Apr 272017
 

Bear Grylls: ‘It’s not for me, you understand . . . ‘

I’ve written about Bear Grylls, the television personality, survival expert and tourism operator a couple of times recently. Now I find myself writing about him again.

My first mention of Grylls was an almost light-hearted look at his ‘survival camp’ on Llŷn, done only because I’d picked up a leaflet for this nonsense on a visit to Porthmadog. So demanding and dangerous is this camp that it caters for drunks on stag and hen parties. (Scroll down in this post.)

I next wrote about him was in more serious vein, after learning of his involvement with wide boy Gavin Lee Woodhouse – of ‘Wynnborn’ fame – and their joint attempt to take over another piece of Wales and re-name it the Afan Valley Adventure Resort. Read English Tourism in the Colony of Wales.

I have been in contact recently with a Gwynedd councillor who had more to tell me about Bear Grylls, and although this tale takes us back to July 2014 I think it deserves an airing, so I’m reproducing in full an e-mail exchange that took place between Bear Grylls and Councillor Craig ab Iago. (You can either click on the image on the right to enlarge it, or read it in pdf format by clicking here.)

At the time of this exchange Grylls was applying for planning permission to build a new stone jetty on St Tudwal’s Island (which he owns) off the coast of Llŷn. As a follow-up to the official planning application he wrote to all members of the planning committee.

I’m unsure about the propriety, or the legality, of seeking to influence elected representatives in this way. Maybe an Old Etonian who is now a ‘celeb’ regularly uses back channels in order to get what he wants. Of course, what works in London doesn’t always translate to Gwynedd.

First off, let’s remember that this is a planning application by a businessman to make one of his assets more profitable. That’s all there is to it, really, it’s about Bear Grylls seeking to make more money.

But he can’t say that, so he has to try a different tack; he starts off by mentioning his “young family”, which might influence an application to build an extra bedroom but is totally irrelevant in this context.

Then he presents himself as the benefactor to the local community “in and around Abersoch” (i.e. the Cheshire set), and the partner of Trinity House, which maintains St Tudwal’s Island lighthouse.

At which point you might, like me, be wondering: if Trinity House needs a new jetty why couldn’t they apply for it themselves? Come to that, does a body like Trinity House even need to apply for planning permission?

This appeal by Bear Grylls is nothing but simpering, self-serving bollocks; just a cut above, ‘think of all the drowning kiddies, sob! sob!’ I don’t want to dwell on this stomach-churning bullshit any longer.

Thankfully, Craig ab Iago was able to answer Grylls, and he did so with dignity and passion. It is a response worth reading for its honesty, and how it contrasts to Grylls’ artifice and dissimulation. I urge you to read Craig’s cri de coeur and ensure that it has the widest possible audience.

Tourism and the colonisation it encourages is the surest way of destroying our rural way of life. That’s why Wales is being offered little other than tourism. 

 ~ ♦ ~

Redrow Homes, Goetre Uchaf

One of Wales’ great success stories, so the media would have us believe, is Redrow Homes. A company formed by Steve Morgan, with headquarters in Ewloe, Flintshire, and quoted on the FTSE 250. The truth is that Redrow being in Wales is just an accident of geography, there is no commitment to Wales or things Welsh whatsoever.

Proven by the twee names Redrow gives to its developments and the names of its house types – The Ludlow, The Warwick, The Cambridge, The Windsor, The Shaftesbury, etc. But occasionally Redrow gives the appearance of recognising it’s in Wales by using a Welsh name for one of its developments. An example would be Goetre Uchaf in Bangor.

Unfortunately, the ‘commitment’ is just skin deep. Because of course, like so many companies operating in the building trade and property development – and especially in the north – Redrow targets English buyers. So it is with Goetre Uchaf, as this advertisement proves with, ‘Move to North Wales with Redrow Homes’.

If you want further proof, then listen to the start of this video and hear the mangling of Goetre Uchaf. And if these houses are not needed in Bangor – and seeking buyers over the border suggests they’re not – then why was planning permission granted?

~ ♦ ~

Pole Polling

I am indebted to another source for making me realise that, with two elections coming up, ‘Welsh’ Labour will again target the Polish vote in Llanelli (and perhaps elsewhere). For Labour has worked assiduously over the years to exploit forge links with the Polish community in the town.

The starting point would appear to be 2004 when, according to this WalesOnline article from May 2014, a desperate Pole went into the office of the SaveEasy Credit Union in downtown Llanelli, where manager Jeff Hopkins was eventually able to find a Polish speaker to help him.

From this encounter grew the Welsh Polish Mutual Association which opened in 2006 to help Polish migrants arriving in the town. The chairman of the Association is the aforementioned Jeff Hopkins. In an earlier incarnation he had been the agent for Denzil Davies, the town’s Labour MP from 1970 until 2005.

A SaveEasy Credit Union employee involved with the new Association was Halina Ashley, Polish herself. It should go without saying that Mrs Ashley is also a member of the Labour Party. I suppose it’s reasonable to assume that Mrs Ashley was the Polish speaker Jeff Hopkins was able to find on that Sunday morning back in 2004.

The official opening took place in September 2006, conducted by Edwina Hart. From its outset the Association was funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government, partly through the ill-starred Communities First programme, which was finally put out of its misery in February.

Though the Polish-Welsh Association was not registered as a company until 27 February 2013. On the Companies House website you’ll see that the only director other than Hopkins is Janice Williams, a Labour county councillor. Williams has also been a director of the local Citizens Advice Bureau, that body taken over by the Labour Party years ago.

To this day, I understand, the ‘Welsh’ Government funds the Welsh Polish Mutual Association centre in Llanelli, and pays for the ‘Welcome’ packs for arriving Poles, with the SaveEasy Credit Union paying the overheads for the building.

Though I must confess to being appalled to read my source suggesting, “It would not be a surprise to discover that the packs contain postal voting forms . . . I am led to believe that Llanelli Labour have form regarding this”.

I had just put away the smelling salts after reading that when I found myself scrabbling for them again on reading that Hopkins and Ashley have access to confidential data that could be of great use to the Labour Party in targeting the Polish vote.

As I said to myself, ‘But they would never do anything like that, because to do so would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998.’ That said, there is some evidence . . .

The leaflet below, for example, from last year’s Assembly election, is obviously for the benefit of Polish voters; and seeing Mrs Halina Ashley, a woman they know, in the company of the Labour candidate, clearly carries the message, ‘Vote Labour!’.

click to enlarge (no, it wasn’t me what ripped it.)

The Polish vote in Llanelli may not be as large as in some English towns, but it still makes up five or six per cent in the wards where Poles tend to congregate. The percentage is higher in the Tŷ Isha ward where not so long ago the Safer Community Action Group was set up to counter the allegedly anti-social behaviour of gangs of drunken young Polish males.

The group was supported by thirsty Labour councillor and recipient of someone else’s liver, Keri Thomas, on the grounds that the Polish influx “put a burden on services, on the GPs and the hospitals and the schools”. (You couldn’t make this up, could you?) Like most Labour politicians, Thomas is talking rubbish.

The Polish migrants are overwhelmingly healthy young men, consequently they are unlikely to be a burden on the health service. If Keri Thomas and others are so concerned about people moving to Wales and putting a strain on our services why do they say nothing about retirees, or the substance-abusing riff-raff and others with ‘issues’ who get priority treatment from housing associations and other agencies?

Knowing ‘Welsh’ Labour as we do, and with the evidence from last year’s election to guide us, it is entirely reasonable to assume that ‘inside information’, unavailable to other parties, is being used to target the Polish vote in Llanelli for both the council elections and the UK general election

Footnote: Councillor Janice Williams is standing down next month in the Lliedi ward, where one of the Tory candidates is a Stefan Ryszewski. Woe! Woe! Even the Fates mock Labour!

~ ♦ ~

Pond Life in Ebbw Vale 

A Gwent source tells me of an interesting sale taking place at 5pm today, in the Park Inn Hotel at Llanedeyrn in Cardiff. (If you hurry, you might still make it!) His interest was aroused by one particular lot of three former feeder ponds for the local steelworks and the land around them.

The catalogue makes interesting reading, for it contains all manner of properties but a majority seem to be small terraced houses of the kind that often make the news when a London ‘paper reports, ‘Englishman buys whole Welsh street for £37.50, ha! ha!’

Which says something about many things, such as the ‘Welsh’ Government’s neglect of the Valleys, and our relationship with England. Consider also that many of these humble dwellings being auctioned are repossessions, each one representing someone’s dashed hope of owning a home. But the Daily Mail don’t give a fuck about that.

In March 2009 the Newport-based South Wales Argus reported that the ‘Welsh’ Government had given £150,000 to transform the site in question, the Argus even saying that work had started. Yet to look at the site now it appears that little if anything was ever done.

click to enlarge

So the questions are:

  • What happened to the £150,000?
  • Why wasn’t the area improved as promised?
  • What’s been happening for the past 8 years?
  • Who owns this land today?
  • Why is it being sold?

Maybe the ‘Welsh’ Government is hoping that Bear Grylls and ‘Wynnborn’ Woodhouse come galloping over the Beacons, bugles blowing and flags fluttering, to unveil their plan for the Waun-y-Pound Aquatic Adventure Resort, replete with crocodiles and piranhas – let the good times roll!

~ ♦ end ♦ ~

Nov 142016
 

When I first heard of the Circuit of Wales project back in the early part of 2013 I was somewhat sceptical of its chances of success, and the reasons for my scepticism were set out in Vroom, Vroom – The Next Gravy Train? 

Despite being doubtful that the project would ever materialise I was (in the even-handed manner for which I am rightly acclaimed) also critical of some of those raising objections to the CoW, not least the environmentalists who seem to oppose anything that might benefit those who live permanently in Wales.

For various reasons that I don’t have the space to analyse here, the project has ‘drifted’ somewhat since my original post, and in recent weeks we have witnessed attacks on the Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HOTVDC) and its Circuit of Wales from what might, at first sight, appear to be unconnected sources. So let’s look at these attacks and see if we can make sense of them.

ebbw-vale

A long-time critic of what could be the economic salvation of the region is Conservative MP David Davies, who represents the neighbouring constituency (to Ebbw Vale) of Monmouthshire, perhaps the most affluent area in the country. It’s reasonable to assume that those who vote for Davies don’t want anything noisy on their doorstep, attracting people who will drive through their area to get to the circuit. So while not wishing to be unfair – for there may indeed be more to it – I suspect that nimbyism with a dash of snobbery lies behind the attacks from that direction.

But as I say, Davies, chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee at Westminster, has been a consistent critic, and no doubt he’d argue that he’s just doing his job. And his job has been made easier for him by some strange spending of the millions already invested by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

But the criticism of this project comes from beyond leafy Monmouthshire and its well-heeled inhabitants, from those who cannot be dismissed as nimbys or snobs.

On November 1, after regular sniping from its news broadcasts, BBC Wales made a frontal assault using its Week In Week Out series with A Safe Bet? (Video available here for a while.) There was little pretence at impartiality. Anyone watching this programme with no knowledge of Wales, and how it works, would have concluded that the Circuit of Wales is a complete waste of money and should be ditched immediately.

I admit that Michael Carrick, the man behind HOTVDC, doesn’t always instill confidence, and he has certainly made mistakes. Even so, it appears to me that critics have too often been playing the man rather than the ball. By which I mean, the project needs to be considered on its merits; after all, Einstein being a philanderer didn’t undermine his Theory of Relativity.

The attacks have continued, culminating today in a front page lead continued on page 2 plus an editorial in the Wasting Mule. All written by my old mucker, Martin Shipton.

The justification for today’s attack seems to be that the HOTVDC used the Silverstone circuit in England in 2015 and 2016 to host MotoGP races that it had contracted to host at the Circuit of Wales, and had lost money. Now with the best will in the world, I detect an element of having your cake and eating it in this criticism.

Because those attacking the HOTVDC for making a loss at Silverstone – due to the Circuit of Wales not being completed – are the very same people who have been doing their very best to derail the CoW project altogether!

circuit-of-wales-wm-editorial

click to enlarge

As for losing money by going to Silverstone, even before reading the response from the HOTVDC I knew the answer. The owners of the Silverstone circuit creamed off the profits, from the hot dog stands to the champagne hospitality suites and from the Ducati baseball caps to the sales of £300 leather biker boots.

A child could work that out, and a younger sibling could add that those profits would have accrued to Ebbw Vale if the Circuit of Wales had been operational, as would other benefits to the area from those visiting for a few days.

God Almighty! Break somebody’s leg and then criticise him for limping.

So how do we account for this recent onslaught from BBC Wales and the Wasting Mule? I suspect there are two, linked, answers.

First, just last month, it became clear that the project had a good chance of proceeding without needing to be underwritten by the ‘Welsh’ Government. Even so, this report from WalesOnline still manages to put a negative spin on the news with, “However, without approval on underwriting from the Welsh Government, the project will effectively be dead as there is little private sector appetite to take a 100% risk exposure position.”

Though I’m a little nonplussed by the phrase “approval on underwriting”. If the writer means underwriting, why not just say that rather than employ such a convoluted phrase? Though with heavyweight backing from Aviva and Kleinwort Benson underwriting from the ‘Welsh’ Government may no longer be needed . . . and it may be this realisation that has triggered the recent attacks.

The article in question was written by Siôn Barry, of whom I shall have more to say in a moment.

Second, if the Circuit of Wales goes ahead then it will challenge the thinking behind the Cardiff Capital Region project. Which, in its simplest terms, is as follows: As many jobs as the Region’s architects can get away with are to be concentrated in Cardiff, as are the Region’s sporting, recreational, cultural and other facilities. So that people from the Valleys will come into Cardiff to earn their crust, and they will come back into Cardiff to be regularly relieved of a great part of that crust.

Which makes it anathema to those behind the City Region that places like Ebbw Vale should be allowed anything as grand as a race circuit, ‘Bloody hell, people will go there spending their money rather than going into Cardiff. Where will it end? They’ll all want something!’

Now the Wasting Mule, despite its hyperbolic claim to be ‘The National Newspaper of Wales’, is, as we all know, a Cardiff newspaper, and the mouthpiece of those seeking to enrich the city at the expense of the rest of Wales. This explains today’s editorial.

The Wasting Mule does not want the Circuit of Wales to progress even if it has 100% private funding, for fear it might limit Cardiff’s ability to enjoy the full benefits of the City Region scam.

Consequently, the final paragraph of Shippo’s editorial is a direct appeal to his friends in the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government to put obstacles in the way of HOTVDC, perhaps to use environmental or other planning ruses. We can be sure that representations are also being made through more ‘private’ channels.

Fundamental to the Cardiff Capital Region project is the Metro system – for how else are people from Merthyr, Ebbw Vale, Maesteg and other outposts of the empire to reach the City of Milk and Honey? Since 2010 the job of promoting the Metro has fallen to a Mark Barry, some might go so far as to say that the Metro is his idea.

metro-network

After working for the Welsh Development Agency (2002 – 2003) he has maintained good connections with the ‘Welsh’ Government. Though some might suggest a conflict of interests in the following roles:

  • Owner of M&G Barry Consulting (Sept 2009 – Present) His Linkedin profile tells us that M&G Barry Consulting was set up to promote the Metro project.
  • Board Advisor for Transport and the Economy for the Cardiff Business Partnership (Oct 2010 – Oct 2013)
  • Founder of the private sector Metro Consortium (Aug 2011 – Nov 2013)
  • Metro Development Director and Advisor to the ‘Welsh’ Government (Nov 2013 – Jan 2016).

(Though seeing as M&G Barry has been going since September 2009 I would have expected the website to be up and running by now. But then, I suppose it’s not looking for business, it’s a one-trick pony.)

I’m telling you this because of course Mark Dafydd Barry is the brother of Siôn Barry, Business Editor of Media Wales, and this explains Siôn Barry’s regular plugging of his brother’s Cardiff Metro scheme, and of course his hostility to the Circuit of Wales.

Yet another example of the incestuous relationship between politics, business, media and academe in Cardiff is provided by the fact that since April this year Mark Barry has been Professor of Practice in Connectivity at Cardiff University, “Exploring the wider economic and regional benefits of the South Wales Metro”.

Though some might think that’s an odd post – created specially? – for a man who did his degree at Manchester in Physics and The Analysis of Science & Technology and who, for many years after leaving university, worked in software design. In fact, Barry seems to have neither qualifications nor experience in the fields of transport and communications before he was granted his vision of the Cardiff Metro . . . and sold it to his former employers at the ‘Welsh’ Government. 

This defence of Cardiff’s interests tells us why the Wasting Mule is hostile to the Circuit of Wales, while BBC Wales’ attitude can be explained by the fact that it has as much claim to being our national broadcaster as the Mule has to being our national newspaper.

The Circuit of Wales is a real test for the ‘Welsh’ Government, in a number of ways.

First, and most obviously, it is a massive project, promising thousands of jobs, in an area that badly needs those jobs and the economic boost they’ll bring to the wider economy.

Second, it is becoming clear that for those who believe Cardiff must be the hub for all investment in the south east the Circuit of Wales poses a challenge, partly of itself, and partly because it might encourage other distant towns to question their allotted status of dormitory settlements.

The issue can’t be funding alone. Certainly not for the ‘Welsh’ Government which, it is rumoured, will give more than £100m so that near-bankrupt Aston Martin can relocate in the Vale of Glamorgan, very near to Cardiff. And then there are the hundreds of millions of pounds squandered on the Third Sector for what often seems to be no other reason than providing jobs for Labour cronies and hangers-on. Communities First, which has spent over £300m would be a good example.

aston-martin

Then there are the hundreds, maybe thousands, of smaller projects that have cumulatively swallowed up more money over the years than Aston Martin, Communities First and all the others we know of. Read this puff from 2013, and then read this from just a few days ago. This project was a non-starter, doomed from the outset – but what the hell, it’s only public money!

What’s worse, is that one of the women involved in this doomed venture, Gill Wright, featured in Ancestral Turf, a post I wrote in September 2014. She belongs to a network of people in the Tywi valley – all of whom seem to be English – who appear to be in competition to dream up ever more ludicrous ‘schemes’ for milking the Welsh public purse. And it works – for they get grant after grant that benefits no one but themselves!

The other woman involved with setting up the Level Crossing Bunkhouse in Llandovery, Jane Ryall, is a ‘social enterprise advisor’. So not only do our funding bodies attract all manner of grant-grabbers to take advantage of the easy money, they also pull in those who are now living off those who are living off the Welsh public purse. And it’s all dressed up as economic activity. What a system!

And how can we forget the land deals that were so beneficial to Sir Gilbert Stanley ‘Stan the Pies’ Thomas yet so damaging to the public purse? For those who need to be reminded, read my posts Pies, Planes & Property Development and the sequel – with the same stars! – Pies, Planes & Property Development 2.

So any reticence on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Government to supporting the Circuit of Wales can’t be due to a fear of wasting public money, or a worry that some malcontents might suggest a lack of financial rectitude. For ‘Welsh’ Labour is inured to such criticism.

The Circuit of Wales offers tangible benefits for thousands of our people and a whole region of our country. Which is why the ‘Welsh’ Government needs to put aside its Cardiff bias, ignore the fact that there may be few sinecures in it for Labour Party cronies, and for once – just once – suppress its suspicion of business and entrepreneurship.

Help it happen!

~ ~ ~ ♦ end ♦ ~ ~ ~ 

UPDATE 17.11.2016: Would you Adam and Eve it! Shippo has returned to the attack on the Circuit of Wales, and what’s more, now he seems to be having a go at my old mate Neil! Bloody hell! where will this end? (Though I note there was no mention of the Brothers Barry.)

circuit-of-wales-wm-nov-17-2016

I can’t provide a link because the article doesn’t appear to have been uploaded yet to WalesOnline’s appalling and almost unnavigable website.

UPDATE 24.11.2016: Shippo mounts another attack, this time using a spokesman for the Silverstone circuit.

circuit-of-wales-wm-nov-24

click to enlarge

Sep 262016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

It’s a pleasure to follow the excellent guest posts on tourism and heritage that have generated a fair amount debate, shining a light on the dubious practices of the Welsh tourism industry and how these practices affect local communities as a result of flawed Welsh Government policy.

The focus of the posts so far has been on the neglect of heritage, history and tourism in rural Wales under non-Labour councils which – and though it’s not a view I share – could perhaps be expected. I say that because most people in rural Wales vote Plaid Cymru, Tory or Lib Dem, so wasting public money, trashing our heritage and screwing people over, has no consequences, electoral or otherwise, for the Labour Party.

But what about a Labour-controlled council in the Valleys, surely they’d take more care of local history and heritage when their own party’s history is intertwined with the area?

The Plan

If only that were true, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, the smallest local authority in Wales and back in Labour hands since 2012 as the result of an appalling smear campaign to oust the Independents who’d run the Council and started many of the successful projects that Labour councillors and the new MP and AM are now claiming credit for, published a few weeks back its Area Destination Plan for 2016 – 2018.

merthyr-plan

With its main focus on outdoor activities and leisure it could belong to any rural or semi-rural local authority, and don’t get me wrong, BikePark Wales, Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre and Cyfarthfa Castle Park and Museum are great attractions, but when Merthyr Tydfil has so much political, industrial, social and cultural history failing to acknowledge the majority of it makes a mockery of any tourism plan.

There is a nod to Merthyr’s epoch-defining industrial past in the plan with a commitment to looking to rebuild a life size replica of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive engine, the first in the UK, but that’s reliant on the local heritage society raising enough money to get it built. Perhaps Labour Councillors aren’t willing to celebrate innovation, engineering excellence and vision for fear of showing local people there’s more to life than mediocrity, dependency and poverty that hallmark ‘Welsh’ Labour at all levels of government.

The Plan also talks of Welsh language provision via the Welsh language centre Canolfan Soar but again if you look closer the centre is facing its own financial difficulties as a result of funding cuts with its Welsh shop closing earlier this year. And as this is the Valleys, hostility to the Welsh language spending is never far away, as demonstrated by Labour and the opposition Independents in the full Council meeting earlier this month.

Another area mentioned is the lack of indoor activities in a town where rain is more often the order of the day than sunshine. So a lack of museums, interactive galleries and the like does seem particularly stupid to me.

Although to be fair the Plan does have an excellent SWOT analysis, but the action plan doesn’t include solutions for central recommendations like the lack of a Tourist Information Office and large scale accommodation. Even if we suspend belief and buy into the tourism lite guff they’re peddling, how can you be a serious tourist destination without enough beds or a central tourist information office?

The irony of course is that loads of places would love to have even half the history Merthyr Tydfil has and it could be that if tourism was done properly then the Borough would have year-round tourism selling Merthyr to the world. It could be integrated into local education, provide better job and career opportunities and re-instill some pride back in the place for those who were born here or made the place their home.

Welsh History started with Labour

However, we shouldn’t be surprised, this is the Labour Party after all, which believes Welsh history started with the birth of their party or the election of James Kier Hardie in 1900 . . . even though he is hardly celebrated anywhere in the town.

As if to reinforce this, Neil Kinnock’s ‘Welsh history’ quote did the rounds on social media last week, the quote reads, ‘Between the mid sixteenth and mid eighteenth centuries Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was a history of rural brigands who have been ennobled and called princes.’

The local Labour Party does hold a Kier Hardie lecture that’s only open to party members, and speakers also have to be Labour members or Labour affiliated, and no press is allowed. Held now in secret because last year there was great embarrassment when the keynote speaker was First Minster Carwyn Jones, and the local party was reduced to giving tickets away and begging people to go.

What a difference it would make if the party opened it up to everyone, picked radical topics and speakers, had a question and answer session with a panel afterwards, possibly publish a paper on the topic and made it into a real community event. I doubt it would happen, but it’s one of many ideas to celebrate the town’s history and create an event for all.

merthyr-rising

Even the raising of the red flag and the Merthyr Rising festival that celebrates it is shunned by the local council, though UNISON stepped in to save the festival this year thanks to the new Labour AM Dawn Bowden who used to be a UNISON big wig and whom Jac has helpfully written about. Time will tell if the festival becomes a Labour sop which would be a shame as the festival organisers are about as far away from the ignorant, conservative Labour Council leadership values as it’s possible to be.

Labour leadership & Red flag

Speaking of the red flag and going slightly off course, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came to Merthyr Tydfil on 5th August as part of his leadership campaign and unsurprisingly found no support from the local Labour leadership who were all supporting Owen Smith.

Council Leader Brendan Toomey, Gerald Jones MP and Dawn Bowden AM (who was on holidays), took to Twitter to vent their anger about the rally saying he didn’t represent the party or local people etc., but Jeremy Corbyn had the last laugh, not only did he draw a sizeable crowd, but his use of the red flag brought the history of the town to a UK wide audience and got the town and red flag trending on social media for positive reasons.

corbyn-merthyr

It’s easy to see how the Merthyr & Rhymney Labour leadership were so annoyed, Jeremy Corbyn’s two hours in Merthyr did more to promote the town’s radical history than Council leader Brendan Twomey and his Cabinet have managed in four years.

Speaking of our elected representatives, on Twitter, Dawn Bowden, Bristol City fan living in Llantrisant, posted a picture of the overgrown blast furnaces in Merthyr Tydfil saying ‘what an incredible history this wonderful town has’. It seems the new AM is fitting right in with the dinosaur tendency that believe Welsh history began with industrialisation.

Weight of History and Remembering

I’ve written a fair bit and barely scratched the surface of the borough’s history or introduced the one person who belongs solely to the town yet rarely gets mentioned, despite the place being named after her, St Tydfil/Tudful, the princess and daughter of King Brychan who was martyred in the fifth century by raiding Picts.

She’s remembered with a Church in Wales church named after her, as is the local shopping centre, while Merthyr Tydfil Football Club’s nickname is the Martyrs. Yet outside of the church there is no acknowledgement of her, indeed admitting that Tydfil lived and died and was renowned for good deeds and values such as compassion to all, would mean Welsh history didn’t start with the Industrial Revolution or the Labour Party after all. But I suspect it’s also because she’s a woman and a victim of Labour’s patriarchal and misogynist attitudes, especially in the Valleys.

the-martyrs

Of course Labour blames its wider lack of action on austerity, ‘We would love to do things’, they sigh, ‘but we’ve got no money’, when opposition councillors ask why aren’t things done. But what about things that don’t cost and could raise awareness of local history, like using the flag poles outside the Council office on St David’s Day or flying the Red Flag in May or Owain Glyndŵr’s banner in September? And I’m sure there are other little things that could be done, but I suspect it’s all a leap too far for closed, anti-Welsh minds.

I could write more on all that’s happened and why it should be celebrated; there’s Lucy Thomas, called the mother of Welsh steam coal trade, a widow who was the first person to export stream coal and give birth to coal exports. Away from industry, Merthyr was also the birthplace of designers Laura Ashley and Julian McDonald; and then there’s Charlotte Guest, wife of iron-master John Guest, who arranged for the Mabinogion to be translated into English. (Also, Dr Joseph Parry, who wrote the music for that all-time favourite, Myfanwy. Jac.)

To bring us up to date, a recent archaeological study found evidence of Roman activity in the borough, and Merthyr-born Samuel Griffiths, whose family emigrated to Australia, was responsible for writing Australia’s constitution, a fact recently in the news as the current Australian Chief Justice visited the town and called for closer cooperation – will Merthyr’s Labour leaders take him up on the offer?

Conclusion

Sometimes the sheer weight of remembering everyone and everything that’s happened can feel overwhelming, but it’s important because it tells us who we are and where we’ve come from.

I’ll end by pointing out that the lack of imagination coupled with an ingrained indifference or hostility towards Welsh history before the Labour Party, or industrialisation, means that even in Merthyr Tydfil, which gave birth to the modern Labour Party, we get the Area Destination Plan pushing Welsh history and heritage to the margins instead of using it front and centre. Most places in the world would kill for the history we have yet the Council focus is on weather dependent tourism in the rainy Valleys.

Of course, if there was a decent opposition here it could challenge the status quo. Which is why we should be grateful for the work of genuinely local history societies and historians, doing what they can to counter the hostility and apathy found all over Wales, attitudes that contribute to the slow death of our nation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says . . . I’ve always had a soft spot for Merthyr, going back to those happy hours spent at the Lamb Inn, in the days of its irreplaceable mine host, the late John Lewis. This magnificent pub, almost unchanged since the days when Dic Penderyn was said to have drunk there, was demolished in the early 1970s to ‘make way’ for something that was never built.

The truth was that the Labour council didn’t like the Lamb’s clientèle. As our guest writer informs us, nothing has changed when it comes to the Labour Party in Merthyr and its attitudes to expressions of Welshness.

green-desert-complete-red

One of the best LPs ever produced in Wales (click to enlarge)

Moving away from delicate concerns of identity and loyalties, our guest writer offered some hope for the area by mentioning BikePark Wales and Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre; and so, you know me, I just had to learn more. I’m afraid what I learnt is not encouraging.

BikePark Wales is the trading name for something called Beic Parcio Cymru Ltd. (Yes, honestly!) So while everyone knows it as BikePark Wales it’s official name is something else, perhaps done to make it difficult to get information on the company. (I’ve encountered the practice before.) To help you follow this, here’s the link to the Companies House website.

BikePark Wales looks like one of those outfits so common – perhaps unique – to Wales, a publicly-funded private company, for the website (designed by a company in Cornwall) carries the logos of Visit Wales, the ‘Welsh’ Government and the European Regional Development Fund. I suspect the directors are not local . . . certainly not the New Zealander.

In financial terms the company seems to be in good health, with net assets of £674,963 (y/e 31.03.2015). Though there are three outstanding charges registered with ‘The Welsh Ministers’, and a debenture held by Ian Campbell Officer (the New Zealander director).

A founding director of BikePark Wales is Martin Astley. But his Linkedin profile would suggest that his day job may be Marketing Manager for Saddleback Ltd, a Bristol company selling mountain bikes and associated ephemera. In fact, BikePark Wales serves as a useful retail outlet for Saddleback’s wares. Just think about that, here we have a venture funded with Welsh public money giving an English company an advantage over Welsh retailers. Now that’s colonialism for you!

martin-astley-bikepark-wales

The other directors are the aforementioned Kiwi, Astley’s wife Anna, and another husband and wife team, Rowan John Sorrell and Elizabeth Sorrell, also founding directors. In addition, the Sorrells have their own company over in Pontypool, Back-on-Track Mountain Bike Solutions Ltd which designs and builds mountain bike tracks. So I wonder who designed and built BikePark Wales’ tracks around Merthyr?

The other location mentioned by our guest writer was the Dolygaer Outdoor Activity Centre. All that needs to be said is that Dolygaer is owned by English company Parkwood.

If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise . . . not because you’ll meet a teddy bear but because there’s a good chance you’ll get knocked down by a mountain biker taking advantage of Playground Wales. Or maybe you’ll be stopped from going any further by a gang of hippies opposed to capitalism and private property . . . unless it’s theirs. And all because as a matter of ‘Welsh’ Government policy our woodlands are being surrendered to enviroshysters and ‘the leisure industry’.

Now I could put up with restricted access if our woods and forests were productive, providing the thousands of local jobs of which they’re capable. But no, Natural Resources Wales sees our woodlands as areas of recreation, and itself as an extension of the tourism industry. And through the Welsh public purse we pay for it all!

There is probably no country on earth where so much public money is spent with so few benefits for the indigenous population. But as I say, that’s how colonialism operates.

Sep 172016
 

‘BESPOKE ACTIVITY SESSIONS’

I am indebted to Brychan, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to another example of misguided do-gooding, this time linking with enviroshysters and the ‘heritage’ racket – yea! even unto the Strata Florida Trust! (You couldn’t make this up!)

We start in the Elan Valley, the collective name for a number of reservoirs vaguely south east of Aberystwyth that supply fresh water to Birmingham. Built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these reservoirs occupy land much of which was compulsorily purchased.

But let’s not be negative, for as the Elan valley website tells us, “The choice of the Elan Valley as the source of Birmingham’s future water supplies was to lead to the creation of a spectacular new landscape in mid-Wales.” (Who writes this patronising crap!)

elan-lakes

“The Elan Estate is owned by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water although a greater part of it is vested in the Elan Valley Trust on a 999 year lease.” Does Dŵr Cymru own the reservoirs and dams or just the land surrounding them? Either way, the water goes to Brum for free.

From what I can see, the Elan Valley Estate is a tourist playground doubling up as a nature reserve. But the estate also runs ‘courses’ for superannuated hippies and others who have washed up in Wales. Now it’s branching out.

Some of these courses are run by an outfit called Tir Coed, which describes itself as ” . . . a charity and social enterprise that engages people with woodlands through volunteering, training and bespoke activities that develop skills and improve woodlands for the benefit of everyone”. The kind of gibberish I encounter all the time, dreamt up to justify the existence of a group and, more importantly, its funding.

Here’s a screen capture from the Tir Coed Charity Commission page. We shall refer to this later.

tir-coed-charity-commission

The project to which I want to draw your attention is something called Elan Gives Back, the premise of which is so unutterably colonialist that you’ll have trouble believing it, but just bear with me.

Last month, representatives of Tir Coed, acting for the Elan Valley Estate, visited Birmingham ” . . . explaining how the project would like to reconnect the people of Birmingham with their water source . . . before explaining about the weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions in the Elan Valley available through Elan Gives Back.” Read it for yourself.

(‘Bespoke activity sessions! Bloody hell! I know people who’ve been done for offering that sort of thing.)

If this venture is a ‘success’, then we can expect to see Brummie drug addicts, petty criminals and others having a jolly old time on the Elan Valley Estate. And at our expense, because of course Tir Coed, being a charity and a social enterprise, relies almost exclusively on grant funding.

The biggest single funder for year ending March 31 2015 was the Big Lottery Fund, which coughed up £82,783; but in there with other grants we see the Countryside Council for Wales, £35,000; Natural Resources Wales, £20,000; Llanidloes Town Council, £3,000; and Jobs Growth Wales, £11,276.

The only way I can interpret Elan Gives Back is that someone, somewhere, believes the area owes Birmingham something. But, surely, Birmingham, responsible for the enforced eviction of the area’s population, and the subsequent exploitation of Welsh resources, owes us. If Liverpool can apologise for Tryweryn then why can’t Birmingham apologise for Elan?

And if that is the thinking behind it, then what twisted colonialist mind could have dreamed up Elan Gives Back?

Finally, we need to consider what it says on the Charity Commission website, shown in the screen capture I referred you to earlier. Tir Coed’s stipulated ‘Area of Benefit’ is Wales. Birmingham is not in Wales, and I object strongly to public funding, much of it Welsh, being used to give bespoke weekends in the Welsh countryside to Brummie ne’er-do-wells. I further object to this being done as some kind of ‘apology’ for them having to drink our water!

Someone, maybe the Charity Commission, or the funders, needs to investigate this bollocks.

LINKS AND COINCIDENCES

Take yourself back to the Charity Commission website for Tir Coed and click on the box ‘Contact & trustees’ (on the left), you’ll bring up a list of trustees. Top of that list is a ‘Mr J Wildig’.

Wildig is also a trustee of the Plynlimon Heritage Trust (note the corrupted spelling of Pumlumon) and also Ymddiriedolaeth Yr Hafod Hafod Trust.

In fairness, the first of those seems to have raked in very little money and is now almost defunct, but give it its due, it used the tried and tested method, even the descriptive template, “The Trust enables work on heritage projects within the Ceredigion uplands”.

The second of Wildig’s trusts is connected with the Hafod Estate near Cwmystwyth. He is also a director of Pentir Pumlumon Cyf, which markets the area to tourists, while of course giving plugs to various trusts, such as Strata Florida, which is ‘flagged’ on its interactive ‘attractions’ map.

The Hafod Estate is managed by Natural Resources Wales “in partnership with the Hafod Trust”. It’s noticeable how many of the ‘trusts’ and individuals this blog has looked at recently work with NRW.

hawthorn-cottage

Hawthorn Cottage, available for rent on the Hafod Estate

When talking of 19th century mining operations the Pentir Pumlumon website is keen to remind us that “Miners migrated to the area from Cornwall, Yorkshire, and elsewhere: their names can be found on gravestones in country churchyards and some of their descendants are here still”. Stressing a long-standing English (and Cornish) presence in the area seems to have been important for whoever wrote that.

Sites like this, written by English people trying to describe a country of which they have no real understanding beyond its perceived potential to benefit them; and for which they have little appreciation beyond the visual, the scenic, remind me of those 19th century posters encouraging English settlement in some benighted corner of the empire where the natives had recently been quelled.

Also involved with the Plynlimon Heritage Trust is Jennifer Jill Macve, whose name crops up a number of times in connection with Wildig. Macve is also a trustee of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust where, again, you’ll struggle to find any Welsh involvement.

Before bidding the omnipresent J Wildig adieu it should surprise no one to learn that he is also a trustee of the Strata Florida Trust, the body you’ve read about on this blog over recent weeks. (If you haven’t, then read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism.)

To make sense of the plethora of ‘heritage’ and ‘preservation’ trusts that have sprung up in Wales during the past couple of decades it might help if you visit the website for the United Kingdom Association of Preservation Trusts (APT). Here’s the APT’s Wales page.

The screen capture below explains it all. There was a development officer in Wales 2004 – 2008, and “over a third of Trusts in Wales were formed in the past seven years”. And to cheer you up even more, “There are also examples of Trusts still being formed, such as the Welsh Georgian Building Trust, and the Llanelli Goods Trust.” (I suspect there might be Welsh involvement in the latter, but not the former.)

apt-wales

HEADING SOUTH

If we go back for a sec to the Tir Coed website, and look at the ‘Contact’ page, then we see that it offers three addresses. One is presumably its HQ in Aberystwyth. Another is its Elan operation, where it ‘Gives Back’ bespoke weekends, and the third is Denmark Farm, Betws Bledrws, near Lampeter.

So now you’re wondering what denizens of that parallel universe sustained by grants await at Denmark Farm. You will not be disappointed. (Oh, yes, before any of you narrow-minded nationalists think the name has been changed, it was always Denmark Farm. Explained here.)

As is the way with these things, Denmark Farm is not just any old farm, run by primitive Welshies who keep animals and grow crops. No, sir, this is a conservation centre, offering eco-friendly holidays, nature trails and, yes – courses!

Confusingly – but not for old Jac! – this lot are registered with the Charity Commission as the Shared Earth Trust. Though the CC website tells us that income is falling, down from £135,000 in 2012 to a mere £45,000 in 2015.

A correspondingly sombre picture is to be found on the Companies House website, with the most recent accounts available (y/e 31.03.2015) informing us that this venture has tangible assets (almost certainly the farm buildings and land) of £310,666 (£324,991 in 2014). Yet ‘total assets less current liabilities’ brings that figure down to £258,346 (£277,418 in 2014). Denmark Farm is in trouble, perhaps it will soon be recycled.

Companies House also tells us there are charges against Denmark Farm. First there’s the mortgage of £170,000 with the Ecology Building Society of West Yorkshire. Then, on the same date, 25.07.2012, there was a loan of £25,000 made by the trustees of the Shared Earth Trust to the Denmark Farm Conservation Centre.

So who’s running things? Well, the three individuals who are both trustees of the Shared Earth Trust and directors of Denmark Farm Conservation Centre are Guy Alistair Hopwood, who lives at Denmark Farm, David Andrew Bradford Smith of Llandrindod, and Glenn Edward Strachan of Penuwch.

denmark-farm-activities

The staff at Denmark Farm – apart from one who seems to be married to a real farmer, living on a real farm – are the usual crew of ecocharlatans. Reading their potted bios reminds us how many silly little projects there are out there.

Take Gary Thorogood, who “moved to this part of Wales with his family 9 years ago after retiring from the Fire Service in London.” His bio mentions his involvement with the Lampeter Permaculture Group and Transition Lambed. (Don’t say you haven’t heard of them!)

Then there’s Mara Morris who lives with chickens, which I suppose is one way of guaranteeing fresh eggs. Next up is James Kendall, ” . . . responsible for procuring external funding so that we can maintain and increase our staffing resource, deliver engaging projects and develop the Shared Earth Trust membership”. The Accounts I’ve quoted would suggest that Kendall is not doing very well as a fund-raiser.

But in fairness, maybe he’s too busy with the Long Wood Community Woodland, where he serves as project manager. “He also works as a Forest School leader(?), woodland skills tutor and runs an outdoor after-school club, Young Rangers.”

Companies House also tells us there is a charge against Long Wood Community Farm. The mortgagee is the Big Lottery Fund and the property is described as “all that freehold property known as land at Long Wood, Llangybi, Lampeter registered at H M Land Registry under title numbers CYM271065, CYM271131, CYM270610”.

What becomes clear when we look into these projects, whether they are heritage and conservation, environment, or even social enterprises and community benefit companies, is that they are not businesses a bank would lend money to for the very simple reason that they are just not viable businesses. So they have to rely on grant funding.

Because they are not financially viable they invariably fail, which results in funding that could be better used being wasted. Those involved in such failures often re-form, take on a new name, and wait for the grant-giving agencies to come up with new funding streams and priorities. It’s a merry-go-round.

Those involved are simply indulging a private passion at public expense, there is no public benefit whatsoever . . . unless of course, you include the ‘courses’ and the ‘bespoke activity sessions’, which are not intended for the likes of us.

What I found interesting in writing this post is that, in J Wildig, we have unearthed a link between the environmental, the social enterprise, and the heritage sectors. Looking beyond this individual there are other linkages and overlaps to be found.

What is also clear is that many of these grant-grabbing groups are located in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, spilling over into neighbouring local authority areas. Suggesting that these two councils offer encouragement; but the major funders remain the ‘Welsh’ Government, in its various guises, and assorted Lottery funding streams.

Everywhere I look in the environmental lobby I see hypocrisy and contradictions. Perhaps the most glaring is the commitment to ‘Nature’ . . . discredited by the belief that Nature would be lost without them managing it.

George Monbiot and others talk of wanting to ‘re-wild’ large tracts of Wales, yet if they were allowed their way they’d produce little more than a manicured woodland where everything down to the last fungus would have its allotted place. They want to play God.

george-monbiot

This sylvan idyll of overbearingly managed ‘wilderness’ would of course provide many jobs and businesses for the kind of people we’ve met in recent posts. Almost all funded from the public purse.

They’d offer courses in yurt construction and other ‘traditional’ crafts. James Kendall could bring his Young Rangers from the Long Wood. With weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions so that we could fulsomely apologise to Brummies, Scousers, and all the others we’ve wronged. And of course there’d be the tourists. Combining to give us wildlife-free woods constantly ringing to the sound of human voices . . . none of them Welsh.

My idea of re-wilding would be to set aside an area of land and take human beings out of the picture entirely (especially those I’ve been writing about). Let Nature reclaim the land, naturally, as it did when the last ice retreated. Anything else is just a veiled attack on Welsh farming and a scam to milk the public purse.

Fortunately, the figures tell us the funding is drying up, and now, with Brexit, things can only get better. Let’s hope that the ‘Welsh’ Government, the Big Lottery Fund and others come to their senses and free us from heritage racket con men (and women), enviroshysters and all the rest.

UPDATE: I am informed that Monbiot has departed whence he came. That probably accounts for the sounds of raucous celebration that has been reported emanating from local farmhouses.

END

Early on the morrow, Mrs J and I are off to the Old North. I shall be back next weekend. But keep sending in your comments, for Big Gee is in charge as moderator.

Sep 052016
 

AND THIS LITTLE PIGGY CAME TO WALES

To properly understand this article it’s best to know a little of the legislative and other background, and when we put it all together it should warn us that what we see at Red Pig Farm (yes, honestly, Red Pig Farm) is one element of the dystopian future envisioned for the Welsh countryside by our masters down in Cardiff Bay. (ALT = Agroecology Land Trust Ltd.)

Red Pig farm logo

‘WELSH’ LABOUR, DAVIES OUT, HOWE IN

First, though, let us reflect on the role of Alun Davies AM (then Minister for Natural Resources and Food) who, in January 2014, announced that the government he represented had decided to transfer 15% of EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. (See it here.) Which meant that henceforth this money, instead of going to our farmers, would be spent on “rural development projects”, most of which will have nothing to do with real farming, and little or nothing to do with Welsh people.

But then, it might be argued that Davies had form when it came to undermining Welsh agriculture, for after the heavy snow of March 2013, when farmers in the north east were particularly badly hit, he announced there would be no ‘Welsh’ Government aid. Justifying the decision with these priceless words (April 3, 2013, BBC Wales News), “You don’t create a strong business base by throwing public money at every problem you face”.

Yes, folks, that came from a ‘Welsh’ Government minister; a representative of an administration, and a political party, that believes there should be a Nobel Prize for frittering away public money.

Former Plaid Cymru member Davies eventually lost his job, in July 2014, after pressuring civil servants to find out how much some opposition AMs were receiving in farming subsidies! He was still at it in October. But then, it has to be said that even before his fall he was having trouble with farming subsidies. In fact, it often seemed that Davies thought of little else.

Alun Davies Subsidies WM

click to enlarge

The second legislative hammer-blow came last year with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. There’s even a video, accompanied by a monologue combining political correctness with envirobollocks. Whatever credibility the Act might have had all was lost with the appointment of Labour insider Sophie Howe as Future Generations Commissioner.

Despite these manifest idiocies and insults to the collective intelligence the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) Ltd is now law, and is already being taken advantage of by those seeking to move to Wales.

Such as James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup, he English, she Danish. This enterprising duo are the proprietors of the Agroecology Land Trust Ltd, based at the above-mentioned Red Pig Farm, which was carved out of Forestry Commission land near Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire, some years ago, long before Scrivens and Tommerup discovered Wales. We shall return to them anon.

ENTER JANE DAVIDSON LABOUR(?) AM 

For in addition to the legislation I’ve mentioned, in 2011 those buffoons down Cardiff docks also accepted the diktats of the One Planet Council. As it says on its website, “The One Planet Council provides a bridge between applicants and local planning authorities, with guidance and tools to support anyone making the transition to this more sustainable way of life. It works also with those who have already made that leap, and with policymakers, academics and landowners.”

In other words, it helps good-lifers, bullock worshippers and others move to Wales and get retrospective planning permission for buildings they’ve erected without consent – even in National Parks. And they can do it because they have the support of the ‘Welsh’ Government. (By the way, that reads bullock . . . though I suppose bollocks-worshippers applies just as well.)

One Planet

A major reason for the direction taken by the ‘Welsh’ Government in this period is Jane Davidson, former AM for Pontypridd, and now chief Patron of the One Planet Council. It was she who persuaded her colleagues to agree to its agenda before she stood down in May 2011 as Minister for the Environment. After leaving the Assembly she also became director of the Wales Institute for Sustainability (INSPIRE) at Trinity St David Lampeter.

Jane Davidson is one of those middle class Englishwomen one finds in the National Trust, Cadw, and other bodies, who believes that the Welsh countryside is too naice to be left to us; it needs to be run by people like her and those she feels comfortable with, whose numbers can be increased by elbowing the backward locals aside.

For make no mistake, Davidson represents the Green lobby and others who want greater access to the Welsh countryside, and freedom to use and exploit our rural areas as they wish. One such group would obviously be the Ramblers Association, for whom she became ‘Welsh’ President almost immediately she’d left the Assembly.

At Davidson’s direction, fully supported by coalition partners Plaid Cymru, and groups and individuals unlikely to vote for either party, the ‘Welsh’ Government produced, in May 2009, One Wales: One Planet, a document setting out how we are to reduce Wales’ carbon footprint.

Among the ambitions articulated by this document, that could have been been written by Friends of the Earth (and might well have been), we find, “Within the lifetime of a generation, we want to see Wales using only its fair share of the earth’s resources, and where our ecological footprint is reduced to the global average availability of resources – 1.88 global hectares per person”.

So there you are, we’re all entitled to 1.88 global hectares per person – claim yours while stocks last!

Jane Davidson was able to walk into the post of Minister for the Environment because she was one of the few Labour AMs who knew anything about that mysterious world beyond Merthyr known as ‘The Countryside’, inhabited by strange creatures most of whom steadfastly refused to vote Labour.

So she had free rein in the Dark Regions and Plaid to vouch for her in quarters where she might have encountered suspicion or hostility.

Which meas that we could view her appointment at INSPIRE as the reward from the enviro-colon network she had so assiduously worked for while at the Assembly – cos she sure as hell didn’t represent the people of Pontypridd.

But as we know, politicians are not supposed to take up posts connected with their previous ministerial duties. Davidson obviously did by taking the job at INSPIRE and was reprimanded for it . . . but edited her Wikipedia page to hide her little embarrassment.

N.B. You may have noted that even though Wales is the only country to have adopted the One Planet agenda, and this outfit operates only in Wales, OP haven’t got round to doing a Welsh version of the website.

HIPPY, HIPPY STATE

Let’s wend our way back to Red Pig Farm and the happy couple. There can be no doubt that James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup relocated to Wales because of the favouritism shown towards their ilk by the ‘Welsh’ Government. For as it says on the Red Pig Farm website:

Red Pig Farm 1

I love that phrase “reactionary and conservative local council”. Translated, it means, ‘People who represent the wishes of the majority when confronted with the unreasonable demands of recently-arrived Alternatives’.

Before relocating to Carmarthenshire we find Scrivens and Tommerup in Gloucestershire, running the Yorkley Court Community Farm Ltd near Lydney, a company struck off in August 2015 without apparently doing any business. According to this BBC Points West report it seems that Yorkley Court Community Farm was in fact a squatter camp.

Another company they were involved with at that time was Agroecological Land Initiative Ltd, Incorporated February 24, 2015. The name was changed on April 14, 2015 to Agroecology Land Trust Ltd, and then, on June 26, 2016, to Red Pig Farm Ltd.

Scrivens and Tommerup have settled in quite well, among their ventures is a stake in the Llandeilo Food Hub in a disused railway wagon at the local station. As the report in the West Wales News Review tells us, this project is grant-aided by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

There now follows a short diversion . . .

The Llandeilo Food Hub seems to come under the umbrella of the Heart of Wales Line Development Company Ltd, yet another ‘community venture’ run by those whose parents and grandparents are buried somewhere else. In more senses than one, the company appears to be up a siding, for the latest accounts tell us it has net assets of only £20,169, and is kept in the black through the generosity of a director not insisting on payment of her £35,500 loan.

This benefactrix is Gillian Elizabeth Wright. Now if that name rings a bell then it might be because I wrote about her and her Llandovery Hub, in Ancestral Turf. (I’d like to tell you more about Llandovery Hub, but the website offers neither Companies House registration number nor Charity Commission number. Nothing turns up on the FCA website, either. What kind of outfit is this?)

Wright also ran, with Jane Ryall, The Level Crossing Community Interest Company, offering bed and breakfast accommodation in a converted pub, Incorporated with Companies House September 24, 2012. The most recent accounts, April 2, 2016, show liabilities of £55,271. The Level Crossing Community Interest Company is in the process of being struck off.

The Level Crossing Community Interest Company was yet another ‘community venture’ that was only ‘viable’ with public funding and, like thousands of others, that have swallowed hundreds of millions of pounds, it has been a complete waste of money.

UPDATE 07.09.2016: Here’s a report in a local paper from mid-July 2013, before the business opened, with the date suggesting that this tourism venture had already lost half the summer. The report tells us that the building was leased from the owner, Neo Neophyton. Does anyone know to whom it was leased, and the terms?

Moving back to Red Pig Farm we see that Scrivens and Tommerup are seeking human company, for they have submitted a planning application for more dwellings at the ‘farm’, which lies in open country and, remember, in a National Park! But thanks to the legislation passed by the ‘Welsh’ Government they anticipate no problems.

“We are fully aware of the many challenges in obtaining residential planning permission in the open countryside. However, thanks to the pioneering foresight of the Welsh government a planning framework to support low-impact rural developments known as One Planet Development is in place to guide applications that seek to demonstrate the ecological benefits from the creation of sustainable land based livelihoods”.

Finally, let me conclude this passage by highlighting an inconsistency. According to the One Planet gurus and others we must reduce our carbon emissions. Fair enough. Yet Red Pig Farm is also home to Black Mountain Wood Fuels, and as we know, burning wood creates higher carbon dioxide emissions than any other fuel.

Carbon Dioxide

Which seems to expose a contradiction in the back-to-nature schema. For the desire to protect the planet obviously conflicts with the wish to live ‘naturally’ by burning wood. And believe me, those seeking the ‘alternative’ lifestyle do love to burn wood.

Corris (Isaf) is home to many such people, thanks to the nearby Centre for Alternative Technology (of which, incidentally, Sara Tommerup is a ‘graduate’). One can drive the A487 past Corris on a still winter’s day and see a vast pall of smoke motionless above the village. It reminds me of the old films of London smog.

And I haven’t considered the issue of regenerating the stocks of wood.

SUMMARY

Let’s recap: through legislation and other measures the ‘Welsh’ Government has made life more difficult for Welsh farmers and others who were born and raised in the countryside, while making it much easier – with both funding and relaxation of planning rules – for outsiders to settle in our rural areas.

Now let’s put it all into its chronological sequence:

May 2007: Birmingham-born Jane Davidson appointed Minister for Environment and Sustainability in the Labour – Plaid Cymru coalition government.

May 2009: Publication of One Wales: One Planet.

July 2010: Publication of Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6 giving the green light for ‘sustainable’ dwellings in open countryside.

January 2012: INSPIRE launches at Trinity St David with former Minister Jane Davidson at the helm.

March 2013: Alun Davies’ response to snow-hit farmers asking for help,“You don’t create a strong business base by throwing public money at every problem you face”.

January 2014: Alun Davies announces transfer of EU Common Agricultural Policy funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2, in other words, from farmers to “rural development projects”.

January 2015: ‘Welsh’ Government announces cuts to funding for young farmers (i.e. Welsh young farmers).

March 17, 2015: Assembly passes Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Basically, The Hippies’ Charter.

April 29, 2015: Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 becomes law.

Spring 2016: James Scrivens and Sara Tommerup arrive at Red Pig Farm, and almost immediately apply for planning permission to erect other dwellings, in open country, and in a National Park.

And all this takes place to the background drone of George Monbiot in his regular Guardian column and elsewhere calling on governments to remove farming subsidies, bankrupt Welsh farmers, and thereby remove sheep from the hills to allow ‘rewilding‘. His voice being one of a chorus. It may be no coincidence that Monbiot moved to the Machynlleth area in 2007.

CONCLUSION

I’m sure the envirofascists and their political allies would argue that Welsh people are free to get involved, and join them in building their carbon-free (well, apart from the wood stoves) Utopia in our green and pleasant land.

Trouble with that is that I don’t know any Welsh people who want to live in a turf house choking on fumes from a wood fire and shitting in the bushes before batting away the sheep turds while taking a bath in the stream.

The people I know want the best that modern life can offer, and wonder why they have to go without, especially when they see so much money being given a) to people who arrived here yesterday, and b) to activities from which they derive no benefit.

There are so many demands on the Welsh countryside today, from tourism, from the ‘outdoor activities’ industry, from the military (even more so if Scotland becomes independent), from white flighters, from good-lifers, and from so many other quarters. The problem, when viewed from the perspective of such people, is that far too much Welsh land is still in Welsh hands.

And while the Planning Inspectorate can demand tens of thousands of new homes surplus to local need, and housing associations can waste tens of millions of pounds building homes for tenants who have never been to Wales in their lives, and the local economy can be allowed to atrophy with the few jobs that remain increasingly filled by transfers from outside Wales and recruitment from within the local English population, something more is still needed.

♦ ♦ ♦

Which is why, when we consider the bigger picture, and remember the commitment of vast sums of public funding, we have to conclude that moving money around within the CAP, and One Planet, and TAN 6, and all the other ‘Green’ initiatives are just elements of a wider programme of engineered demographic change. A Clearance for the twenty-first century, done without the unsightly bloodshed and the blatant expropriation.

In my more generous moments I used to think that the Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government were merely incompetent for achieving so little for our people. But enough time has passed now to realise that this failure is quite deliberate. Worse, successive ‘Welsh’ Governments have actively discriminated against the native Welsh.

Nothing would change if Plaid Cymru had a majority in the Assembly, things might even be worse, because while many in Labour see the envirofascists as just a stick with which to beat those who refuse to vote for them, The Party of Wales has fallen completely under their spell.

The survival of the Welsh nation is under threat as never before. To save the nation we must reject all political parties, and the distraction of electoral politics. There is no hope of winning by that route, and not enough time.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Jul 032016
 

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before (as the actress said to the bishop), but this post is all about another post, on a faraway blog I was unaware of until a couple of days ago. To explain.

I received an e-mail from an anonymous source providing a link to a blog post said source thought might interest me. It certainly did, though I have to admit that the subject matter was beyond my normal interests.

Essentially, the story is about the deliberate poisoning of hawks and ravens on the Glanusk Estate using Bendiocarb, all done to protect the ‘game birds’ reared there. These have been ‘protected’ from their natural predators in order that they might be killed by Hoorays paying handsomely for the privilege.

Mark Coleman rates

killing birds don’t come cheap

Apart from the obvious wildlife crimes there are also safety concerns for those visiting the estate and, perhaps especially, those attending the Green Man Festival held there in August.

Before going any further I suggest you read the article I’m talking about. It’s to be found on the Raptor Persecution Scotland website and the post Mass Raptor Poisoning in Wales: Location Revealed.

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The facts, certainly those that jumped out at me, are as follows:

1/ The poisonings took place in 2012/13 and the birds killed were ravens, buzzards and red kites, the latter having become almost the national bird of Wales since its recovery from near extinction was engineered in central Wales.

2/ As stated, the killings were committed on the Glanusk Estate of the Legge-Bourke family near Crughywel. I quote from the Raptor Persecution Scotland website:

Shan Legge-Bourke was appointed lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne in 1987, was High Sheriff of Powys in 1991, has been the Lord Lieutenant of Powys (the Queen’s personal representative) since 1998 and became Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2015 New Year Honours.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s daughter, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was nanny to Princes William & Harry and worked as a personal assistant to Prince Charles between 1993-1999.

Shan Legge-Bourke’s son, Harry Legge-Bourke, is a partner in the management of Glanusk Estate and served on the Board of Natural Resources Wales (the Welsh statutory conservation agency) between 2012-2015 (the same time the mass poisoning of raptors was taking place on Glanusk Estate).”

3/ The ‘sport shooting’ element of the estate’s business is run by Mark Coleman Sporting & Game which also has involvement with the Stoke Edith estate just over the border in Herefordshire.

Though it’s not clear exactly what the arrangement is between Coleman and the owners of either estate. Is he employed directly? Does he lease land at Glanusk? While his relationship with the estate may be opaque the article I’m using as my source says that the gamekeepers are employed by Mark Coleman. Again, I quote from the original piece:

“Stoke Edith is a close neighbour of the Sufton Estate. Some of you may recognise that name. In 2010, an under-gamekeeper from the Sufton Estate was convicted of 17 wildlife crime offences, including the use of Bendiocarb to poison raptors (see here, page 25). In the same year, the Sufton Estate Head gamekeeper was convicted of running a cannabis factory on the estate and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment (see here).

Amazingly, according to this article published in Fieldsports magazine: glanusk fieldsport article-1, the Head gamekeeper now at Glanusk Estate, employed by Mark Coleman, is someone with the same name as that convicted Head gamekeeper from Sufton Estate. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?

But Mark Coleman employs another gamekeeper who also has a familiar name. According to this Fieldsports magazine article: stoke edith fieldsport article-1, a gamekeeper employed by Mark Coleman on the Stoke Edith Estate shares the same name as a gamekeeper convicted of killing raptors and badgers on a shooting estate in Herefordshire in 2008. Imagine that! It surely can’t be the same person, because, as we’re so often told, criminal gamekeepers are not tolerated by the shooting industry, right?”

Mark Coleman

I think it’s important to know the relationships between the Glanusk Estate and Mark Coleman if we are to establish the chain of responsibility and culpability. According to the panel above, taken from the Glanusk website, the shoot has been “passed” to Mark Coleman, but what the hell does that mean? I guarantee he doesn’t own the land.

UPDATE 04.07.2016: I am indebted to ‘STaN’ at the Neath Ferret for drawing my attention to the fact that Mark Coleman’s company is not in the best of financial health. The company’s net worth is over three hundred thousand pounds the wrong side of zero. Read the latest accounts for yourself.

4/ There was a statement put out by Dyfed Powys Police in March which read:

“Dyfed Powys Police take allegations of wildlife crime very seriously and investigates all incidents reported to us. Following information received in 2012 and 2013, relating to the deaths of raptors in Powys, a full investigation was carried out in partnership with the RSPB, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Wildlife Management Team in the Welsh Government. During the investigation a number of search warrants under the Wildlife and Countryside Act were executed and two people were arrested in connection with the incidents. A file of evidence was subsequently submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who advised that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution.”

This statement claims that arrests were made but the Crown Prosecution Service decided against proceeding with a prosecution. We can only speculate as to why there was no prosecution.

5/ Irrespective of whether there were prosecutions there can be no doubt that crimes were committed, so why has the ‘Welsh’ media remained silent over “the most significant wildlife poisoning incident in Wales”, according to the RSPB? Would our hawk-eyed and diligent journos ignore a murder because there had not yet been a prosecution?

6/ And what of the ‘Welsh’ Government? Apart from doling out grants it doesn’t seem to take a great deal of interest in the Glanusk Estate. Grant funding in which Natural Resources Wales is involved, the same Natural Resources Wales of which Harry Legge-Bourke was a Board Member.

Otherwise, Harry seems to be involved in the world of intelligence and security, with the Chelsea GroupBox-It and something given on his LinkedIn profile as Seven Partners, a name under which I can find nothing other than this company in Lyon. He seems to be cashing in on the rise in global terrorism and concerns for security . . . for which shooting some of the stupidest creatures known to Nature may be ideal preparation. (Myself, I prefer fish in barrels.)

Dyfed Powys

Soon after the original post was published the Glanusk Estate made a statement that you can find here, accompanied by a pretty comprehensive demolition by Raptor Persecution UK.

The Estate obviously felt they hadn’t said enough because a further statement was issued on July 3rd. Here it is, again with a robust response from RPUK. In this statement blame for the poisonings is attributed to “a third party” and assures us that there was never any risk to public health.

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To sum up . . .

First off, you mustn’t think there’s anything unusual – other than the scale – about the poisonings at Glanusk, they happen all the time. That’s because there’s serious money in shooting game birds, and wherever we find an area of human activity where there’s big money to be made we’ll find persons ready to cut corners and break the law.

The reason for my interest in this case is due to the status and connections of those involved and the responses, or rather, the total disinterest, of officialdom and others.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that any member of the Legge-Bourke family laid poison to kill hawks and ravens. And I believe it’s perfectly possible for these crimes to have taken place on their land without their knowing. I suggest we need to start our search for the guilty parties lower down the food chain, with those who had both the motive and the opportunity.

But I am not suggesting that Mark Coleman himself laid poison to kill raptors or carrion feeders. I use the term ‘carrion feeders’ because a poisoned pheasant or raven could become food for badgers, foxes and smaller animals, perhaps even a domestic cat. Poisoning is indiscriminate.

pheasants

But what of those gamekeepers we are told already had police records over the border and, according to Raptor Persecution UK, were brought to Glanusk by Mark Coleman? Would it be reasonable to assume that these were the two arrested by Dyfed Powys Police? Though it may be significant that the police statement makes no mention of them actually being charged.

Do these gamekeepers still work on the Glanusk Estate?

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Even though the Legge-Bourkes didn’t lay any poison they are the indirect beneficiaries of that act because whoever did it acted to protect the shooting run by Mark Coleman who, we can be sure, pays the family a tidy sum to arrange his £11,000+ a day shooting parties.

The poisonings being first noticed in 2012 suggests they may have been done to ensure the successful launch of the venture after shooting re-started at Glanusk in 2010. Also significant may be that Glanusk offers mainly driven pheasant shooting, with limited ‘walk up’ grouse on offer; yet it is suggested that the hope is to expand the enterprise to a driven grouse venture (the only one in Wales). This would allow Mark Coleman to charge his punters even more. And as I said earlier, we are talking big bucks here.

So even though I am not for one minute suggesting that Mark Coleman laid down poison, he too would have benefited indirectly from greater numbers of birds surviving natural predators for him to offer to high-paying shooters.

Then there are other considerations, such as visitors who come and stay but not for the shooting. And how can we ignore the Green Man Festival, which must be another nice little earner for the Legge-Bourkes, and great publicity for Glanusk. Yet this is the kind of event attended by hippies and Greens. (My kind of people!) I can imagine some malodorous and dreadlocked shit-stirrer starting an online petition to move the Festival somewhere else if these killings of buzzards, ravens and red kites had received the publicity they deserved.

The simple and inescapable fact is that a prosecution, and the resultant publicity, could have cost the Glanusk Estate, and the well-connected Legge-Bourke family, a great deal of money. This is why there was no prosecution.

This case is a damning indictment of Wales in 2016. We have a Labour government down Cardiff docks telling us it’s fighting for ‘equality’ and practicing ‘openness’ and yet here we have an example of privilege, deference and feudalism straight out of the medieval period.

If a story about the killing of birds can be kept out of the public domain to protect persons with connections to the English royals what else is being kept from us?

P.S There’s more to come on this story so I suggest you keep up with developments on the website  https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/

 

Jun 072016
 

THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION

Late in the afternoon of Tuesday May 31st I received an e-mail from Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal in Cardiff. Ms Singlehurst-Ward was of the opinion that I’d been a naughty boy for saying things about her clients, Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. I of course responded.

Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s letter threatened me with a deadline of 4pm on June 3rd, just three days away. If I had not drastically re-written the offending posts by that time then all manner of unpleasant things would befall me. Being a reasonable man, I offered the compromise of taking down the offending pieces by June 10th, by when I would have published a ‘clarification’ post. Having heard nothing from Ms Singlehurst-Ward by the afternoon of June 2nd I thought I’d better get in touch again, to see if my offer had been accepted.

Finding that my offer had been rejected I had to accept that I was in a somewhat tricky position, and so I decided upon a tactical withdrawal by taking down the offending pieces rather than redacting the offending passages and making them unintelligible.

For there were things I’d written that could be misinterpreted, some of what I’d written might have been wrong (usually due to misinformation, often from official sources). And then Ms Singleton-Ward had produced a litany of earth-shattering inaccuracies such as someone described as a ‘former councillor’ by Pembrokeshire Housing not having been a councillor in Pembrokeshire, as I had reasonably assumed, and stated.

Hugh James logo

There followed a third round of correspondence between us and, hopefully, that’s the end of it, otherwise we’ll have enough material for an epistolary novel. But wait! – Ms Singlehurst-Ward and her clients haven’t read this post yet!

It seemed fairly obvious from the initial salvo that someone had gone to Ms Singlehurst-Ward with a dossier of posts from my blog. This was, basically, what she sent me; screen shots from my blog topped and tailed with her listing my heinous crimes. It probably didn’t take her long to put together.

But seeing as this assault on me is being funded out of the Welsh public purse, and seeing as Ms Singlehurst-Ward charges £260 an hour, maybe we should be thankful she hasn’t been asked to do too much work.

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WHERE I’M COMING FROM

In this blog, which has been running since January 2013 (and in the blog that preceded it on the Google platform), I have consistently criticised the Labour Party and the cronyism and nepotism associated with it; a system of patronage that has seen billions of pounds of public money wasted, a system that does so much to condemn Wales to relative poverty.

One of the great weaknesses of this system is that there is no effective oversight or monitoring of the bodies receiving large amounts of public funding. Much is left to self-evaluation and self-regulation, an approach that served the public interest so well with MPs, newspapers, banks, etc. On the other hand, one of the system’s strengths, certainly from the perspective of the Labour Party, is that it helps spread Labour’s influence.

Because if a Labour regime in Cardiff ultimately controls the purse strings of a body in an area where the Labour Party is weak, then a passive ‘loyalty’ of the not-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you variety can be assured. Which is rewarded with the ‘light touch’ regulation referred to in the previous paragraph.

Another reason this system flourishes is due to the lack of an effective political opposition. Plaid Cymru occasionally threatens to hold Labour to account but invariably falls into line because too many in that party still view Labour as comrades in arms against the real enemy of the Tories, or the here-today-gone-tomorrow ‘threat’ of UKIP.

But beyond that, Plaid Cymru is fundamentally weak. Even in the dictatorship that is Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru, the larger party in the ruling coalition, refuses to oust, or even curb, Mark James, which tells us that the chances of Plaid Cymru seriously threatening Labour’s entrenched hegemony in Wales are close to zero.

Another factor that allows Labour to chug on unworried by criticism is that Wales has no media to talk of, virtually nothing that is not owned or controlled from outside of Wales. What masquerades as our ‘national newspaper’ exists to promote Cardiff, to donate page after page to the Welsh Rugby Union and, despite having a readership plummeting towards man and dog proportions, is kept financially afloat by official announcements, legal notices and advertisements paid for by – the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government.

And yet, despite having no real opposition, and with no media to hold it to account, Labour is still losing its grip on Wales. Perhaps it’s an example of the old adage ‘You can’t fool all of the people all of the time’; but whatever the reason, Labour gained just a third of the vote in last month’s Assembly elections.

Wales in 2016 lives under a corrupt political system that generates little wealth and is over-reliant on hand-outs; but these hand-outs, rather than being used for the purposes the money was given – education and training, building of infrastructure, encouragement of twenty-first-century businesses – are instead used to build up a network beholden to those doling out the money.

Which results in Wales today having more in common with the developing world than with Western Europe. In a couple of weeks we’ll be voting on whether to stay in the EU, maybe we should be voting on whether or not to join the African Union.

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THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MATTER

Pembrokeshire Housing Association is a Registered Social Landlord (P072) with the ‘Welsh’ Government and also registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as an Industrial & Provident Society (23308R). Since 2008 Pembrokeshire Housing has received around £28m in Social Housing Grant from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and there are other funding streams.

The issues arise when we consider Pembrokeshire Housing’s subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, and to appreciate my concerns we need to go back a bit. In 1998 Pembrokeshire Housing formed a subsidiary called Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, the sort of name popular at the time as we prepared for the Millennium.

The genesis of Mill Bay Homes

The panel below is taken from what I believe to be the last return made by PH2000 Ltd to the FCA before the name was changed in 2012 to Mill Bay Homes Ltd. You’ll see that despite being in existence for some twelve years PH2000 Ltd did nothing. The Return says that turnover for the year was just £810, which seems mainly attributable to interest on assets of £30,995.

PH2000 Ltd FCA return 2011

Though it does perhaps raise the question of how a company that had never traded came into possession of any assets.

The nature of Mill Bay Homes

So what is Mill Bay Homes, why was it set up and what does it do? Apparently it was set up to do exactly what PH2000 Ltd never got round to doing: “undertake trading activity outside the charitable objectives of parent association”. In that case, why change the name?

The home page of the Mill Bay Homes website spells out quite clearly what it thinks it does, it seems to be all about that overworked word, ‘lifestyle’:

MBH Welcome

Elsewhere the website tells us, under the ‘Purchasers’ tab, that Mill Bay Homes seeks ‘First Time Buyers’, ‘Moving Up Buyers’, ‘Retirement Buyers’ and ‘Investment Buyers’. So that’s downsizers and upsizers catered for.

The first, and only, returns that I can find for Mill Bay Homes are those for 2012 / 2013, made to the Financial Conduct Authority. It will be seen that Mill Bay Homes has assets of over £300,000, of which £294,390 is “Work in progress”, presumably the development of 11 properties at Letterston, helped with a “Loan from parent company” of £245,000. This seems to be the only sizeable debt – but enough to build eleven new houses?

‘Welsh’ Government’

In the now removed posts I made the mistake of suggesting that Mill Bay Homes was not a Registered Social Landlord because I couldn’t find it on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s website where RSLs are listed. That was because the website did not include subsidiaries. I am happy to clear that up and direct you to the relevant page.

This registration, and the very number, L124, were inherited from Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 Ltd, which some might argue legitimises Mill Bay Homes as a RSL, being nothing more than PH2000 Ltd after a name change. Whereas others might say, ‘Ah, but Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd never traded, consequently there was neither need nor opportunity to challenge its right to be a RSL’. Others, that is, not necessarily me.

Because I’m sure that some people reading this article are wondering whether Mill Bay Homes – which to all intents and purposes is a private house builder – should be a Registered Social Landlord. A question motivated by nothing more than curiosity and a wish to see everything ship-shape.

So let me suggest that the ‘Welsh’ Government clears this matter up. All it needs to say is:

‘We are perfectly happy for Mill Bay Homes to remain a Registered Social Landlord while selling four-bedroom, detached properties, and building other dwellings that target buy-to-let investors and retirees from England’.

What could be easier than that, just to set the record straight?

Financial Conduct Authority

A similar problem presents itself with Mill Bay Homes status via-à-vis the Financial Conduct Authority, where – I am given understand – Mill Bay Homes is registered as an Industrial & Provident Society. And yet, things are not clear-cut.

Mill Bay Homes insists it is registered with the FCA, and indeed, in the second batch of correspondence between us, Ms Singlehurst-Ward even supplied copies of what she said were letters accompanying those returns. Yet the FCA says Mill Bay Homes has filed nothing since 2013. The website says the same thing.

I can’t help wondering if this conundrum might have something to do with the Co-operative and Community Benefits Societies Act 2014. This new legislation seems to suggests that Industrial and Provident Societies are now a thing of the past – replaced by ‘registered societies’ – though the label may be retained by an I&PS in existence when the Act came into force.

Where I’m really confused – and here perhaps Ms Singlehurst-Ward or one of her colleagues can help – is by the information contained in the panel below. Under the new legislation is Mill Bay Homes is ‘”bona fide” co-operative’ or a ‘for the benefit of the community’ organisation?

FCA new rules

I’m genuinely confused, so I shall write to the FCA asking for clarification of Mill Bay Homes’ status. I’m sure officials at Mill Bay Homes have already written to the FCA, demanding an explanation as to why two years’ returns fail to show on the FCA website.

My confusion is not helped by Ms Singlehurst-Ward being unable to provide any evidence of the FCA receiving those submissions beyond an unspecific automated response. And while the Mill Bay Homes return for y/e 31.03.2014 is in the name of Mill Bay Homes alone, for y/e 31.03.2015 the return was made for MBH by Pembrokeshire Housing.

Is the difference in procedure between end of March 2014 and end of March 2015 somehow linked with the new legislation that came into force on August 1st 2014?

Help to Buy – Wales

In the posts now committed to the Outer Darkness I wrote of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and Mill Bay’s involvement. Specifically, I drew attention to the fact that one of the beneficiaries of HtB on the Pentlepoir development, Adam Karl Uka, is a close personal friend of Nick Garrod, Land and Construction Manager for Mill Bay Homes.

Ms Singlehurst-Ward had this to say: “For the avoidance of doubt the connection between our client’s employee (Garrod) and Mr Uka could not have had any impact upon the latter’s application to the Help to Buy scheme because our client does not administer that funding”.

So there you have it. Being buddies with the builder is unconnected with being allowed to buy the most desirable property on the development, a property offering access to Help to Buy, and one that, furthermore, was extensively modified to Uka’s personal specifications.

UPDATE 21:26 (see image, click to enlarge)

Uka land grab

There were quite a number of other Help to Buy properties at the Pentlepoir development. Many more than at all Mill Bay Homes’ other developments combined.

This talk of Pentlepoir brings us to an issue covered in one of my now lost posts that clearly annoyed Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s clients. I’m referring to my claim that Mill Bay Homes were, in the specific example I used, ‘Neighbours from Hell’. So let me explain why I used that emotive term.

‘Neighbours from Hell’

The property bought by Adam Karl Uka underwent considerable modifications, and these changes caused a lot of anguish and no little suffering to the family most directly affected.

Before going into details of their plight let me clear up the issue of planning permission, for Ms Singlehurst-Ward seems to believe there was no deviation from the original planning permission. This document makes it clear there was deviation. The ‘Plot 10’ referred to in the document became 35 Coppins Park, Adam Karl Uka’s residence.

What Ms Singlehurst-Ward actually said in relation to planning permission was, “All properties (at Pentlepoir) were constructed in accordance with the planning permission granted”. Maybe, but in the case of 35 Coppins Park, it was not in accordance with the original planning permission.

As you can work out from the ‘Variation’ document, the new property became both higher, raised by at least a metre, thereby overlooking neighbouring properties, and it also moved closer to the property most directly affected. This resulted in work being carried out by Mill Bay’s contractors right up to the boundary of a neighbouring property, resulting in damage.

Both proximity to the boundary and some of the damage caused are clearly visible in the photographs below. (Click to enlarge.) Other problems were subsidence and damage to a boundary fence.

MBH Pentlepoir composite

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the contractors showed they had a sense of humour (or something) with this almost unbelievable incident in which a digger bucket was deliberately swung towards two neighbours. Just watch this video. The neighbours could have been seriously injured or even killed by this idiotic stunt. Here’s a still showing how close the bucket came to the head of the woman.

MBH digger bucket, head

There is no question that for one family at least, Mill Bay Homes definitely proved to be the ‘Neighbour from Hell’. Read these neighbours’ chilling account of what they had to put up with here.

It may be significant that for Phase 2 at Pentlepoir, which included Mr Uka’s house, and where neighbours experienced such problems, the contractors did not register with the Considerate Constructors Scheme, as they had for Phase 1. I wonder why?

Considerate Constructors

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‘SUBSIDIARIES’

The relationship between a ‘parent’ organisation such as Pembrokeshire Housing and a subsidiary like Mill Bay Homes is one I’ve encountered many times before in my delving into the Third Sector and other publicly-funded outfits.

These subsidiaries are often known as ‘trading arms’. After many years investigating the use of public funding by all manner of imaginative organisations I still get a little frisson when I encounter the term.

Here’s an example from early last year when someone drew my attention to Canoe Wales. My first post was White Water Up Shit Creek, followed by Canoe Wales 2, and finally, Canoe Wales 3: Paddling One’s Own Canoe. Not.

It’s quite a complicated picture of an organisation receiving public funding but with money and tangible assets passing between it and subsidiaries, with subsidiaries folding and debts being written off. But the worry here, and this applies to other groups I’ve looked at, is that the funder – in this case, Sport Wales – seems only interested in the parent body because it is the one receiving the moolah. Nobody seems concerned about subsidiaries that may be indirect recipients of public funding.

I am not for one minute suggesting that this is the sort of thing that happens between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, I merely use it as a warning of the kind of problems that can arise when a publicly-funded body sets up subsidiaries or ‘trading arms’.

That said, there is one area where Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes could certainly learn from Canoe Wales. After publishing the first post I had a telephone call from a representative of the paddlers. A charming Caledonian gent named Mark Williamson. He even invited me over to their White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn.

I was tempted, but then I thought, ‘What if it’s a dastardly plot to drown old Jac!’ Because I’ve heard that there are one or two people out there who’d like to do that! (Difficult to believe, I know, but there you are.)

The point is that Mr Williamson didn’t run to a £260 an hour solicitor, he fronted up like a man and said, ‘Let me put you straight on a few things’. Just think of all the misunderstandings that could be avoided, all the problems that could be resolved, and all the public money that could be saved, if more people adopted that approach.

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A PLAGUE OF LAWYERS

For a sensitive soul such as I it was quite disconcerting to be on the receiving end of a sudden and unexpected assault from Hugh James, but I soon learnt that I wasn’t the only one getting attention.

At around the same time I received my initial letter from Hugh James my server Systemau Cyfrifiadurol Cambria also received a threatening letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward. It read ” . . . website hosted by you . . . defamatory . . . Jac utter bastard”. Almost certainly done in the hope that it would lead to the plug being pulled on my blog. Gwilym, of SCCambria, gave a robust response.

But it didn’t end there!

For on Friday June 3rd I learnt that the family in Pentlepoir that had suffered so much, they who had the digger bucket swung at them, had also received a letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James. Her clients obviously knew who had been giving me information. (Which says a lot, if you think about it.)

I loved the bit in the letter that read, “Whilst out clients have no desire to stifle free speech or indeed honest debate . . . “. Sorry, Tracey, love, but that’s exactly what your now embarrassed clients are trying to do.

The aggrieved couple referred the threatening Hugh James letter to both their solicitor and Dyfed Powys Police.

Then, to cap an extraordinary week, Gwilym received a second letter, from another solicitor, this time a Wayne Beynon of Capital Law in Cardiff. This letter had nothing to do with Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes.

capital_law_Logo_500x260

Beynon was acting on behalf of Leighton Andrews. You must remember him, he used to be the Assembly Member for Rhondda. He was upset about a comment to my post Assembly Elections 2016. This comment suggested a link between a jailed paedophile a failed PCC candidate and Andrews.

The strange thing about this was that the complaint came down to a single comment made to this post by a third party. So why not write to me? I would have removed it, as I did when Gwilym told me about it. (Here’s my reply.)

While writing this I’ve heard from Gwilym, telling me that he’s had a reply from Beynon. It says, “I have also been contacted by your client, Mr Jones, who has removed the unlawful statements from his website.” And there was me thinking that decisions on what was unlawful involved the police, judges, courts, juries. Perhaps we should do away with the rest of the apparatus and hand the legal system over to lawyers.

What are we to make of the events of last week? If it had just been a letter to me then I would have assumed that I had pissed off Pembrokeshire Housing and / or Mill Bay Homes. But the letters to my server, and the people in Pentlepoir? And then the letter on behalf of Leighton Andrews?

If I wanted to be generous, then I suppose I’d dismiss it all as coincidence. But on reflection I think it could be an attempt to a) deter anyone from associating themselves with this blog and, b) get this blog closed down.

Which I find rather encouraging; for it suggests I might be doing something right!

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MY MOTIVATION

I do not know any of the leading players in Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes, so there can be no question of me being motivated by personal animus. I have had no dealings of any description with PH or MBH. I have never even lived in Pembrokeshire. And I stand to make no personal gain from my writings on PH and MBH.

My motivation in my enquiries into PH and MBH – and countless other organisations I have investigated – has always been protection of the public interest and defence of the public purse; these ambitions being inseparable from the desire to see transparency in the operations of devolved government, local government and the Third Sector.

I find myself writing this on the anniversary of the attack on the toll gate at Yr Efail Wen. A banner often carried by ‘Rebecca’s followers read ‘Cyfiawnder nid Cyfraith’ (Justice not Law). As appropriate now as it was back then, because not a lot seems to have changed in almost two hundred years.

Wales is still a land with too much law and too little justice. And as ever, it’s those with deep pockets who can afford lawyers – but too often nowadays their pockets bulge with our money!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

NEXT: The EU referendum, and why I’m voting Leave

May 022016
 

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

CONSTITUENCY SEAT

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

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

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

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

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

My Choice

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

Louise Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REGIONAL LIST

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

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

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

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

Petitions Committee

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

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

Watson Elin Jones

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

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

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

THE PCC ELECTION

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

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

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

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

David Taylor canvassing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Choice

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

Arfon leaflet 1

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ END ~ ~ ~

 

Apr 112016
 

THE TRAVAILS OF CANTREF

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

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

Cantref logo

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

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

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

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

Cantref piss-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interesting employment record that raises a number of questions:

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

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

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

pobl

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

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

The James Gang

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

Carmarthenshire LDP

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

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

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

*

NATHAN GILL MEP

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

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

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

Gill church

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

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

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

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

*

JOHN BOY BAYLISS

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

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

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

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

Bayliss address

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

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

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

David Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Apr 022016
 

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

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

But first, let me indulge in a little reminiscing.

*

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

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

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

Llandarcy

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

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

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

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

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

*

THE POLITICAL DIMENSION

The Conservatives

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

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

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

Gold cars

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

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

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

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

*

The Labour Party

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

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

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

Labour logo

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

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

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

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Plaid Cymru

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

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

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

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Liberal Democrats

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

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

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

Petitions Committee

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

But I digress.

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

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

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The Wales Branch of the Green Party of Englandandwales

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

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

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

Green steel

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

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UKIP

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

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

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

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

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

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SNP

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

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

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

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

Surely Labour wouldn’t do that?

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

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EU Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

 

Feb 182016
 

This post examines two important votes being held in 2016; the Welsh Assembly elections on May 9th and the EU referendum on (possibly) June 23rd.

First, we shall look at the elections to our beloved and respected Assembly, wherein may already be found talent dazzling to the point of being a hazard to pilots (not that many of those intrepid aviators will be heading for the local airport) before moving on to consider the anticipated EU referendum

WELSH ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS

At present, Labour has 30 of the 60 seats, and is almost certain to lose a few, the only questions are, which ones, and to which other party or parties will those seats be lost?

To help you make comparisons I have compiled the table below, which shows each party’s percentage of the vote in 2011 compared with the percentages predicted by the latest available poll. You will note that the figures in the recent poll do not add up to 100, this is almost certainly due to respondents stating their intention to vote for the kind of minor parties that combined to give us the ‘Other’ figure in the 2011 results.

Assembly elections poll

These poll figures look credible for Labour but rather odd for the other parties due to little or no difference between the constituency votes and the regional list votes. Even so, the poll confirms that Labour will be the biggest loser and Ukip the biggest winner.

Though the level of Ukip’s support is rather surprising seeing as the party keeps choosing unknown or unattractive candidates (the one often mutating into the other) and in other ways shooting itself in both feet. It begins to look as if Ukip’s leaders could be filmed sacrificing Romanian migrants on Aberystwyth promenade, bollock naked with their nether regions painted bright green, and still not lose support.

As for the other parties, it’s very much a case of little or no change which will, after almost a year of Tory government at Westminster, be a relief to the Conservatives; an even bigger relief to the Lib Dems following their near-extermination in the last May’s UK elections; but a major disappointment to Plaid Cymru, who should be the main beneficiary of Labour and Lib Dems losing support.

Though looked at from another angle Plaid’s level of support might pleasantly surprise some. Let me explain. The Party of Wales would have us believe that it’s a radical party, offering change, improvement. Yet down in Carmarthenshire, where Plaid became the larger party in a coalition last year (after the ‘Independents’ refused to work with Labour any more), Mark James, the tyrannical and vindictive chief executive, carries on as if nothing has happened!

The other party to be disappointed by the poll findings will be the Green Party of Englandandwales. Despite claimed increases in membership, and Welsh people being spotted in the ranks, it seems that the Greens still have difficulty in attracting support. But then, this is a party so English, so frightfully middle class in its membership and support, that it makes the Tories look like a Welsh proletarian rabble.

As I’ve been predicting for some time now, after the Assembly elections we shall probably see Labour in coalition with Plaid Cymru. Though if by some some electoral miracle Labour can cobble together a coalition with Lib Dems and Greens that leaves Plaid Cymru out in the cold, then Plaid will be condemned to another five years of impotence. A period the party may struggle to survive.

Ukip will do very well. In June last year I predicted the Kippers would gain 7 seats, and in October I upped my estimate to 10. (The latest poll suggests 9.) If, as is now being predicted, the EU referendum is held in June, and that EU campaign overshadows the Assembly elections, then Ukip will be the only beneficiary because all the other parties are pro EU and will be singing the same song.

And here’s a thought to cheer you all up. If the Assembly elections are indeed dominated by the EU referendum debate then it is not inconceivable that Ukip could win seats in ‘volatile’ constituencies that in May will be five- or even six-cornered contests. Gaining a percentage of the vote in the low to middle twenties could do it.

‘Nathan Gill, AM for Ynys Môn’ has a certain ring to it, n’est pas?

Gill of course is currently an MEP, which is a handy link to the next part of this post.

THE EU REFERENDUM

THE BIG PICTURE

When I was young and idealistic, the matinee idol of the nationalist fringe, I considered myself to be quite the ‘European’. With my study of history, my admiration for Charles de Gaulle, being avowedly anti-communist, and after reading The American Challenge, I persuaded myself that a strong Europe was needed as a bulwark against both the USSR and the USA.

I still believe I was right, but the world has moved on. For a start, the Soviet Union is no more, and its demise was the cue for the USA to begin its advance in eastern Europe, first with its war on Serbia and then by gradually encircling Russia with newly signed up members of NATO. Have you ever stopped to think how weird that is?

NATO started life in 1949 as an alliance to deter the Soviet Union from invading western Europe (if indeed the USSR ever had that intention). It was a Cold War organisation, from the era of Dr Strangelove, which should have ceased to exist along with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, yet NATO has expanded since the Cold War ended. This is bizarre.

Strangelove

Unless of course you understand that the USA (and to a lesser degree, the ‘West’) must have enemies. Now this presents a problem for a country bordered only by friendly and peaceful Canada to the north and to the south by a third world state where the strongest armed forces appear to be those of the drug cartels.

Clearly this lack of a credible threat is an inconvenience to the military-industrial complex, neocons, the National Rifle Association, big corporations, news media, and politicians looking to make a name for themselves. So ‘enemies’ have to found elsewhere, which has resulted in a succession of ‘threats’ being exposed since the Second World War. These are often pantomime villains of dusky hue, with difficult to pronounce names, and living in far-off lands of which most Americans know very little. Plus of course we have the post WWII constant – USSR / Russia.

At this point many of you will be wondering why, in a section headed ‘The EU Referendum’, I’m banging on about NATO and US foreign policy. There are two principle reasons.

First, a single political unit allows the US – as we are now seeing with TTIP – to gain preferential access to the richest market on earth through influencing just a few people. The danger here should be obvious to all. Second, the EU is viewed by many US policy-makers as a sister-body or even an extension of NATO. It’s no coincidence that NATO and the EU have marched east almost hand in hand.

Let me try to explain the NATO-EU link with the table I’ve compiled below. It gives the dates that eastern European countries joined first NATO and then the European Union. And it has always been in that order (sometimes simultaneous), but never is EU membership allowed before joining NATO.

The delay in Albania’s accession to the EU can be explained by the fact that the country is a ramshackle land with large parts, especially the area bordering the Serbian province of Kosovo, controlled by people-smugglers, drug-traffickers, organ-harvesters and a motley assortment of old-fashioned vendetta-pursuing, blood-feuding bandit chiefs. Albania’s chief export is gangsters.

NATO

An exception to the NATO-followed-by-EU rule is of course Turkey, which has been a NATO member since 1952. No surprise then to learn that there have always been voices in the upper reaches of the EU arguing in favour of admitting Turkey. ‘Bridge to the Islamic world’ and other bollocks has been spouted in support of this idiocy. The truth is that the USA wants to reward its faithful ally – and currently chief Bear-baiter – so it periodically applies pressure on the EU to let Turkey join the club.

Turkey, that backward, Islamist state where the security services bomb their own people. Turkey, the country that persecutes its fifteen million Kurds and has a very ambivalent attitude towards ISIL. Turkey, that just a century ago introduced the world to the concept of holocaust with its butchering of the Armenians.

In the ongoing conflict in Syria the USA has encouraged Turkey to provoke Russia, and although the US may belatedly be trying to rein in its proxy, there remains the possibility that this dysfunctional country could start World War Three. If Russia does retaliate to Turkish provocation then we (and here I have to mean the UK), as fellow-members of NATO, are Treaty-bound to line up with Turkey.

How do you feel about going to war with Russia because Turkey has done something stupid and deliberately provocative?

THE VIEW FROM WALES

Leaving aside these wider concerns, what should be our approach to this referendum from a purely Welsh perspective?

‘Wales does well out the EU’ is a mantra trotted out by those urging us to vote to stay in. ‘Does well’ is just a euphemism for hand-outs, we export little. In other words, we get EU grants because we are so bloody poor. Which makes this ‘argument’ just another defence of begging-bowl politics, an acceptance of Wales’ poverty and deprivation.

And what has happened to the billions we’ve received in EU funding? Where are the great infrastructure projects? Where is the multi-skilled workforce we’ve trained? Where are the successful indigenous companies the funding was used to start? Nowhere to be seen, bois bach!

That’s because the greater part of this windfall has been wasted on the shysters and parasites of the Third Sector. Most of whom – unsurprisingly – seem to have Labour Party connections. 

If the UK left the EU then the UK government would have to make up the lost EU funding. If it didn’t, we’d have to go without the Third Sector. (Don’t cry!) And if the UK government didn’t make up the shortfall, then it might cause a few more people here to wake from their slumbers.

Looking further afield, the UK leaving the EU would have far more serious repercussions for England, more specifically south east England, and to be very, very specific, the City of London. Because if the UK left the EU then many of the banks, investment houses and other financial institutions would decamp for Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, Berlin, etc.

This would result in tens of thousands of very well paid jobs being lost to London, and a few hundred thousand more would be lost in a knock-on effect. So just spare a thought for all those Lamborghini salesmen, tailors, high-class hookers, hairdressers, tattooists, coke suppliers, estate agents, jewellers, etc., etc.

eu_logo

Remove the City of London from the balance sheet and the economy of England heads south very fast. With the City of London creating less wealth the UK economy must suffer, and despite the malaise being centred on London we can be sure that – as ever – the Old Etonians will see to it that peripheral areas suffer most.

This should serve as another wake-up call to the slumberers who unquestioningly believe that London rule is best for Wales.

Another argument used is that we must vote to stay in the EU to prove how different we are to England (assuming the English vote to leave). A position that invariably cites the fact that Scotland will definitely vote to stay in. Let’s look at this argument in a bit more detail.

First, Wales is not Scotland. The obvious stated, let me add that many hundreds of thousands of Scots will vote to stay in the EU for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the EU itself. It’s all about promoting independence, hoping that England – or Englandandwales – votes for Brexit.

Should there be a vote south of the border to leave the EU, and should that decision lead to Scottish independence, then it will reverberate here no matter how Wales voted. Scottish independence will concentrate minds in Wales no matter how it comes about and will make redundant whatever views may have been held in Wales when Scottish independence was just a vague possibility.

So let me spell it out. How Wales votes in the EU referendum is almost unimportant. The vote is being hyped up in Wales by those posturers who like to regard themselves as ‘progressive’, and done in order to show how superior they are to the ‘xenophobes’ who want to leave the wonderful EU. Smug, precious, and self-deluding bollocks!

CONCLUSION

There is no party standing in the Assembly elections for which a nationalist can honestly vote. That being so, there is an argument to be made for voting for any party that might help weaken the regional socialist party that for decades now has done so much damage to the Welsh cause.

Personally, I probably won’t bother voting. There’s a temptation to toddle along to the polling station and scribble ‘None of the above’ on my ballot paper, but that’s always struck me as a bit desperate unless part of an organised campaign.

When it comes to the EU referendum I shall definitely vote to leave the EU. That’s because the EU we know today is a great disappointment for someone of my age who genuinely wanted to see a strong and democratic Europe play a leading role in the world.

Instead, we have a byzantine nightmare that I suspect no one properly understands, a monster created by bureaucrats that seems to have been subverted to serve US economic and strategic interests rather than working for the good of Europeans.

And yet, I could still be converted to a united Europe, a European army, a European diplomatic corps . . . but my Europe would need leaders of stature, not the anonymous, paper-shuffling committeemen we are cursed with today.

If only the General would come back . . .

Jan 272016
 

Let me make it clear at the outset what kind of ‘care’ I’m talking about. This is not the ‘care’ that involves helping old dears out of bed, making them breakfast, and listening – yet again – to how Uncle Arthur single-handedly won the Boer War. No, this is an entirely different kind of ‘caring’, one that most people are only vaguely aware of.

In addition, this post pulls together a few threads that might otherwise be left as loose ends. For example, in my enquiries into the housing associations operating in the south west I’ve come across puzzling references to the ‘Ceredigion Care Society’ or the ‘Pembrokeshire Care Society’, as you might expect, these references provided an incentive to make further enquiries,

Then there was the reliable source who told me last year about young tearaways turning up in Cardigan, with families in tow, being placed in temporary accommodation before moving on to something more permanent, provided by housing associations or private landlords. Few if any of these arrivals seemed to have pre-existing connections to Ceredigion, or to any other part of Wales.

Finally we have the housing crisis in Aberystwyth I referred to in this recent post. No, this is not a housing shortage, this is the exact opposite: student flats built at the very time the number of students applying to Aberystwyth University went into sharp decline, coupled with houses of multiple occupation in the town – many owned by men of fraternal tendencies – standing empty or under-occupied for the same lack of bright-eyed young things thirsting for knowledge.

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Perhaps the best way to start would be with a list of the various bodies using the ‘Care’ label that have operated in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire in recent decades, some now defunct and one in the process of being wound up. After the name (containing link to website) you’ll see their Charity Commission number (with link to relevant CC page); date they were formed (and, where applicable, wound up); their company number (if applicable, also with link) and the date of Incorporation; finally, a link to the most recent available accounts.

  • The Dyfed Care Society, 506768, 22.09.1977 – 09.03.2000.
  • The Carmarthen Care Society, 508420, 05.02.1979 – 25.10.2001.
  • The Pembrokeshire Care Society (1), 508848, 18.06.1979 – 16.12.1996. 

The Cardiganshire / Ceredigion operation was clearly the earliest and its original remit was:

“1. The relief of poverty, the relief of sickness and the advancement of education and training amongst: A) Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty in the community, or any penal establishment or institution B) The families and descendants of such persons described in A) above C) Persons in need, hardship or distress.

2. The advancement of public education concerning all aspects of crime prevention.”

The Dyfed, Carmarthen and original Pembrokeshire societies used almost exactly the same wording. Telling us they were linked bodies helping ex-criminals . . . of whom there must be hundreds every year returning to the mean streets and gang life of Ystrad Meurig, Marloes and Ponterwyd.

Though I’m intrigued by the use of the word “descendants”. Does this mean that you could have demanded help if your great-great-great-great-grandfather was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread? I also love the term “Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, there are just so many euphemisms for being banged up.

The Constitution for the Ceredigion Care Society seems to have been changed (24.09.1999) and under ‘Activities’ on its Charity Commission page it now says, “PROVIDES HUMAN RESOURCES PROVIDES HOUSING SUPPORT PROVIDE INCREASED HOUSING OPTIONS TO THOSE THREATENED WITH HOMELESSNESS ADVOCACY”. I don’t know whether this is just unpunctuated or an attempt at shouted stream of consciousness. Either way, this change of emphasis brings it into line with the Pembrokeshire Care Society. The concern is no longer for ex-cons but the ‘homeless’ and others it can be claimed are in need of accommodation.

As I’ve said, the Ceredigion Care Society is currently being wound up in favour of  Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. Though this successor body is no longer restricted to Ceredigion as it claims to be operating in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and even Powys.

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As you will have noticed above, the Pembrokeshire Care Society and Cymdeithas Gofal are also limited companies, with the trustees serving as directors. The Pembrokeshire outfit is headquartered in Haverfordwest, conveniently near to Pembrokeshire Housing. Here’s a link to the most recent Annual Return received by Companies House, listing the eight current directors. (While the Companies House form offers the option of giving Welsh as one’s nationality, all describe themselves as ‘British’.)

And here’s the latest Annual Return for Cymdeithas Gofal, based at 18 Chalybeate Street in Aberystwyth, but also owning or leasing 26 Cambrian Street (night shelter) and 21 Terrace Road. (The situation at Cymdeithas Gofal is not much better, with a distinctly English-looking board saved by what could be seen as a token Welshman in the form of Y Parchedig Cen Llwyd.)

And here are the most recent accounts. For Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care Society. So what do they tell us? Let’s look at Pembrokeshire first. With charity accounts I tend to cut to the chase to see a) where the money comes from, and b) where it goes.

We see that £308,279 came from the ‘Supporting People Programme‘ administered by the ‘Welsh’ Government. It’s worth remembering that ‘vulnerable people’ as used in this context can mean “persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, drug addicts, alcoholics, those who find themselves ‘homeless’ after being evicted from their previous home, and others you might not want as neighbours.

Update 22:48: I am indebted to Jacqui Thompson for guiding me to this report on the shambles in administering the Supporting People grant in neighbouring Carmarthenshire.

The other major source of income – accounting for £224,020 – is listed as “Advice, Pathway Letting & Bond Scheme”, which was new to me. However, I soon found Pathway Lettings . . . “Part of Pembrokeshire Care Society”!

Pathway Lettings

Seeing as this is ‘Welsh’ Government funding the next stop was obviously the website for that shower, where I found no reference to Pathway Lettings. Which was all very confusing until I scrolled further down in the accounts and found (top of page 15) a reference to ‘WG PATH’, clearly a reference to something, again linking to the ‘Welsh’ Government, but what, exactly?

PATH

Googling ‘PATH homelessness’ took me first across the Atlantic, where it is the acronym for Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, a federal programme designed to help those who are homeless and suffer severe mental issues. This seemed to fit the bill, but to confuse the picture the Pembrokeshire Care Society has in the past been known by the acronyms PASH and PATH, explained in the panel below.

Pembrokeshire Path

So what exactly is Pembrokeshire Action for The (sic) Homeless? Googling the name takes us straight to the Pembrokeshire Care Society. So despite the hype about a ‘forum’ it’s little more than another name for the Pembrokeshire Care Society.

Then it struck me that much of the funding involved here could be in the form of the “Bond Scheme” referred to, and sure enough, under the ‘Services‘ tab on the Pembrokeshire Care website I found this.

Bond certificate

And on the Pathway Lettings Home page you’ll find this, which at least acknowledges the support of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Pembrokeshire bond scheme

All of which poses a number of questions:

  • How much homelessness is there in Pembrokeshire to justify this funding?
  • Are there figures available on homelessness in Pembrokeshire from a body independent of the Pembrokeshire Care Society?
  • Isn’t there an incentive for organisations being funded to combat homeless (or anything else) to exaggerate the scale of the problem in order to secure more funding?
  • In pursuit of that objective an obvious route to more funding is to ‘import’ homeless people from outside of Wales. Were this to be happening, what response – if any – could we expect from the ‘Welsh’ Government?
  • Why is the ‘Welsh’ Government giving funding to a “Social Lettings Agency”, Pathway Lettings, rather than to the Pembrokeshire Care Society? Is it to disguise the ultimate destination of the money? If not, why are we paying for an extra and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy? Or is the ‘Welsh’ Government funding the Pembrokeshire Care Society’s empire building?
  • Why can’t we have a body independent of the ‘Welsh’ Government and the Notional Assembly to monitor how public funding is spent in Wales?

Just one final thing that caught my eye in the Pembrokeshire Care Society accounts, under the heading ‘Designated Funds’ (page 19), was the figure of £100,000 for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. What the hell is that about!

Reassuring, I suppose, in that it suggests that if there’s that much money available for such a purpose then the homelessness situation in Pembrokeshire can’t be that bad.

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Moving on now to the accounts for the ever-expanding Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. As with Pembrokeshire Care, we see that over half of the money received is spent on salaries and pensions, a reminder that charities like this provide good jobs for those ‘on the inside’ and those they know.

The Cymdeithas Gofal accounts were certainly easier to follow than the Pembrokeshire Care accounts, and different in many ways. For example, the Bond Scheme accounts for only a very small proportion of the income and I was initially surprised to see no reference to the Supporting People Programme that is Pembrokeshire Care’s most valuable source of income. (I also found it odd, five years after the 2011 referendum, to see Cymdeithas Gofal, despite its Welsh pretensions, still referring to the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’.)

Then I saw the entry ‘Ceredigion County Council – supporting’. I went to the council website for confirmation. So why is this funding administered on behalf of the ‘Welsh’ Government by the local authority in Ceredigion but given direct to the charity in Pembrokeshire?

Cymdeitas Gofal Incoming Resources

In fairness, Cymdeithas Gofal does raise some of its own money. Of its total income of £1,152,457 for y/e 31.03.2015, as shown in the panel below (from page 12 of the accounts) £427,898 is not in the form of direct grant funding. After the various grants, totalling £724,559, the most rewarding income stream is ‘Rents receivable’. This is, presumably, rents received for accommodation in the buildings Cymdeithas Gofal has bought, with public funding? If so, who holds the deeds on these properties, and if they aren’t in public ownership, shouldn’t they be?

Cymdeithas Gofal Incoming Total

One major source of funding we did not encounter in Pembrokeshire is the £175,408 ‘Welsh Assembly Government S180 Night Shelter Funding. (This page provides a link to further information on S180.) As I’ve mentioned above, this night shelter is at 26 Cambrian Street. Though if it’s been running since 2002 – as this clip from the Cambrian News tells us – why did the ‘Welsh’ Government need to dish out 175 grand last year, which may be more than a terraced house in the centre of Aber’ is even worth?

On the plus side, there is no six-figure sum allocated by Cymdeithas Gofal for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. So that’s something to be thankful for, eh?

My original thought when I approached this subject was that Cymdeithas Gofal was gradually taking over the south west, and that Pembrokeshire Care would be the next to go. But the more I’ve learnt about their relationship I now see something more  subtle and complex at work. Maybe I watch too many Mafia movies and TV series, but it looks like the rackets have been carved up in a way that satisfies both parties. (‘Yous can have construction an’ we’ll take da Teamsters. Capice?)

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Many of these Care societies’ clients of course move on to become tenants of the local housing associations, to justify more funding for housing associations, which clears up one loose end. Then there’s the young tearaways from God knows where turning up at some kind of ‘halfway house’ in Aberteifi, a border town where both organisations operate and where Cymdeithas Gofal has a £34,000 a year ‘Young Persons Project’. Finally, the housing problem in Aberystwyth, well, just think about, those empty student flats have to be filled somehow. See how it all fits neatly together!

The growth of the Third Sector in Wales was inevitable given that the only political parties (other than the Lib Dems) that have ever been in power down Cardiff docks are statist, anti-business parties. These parties – Labour and Plaid Cymru – are devoid of ideas when it comes to creating wealth, but their imagination knows no bounds when it comes to spending money. With this hostility to ‘nasty’ business comes the inevitable impulse to help those they view as the victims of a heartless capitalist system.

This ‘Throwing money around like a drunken sailor’, as my mamgu used to say (no offence intended to partying mariners), has been brought home to us this week with two cases that saw tens of millions of pounds of public money needlessly expended or lost. The first being the land deal on the outskirts of Cardiff and the other the purchase of Cardiff airport. Though in defence of the ‘Welsh’ Government let me state that the figures involved here are peanuts compared to what has been wasted in Cardiff since the dawn of devolution.

Cymdeith Gofal Objectives

The waste of public funding we have seen in Wales since 1999 could not have happened if the sham devolution we suffer had not brought together an unholy triumvirate to work against Welsh interests.

First we have the aforementioned politicians of the Left, believing that ‘helping those in need’ (even if they’ve been dumped on you) is the right thing to do; then we have the politicians of the Right, who will oppose anything that might disadvantage England, unconcerned that their position invariably disadvantages Wales; and finally, we have civil servants answering to London but ostensibly serving as ‘advisers’ to ‘Welsh’ Government ministers. (Though it should be understood that many politicians on the Left will also adopt an anti-Welsh position, and defend it by arguing that to do otherwise would be ‘narrow’, ‘insular’, ‘nationalistic’ or ‘racist’.)

The only way to change this is to reject all of the existing parties because none of them has either the capability or the will to curb the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds every year on professional grant-grabbers – most of whom seem to originate outside of Wales – who exaggerate or import problems in order to keep themselves in cosy, well-pensioned jobs funded entirely by the Welsh public purse.

Wales needs a political revolution to overthrow the fools who fund the shysters and those who turn a blind eye because this system damages a country for which they have no real love, a country whose integration with England they will not oppose. Our country.