the Welsh language; his hatred for things Welsh is coupled with an intolerant Britishness usually confined to the extreme Right, Ibrox Park, and the Six Counties. Here he is, in a letter to the Evening Post, demanding that Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy be summarily executed for not singing GSTQ.

Another ‘hybrid’ party is of course Plaid Cymru. The dividing line here is between the nationalist/culturalist wing and the Green-socialists, with the latter in the ascendant for the past thirty years, to the detriment of the party, of Wales and of Welsh nationhood.

The reason Wales has suffered is because these eco-friendly leftists seem to have great difficulty focusing on Wales and Welsh issues. They’re forever trying to save the planet or else getting agitated over some issue far away over which they cannot possibly have any influence. Recent examples would the election of President Trump and the decision of the Welsh people to leave the European Union.

Many of this persuasion view their party as a regional outrider for ‘progressive’ forces elsewhere in Britain and beyond. Exemplified by this tweet by Leanne Wood I picked up on a few days ago. She’s responding to a tweet by Jeremy Corbyn, rebuking him by saying that they should “build alliances needed to defeat Tories”.

The realities are that Plaid Cymru has just three MPs in a 650-member House of Commons, so the chances of Plaid being an influential part of any anti-Tory coalition are slim. What’s worse is that here in Wales it’s not the Conservative Party that rules the roost but Labour; through its councillors, and its Third Sector, and the overpaid shysters to be found everywhere from academe to housing associations, all of them part of a system that has had almost a century to embed itself into, and corrupt, Welsh public life.

Yet Ms Wood and her ilk can blind themselves to all of this, for they view the Labour Party as fellow-socialists. Comrades in the crusade to cleanse Wales of initiative, pride and corrupting prosperity. For only through the begging bowl shall we attain the socialist nirvana of freedom from material possessions.

And of course, if we can’t afford to drive cars, or heat our homes, then Wales will be doing more than its share to save the planet, and that will please Plaid’s friends in the Green Party and the wider ‘environmental’ movement. They’ve got it all worked out!

Yes, I know, Plaid Cymru did eventually get involved in the Llangennech dispute, but they could hardly avoid it any longer seeing as the party had been targeted by the anti-Welsh crew, but even then Plaid waited until those clowns had shot themselves in the foot by inviting down the Hamiltons.

During my wee break I got to thinking about Llangennech and associated matters. I concluded that this is not really about language, or education; nor is it ideological or party political. To put it bluntly, this is a conflict of identities, a struggle that pits Welsh identity against an increasingly aggressive and intolerant English or British nationalism. (There is no meaningful distinction.)

These attacks on us and our identity come from both Left and Right, and indeed from those who otherwise regard themselves as liberal. As this recent tweet from Huw Edwards to Robert Peston reminds us. Which is why I say that ideology and party politics have no place in what must from now on be a national struggle fought on all fronts.

If we lose this struggle, then we lose our Wales; what will remain will be nothing but a hollowed-out geographical area called ‘Wales’, containing a couple of English provincial cities, a few other towns, post-industrial regions offering cheap housing for agencies relocating the rejects of England, and rural parts serving as recreation and retirement areas. In fact, this is the path Wales is already following.

But of course we’ll still have the ‘national’ rugby team, with the feathers on the shirt, so everything will be just fine.

Plaid Cymru, with its split personality, conflicting loyalties, and failure to focus on what matters, will not win this fight. Plaid Cymru won’t even join the fray for fear of upsetting the ‘liberals’ Huw Edwards talks of, and others with whom Plaid’s leadership has over the years become far too pally. Something new is needed.

This ‘something’ can only be effective if it is broad-based, national, free of ideology, and prepared to defend Wales, Welshness and Welsh interests against all threats. The first step must be trying to counter the pernicious influence of the BBC, ITV and the print media.

Which is why in future this blog may spend less time exposing lying politicians (of whom there are just too many) or crooks milking the public purse (ditto) to concentrate on the national picture and promote a nationalist message.

Stay tuned!

♦ end ♦

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA AFAN

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

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

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

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

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

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

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

LLANELLY HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end ♦

Dec 052016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

clearsprings-operates

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

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

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

clearsprings-dumping

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

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

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

clearsprings-marquis-of-worcester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

Nov 202016
 

SWANSEA

Persecution

Where better to start than the old home town. (Which still ‘looks the same as I step down from the train, and there to greet me’ – is a welcoming committee from the local Labour Party. ‘Good old Jac’, they cry. Well, laff!)

As you may recall, I wrote a while back about the case of Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris and her alleged homophobic assault on Jenny Lee Clarke, when both worked in Labour’s Swansea East  constituency office for MP Siân James. It even made the London ‘papers, here’s how the Telegraph treated it.

Meryl

This picture has nothing to do with the article . . . but I just can’t resist it! That hat!

Harris took over from James as MP in May 2015, the story about the alleged assault made the news in the second half of November then, on January 28, Clarke was dismissed from her job with immediate effect. I’ve seen the letter from Carolyn Harris; it’s one of those, ‘Clear your desk and sod off – now!  letters. We’ve all had them, I’ve got a drawer full. Things have not gone well for Clarke since then.

For not only did she lose her job, she was also accused of stealing money from her erstwhile employer (one C. Harris); and the most recent assault on her peace of mind, in September, was to be told by Swansea council that they’d stopped her housing benefit because someone had informed them she’d died! Naturally she reported this to the police, but they just messed her about a bit and refused to proceed with the case.

As for Labour-controlled Swansea council, you have to ask whose word they took that Jenny Clarke was dead. There was obviously no death certificate produced . . . or if there was then it was a forgery. But they are unable to explain how they came to accept that Jenny Clarke was demised. A third party points the finger at a close associate of Harris within the council – but who’s gonna investigate? This is Wales. This is the Labour Party.

As for the theft allegation, well this drags on . . . and on. The cops just keep extending her ‘Pre-Charge Conditional Bail’ (as it’s described on the form); the police bail was extended until November 7, and now it’s been extended again until February 17. I doubt if there will be charges; this is just the cops playing mind games.

This is a disgusting episode even for a corrupt and backward country like ours. The dominant political party engages in the kind of vindictive behaviour for which it is infamous, and yet what’s really worrying is that the police seem to be going along with this persecution of a woman whose only mistake was crossing the local political machine.

Persecution Complex?

Someone who may have good reason to be looking over his shoulder is the leader of Swansea council, Rob Stewart, one of the Morriston councillors. For the word echoing along the corridors is that conspirators are grouping around his ousted predecessor David ‘Il Duce’ Phillips, he of the red duffle coat (click to view).Benito Phillips, Il Duce Abertawe

As we speak, plots are being hatched, alliances formed, and positions of power allotted in the post-coup council. But back to the present.

One of the popular programmes on the Swansea Sound radio station is The Sunday Hotline presented by Kevin Johns. People phone in and have a moan about this and that, you know the sort of thing.

Any criticism of Swansea council is immediately answered by Stewart, who doesn’t phone in to defend himself, but sends an e-mail! –  ‘And following that heartfelt complaint from Mrs Lloyd of Penclawdd about the council doing nothing to arrest and castrate Romanian cockle-pickers we’ve had an e-mail from council leader Rob Stewart, who argues . . . ‘.

Can’t you just picture him of a Sunday morning, still fizzy from too much lemonade the night before, in his marmalade-streaked pyjamas, trembling finger hovering over the keyboard as he listens to the bile spewing forth from his radio. It’s not a pretty sight, is it? But who knows, after next May, he might be able to cwtsh in under his duvet on a Sunday, unless of course he decides to put on strange voices and start phoning in complaints about his successor.

‘Good Night, John Boy’

Someone else I’ve written about more times than I wanted to is councillor John Charles ‘John Boy’ Bayliss, perhaps the last of the student councillors recruited by Davidbayliss-twitter-nov-2016 Phillips and his wife Sybil Crouch, who works in Swansea university. Though I suppose there could be a few new ones in May.

Despite being a councillor for the Uplands ward, and despite living in Swansea, you wouldn’t be aware of that from his Twitter account; but ‘Uplands, Swansea’ or ‘Uplands ward in Swansea’ appeared on all his previous Twitter incarnations. (Two examples here and here.) And although it says “2017 local election candidate” it doesn’t say where. He’s certainly not standing for re-election in the Uplands (here’s Labour’s Magnificent Four for May, including the balding Lili Marlene), so where is he standing, is it even in Wales?

Maybe he’s standing in Bristol, where he works. Or is he going home to mummy and daddy in Sussex? Who cares? It looks like he’s leaving Swansea, and that’s the main thing. The only one who might miss him is Il Duce.

UPDATE 21.11.2016: A good source informs me that Bayliss may be standing for Cardiff council in May, either in Fairwater or Llandaff. Which makes sense, as he works in Bristol. But he was only recruited by the Remarkable Group because he was a Swansea Labour councillor and Remarkable was involved with the contentious Mynydd y Gwair wind farm. What use might a lobbying company like Remarkable have for him in Cardiff? P.S. Now confirmed by a second source.

LLANELLI

The Invisible Man Moves

Sticking with the topic of Labour councillors on the move, we cross the tumbling waters of the mighty Llwchwr to Llanelli, where many people are asking why Rob James is moving there from Neath. At present James is the Labour councillor for the Bryncoch South ward . . . though you’d be forgiven for not knowing that, certainly if you were going by his attendance record.

For as Stan at the Neath Ferret tells us, between May and the end of October, James had attended 2/5 full council meetings; 0/3 meetings of the Environmental and Highways Scrutiny Committee; 0/4 Social Care, Health and Housing Scrutiny Committee; 0/1 Licensing and Gambling Acts Committee; 0/3 Registration and Licensing Committee: and as might be expected, he didn’t bother turning up for the council’s Annual Meeting in May either. Impressive, no?

rob-james

He may not bother turning up for meetings, but Councillor Rob James recognises a photo opportunity when he sees one. Look out, Llanelli – he’s coming your way!

What’s worse, to accommodate the Invisible Man from Neath Llanelli Labour has deselected Lliedi ward councillor Bill Thomas. Who’s he? Let Cneifiwr tell us, “Bill Thomas has ploughed his lonely furrow for 17 years, doing the sort of things which most people would like to imagine that all councillors do. For starters, he has a mind of his own, which marks him out from a good many of his colleagues. He has stood up for his ward through thick and thin, fought a long campaign to try to get justice for the cocklers whose livelihoods have been wrecked by releases of raw sewage into the Burry Inlet. He has fought an even longer and equally fruitless campaign to get justice for Mr and Mrs Clive and Pam Edwards, victims of incredible incompetence and an even more incredible refusal to put matters right by the council. He has banged on for years about the madness of building new homes on flood plains, and he played a key role in uncovering Mark and Meryl’s plans to flog off Parc Howard in Llanelli – while Labour was running the council.”

So it’s pretty obvious why Labour should want to remove a conscientious councillor and replace him with someone who’ll cause no problems, but that doesn’t explain why James is making the move. He could just as easily not turn up in Neath as Llanelli, so why go through the hassle of switching, filling in those forms and risking defeat?

In all seriousness, how does Llanelli Labour Party justify dumping a good councillor and replacing him with an outsider, especially an outsider with James’ attendance record? It really is taking the electorate for granted.

Now a Labour Politician Who Didn’t Move, Allegedly

Staying in Sosban . . . well, maybe, we look at the AM for the town, young Lee Waters. Now no one disputes that Lee was raised in Ammanford, but he’s spent recent years in the Cardiff area, and it’s being suggested that he still lives in the Vale, in Barry to be precise.

Which might be fine, had he not told the Turk electorate in May that his happy abode was in New Zealand Street, Llanelli. He pipped the Plaid Cymru candidate by 382 votes.

‘Poumista’

Another recently announced candidate for May’s county council elections is Gary Robert Jones. You’ll recognise the name from my posts on the ongoing campaign of bigotry against Welsh language education in Llangennech. No doubt ‘poumista’ is hoping to capitalise on his notoriety.

poumista

His Twitter handle is taken from the Spanish initials of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification, an extremist party active in the Spanish Civil War, mainly in Catalonia. (It might even have the same initials in Catalan.) POUM seemed to be opposed to everybody else involved, on both sides. Here’s a short write-up from 1936, but don’t all rush to join, POUM was thankfully dissolved in 1980.

That POUM no longer exists seems not to bother Jones one bit. In fact, to judge by his Twitter account, I’m not sure he realises WWII is over either. If in the modern era we judge politicians by their tweets and re-tweets then there should be some concerns about @poumista. Here’s one re-tweet I salvaged, put out late last Saturday night; it’s of a female Russian sniper under a photo of one the biggest butchers in human history. Such taste!

poumista-russian-sniper

I urge you to check out the Twitter account of the Labour hopeful for Llangennech and Bryn before he starts deleting. There are some very revealing tweets and re-tweets there. Including of course re-tweets of Lee Waters telling us of his occasional trips from Barry to Llanelli.

To finish with Llanelli I must mention a curious message I received to my ‘contact me’ box in the sidebar. It named a very prominent individual in the Llanelli Labour Party and seemed to suggest that this person had – perhaps by questionable means – come into possession of a number of former council properties. Any further information would be appreciated.

THE LEAVING OF LABOUR

It’s not just Labour politicians moving (or not, as the case may be), or putting themselves up for election, there are other movements with ‘Welsh’ Labour, and very encouraging they are too.

The first story I picked on was from Caerffili, where two Labour councillors resigned last month promising to set up their own party. One of them, Allan Rees, alleged that “nepotism and cronyism is rife” within the local Labour Party. Not just your local party, Allan, come and talk with Uncle Jac.

Then, a few days ago, we learnt that six councillors had been ‘de-selected’ (a term I’m sure the man in the photo would have approved of) by the Ogmore Constituency Labour Party.

On top of that, Labour has lost a couple of seats on Cardiff city council in recent by-elections. First, the Lib Dem candidate won in the Plasnewydd ward; then Plaid Cymru took one of the Grangetown seats.

But remember, these upheavals for Labour have nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn and his hard left supporters eliminating the hated ‘Blairites’ – that storm has yet to break in Wales! Labour has real problems, but this is no time to stand around gloating – put the boot in!

OUR HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is, as the name might suggest, a secretive offshore company, one owning a great deal of property across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards. Here’s a list of Link’s properties compiled from the Private Eye database.

link-gibraltar

Offshore property ownership is disturbing enough of itself, but the reason I wrote Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd was because I’d learnt that housing associations are leasing, and possibly renting, from Link. So naturally I wrote to the ‘Welsh’ Government seeking answers. Here’s a combined pdf of my original request, the reply, and my response to that reply. (Read it now or keep it for a rainy afternoon.)

I kept a number of politicians informed of my concerns regarding Link Holdings, and also with the bizarre – possibly unique – relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and its offspring Mill Bay Homes. One of these politicians showed me the response received from minister Carl Sargeant. It’s worth sharing. Here it is.

You’ll note that in the first part of the letter, talking of the Social Housing Grant with regard to Pembrokeshire Housing, Sargeant, or whoever wrote the letter, is clear that SHG must be “spent on pre-determined developments and projects”. Which is what I would expect, because I’ve always regarded the SHG as a capital grant for new housing, creating jobs and putting money into an area.

Yet in the second part of the letter, when dealing with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, we read, “An RSL (registered Social Landlord aka housing association) is able to purchase the leasehold title of a property, and is able to receive Social Housing Grant Money to do so”.  How can a capital grant for “pre-determined developments and projects” be used to lease old properties from offshore companies?

As I’ve argued for years, housing associations are one the worst uses of public funding imaginable, but major change is on the horizon. Thank God!

HAPPY DONKEY HILL

Regular readers will recall that some time ago now I had cause to write about a rather unpleasant woman named Kate Clamp living near Llandysul. She changed the name of her property – actually owned by her multi-millionaire father – from Faerdre Fach to Happy Donkey Hill.

In one of my posts I used this image from her Facebook page, but I’d assumed the use of ‘Lady’ was a joke. (As would ‘lady’ be in this case.) But not so, for a series of messages I’ve received to my Facebook page tell me that Clamp and her current consort have taken to styling themselves ‘Lord and Lady Clamp’ in earnest.

Lady Kate Clamp Facebook

My contact has been in touch with Burke’s Peerage, Debrett’s and various other sources and is assured that the duo has no claim to any title. So have they bought one off some website? Or maybe they splashed out a few thousand on one of those ‘Lord of the Manor’ titles that allows you to make a nuisance of yourself. (I used to vaguely know a bloke who collected such ‘titles’.)

But the point is – as my contact was keen to stress – the Clamps are in a competitive business, and if they’re gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors by falsely claiming to be aristocrats, then surely they’re breaking some law? If nothing else, shouldn’t the local Trading Standards office be involved?

happy-donkey-hill

My contact also had something to say about a ‘missing’ donkey, and police involvement, but that can keep for another post, because I’m sure I’ll be writing about ‘Lord and Lady’ Clamp again in the near future.

♦ end ♦

Nov 012016
 

INTRODUCTION

In addition to the previous post on tourism I also put out a message on Twitter and Facebook last week reminding people that Gwynedd Council was consulting over whether, or by how much, to raise council tax on holiday homes. The ability to raise council tax on second homes and empty homes being just one of a number of changes we can look forward to in the housing market.

gwynedd-council-tax

Holiday homes also face the possibility of higher Stamp Duty Land Tax when this is devolved in April 2018. (As do Buy-to-Let properties.) Or rather, from that date, we shall see Stamp Duty replaced with a new Land Transaction Tax, to bring Wales into line with the Scottish and UK governments. There was a consultation process, but few responded, seeing as it was not well advertised and ran from July 13 to the end of August.

High summer is an odd time to hold a public consultation process, but while the rest of us were sipping mint juleps and humming Summertime, you can be sure that the organisations representing holiday home owners and private landlords were beavering away ensuring that those they represent had their concerns noted.

Another change is that the ‘Welsh’ Government is now empowered to introduce a tourist tax of the kind found across Europe in cities and regions experiencing large numbers of tourists, with the money raised then used to fund those local services that tourists use but otherwise would not pay for.

Taken together, and implemented imaginatively, as an integrated system, these changes could have wide-ranging and far-reaching implications, all of which would be beneficial to the national interest. Let’s look at these measures in a little more detail.

COUNCIL TAX ON SECOND HOMES

This is an issue that provokes a great deal of debate and passion, and tends to divide people along rather predictable lines. For example, how many second home owners will support increasing council tax on their properties? And how many of those attending one of the regular Meibion Glyndŵr Reunion Dinners (black tie affairs) will argue for anything less than a 500% increase?

A great deal of nonsense is talked in defence of second homes. Here are some of the arguments we’ve heard ad nauseum over the years.

‘To raise council tax on holiday homes in Wales would be racist’. Which is one way of confirming that they are overwhelmingly English owned.

‘Holiday homes put a lot of money into the local economy’. Which wants us to believe that a property lived in for two or three months a year puts more into the local economy than that same property would if lived in permanently by a local family.

‘Nobody else wanted to buy it’. Of course not, you conducted a comprehensive local survey, didn’t you?

‘People would stop coming here’. Why? And as I say, holiday homes often put little into the local economy. Something brought home to me a few weeks ago as I was a-sauntering through Aberdyfi.

A builder crossed the road and asked, ‘Are you Royston Jones?’ Despite not knowing him, and being unsure of his position, I nevertheless answered in the affirmative. After which he introduced himself and we discussed this and that. He’d been in school with my kids and he seemed an easy-going sort of bloke until, while discussing holiday homes, he made it clear that one thing that really pissed him off was holiday home owners bringing in tradesmen from their home area, rather than giving work to locals.

I knew exactly what he was talking about. My wife looks after a holiday home in our village for a family from the East Midlands (she has done for a few decades). Earlier this year there was a builder from the same area working on the property for months, and living in it while he worked. So here we had an example of local tradesmen denied work and local B&Bs denied business.

There is no doubt that raising council tax on holiday homes would encourage some owners to sell and deter others from buying. And the greater the increase then the greater the encouragement/deterrent. More importantly, increasing council tax on holiday homes would bring more properties into full-time use, and this would lead to more vibrant towns and villages, because shops, pubs and other facilities struggle to survive in communities with too many properties empty for most of the year. And this is not just a Welsh problem.

Consequently, there is no sensible or rational argument against raising council tax on holiday homes across Wales, which is why opponents of such moves are forced to employ absurd arguments. Here are a couple of examples that the Cambrian News (where else?) carried some three years ago, when the subject of council tax on holiday homes was being discussed. (Click to enlarge.)

cambrian-news-letters-1

According to Eric Richards of Aberdyfi, second homes are essential to the local economy. He seems to believe that a property ceasing to be a holiday home would remain empty and fall derelict. Another blind spot is failing to understand that Aberdyfi is not representative of Gwynedd. The economy of Bangor – the largest settlement – is based on higher education, administration, the retail sector, etc. The economy of north Gwynedd as a whole would hardly notice a doubling of the council tax paid on holiday homes.

While ‘Pat Beaumont’ believes that increasing council tax “borders on racism”, and might result in “property burning starting again”. Quite how tackling the problem of holiday homes would lead to “property burning” is not explained. Does the writer envision an arson campaign being waged by those feeling aggrieved because they’ve sold their holiday homes to locals?

LAND TRANSACTION TAX (FORMERLY STAMP DUTY)

The new Land Transaction Tax (from April 2018) offers another tool with which to reduce the numbers of holiday homes, or certainly to tax sales of holiday homes and invest the funding gained in the wider community. Of course there are issues to be resolved, fine tuning needed here and there, but a feel for the issues involved can be found in the Summary of Responses (to the consultation process).

As I suggested in the Introduction, those in the know, the property professionals and the business associations, made sure their views were known. The Summary tells us there were six, formal written responses, and these came from:

1/ Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group

2/ Residential Landlords Association

3/ National Association of Estate Agents

4/ KPMG

5/ Central Association of Agricultural Valuers

6/ Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators

I bet you didn’t even know there was a Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group (and it is ‘Chartered’, not ‘Charted’, as it says in the Summary).

Many of these organisations of course operate within an Englandandwales framework, which explains their wish that there “should be ‘only one rate throughout the UK’.” Though I suggest that the ‘Welsh’ Government be guided by what’s best for Wales, not what’s convenient for the National Association of Estate Agents.

The current Stamp Duty does not apply to the following categories: property purchases of £40,000 or less; caravans, mobile homes and houseboats; non-residential transactions; employer provided accommodation; and certain purchases of leasehold interests subject to specified conditions.

Seeing as those responding to the survey were asked if they agreed with these exceptions it’s reasonable to assume that these are not set in stone. Which would mean that it’s within the powers of the ‘Welsh’ Government to reduce the threshold to £10,000 or less and apply the new Land Transaction Tax to the sale of static caravans.

Another imaginative use of the new Tax would be to reduce the numbers retiring to Wales, or certainly make retirees contribute more to the country in which they plan to spend their declining years. There is nothing heartless or racist about this, it’s pure economics.

Everyone – and here I really do mean everyone – agrees that the ‘advanced world’ is facing a demographic time-bomb with its ageing population. With a decreasing percentage of the population in work, paying the taxes needed, it becomes more and more of a burden on the national purse to support the growing numbers of elderly people.

Therefore, any country or territory attracting elderly people from outside of its borders has problems. Any country actively encouraging another country’s older people to move in is behaving irresponsibly.

Yet in Wales, this is exactly what we do, by allowing, even encouraging, the building of tens of thousands of new properties in rural and coastal areas that planners – and here I include the Planning Inspectorate – know will not be bought by local people, some of them will even be marketed over the border as ‘retirement properties’. And yet politicians and civil servants refuse to publicly admit what they all know – attracting large numbers of elderly migrants inevitably results in an overburdened health service and other issues.

I know I’ve used this example before, but it explains perfectly what I’m talking about. In the area where I live, south west Gwynedd between Barmouth and Aberdyfi, the 2011 census told us that the 65+ age group makes up 30.1% of the population. And within that age group 65% was born in England.

The figure for the percentage of the population in the 65+ age group is 20.7% for Gwynedd as a whole. For Flintshire it’s 17.6%. For Cardiff 13.2%.

Gwynedd SW Wards merged

This is not natural. This is not sustainable. This is a recipe for disaster for our health service and our wider economy. Unless of course you believe that retirement homes and the like, paying the minimum wage or less, can be the foundation for a healthy economy.

A partial remedy lies in applying a higher level of the new Land Transaction Tax – why not double? – to persons over the age of 50 moving to Wales who have never previously lived here. The extra funding could go straight into the Welsh NHS.

TOURIST TAX

As I’ve said above, tourist taxes of various kinds can be found around the world and, increasingly, across Europe. This article from lovemoney.com explains the tourist taxes you can expect to pay in a variety of countries. If we look at the figures for Italy we see that – as in other countries – different cities and regions charge different rates. Rome charges €6 a night to stay in a four-star hotel whereas Palermo, on Sicily, charges just €2. Florence charges €2.50 a night for self-catering, Milan charges nothing.

venice

There is no reason why Gwynedd couldn’t charge £2 a head per night for self-catering, including static caravans, but Merthyr, or some other area wanting to attract more visitors, could decide against any charge at all. The system across Europe seems to be left to local authorities to decide and it could be the same in Wales.

The Bevan Foundation discussed the issue in February and said, “We suggest that a tourism tax should operate in Wales as a per night charge on hotel room and holiday park stays, capped at seven nights. The tax would be collected and managed by local authorities, and the money raised would be allocated to fund local authority and police services.”

For once I find myself agreeing with the Bevan Foundation (God!), the money raised by a tourist tax must stay within the area where it has been collected and used for the benefit of the local people, the majority of whom derive no benefit from tourism. The money raised must not, as the tourism operators will demand, be spent on encouraging more tourists.

And as for something else we’ll hear –‘This will drive people away!’ The continental experience is that it doesn’t. It’s just a small surcharge that ensures tourism puts something back into the communities it affects. The greater that effect, then the more that should be put back. (And with the post-Brexit pound plummeting and hard times ahead, now is the ideal time for Wales to introduce a tourist tax, ready for the 2017 season.)

CONCLUSION

With a co-ordinated strategy using legislation already in place or soon to be enacted we could achieve a number of what I consider to be desirable objectives:

  • By increasing council tax on second homes, and also using the new Land Transaction Tax, we could greatly reduce the numbers of holiday homes and make the dwellings released available to the wider community.
  • By applying the Land Transaction Tax and a tourist tax to static caravans, but exempting serviced accommodation, we could take the first step on the long road to removing the hideous caravan sites that mar our coastlines and replacing them with hotels and other establishments that will provide more jobs and put more money into local economies.
  • By applying the Land Transaction Tax (and perhaps Council Tax) selectively to retirees we could reduce the pressures on the NHS and various services in many parts of the country. Again, this could be done by district. For example, increase the LTT for those wanting to retire to Pembrokeshire and Conwy, but not to Wrexham and Neath Port Talbot.

There will of course be obstacles to making any of this happen.

To begin with, there will be those who’ll argue, ‘Oh, but caravans and care homes are the basis of our local economy’. If anyone really believes that then what they consider to be ‘the local economy’ is no better than living in the shadow of a big house, surviving off scraps and cast-offs, and constantly being lied to about ‘generosity’.

Yet the defenders of caravan sites and care homes will not all be beaten and brainwashed, for some people make a lot of money from them. These will not give up easily. There will also be well-connected interests opposing Wales using the Land Transaction Tax, council tax and tourist tax in her own interests.

Finally we can guarantee opposition from the ‘Welsh’ politicians in London, who see their role as opposing anything that might benefit Wales . . . if there’s the remotest possibility it might harm England’s interests. Also the civil servants in Wales, advising our Assembly and ‘Welsh’ Government, but answerable to London. And with so many senior officers in local government having no loyalty to Wales we can expect hostility from that quarter too.

It will be an uphill struggle to change a system that has been in place for centuries in order to start running Wales in the interests of the Welsh. The tools are available; it’s now a question of having the will, the courage, to use those tools.

But it must be done, because living in the shadow of the big house has never served our interests. And nowadays, the big house is not what it was; cracks are appearing and they’re struggling to pay the bills. They’ve also started drinking, shouting at the neighbours and anybody else who comes too close.

It’s time to put up a little fence, nothing too intimidating, just enough to make them understand that this side of the fence belongs to us. They’re still welcome to come . . . but on our terms.

END