Mar 072017
 

Neil McEvoy

There’s no question that Neil McEvoy divides opinion, both within his own party, Plaid Cymru, and also within the wider community. The one place where opinion seems to be united is in the Labour Party, where people universally hate him. In many ways he is the enfant terrible of Welsh politics, a role that has gone unfilled for far too long.

Now you know me, in my book, being hated by ‘Welsh’ Labour is no bad thing, and can very often be a mark of distinction given the odious bastards we find in that corrupt and self-serving gang of liars, crooks, bigots, careerists and BritLanders. (‘BritLanders’ are sad cases who delude themselves that Britain or the UK is something other than England by another name.)

Neil McEvoy’s latest mention in the headlines is due to an appearance last week before something called the Adjudication Panel for Wales over an allegation of bullying. Now as kangaroo courts go, this one could make it from Cardiff to Bangor in a single hop, because the whole process was a stitch-up from start to finish. The charge hinges on an uncontested remark, the issue being to whom it was directed.

Leaving Cardiff Civil Justice Centre with a constituent in July 2015 after an unsuccessful appeal against eviction for non-payment of rent McEvoy said, “I can’t wait until May 2017 when the restructure of the council happens”. He maintains that he was talking to his constituent, the council official thought it was directed at her, and that it could be construed as a threat to her job if and when Plaid Cymru was running the council. (Which in July 2015 seemed a very unlikely prospect.)

Those of us of a certain age, who have enjoyed the company of ‘colourful’ characters, and frequented the kinds of “low dives” our mothers always told us to avoid, may think that as threats go – and even if it was directed at the council official – this was mild to the point of being innocuous. There was no weapon involved, not a hand was laid, there wasn’t even a swear word employed! And it would appear that the official took the same view . . . but then the Labour Party got to hear of it.

Although unwilling to press charges, the official, under pressure now from her ‘Welsh’ Labour Party employers, changed her mind. Maybe it was spelled out to her that if she didn’t co-operate then she could lose her job a lot sooner than May 2017, and it wouldn’t be Plaid Cymru handing her her P45.

For we are dealing here with the Labour Party in Cardiff, where the bullying of women is rampant, perhaps even party policy. For as Neil McEvoy said in the article I’ve linked to –

Seven female councillors have resigned from Labour in Cardiff. Seven!

So Why Was Neil McEvoy Stitched Up?

This section begins in the same vein as the first; Neil McEvoy was stitched up because he’s made a lot of enemies, a hell of a lot of enemies. It’s no exaggeration to say that in the past few years he might have pissed off more people than me! And while Neil McEvoy and I might not agree on much, I suspect that when it comes to pointing the finger at those Wales would be better without, then we’d be pointing in the same directions many a time. Where to start?

As I’ve already said, and as should be obvious, he is detested by the Labour Party with a particular vehemence for two main reasons: first, until 2003 he was a member of that party, and second, since then he has been an opponent who’s landed many damaging blows. Being elected to Cardiff city council and the Notional Assembly are just the more obvious of those blows.

Recently Neil McEvoy has served on the Public Accounts Committee, which has been looking into the workings of our housing associations, and he’s been asking awkward questions, and in other ways annoying people. For as I’ve explained, housing associations, especially the favoured and rapidly expanding Wales and West Housing, are just the Labour Party by another name.

Over the years he’s asked many more awkward questions of the Third Sector in general. Which means there are thousands of people in Wales living high on the hog of public funding who’d like to see the back of Neil McEvoy. (Preferably with a knife between his shoulder blades.)

Then there’s Deryn. You haven’t heard of Deryn? Well, it’s a kind of lobbying or PR company, made up of insiders that is so good that it wins contracts without even having to tender for them! Neil McEvoy has been asking why Ofcom Wales awarded a contract to Deryn and whether this was connected to the fact that two of Deryn’s senior people sit on the Ofcom advisory board for Wales.

But you mustn’t think he’s picking on Deryn alone, for last year he asked the ‘Welsh’ Government to copy Westminster and Holyrood by introducing legislation to regulate lobbyists. But when we have firms like Deryn, stuffed with politicians, former politicians, spads and other insiders, we can’t realistically expect the ‘Welsh’ Government to do anything.

I could go on, but take my word for it, Neil McEvoy has pissed off a lot of people who are taking the public and/or the public purse for a ride. These people are ‘insiders’, by which I mean, they belong to the Cardiff or Bay ‘bubble’. That self-contained world where people tell themselves that everything across Wales is hunky-dory because they are doing well.

A bubble wherein we find lazy incompetents promising not to attack each other for being lazy and incompetent, then dressing this up as some laudable ‘consensus’. It’s nothing of the kind. It’s third-raters deluding themselves they’re achieving something and it’s a cruel deception practised on the Welsh people.

Neil McEvoy exposes this ‘consensus’ for what it is, and threatens to shake this cosy world apart. Do you still want to know why he was stitched up?

Why Neil McEvoy Embarrasses Plaid Cymru’s Leadership

To understand just how cosy this ‘consensus’ really is, just take a look at the leading lights in Deryn. You’ll find representatives of ‘Welsh’ Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives. (It’s only a matter of time before Ukip’s Neil Hamilton gets the call. Christine will be delighted!)

In talking of ‘consensus’, it is the relationship between Labour and Plaid Cymru that goes a long way to explaining the Plaid leadership’s reaction to recent events. Because Plaid’s leadership dreams wet dreams of a coalition with Labour and so reality – in the form of Neil McEvoy – must not be allowed to intrude. Without a formal coalition then Plaid likes to kid itself that more can be achieved by co-operation than by confrontation – with ‘Welsh’ Labour!

All of which results in Plaid Cymru being reluctant to attack Labour. Labour knows this, and laughs at Plaid’s naivete. And this, boys and girls, is the truth about the ‘consensus’. Neil McEvoy understands this better than most.

Beyond the one-sided or imagined cosy relationship another explanation for the party leadership’s attitude to Neil McEvoy can be explained by the special interest groups that make up Plaid Cymru. I’m now referring to those who join Plaid for no other reason than to promote socialism, environmental issues, LGBT politics, the Welsh language, feminism, etc. On the McEvoy issue it is clearly the feminists driving the agenda – those same Plaid Cymru ‘feminists’ who were silent as the Cardiff Labour Party behaved like a gang of latter-day Bluebeards.

To explain what I mean about special interest groups, and in particular, feminism, let me remind you of something I covered back in November 2015, in a compendium post, scroll down to the section ‘Sophie Howe, More Labour Cronyism’.

The eponymous Sophie Howe is a lifelong Labour Party member, the daughter of a one-time councillor in Cardiff, who worked as South Wales Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, her boss being former Labour MP Alun Michael. When she couldn’t land herself a safe seat a totally new post, Future Generations Commissioner, was created for her.

This news was greeted by Jocelyn Davies, then a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, with the tweet below. For a feminist like Davies, this squalid example of Labour cronyism could be excused – because Sophie Howe is a “strong woman”. God Almighty!

This blind spot that so many Plaid leaders have for Labour – and, more generally, those on the left – manifests itself in many ways. One example I ran across a few days ago was on the blog of Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid candidate for Clwyd South in 2016.

In his latest post Mabon deals with Welsh language education in Dyffryn Ceiriog, and asks in the title ‘Was Llangennech a stand alone issue? No. Here’s why . . . ‘ He tells of a local bigot opposing Welsh medium education, but he doesn’t lay into him because this bugger is “solidly left of centre”, a trade unionist and, presumably, a member of the Labour Party.

Yet the article makes a direct comparison with Llangennech, and if there’s one lesson to come out of Llangennech it is that the Labour Party, and socialists like Gary ‘Poumista’ Jones, have schemed and connived, been guilty of lies and intimidation, all to thwart kids getting a Welsh education. Some of them linked up openly with Ukip, and less openly with even uglier elements further to the BritNat right.

Listen, Mabon; the real message from Llangennech is that anti-Welsh bigotry comes from across the political spectrum, it is not an ideological issue. Because if we follow your logic, then I, being on the political right, am less acceptable to you than this bigot on the left. Know your friends. More importantly, know your enemies.

I didn’t enjoy writing that because Mabon is a good boy. But some things have to be said.

Let me finish by saying that I don’t really know Neil McEvoy; for all I know he could be an utter cad, or perhaps someone who bites the heads off fluffy lickle bunny wunnies.

But I do know why he was stitched up. And I know who stitched him up. And I’ve explained why many in Plaid Cymru are uncomfortable with him – it’s because he threatens their ludicrous ‘consensus’ that is nothing more than an excuse for inertia and betrayal.

Some people, myself included, regard him as a breath of fresh air, others clearly view him as something more destructive, perhaps a whirlwind. Either way, I sense that he is forcing Plaid Cymru to confront its relationship with ‘Welsh’ Labour in a way that no one has done for some time.

Which is good, for I believe that Plaid Cymru either needs a revolution from within to re-focus the party, or else it needs to be killed off and replaced by a new party that will better serve the Welsh national interest.

Wales is the poorest country in Europe, due to Labour’s corruption and incompetence, aided and abetted by Plaid Cymru’s insane belief in ‘consensus’. Anything will be an improvement on this.

♦ 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

Oct 232016
 

My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.

This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.

It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.

Hugh James logo

You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.

In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?

The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.

This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.

If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’

Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.

The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.

mbh-s106

“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.

I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.

‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.

Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’

Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?

Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).

Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?

All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?

As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.

I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.

coastal-housing

In the hope of getting more information on the relationship between housing associations and offshore companies I tried another angle by writing to the First minister, Carwyn Jones. Within a couple of days I received this response from the Housing Directorate.

We can do naught but wait, and hope . . .

Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.

Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.

An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?

Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.

Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!

This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!

I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:

1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)

2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities. 

3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.

Which might be the answer to everything.

END 

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.

Jun 142016
 

This is just a brief update to my previous post. I have to be careful what I write because I’m being watched. No, honestly, this is not paranoia, certain people will be reading this very carefully.

Therefore I hope you will understand that I have to be cautious, avoiding the injudicious phrase, the unintended calumny, otherwise certain persons down west will again be scuttling to £260-an-hour Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal.

A BIG FAT I.O.U.

To recap . . . Mill Bay Homes is a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing, it’s raison d’être is to build and sell houses, then hand the profits from the sale of those properties back to the parent company so that it can build more social units for rent.

It may be worth mentioning – by way of background information – that before a name change in the first quarter of 2012 Mill Bay Homes was known as Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, a company set up in 1998 that never traded.

MBH Why Buy With Us

FROM THE MILL BAY HOMES WEBSITE (click to enlarge)

So that’s the theory, the justification for Mill Bay Homes. But how’s it working out in practice? Let’s look at what information is available, add a few things that have been said, and then let us draw some conclusions, which we are fully entitled to do, as members of the generous Welsh public that has poured tens of millions of pounds into Pembrokeshire Housing.

When it comes to available information, we encounter a major obstacle in that it’s probably easier to get hold of Vladimir Putin’s personal e-mails than it is to see accounts for Mill Bay Homes. The problem being that because it’s not a regular company there’s nothing filed with Companies House. Because it’s not a charity it’s ditto with the Charity Commission. And while MBH claims to have filed accounts with the Financial Conduct Authority, the FCA says it has received nothing since the report for y/e 31.03.2013.

Though when my collaborator Wynne Jones wrote to the ‘Welsh’ Government, using an FoI request to ask for those accounts he was told, by Ceri Breeze, Head of Housing Policy, that the accounts were already in the public domain – with the Financial Conduct Authority! Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that information is being deliberately withheld on Mill Bay Homes, and that fibs are being told in order to throw people off the scent.

Anyway, let’s see what we can glean from the Pembrokeshire Housing accounts. In particular, the extracts below taken from the figures for the year ending on March 31st 2015. Figures that I suspect are connected.

PH Combined figures 2015

You will see that between 31.03.2013 and 31.03.2015 Pembrokeshire Housing’s cash reserves fell dramatically, from £12,551,763 to £2,782,838. A reduction of £9,768,926, or 78%.

During the years ending 31.03.2014 and 31.03.2015 £6,135,000 was ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes. The most recent figures available for Mill Bay Homes, those for y/e 31.03.2013, show a ‘loan’ of £245,000, which we can be fairly sure came from the parent company. If we add them it gives us a total of £6,360,000.

MBH Loans received 2013

Without wishing to over-egg it I suggest we must also add other costs not stipulated. For example, Pembrokeshire Housing staff must have been working on the Mill Bay Homes ‘project’, and they must have used Pembrokeshire Housing offices and equipment, plus consumables, before Mill Bay Homes was up and running.

So I think we can reasonably assume that Mill Bay Homes owes Pembrokeshire Housing closer to seven million pounds than six. How is this to be repaid? Fortunately, last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald ran an article on my recent, ahem, difficulties and in this article group supremo Peter Maggs was quoted as saying, “The target is (for MBH) to deliver £1m of surplus for each of the next five years”. Which will – if achieved – return just five of the six million plus that’s owed.

(Note that the Pembrokeshire Herald couldn’t get my name right – “Roytston”, they called me, bloody “Roytston”!!! Is that defamation? Maybe I need a good solicitor – I wonder if Ms Singlehurst-Ward would take the case?)

‘A MILLION A YEAR FOR FIVE YEARS’, SAYS YER MAN

I have no opportunity to buy the otherwise excellent Pembrokeshire Herald except when I’m visiting the county, so I haven’t seen the ‘paper myself. But someone was kind enough to send me a photograph of the article, here, and another kind act saw the piece sent as text.

Seeing as we are talking of Mill Bay Homes repaying Pembrokeshire Housing a cool million a year it might be instructive to know if any of the outstanding six million plus has yet been repaid. The figures for y/e 31.03.2016 are obviously not yet available, but the previous year’s figures tell us that the princely sum of £36,070 was received. Which leaves . . . roughly the same figure we started with. And that’s without taking interest into account.

Another way of looking at it would be that at the rate of £36,070 a year it would take Mill Bay Homes 176 years to repay what it owes.

PH Income from subsidiary 2015

This might make some of you think that Peter Maggs’ claim is a little overblown, but it could be worse than that. Here are a number of things to consider:

  • I’m told that Mill Bay Homes is working to a 17% profit margin while the building industry usually works to a 25% margin on new builds.
  • Before anything can be returned to Pembrokeshire Housing Mill Bay Homes will have to deduct its costs. In addition, it will need to buy the next development site and go through the planning process and other procedures, then pay to build that next development.
  • So how much from each house sale will Pembrokeshire Housing actually see? Let’s assume that the average sale price of a Mill Bay property is £130,000. At 17% and deducting the costs just mentioned Pembrokeshire Housing might see a return of £50,000 per property.
  • Of course, these calculations are necessarily speculative due to the absence of any publicly available accounts or other information for Mill Bay Homes.
  • If the purpose of lending money to Mill Bay Homes is to generate income to build social housing why didn’t Pembrokeshire Housing instead of lending the money to get part of it returned use all of it to build social housing?

INTERPRETATIONS

One worry I have is that achieving Peter Maggs’ target will result in unfair competition for local building firms without the benefit of Mill Bay Homes’ inexhaustible source of funding, a source that relieves it of the need to return a profit. Is this the plan?

‘Welsh’ Labour we know is anti-business, also a ‘statist’ party that wants to control everything. So is this its way of surreptitiously making house building a state-controlled industry? If not, how else do we explain a publicly-funded housing association being allowed to set up a subsidiary that is, effectively, a no-risk private house builder?

One possibility is that we are discussing a trailblazer for a new type of business entirely. This is not idle speculation on my part, the idea has been knocking around for a while. I’m talking now of fully privatised housing associations. And it’s already started, as this article from the Guardian last August tells us.

The advantages are obvious. Housing associations have solid assets in the form of bricks and mortar, so they’ll have little trouble finding investors and securing loans. As long as the right legal safeguards are in place for all types of tenants, and the right incentives for investors, why not relieve the public purse of a massive burden by privatising social housing in Wales? These could be lucrative, profit-making businesses.

Proven by Pembrokeshire Housing itself. In 2013 it had cash reserves of £12,551,763, yet it’s one of the smaller housing associations, this is partly due to the fact that Pembrokeshire County Council retains its own council housing stock. If such a small outfit can build up such cash reserves then what is the picture with the big boys?

Though that said, some people – more cynical than I, you understand – might suggest that Mill Bay Homes was set up for the express purpose of soaking up this embarrassment of cash. For the nest-egg might otherwise have had to be returned, or might have resulted in reduced funding. Because I’m sure most people would believe that a relatively small, rural housing association with over £12m stashed under the mattress should not be receiving a penny from the public purse.

One thing’s for sure, housing associations as we know them in Wales are discredited. For a start, there are just too many of them, receiving inordinate amounts of funding, with too much of that money going on inflated salaries and administrative costs, and with very little effective oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government. Housing associations are out of control, like some over-indulged adolescent forever finding new ways to get money out of his parents.

RCT Homes salary

In addition, and perhaps especially in rural areas, housing associations waste money on new properties for which there is no local demand, then they import tenants, many of whom have ‘issues’, because of course they can charge more for housing problem families, petty criminals, drug addicts and other undesirables than they could ever charge hard-working, law-abiding locals.

Unless I receive important new information on Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes this may be my final post on the subject. I think I’ve said everything I need to say at present.

If those who claim to be managing Wales still see nothing wrong with the parent – subsidiary arrangement I’ve described, and if they believe that the current plethora of publicly-funded and competing housing associations is the cheapest and most effective way of delivering rented accommodation, then Wales is in a bigger mess than I had ever imagined.

UPDATE 17.06.2016: Surprise! Surprise! After all the attention Mill Bay Homes has been getting of late the Annual Return and Accounts for y/e 31.03.2014 and y/e 31.03.2015 are finally available on the Financial Conduct Authority website. They were added just a few days ago.

As I’m tied up for the next few days I won’t have time to give these accounts the attention they deserve, but perhaps my analytical readers would like to peruse them and give us their interpretations. Here are the accounts for 2014 and here for 2015.

Quickly skimming through them I was struck by the fact that in the 2015 report, in answer to question 1.19, Mill Bay Homes claims to be a Community Benefit Society because it benefits, “People seeking housing accommodation” (as opposed to any other form of accommodation). If Mill Bay Homes is accepted as a Community Benefit Society then I suggest the FCA gets ready for a rush of applications to join the club – from Wimpey, Persimmon, Redrow and all the rest.

But of course MBH would defend its claim to be a Community Benefit Society by the answer it gives to 1.21, which asks how surpluses or profits are used. The answer reads, “Surplus was transferred to the parent Registered Social Landlord to invest in affordable housing”. Why not just say ‘the parent company’, why stress that it’s a RSL? And why “affordable housing” not ‘social housing’? MBH claims to build and sell ‘affordable housing’.

Though these considerations bring us back to the underlying idiocy of this model. Pembrokeshire Housing, a provider of social housing, has £10m in spare cash. Rather than use that money for the purpose it was given the money is loaned to Mill Bay Homes to build and sell houses. Then perhaps £1m of profit is returned to PH for social housing. Why not use the original £10m for its intended purpose of social housing?

Could it be that Pembrokeshire Housing had more money than it needed, or knew how to use, and rather than admit to that embarrassment, it came up with the absurdity that is Mill Bay Homes?

UPDATE 21.07.2016: In an e-mail of July 18th Simon Fowler of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Directorate, had this to say: “We have had sight of a confirmation from the FCA that Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes submitted all their regulatory returns by the given deadline. It went on to confirm that due to an error at the FCA, the returns were not published. We are satisfied that PHA and MBH have not acted inappropriately – either deliberately or mistakenly – when submitting the returns required by law.”

Today, my co-investigator, Wynne Jones, received an e-mail from Nazmul Ahmed at the FCA, he had this to say of the Mill Bay Homes returns: “I have spoken to my colleague and we can provide the dates we received the annual return and accounts – 2013/14- 2 June 2016, 2014/15- 2 June 2016′. 

The timing is significant. I published posts on Mill Bay Homes on the following dates, April 25th, May 20th and May 23rd. These were taken down under threat of legal action conveyed in a letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Solicitors of May 31st. I can imagine Ms S-W saying to MBH, ‘OK, I’ll try and put the frighteners on him, but you’ve got to get your house in order, don’t give him ammunition’.

But where does this leave Simon Fowler? I think the kindest thing I can say of Mr Fowler and his colleagues is that they make it up as they go along. What I and others have learnt in recent months suggests there is no oversight of housing associations by the ‘Welsh’ Government, little regulation, and that they are free to do as they like – with hundreds of millions of pounds of our money.

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

NEXT: The promised article in which I explain why I’m voting Leave in the EU referendum

 

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.

*

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.

*

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

*

‘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.

*

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!

*

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

Jun 052016
 

After assorted threats from various sources – possibly a single source – to me and others associated with this blog, I plan to publish my definitive post on Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes within the next few days.

If certain persons in the south west, or elsewhere, don’t like what I write, then they can run – again – to a £260-an-hour Cardiff lawyer, and pay her out of the public purse, or they can just go fuck themselves. Don’t bother me one way or the other.

I’ve been reasonable, I have taken down everything that it was claimed offended these sensitive souls, but henceforth I shall stand by what I write. NOTHING will be taken down. I am calling your bluff, boys and girls.

May 292016
 

On paper at least the Welsh language has come a long way in the last 60 years. In the 1950s and 1960s the language had no official status; apart from tombstones in chapel cemeteries it was all but invisible in public, and Welsh speakers had no rights. Small wonder that so many people drifted away from a language which they were told had no future and nothing to offer their children. English was the key to a more prosperous life; English was progress.

The first stirrings of a change in attitudes among Welsh speakers can be traced back to the village of Llangennech in the 1950s where Eileen and Trevor Beasley decided to ask Llanelli Rural District Council if they could receive their rates bill in Welsh. The council, whose staff were almost all Welsh speaking, served an area which was still overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking. It refused the Beasleys’ modest request and dug its heels in. In the years that followed, the couple were taken to court on 16 occasions, and many of their possessions were confiscated by bailiffs who carted off the family piano, wedding presents and anything else which was deemed to be of value.

After eight years and at huge personal cost, the Beasleys eventually won their battle with dignity, and Eileen has often been compared to Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her whites only seat on a bus was one of the events which triggered the US civil rights movement and the battle to end segregation.

Eileen and Rosa may have won their battles, but hostility towards the Welsh language in Wales and black people in the United States remain deeply ingrained in officialdom and sections of the public. “Black lives matter” is so evidently true that the shocking thing is that it even needs to be said.

If proof were needed that prejudice and bigotry are alive and well, the BBC this week broadcast an edition of its Week In Week Out programme which happily trotted out the old myth that the Welsh language is expensive and irrelevant.

Ahead of the broadcast, the BBC was forced to remove statements based on false calculations of the cost to local authorities of complying with the new Welsh language standards regulations. In response to complaints, the BBC issued a half-hearted apology saying that the “data was not robust”.

The broadcast nevertheless went ahead, and viewers were served up with a depressingly familiar one-sided diatribe against the Welsh language, including a claim that having to employ staff on reception desks who can speak Welsh would double the number of staff needed, presumably because a Welsh speaking receptionist would be incapable of dealing with people speaking English.

Week In Week Out spent a lot of trundling around Torfaen and Merthyr Tydfil asking locals what they thought about their councils being forced to spend millions of pounds on the Welsh language, but the programme also managed to squeeze in a cameo appearance from Michaela Beddows who is one of the leaders of a campaign to save the children of Llangennech from the evils of Welsh medium education.

Back to Llangennech

The row about the infant and junior schools in Llangennech has been rumbling on for almost six months now. The proposal, backed by the governors and the county council, is to merge the two schools and create a single Welsh medium primary on the same site to serve the village. The English stream would be phased out, but children whose parents opted for English medium education would continue to be taught through English until they complete their time in the school. After that, parents who do not want their children to be taught through the medium of Welsh would take their children to other English medium primaries close by, of which there are several.

According to the 2011 census, 39.9% of the population of Llangennech ward, which extends beyond the village, were Welsh-speaking, and the junior school’s Welsh stream has been proving to be very popular. 73% of the children attending the infant and junior schools are in the Welsh stream, with just 27% receiving their education through the medium of English. Also, contrary to claims made by opponents of the scheme, 75% of the children in the school are from its catchment area.

The proposal to phase out the English stream went to public consultation, with representations from parents and others who were both for and against the change. Parents who cannot speak Welsh and who have never mastered another language apart from English will understandably have questions and concerns about Welsh medium education.

Will my child cope? Will their English suffer? What help is available?

Inevitably, parents facing change tend to see themselves and their children in isolation, but they are by no means the first to switch to Welsh medium. Councils and the government could do a lot more to explain the advantages, and to share the experiences of schools which have phased out English medium.

There is overwhelming evidence that being able to function in more than one language gives children many advantages, including improved cognitive and communication skills. Children with more than one language tend to be more creative when processing information; they learn new languages more easily; are better at multi-tasking, listening and problem solving; and they also outperform children in spatial working memory tasks, such as performing complicated mathematical problems using short-term working memory.

Unlike the 1950s, there are now also many more well-paid jobs and career paths open to Welsh speakers.

Put simply, a Welsh medium education, while it does not come with guarantees, will give your child skills and more choices later in life, and that is why there is growing demand for Welsh medium education, including secondary education in areas where the percentages of those able to speak the language are far, far lower than in Llangennech. In Torfaen, which featured so heavily on Week In Week Out, there is Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, and Newport is about to get its first ever Welsh medium secondary school, to name but two.

In Carmarthenshire, the county council adopted a new Welsh language strategy a couple of years ago, part of which involves moving its schools along the so-called language continuum to increase the provision of Welsh medium education. This is in line with government policy, and was supported by 73 of the council’s 74 councillors, including the unanimous backing of the Labour group.

The problems start when policy is put into practice. Some parents back change, recognising the benefits for their children and the wider community. Others may have concerns, but are open to reason and persuasion. And then there is always a hard core who reject Welsh medium education for their children, stick their fingers in their ears and yell about freedom of choice while denying their children the choices which bilingual children have.

Inevitably, these campaigns always attract the attentions of political opportunists, nasties and nutters, and that is exactly what has happened in Llangennech where a small hard core of objectors has been conducting a campaign which has descended into bullying, intimidation and abuse, with various interlopers enthusiastically fanning the flames.

Apartheid

One of those who shipped up outside the school gates was Father John Plessis, the local Anglican vicar, dressed up like an old-fashioned Catholic priest in an ankle length cassock with silk buttons and a should-length cape.

Father Plessis has come to Llangennech from the north of Ireland via South Africa. Talking to the Llanelli Herald, he held up a placard with quotes from the Bible, and explained why in his view the plans were nothing less than apartheid and segregation. Judging by his placard, Father John’s god would appear to be an English monoglot.

Llangennech predikant du Plessis

Just how phasing out a dual stream English/Welsh system, and replacing it with a school in which children are not separated on the basis of language constitutes apartheid is a question the interviewer should perhaps have put to the cleric.

One of the most vocal objectors is Michaela Beddows, who it will be remembered popped up on Week In Week Out. Beddows says she is concerned about the impact on children with learning disabilities. She is the mother of a 15 year-old child who, funnily enough, no longer attends the primary school, but that is not going to stop her campaigning to deny Welsh medium education for other children in the school, and she has vowed to fight to the bitter end.

Beddows was one of the ringleaders of a group which organised a march by objectors into the school to harangue the school governors who had called a meeting to discuss the plans with parents. Unsurprisingly, parents who took a different view felt it wise to stay away from the event.

Calpolgate

Taking time off from yelling at staff and governors of the school, Beddows recently told her followers on Facebook of a run-in she had had with staff at her local Morrisons. After her son complained of earache, she went on a shopping spree and loaded her trolley up with goodies including Ibuprofen and two different products containing paracetamol.

The poor woman at the checkout had to inform La Beddows of rules restricting the bulk purchase of medicines, and that she could only buy two of the three. Beddows insisted on calling over the supervisor before venting her spleen on the store’s customer services and the store manager, all of whom she vilifies on her Facebook page.

Llangennech Beddows clip 2

Thanks to these jobsworths, she declares, “two pretty sick children will not be getting their medicine tonight”, before storming off, vowing never to shop in Morrisons again. The staff can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Spanish Civil War comes to Llangennech

It will come as no surprise to readers of Jac o’ the North to know that one of Beddows’ buddies on Facebook is local Labour community councillor, Gary Robert Jones, aka Poumista, who seems to spend most of his waking hours on Twitter, and Jones has been assiduously fanning the flames in Llangennech.

As readers may also recall, one of Jones’s best buddies is Labour’s human megaphone, Rosemary Emery, who declared on this blog that, “compulsory education solely through the medium of Welsh for all at this time does smack of facism”.

Emery’s CV includes a stint as researcher for Keith ‘Chardonnay’ Davies, the previous Labour Assembly Member for Llanelli, and she is now busy beating the PR drum for Lee Waters.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Poumista Jones and Megamouth Emery see the future of the primary school as a political opportunity, and the question is to what extent their activities have been sanctioned higher up.

Davies was something of a Welsh language mascot for Labour, while Waters appears to be more ambivalent while keeping his hands clean of all the nasty stuff.

A Broad Church

Llanelli Labour’s tactics of being all things to all men (and women) were on public display last week when Carmarthenshire County Council’s Education and Children’s Scrutiny Committee met to consider the next steps in the plans for primary education in Llangennech.

Labour has three members on the committee, and two of those did not turn up, despite being advertised as “expected to attend” on the council’s website. Their places were taken at short notice by the group leader, the lugubrious Jeff Edmunds, and Eryl Jones, a non-entity who was catapulted into chairmanship of the council this year in a manoeuvre designed to keep out a more deserving candidate who had displeased inhabitants of the vipers’ nest.

Edmunds acknowledged that Labour had supported the policy adopted by the council (Labour was actually in charge at the time, he might have added), but he felt uncomfortable applying it in the case of an individual school. Clearly Edmunds had thought that the policy was meant to be window dressing only.

When the matter was taken to a vote, Edmunds and his colleagues decided that the best course was to abstain.

Meanwhile, opponents of Welsh medium education in Llangennech have formed themselves into a committee and set up a website, Keep Llangennech Primary Dual Stream.

Although the self-appointed committee protests that it isn’t against Welsh medium education, the mask slips on the website. Here, various anonymous articles inveigh against the evils of Welsh medium education, the governors, Gwyn Hopkins (the local Plaid councillor) and just about anyone else who disagrees with them.

Most of the writers, who are clearly proud of what English medium education did for them, do not appear to have paid much attention in English lessons. Here are a few of the gems:

Currently English stream children have been upset to be not allowed to be sung happy birthday to them in English as must be Welsh only.

Some parents worry that if the levels of Welsh increases further within the school it will affect pupils currently in the English Stream regardless that it stated that they will finish their education technically within an English stream as the level of Welsh has increase year on year already.

Currently English stream children have been apologising to their parents as arts and crafts projects in school such as Easter Cards have had to be written in Welsh only and pupils feel bad their parents can’t read what they have written.

It must be very traumatic to be faced with the words “Pasg Hapus”, and you have to feel sorry for the kids who have to apologise and spell things out for their dumb parents.

The latest contribution was written in the wake of the Scrutiny Committee meeting where the Director of Education had ‘revealed’, shock horror, that children in the reception classes were being taught in Welsh.

This has been the case for years, and is standard practice in dual stream schools, where parents are asked to choose between the Welsh and English streams when their children are aged 7.

The outrage felt by objectors raises the question of just how much interest they actually take in the education of their offspring, because clearly they had not noticed that their children were being taught in Welsh:

Another dark grey cloud called “lack of integrity” blows over and settles firmly above the roof of Llangennech School this morning. It was during the Education & Children Scrutiny Committee in Carmarthen on the 23rd May, where discussions were being made about the controversial proposed change of language category for Llangennech school from Dual Stream to Welsh Medium, where Rob Sully the Director of Education & Children and Gareth Morgans Head of Education Services confirmed to parents of pupils in the school for the first time ever that Derbyn 1 and Derbyn 2 were not currently bilingual classes and in fact they are Welsh Medium classes already.

The rant continues with attacks on the school staff and accusations of lying and corruption, finally ending with a threat that parents will up sticks and take their children to Swansea:

However the corruption surrounding this school is now driving many parents in search for other avenues to educate their children, some looking at home-schooling others are considering the likes of Pontarddulais school so to come under Swansea Council area, removing their children from illegal enforcement of the Welsh Language and Lies.

Responding to this and other online abuse, Gareth Jones, the council’s Board Member for Education, on Friday released the following statement:

Llangennech statement Gareth Jones

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the battle still has a very long way to go. The Scrutiny Committee met to consider the outcome of a statutory public consultation. Their recommendations will now go forward to the council’s Executive Board. If the proposal is approved there, there will be a second and near-identical consultation beginning in September, with another, near-identical report from the education department.

The report will then return to the Scrutiny Committee, which will pass it on to the Executive Board, which will pass its decision on to the full council for ratification some time in 2017.

If the aim of this process had been to prolong uncertainty and encourage bitter battles, the civil service which devised it could not have done a better job, and reform of the statutory consultation process must now be a priority.

In the meantime, the council must hold its nerve, and Carwyn Jones, Lee Waters and others need to read the Riot Act to their supporters.

UPDATE 31.05.2016: An interesting new post has appeared on the website run by objectors to plans to create a new Welsh medium primary school in Llangennech. It is in response to a statement put out by the county council deploring personal attacks on members of school staff being circulated on social media, and firmly rejecting allegations made by the objectors that the school has been acting illegally in its use of Welsh in reception classes.

In something of an own goal, the article includes an image of an article which has appeared in the Llanelli Herald describing how the objectors’ committee circulated a very long ‘press release’ (inverted commas applied by the newspaper) to a number  of media outlets repeating the allegations.

Llangennech Llanelli Herald 1

click to enlarge

The Herald notes that the objectors managed to misspell the name of the village they claim to represent, and asks why parents who should be closely involved in monitoring their own children’s progress and education, failed to spot or complain about language provision in reception classes, even though they claim that this “illegal” teaching has been going on for five years.

Could it be that the reading age of these proud products of English medium education wasn’t up to understanding the Herald article?

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

JAC COMMENTS . . . 

We’ve been here before; an assortment of oddballs and bigots shrieking about ‘discrimination’ and ‘oppression’ – even ‘apartheid’! – having been stirred up by ‘Welsh’ Labour hoping to blame it all on ‘intolerant’ nashies and then reap the political dividend.

The Reverend Dr Plessis

The ‘apartheid’ slander came from a man wearing a full-length clerical habit who wasn’t on his way to a stag night. The Reverend Dr John K Plessis is an Ulster Protestant who has washed up in Llanelli via South Africa, Reading, Haverfordwest, Cardiff, Swansea and God knows where else, and is a clergyman in the Church in Wales.

Perhaps his Six Counties origins have conditioned him against the language of the indigenous population to the extent that he regards Welsh as a threat to his ‘British heritage’ (a much-loved term among Ulster Loyalists).

Llangennech Dr Father Plessis

I’m surprised by Plessis’ behaviour because the duty of the Church is surely to bring people together, but Plessis has taken sides, and accuses others of being divisive, while seeing nothing divisive in his own behaviour. (What does the Good Book say of motes and beams?)

But then, I suppose he might be representative of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the English national Church, though were I his bishop I’d be inclined to help this rootless individual keep moving.

 ‘Thou hypocrite’, indeed.

Michaela Beddows

I don’t know much about Michaela Beddows beyond what she’s told me herself, on her Facebook page, for which I am indebted to our guest writer and the link provided. But in case that post has been removed by the time you read this, I’ve saved it for you here.

Those who did not submit to Beddows in the ‘Calpolgate’ episode at Morrisons are described thus: ” . . . the checkout operator was a complete and utter jobsworth, no personality and pretty gormless, the Till Manager was arrogant, cocky and downright rude, obviously being a till manager has gone to her pretty vacant head – and the Manager of the store was a bumbling buffoon who should grow a pair of balls”.

‘Unhelpful’ or ‘incompetent’ are clearly inadequate descriptions, Beddows has to be very personal and insulting to people she doesn’t know. Which says much more about Michaela Beddows than it could ever tell us about those she thinks she’s describing.

Though the encounter with the “arrogant, cocky and downright rude” till manager might have been mildly disconcerting for her, one of those ‘doppelgänger moments’. Like looking in a mirror.

Being a student of modern English usage I was also struck by a phrase she used earlier in her diatribe. It reads, “I wasn’t happy that my daughter had also come in from school complaining of ear and throat ache”. ‘I wasn’t happy’, or ‘I’m not happy’ invariably means that the person using the phrase is annoyed with someone or something. (And who else had come in from school complaining of ear and throat ache?)

So who was Beddows annoyed with for her daughter’s ear and throat ache? If I had to guess, it would be the school, or the teachers. I say that because Michaela Beddows is obviously a ‘shouty’ sort of woman who’s in love with the sound of her own voice, while being blind to her own shortcomings, one who takes pleasure in putting people down.

In short, a bully, and just the sort of person I’d expect to find prominent in a campaign of blind bigotry.

Jones the Stirrer

Regular readers with recall – with unbridled joy, I’m sure – that in a recent post I wrote of Gary Robert Jones, and Rosemary Emery, comrades in the ongoing struggle against the encroaching forces of darkness.

Jones is a Labour community councillor in Llangennech, and takes his wit and wisdom to a wider world via his Twitter account @Poumista, the name taken from a Spanish Communist Party active during the Civil war. He has been seen at recent gatherings of the protesters energising the mob.

Hardly Napoleon addressing the Old Guard, more like some malodorous commissar spewing bullshit to keep the comrades motivated. But as our guest writer wonders, how far up the ‘Welsh’ Labour food chain does approval for this campaign reach?

Seeing as Jones is clearly given free rein by his superiors we must assume that he has their blessing, perhaps even their encouragement, because ‘Welsh’ Labour shares Joe Stalin’s attitudes towards independence of thought or action.

‘Penyfai’

I shall end with another priceless example of the sort of people who support the anti-Welsh campaign in Llangennech. Here’s a gem gleaned from this article in the Evening Post of May 23rd.

Llangennech 'Penyfai' comment

Rarely do we encounter such a brief message that says so much. ‘Penyfai’ is opposed to “monolingualism” . . . and there was me thinking that the teaching of Welsh was leading us towards a bilingual Wales.

And yet, with his / her attitude towards the Welsh language, ‘Penyfai’ is surely advocating monolingualism in Wales?

The most revealing bit though is where ‘Penyfai’ says that unless “Cymraeg coercion” is ended he / she “will refuse to buy any Welsh produce in future”. That’s telling ’em . . . until you start to wonder what Pwllheli rock, or Penclawdd cockles, Brains beer or Welsh lamb, etc., etc., have to do with a school dispute on the outskirts of Llanelli.

‘Penyfai’, like all bigots, would, I’m sure, want others to follow his / her example – and put tens of thousands of Welsh people out of work! What an absolute arsehole!!! I wonder what Plessis, Beddows and Jones have to say about their comrade in arms ‘Penyfai’? . . . but then, maybe one of them is ‘Penyfai’.

Whoever it is, this cretin serves to bring home the message that for many of those involved in the Llangennech dispute – and those outside the area who support them – this is not simply about teaching in a particular school, or even about the Welsh language, at bottom this is an attack on everything Welsh.

Fitting, then, that it should be orchestrated by anti-Welsh Labour, acting true to form. The repulsive George Thomas must be looking up approvingly from his final resting place.

P.S. My take on the update added to the end of the guest piece is as follows. I believe the parents knew their children were being educated in Welsh – they must have! Which means that the semi-literate ‘press release’ was issued by a person or persons not directly concerned. Which supports another theory – that this ‘campaign’, if not launched by persons not directly involved, has certainly been hijacked by such people. Which in turn suggests that the website and indeed the campaign is now controlled by people who just want to put the boot into the Welsh language, and are simply exploiting the parents, and of course, the children.

UPDATE 03.06.2015:

Darth Vader

Apr 252016
 

I sense that changes are taking place in our housing associations. Maybe someone, somewhere, has at last realised that pouring obscene amounts of public money into fifty or so bodies, many of them overstaffed and / or inefficient may not be the best way of meeting the need for rented accommodation.

In England, the process of Registered Social Landlords merging is steaming ahead. So we can expect more mergers here because it’s basically an Englandandwales system, the main differences being of scale and the fact that concessions are made here to faux socialists over sales of social housing and other matters that might drive them to the barricades . . . or to their iPhones to put out an indignant tweet.

HA mergers England

For various reasons set out below, mergers are to be encouraged, but here in Wales they seem to be things of great mystery, perhaps because housing associations are allowed to behave like secret societies. For despite receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This cannot be right. I defy anyone to argue that it is right.

Despite being confronted with a culture of omerta a few dogged individuals have persistently asked the awkward questions, but some of the ‘answers’ from officialdom have come direct from the Ministry of Bullshit.

CANTREF

Let us start by reminding ourselves of recent developments at this housing association in Castell Newydd Emlyn, and try to figure out what these changes might mean because, predictably, the findings of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s investigation into Cantref will remain secret. For those who missed it, here’s a link to my previous post, Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named.

Cantref logo

The ‘Favoured Suitor’ is the Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A curious choice, some may think. Much of its business is in the care home sector, not only in the south but also in towns like Brecon, Llandrindod, Newtown, reaching up to Flintshire and Denbighshire where many of its clients come from over the border.

Between 2008 and 2015 Wales and West received almost £65m in Social Housing Grant alone. (There are a number of other ‘funding streams’ for RSLs or, given the amounts involved, raging torrents.) Why is Wales and West – or any ‘Welsh’ RSL – allowed to use Welsh public funding to ease the care bill of Liverpool and other English authorities?

And I’m still waiting to learn why Wales and West was awarded £25m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2014 “to build 251 homes in Wales”. Social Housing is devolved, so why did Wales and West apply for funding to what is in these matters the English government? Come to that, why did the DCLG award the money?

The announcement of Cantref’s proposed connubials with Wales and West was made in this press release, in which we see the name of mystery man Kevin Taylor. He turned up in 2014 after a career spent in the hotel business in Bermuda and now – in his role as ‘Interim Chair’ – he’s deciding the fate of a Welsh housing association. So I’ll ask again: Who the hell is Kevin Taylor? And who forced him on Cantref?

The only real development since my previous post is that another press release was issued late on Friday afternoon, this one by the propaganda bureau at Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having given the matter of Cantref’s fate some thought, I have concluded that while there are almost certainly better options, if it comes to a straight fight between Carmarthenshire County Council and Wales and West Housing, then I shall support Carmarthenshire. And let’s not rule out Tai Ceredigion. Now I’d better explain my reasoning.

  • Most of Tai Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, ideal ‘retirement’ country that granny-farmers Wales and West would certainly exploit.
  • Carmarthenshire’s tyrannical chief executive Mark James will not last for ever. His days may already be numbered.
  • Council mergers are on the horizon, so the days of Carmarthenshire itself are also numbered.

Stop Press: You will recall that in my previous post we heard – from ‘Dai the Post’ – about Hilary Jones, chief executive of the Bro Myrddin housing association, who served as interim CEO at Cantref. According to ‘Dai’, she pressed Wales and West to take over Cantref and put her in charge. And of course, ‘Dai’ also told us that Hilary’s hubby served as interim head of finance at Cantref.

Dai the Post

Another name ‘Dai’ mentioned was David Hedges. Those with good memories might recall that this man got a mention last July in this post of updates and tit-bits (scroll down). Hedges runs a ‘consultancy’ called Cyngor Da. I now learn that David Hedges has also served time recently with Cantref, presumably ‘consulting’, or rather, being consulted, or however it works. And that his time at Cantref coincided or overlapped with Hilary Jones’s.

Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this post, I’m being told that David Hedges has also worked with Campbell Tickell, the English company called in by (London-loyal civil servants acting in the name of) the ‘Welsh’ Government to investigate Cantref.

P.S. When reading the Wales and West website I saw the name Anne Hinchey, Chief Executive, which rang a bell. She is of course married to Councillor Graham Hinchey of Cardiff Council. Yet another example of the troubling link between the Labour Party and the Third Sector.

A link that does so much damage to Welsh public life through nepotism and other forms of corruption. And in this case perhaps explains why Cantref is being gifted to a housing association in Cardiff.

RCT HOMES

In my Easter Miscellany 2016 I touched on comings and goings, and tenant unrest, at RCT Homes. A body that gained brief notoriety in the public prints when it advertised for a chief executive at a salary of £150,000 a year. Here’a report from Inside Housing dealing with the departures.

The most high profile of those departures was CEO, Andrew Lycett, who left in mysterious circumstances in November last year, but soon took up a job with the Jehu Group Ltd, a construction company “operating throughout Wales and the West”. (The ‘West’ of where?) Jehu is just the sort of company that would recruit someone with inside knowledge of how housing associations operate and public money is splashed around. Here’s a video of Lycett bragging about RCT Homes’ labour being “locally sourced” . . . but obviously not for the top jobs.

RCT Homes lost a couple of other senior staff around the same time. One was Lycett’s deputy, Malcolm Wilson, who took ‘early retirement’. Wilson is yet another Englishman who slunk over the border to take advantage of the billions of pounds in public money sloshing about Wales with neither oversight nor monitoring. Wilson is said to have been “demeaning” to Wales and the Welsh language.

The third to jump ship, or be pushed overboard, depending on how generous you feel, was Finance Director Lisa Pinney. ‘Jolly hockey sticks’ is not a phrase I employ but it’s often used to describe a certain type of female; in the case of Pinney, a board member of Hockey Wales (not ‘Welsh Hockey’, note), it seems entirely appropriate. Ms Pinney also found lucrative employment, in her case with Pobl, a recent merger between the Seren Group and Grwp Gwalia.

It really is a jobs merry-go-round, giving free rides to people who would struggle to survive in the world of real business. And we pay to keep this ‘merry-go-round’ turning.

Adrian Barber

The consultant (that word again) called in to see what was going on at RCT Homes – and no doubt paid many hundreds of pounds a day – was an Adrian Barber. It should go without saying that he’s English. What else do we know about him.

From August 2010 until April 2011 Barber was Interim Head of Housing at the London Borough of Bexley. In September 2011 he joined the PSI Consultancy (UK) Ltd. This is an outfit that provides “Interim Management” to councils and housing associations in trouble – at extortionate daily rates of course.

PSI Consultancy

He first came to Wales to join RCT Homes as Interim Housing and Repairs Director in February 2014, and was in that post until May 2015 – at consultant’s rates. In June 2015 he became RCT Homes’ Interim Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods, a post he still fills. That is, when he’s not being Interim Chief Executive as well, a position he’s held since last September. (Does he get paid two consultant’s daily fees?)

I’m told that despite holding two ‘interim’ posts at RCT Homes Barber is never available. Is he off moonlighting, being a ‘consultant’ to somebody else!

It’s easy to understand why we, the people who pay, are being denied the facts about RCT Homes, just as with Cantref. For a start, we’d be told how much has been paid out in consultants’ fees. (Because Barber may not be the only ‘consultant’ at RCT Homes.) We’d know what gross inefficiency or corruption caused the implosion. And we’d also learn how much public money had been lost. Our money.

Something obviously went very badly wrong at RCT Homes last year – and it might have been brewing for some time before that – but just as with Cantref, we are not allowed to know the facts. Nobody is to blame, public money doesn’t matter – so mind your own business!

Though information I’ve received suggests that the sackings – for that is what they were – may have been partly due to the manner in which Lycett, Wilson and Pinney administered grants from the Tower Fund, linked to Tower colliery, and Meadow Prospect, the charitable arm of RCT Homes. If you were ‘in’, then you got a grant, if not, well . . . There is also said to be an unaccounted for deficit of £10,000 in the Tower Fund.

Tower Fund

Something else that might have contributed to the threesome’s downfall was the planned housing on Penrhys, above the Rhondda valleys.

A source has written: “Various deals were made to build more houses on Penrhys with dodgy firms some that didn’t even exist. One such scheme for several millions was fronted by a local builder who said he was raising the money on his mortgage for example”. Is this for real!

After reading this I delved into my archives (they can’t touch you for it!) and lo and behold! what did I turn up from September 2012 but Penrhys: What’s Happening? Regrettably, the comments were lost when those bastards at Google pulled the plug on my earlier blog due to some other bastard complaining about something I’d written – can you believe that!

Anyway, my guess is that there’s a lot more to be unearthed about RCT Homes, so please point me in the right direction, folks.

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

This content had to be removed under threat of legal action from Hugh James of Cardiff acting for Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Seeing as so much Welsh public funding is being used to build social housing in Wales (or at least, being diverted to housing associations) we, the people of Wales, have every right to be assured that the money is being properly spent. Here are some observations and recommendations:

1/ RSLs should do what it says on the tin – provide social housing for those within Welsh communities who need social housing.

     They should not build student accommodation; they should not build properties for sale to ‘investors’; they should not enter into partnerships with the Probation Service and other bodies seeking to ‘relocate’ undesirables to Wales. In short, RSLs should not deviate from their raison d’être.

2/ There must be far better monitoring of RSLs by the ‘Welsh’ Government. More rigorous oversight would allow a ‘doctor’ to be sent in rather than an ‘undertaker’. 

     Though it must be a better system than the current one of importing ‘consultants’ at exorbitant fees, especially when those ‘consultants’ so often remain as ‘interim’ executives.

3/ RSLs should not be allowed to create ‘subsidiaries’ in the hope of using these to avoid legislation applying to RSLs or any other devious purpose.

4/ RSLs must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

5/ A RSL must demonstrate need for social housing from within a community before funding is awarded or planning permission granted for new social housing within that community.

6/ No tenancies are to be awarded to anyone who has not lived in Wales for the three years prior to the application or for five years at some earlier time.

7/ The existing system of Registered Social Landlords and the provision of social housing is unsustainable for the following reasons:

a) The vast amounts of public funding they absorb, too much of which is spent on salaries, pensions and administrative costs.

b) The inefficient or non-existent monitoring and oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

c) The fact that RSLs underperform, making little real impact on housing need.

8/ In the medium to longer term RSLs must either a) have their public funding withdrawn and become private companies or b) their housing stock – built with public funding – must be taken back into local authority control or some other form of public ownership.

     Given the colonial relationship between Wales and England privatised social housing companies would inevitably be swallowed up by larger English companies; consequently (and reluctantly), I prefer the public ownership option. Not least because this course is more likely to create jobs within Wales and to keep money circulating within the Welsh economy.

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.