Feb 272017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of National Library of Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Casgliad y Werin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

♦ end ♦

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA AFAN

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

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

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

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

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

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

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

LLANELLY HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end ♦

Jan 082017
 

I’ve argued many times that Wales is in a bad way, a condition I described in a recent blog as “a basket case country with a begging bowl ‘economy'”. We’re at the bottom of every table measuring the state of the nation – PISA results are woeful, GVA figure are terrible and the number of economically inactive people is worrying.

Devolution has achieved nothing; in my more cynical moments I think it’s just a distraction, or a placebo.

All that seems to matter is that the money keeps rolling in to prop up the edifice and keep the politicians and their legions of cronies in jobs; with Labour trying to soothe away every damning statistic or latest piece of bad news with yet more platitudinous bollocks. Despite having had almost 18 years to improve things, the truth is that ‘Welsh’ Labour has made things worse.

The only conclusion to draw is that the party is either incapable or unwilling to improve things for our people. (Or maybe that devolution is designed to fail.) Which makes you wonder why so many Welsh people have stuck with Labour for so long. But now, after a hundred years of failure, I sense that more and more people realise that these clowns will never deliver a democratic, prosperous and confident Wales.

Despite Labour’s countless shortcomings there always seemed to be little point in looking to Plaid Cymru for meaningful change. (Regular readers will know my views on that score.) Though that said, one new face among Plaid politicians has caught my eye, I’m referring now to South Wales Central AM Neil McEvoy.

Let me make clear that I have never met Neil McEvoy, but it’s obvious from a distance that he’s cut from a different cloth to most Plaid politicians. He comes from neither the cultural nationalist wing nor from the Left-Green wing. He seems to be a man with both feet firmly planted in his own community, not looking to save the planet or pander to Guardianistas. This rootedness makes it almost inevitable that he confronts Labour head-on, and exposes the corruption at the heart of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

In addition, he seems to be that rarity among Plaid politicians, a street fighter, a species of which Labour has always had plenty, but dear parchus Plaid always found rather, well . . . not neis.

I find this refreshing, because as I’ve always argued, there are too many in Plaid Cymru who allow outdated and discredited ideology to dominate their thinking, and then they pile one mistake on another by lining up with their Guardianista friends in seeing the Tories as the enemy. But the biggest party in Wales, and therefore the real enemy of Wales, is Labour.

As I said just now, McEvoy fights Labour on their own turf. And it’s working. In the May 2016 Assembly elections voters in the working class estates in the west of Cardiff turned out to get him within 1,000 votes of unseating Mark Drakeford, Labour Health Minister at the time. That means that the former seat of Rhodri Morgan, head of the Morgan dynasty, is now a key marginal for the next election.

Understandably, this has sent Labour into something of a panic, and it’s not solely attributable to the votes McEvoy’s taken from them. For example, since being elected AM he’s called for an official Welsh register of lobbyists. When Carwyn Jones said lobbyists had no access to Labour Ministers McEvoy produced photographic evidence of Labour Ministers meeting with lobbyists. Backtracking followed, and Jones had to confirm that lobbyists do have access, just not formal access. In other words, and like so much else with ‘Welsh’ Labour, it’s all done in the shadows.

I’m also glad to report that McEvoy has been asking questions about David Goldstone and his influence on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s property deals. Questions that other politicians should have been asking a long, long time ago. He exposed the scarcely believable loss of £1m on just 2 shops sold by the ‘Welsh’ Government, without a valuation, in Pontypridd. (My 9-year-old grandson could have got a better deal than that! Come to think of it, so could his kid brother.)

UPDATE, 13.01.2017: We were paying for Goldstone’s trips to Cardiff, and his stays at the Hilton Hotel.

Now I hear he’s chasing up something unearthed by the Public Accounts Committee, on which he sits. It seems Cardiff Aviation at St Athan doesn’t pay rent; one suggestion being that someone, somewhere, possibly belonging to a certain political party, gave the OK for Cardiff Aviation to enjoy the St Athan facilities rent free. Then there’s an issue with planes being unable to land in fog, which it seems lost Cardiff the EasyJet link. And if that’s not enough to get the bruvvers worked up, allegations of institutionalised corruption have been made against Cardiff’s Labour-controlled council.

Despite that litany of nasal intrusions what may have really marked the South Wales Central Member’s card with ‘Welsh’ Labour is his objection to the billions likely to be made on the Cardiff Local Development Plan. Labour campaigned on the promise to protect Cardiff’s green fields. As soon as they were elected they announced plans to build on most of them. Contrived population projections from the English Planning Inspectorate (dealt with more than once on this blog) being used as the justification.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the land has already been sold off at knock-down, agricultural prices. Read my posts Pies, Planes and Property Development and Pies, Planes and Property Development 2.

Make no mistake, there is something very shady about the Cardiff LDP, and challenging it will make you a target. Though I don’t think anyone expected Labour to be so desperate as to try to tarnish McEvoy a racist for his objections (a default position for Labour politicos), with even the First Minister getting involved. Bizarre in the extreme given Neil McEvoy’s multi-ethnic family background.

So deeply under Labour’s thick hide has Neil McEvoy managed to wriggle that I have it on very good authority (a former Labour councillor) that up to a third of Labour group meetings in Cardiff are dedicated to plotting his downfall. I was unable to confirm if voodoo dolls and pins are involved.

So no one should be surprised that he’s now being investigated by Wales’ Public Services Ombudsman in a desperate attempt to find him guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute – after trying to stop a bedroom tax eviction! How could anyone be charged with bringing a Labour council into disrepute!

The ‘charge’ seems to be that he was overheard saying that he can’t wait for Cardiff Council to be re-structured after May’s election. ‘Welsh’ Labour’s hope is to get the Local Government Panel to ban him from council elections – for talking about a policy of restructuring! The PSO, Nick Bennett, is hardly politically neutral himself (see my previous article here).

The article linked to reminds us that in an earlier existence Bennett was the business partner of an up and coming Labour politician who went on to become a Minister. Combine this with his lobbying for the tobacco industry and his role in huge wage increases for executives at Community Housing Cymru – the umbrella group for our housing associations (of which he was then CEO) – and it all tends to tarnish his credentials as an impartial arbiter of behaviour in political and public life.

Nick Bennett is an insider, he’s part of the ‘machine’, and in a working democracy he would never have been appointed Public Services Ombudsman.

But things go beyond run-of-the-mill political corruption when we remember that twice in the last 12 months Neil McEvoy has been burgled. In 2016 he came home from a public meeting about a landfill site to find the house ransacked by intruders, but while they took a great deal of trouble to break in they ignored the money, jewellery and pocket-sized iPads. Preferring to rifle through his paperwork, stealing some documents.

And McEvoy’s ‘Welcome to 2017, you bastard!’ was an office burglary, with valuable items once again ignored, but papers rummaged through and locked drawers broken open. This is simply too much of a coincidence not to be coordinated.

When the two burglaries are linked to the persistent allegations of the stalking of his sister, with the boys in blue refusing to interview independent witnesses, to the mass theft of placards during his election campaign (some removed by a Labour-controlled housing association!), we begin to get an understanding of the breadth, the depth, and the bitterness of the campaign against him.

I cannot think of any Plaid politician who has got under the skin of Labour in the way Neil McEvoy has – too many haven’t even tried. No Plaid politician before has ever stood up in the Assembly and named just some of the Labour cronies earning huge salaries in the public and third sectors. And no other Plaid politician has had the guts to take on the corrupt land deals that the Labour Party waived through.

One bad apple may spoil the barrel, but one good apple doesn’t save the cider either. Plaid is still too cosy with the liberal, statist, anti-Brexit, ‘Isn’t Trump ghastly’ elite, so embittered since they learnt what ordinary people really think of them and their ideas. But whether you support Plaid Cymru or not, if you believe in honesty and democracy, then you should support Neil McEvoy.

If devolution is ever going to be more than a chimera then at the very least we need more AMs prepared to take on the corrupt establishment and stand up to the vested interests. If that establishment can be so rattled by one ballsy Plaid politician then it makes you realise what effect a few more could have.

But from where I’m sitting too many in Plaid’s hierarchy seem to be ‘uncomfortable’ with Neil McEvoy. Because there have always been people in Plaid Cymru reluctant to make a ‘fuss’, terrified of actually succeeding, some have even worked to undermine the party when success threatened.

By comparison, the Labour Party in Wales has always been ruthless in maintaining its hold on power in order to support its networks of cronyism and corruption. Labour has been so dominant for so long that people seemed resigned to these abuses, but times are changing, and with Labour losing electoral support – getting just a third of the vote in last May’s Assembly election – there’s a growing perception that a century of political control – and the power of patronage that goes with it – may be coming to an end.

Which is wonderful news for Wales, but this fin-de-siècle moment is not with us yet. The system is decayed and rotten, like a dangerous tree, but while we are trying to push it over there are still many people reliant on it for sustenance, and they’ll fight dirty to keep it standing. But it will fall, that’s now certain; so it’s up to us to make sure that when it comes down it topples on the right people.

Let it be clearly understood – in case any lawyers read this – that I am not for one minute suggesting that the Labour and Unionist Party was implicated in the break-ins suffered by Neil McEvoy. No, sir. It could well be that these offences were committed by an insomniac with an insatiable urge to read political documents by torchlight. If so, then that person clearly needs help.

If there is no help available then I shall set up the Welsh Insomniac Burglars Aid Society and whack in a grant application for a couple of mill to tackle this horrendous problem; then it’ll be a new motor . . . a few months of wine-tasting in Argentina, maybe go watch Boca . . . apartment down Mumbles . . . conferences in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Rio . . . Why not? That’s how Labour’s Third Sector operates.

I’d have to use a false name of course, and pretend to be an English Labourite luvvie who’s just arrived in Wales.

end ♦

Jan 022017
 

It’s difficult to know where to start with this rather complex story. Maybe we should go back to 2008 and the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, presented as an attempt to improve the standard of social housing. The WHQS was in fact nothing more than the Decent Homes Standard that operated in England. Another example of ‘Welsh’ legislation being just renamed and repackaged English legislation. Though in this instance, there was one very important difference, to be found in this National Assembly document, which says . . .

If the ‘Welsh’ Government can fund housing associations and also fund councils that retain their housing stock, then surely it can find the money for ALMOs? To argue otherwise doesn’t make sense. Limiting the choice to those options might make sense though to those in the social housing sector who saw WHQS as a weapon that could be used to get local authorities to hand over their housing stock. But do housing associations really exert such influence?

Well, consider this. The umbrella body for housing associations in Wales is Community Housing Cymru (CHC). From July 2006 until July 2014 the group chief executive of CHC was Nick Bennett. Prior to that he’d been a Spad for a few years until October 2002 and in between he’d been a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications. Another director of this long-defunct company was Alun Davies, who had not long before switched his political allegiance from Plaid Cymru to Labour, and would be elected as a regional AM in 2007.

So Nick Bennett was in business with a rising star in the Labour Party – who’d already stood for the party in Ceredigion in the 2005 UK election – and this would have done him no harm when he applied for the post of group chief executive of Community Housing Cymru in 2006. Bennett’s strong links with ‘Welsh’ Labour also explain why he got the job of Public Service Ombudsman for Wales in July 2014.

In addition, many housing associations, particularly in the south, are stuffed with Labour Party members and supporters, and the party goes out of its way to help these associations. A recent example would be the takeover of Cantref by Wales and West. I’ve written about this disgraceful episode a few times, my posts can be traced back from Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged?

Cantref is a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, operating in a bilingual area with bilingual staff. It hit a rocky patch and a scavenger soon appeared in the form of Wales and West Housing, whose chief executive is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Business is now conducted in English only and ‘Welsh’ Labour has an important beachhead in an area where it has very little electoral support.

The latest example of the influence housing associations exert over the Labour Party and its ‘Welsh’ Government comes with the news that, “In September (2016), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced housing associations should be considered part of the public, not private, sector. But the Welsh Government promised to take “whatever steps are necessary” to reverse the change, following concerns.”

The key to understanding what’s going on here is, firstly, that these “concerns” come from housing associations and their umbrella organisation Community Housing Cymru. I am not aware of anyone – other than CHC’s fifth column inside the ‘Welsh’ Government – who believes that housing associations becoming public bodies is a bad thing.

The reason given for opposing the ONS initiative is, “Community Housing Cymru (CHC) said it could affect their (housing associations) ability to borrow money and to build new homes.”

Let us look at the first of those claims that, if reclassified as public bodies, housing associations would find it more difficult to raise private funding. Which suggests that housing associations are now borrowing considerable sums from banks and other financial institutions. But are they? In my investigations into housing associations I have found little evidence that they rely on commercial loans. So where does housing associations’ income come from?

The largest and most obvious source of income is rents from their housing stock, most of which they inherited from local authorities. Yes, these properties have to be maintained and improved, up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard, but as we’ll see below, the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me – pays for it all! And there are other funding streams, as I explained in Housing Associations – The Great Deception. (Nov 17, 2015.)

As I said back then, “One of the facts unearthed is something called Dowry Gap funding, paid to certain housing associations for them to use in upgrading the housing stock they’ve inherited from councils under voluntary transfer (i.e. through a vote by tenants). This funding is currently being paid to ten housing associations and in 2015 – 16 the total cost will be £43.8m. Tai Ceredigion Cyf’s ‘Dowry’ will be paid at the rate of £1.6m a year for 30 years. If this 30-year term applies to the other, larger housing associations, then the total cost will be £1.3bn.

This Dowry Gap funding seems to complement the Welsh Housing Quality Standard legislation, which demanded that all RSL properties be up to WHQS standard by 2012. This deadline – and its funding of £108m a year – has now been extended to 2020. Introduced in 2004 and running to 2020, £108m a year totals up to £1.7bn.

Adding the two we get a total figure of £3bn for ‘improvements’. Seeing as Wales has 143,790 RSL properties, this works out at almost £21,000 per property! (Is this right? Will somebody please check the figures.) That is a lot of moolah for windows and doors, especially when we accept that many of the dwellings inherited from local authorities were in good condition, certainly not needing ‘refurbishment’ to the tune of 21 grand per property.”

Another lucrative source of ‘Welsh’ Government funding for housing associations is the Social Housing Grant. The latest figures I have tell us that between 2008 and November 2015 £771,708,622.59 was paid in Social Housing Grant.

We are talking billions of pounds of public funding going into social housing. Perhaps four billion pounds by 2020.

The second part of housing associations’ objections to becoming public bodies is that they claim it could affect their ability “to build new homes”. Why? They’d still have the income from their rents, and they’d still receive public funding. This claim is just baseless scaremongering done to hide the real objections those running our housing associations have to them becoming public bodies.

As things stand, housing associations, or Registered Social Landlords as they’re also known, have the best of all possible worlds. They operate as private companies, but with massive advantages over what we would normally consider to be private companies.

To begin with, most of them inherited their housing stock for nothing when council tenants were given a vote (often after receiving misleading information). Then, as I’ve just explained, they receive staggering amounts of money from the public purse, despite, with their assets, being able to raise private funding just like other businesses. Being registered as Industrial and Provident Societies with the toothless Financial Conduct Authority means that they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act – yes, despite all that public funding! Finally, oversight and monitoring by the ‘Welsh’ Government is non-existent.

This last fact explains how we can have a situation in which a publicly-funded RSL like Pembrokeshire Housing can set up and fund a subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, for it to build and sell homes on the open market to retirees and investors (with of course Mill Bay Homes having an unfair advantage over independent house builders in the county).

When Pembrokeshire Housing will get back the millions of pounds it is has ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes is anyone’s guess . . . but why should you worry when nobody in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems in the least concerned by this bizarre arrangement. I have written about Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes many times. Work back from Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System (Oct 23, 2016) to Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2 (June 14, 2016).

Those of you who enjoy a good read should settle down with this report into the workings of the Pembrokeshire Housing Group compiled by a concerned member of the public. (No, not me.) It has been circulated to interested parties, too many of whom seem to believe that if they whistle and look elsewhere the embarrassment will disappear.

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

The most recent stock transfer seems to have been in Gwynedd, in 2010, when the council transferred its housing stock to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG). Among the first things CCG did was to hand over the maintenance contract for its properties to English company Lovell, which then brought in sub-contractors from north west England. I saw this first-hand in my village, and wrote about it in The Impoverishment of Wales (Aug 26, 2014).

Another issue I recently unearthed was that of housing associations leasing properties from shady offshore companies, the biggest of which is called Link holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. I wrote about it in a piece entitled, unsurprisingly, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd (Oct 10, 2016). Equally unsurprising is that the ‘Welsh’ Government’s civil servants don’t want to talk about this scandal, ‘All a long time ago . . . leases taken out by previous incarnations . . . stop bothering us’. But nothing changes the fact that Welsh housing associations in 2017 are putting a lot of public money into companies hiding in tax havens. Should public money be used in this way?

A long-standing problem with housing associations, perhaps more visible in rural areas, is that in order to appear busy, to pretend there’s a demand in order to keep the funding coming, they will often bring into Wales misfits and petty criminals. This was certainly an issue with Cantref. Note the reference in the information below to “young tenants from the hostel”. I’m told that Cantref brings in from England young tearaways and within a very short time extended families of scruffs and roughs are wandering Aberteifi. Other housing associations do the same, because it pays well.

One of the worst cases in recent years was the gang of paedophiles and rapists housed in Kidwelly by Grwp Gwalia. I wonder how much Grwp Gwalia was paid to inflict these creatures on a small Welsh town? Were those responsible ever reprimanded or sacked? Did Grwp Gwalia compensate the victims?

It was in attempting to get information on this case that I realised housing associations are not bound by the Freedom of Information Act. Because when I asked for details a door was slammed in my face . . . a heavy and expensive door paid for with public money.

Finally, before leaving this section, let’s ask ourselves exactly who is complaining about the ONS proposal to make housing associations open and honest public bodies? Well we can be sure that the minions employed by our RSLs don’t have a direct line to Stuart Ropke, Nick Bennett’s successor as Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. The opposition is coming from much further up the food chain.

From people like the £150,000 a year chief executive of RCT Homes. After that bit of bad publicity RCT Homes rebranded itself as Trivallis. Most people in the Central Valleys are still trying to figure out what Trivallis means, and how much it cost to change everything. But, hey, it’s only public money, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

With social housing we have bodies operating in a Twilight Zone that allows them to pretend they’re private companies, free from bothersome FoI requests and any worthwhile official scrutiny, yet enjoying assets they did nothing to build up while having their finances constantly topped up by the public purse. With overpaid CEOs pretending they’re part of the business community.

Registered Social Landlords are part of the Third Sector, that monkey that we must shake from our backs if we are to build up a healthy economy and a prosperous country. Wales is over-dependent on hand-outs, but instead of using even that funding wisely, far too much of it is passed on in further hand-outs. This is trickle-down economics Welsh style.

The fundamental problem with the Third Sector in Wales is not that it exists – for there will always be shysters looking for some ’cause’ to exploit in their own interest – but that it is so interwoven with the ‘Labour movement’; which in itself might not be a problem were it not for the fact that ‘Welsh’ Labour is the recipient and distributor of the handouts.

We should be thankful to the Office for National Statistics for giving us this chance to clean up the expensive mess that is social housing in Wales. We should grasp this opportunity with both hands and make our housing associations public bodies, open to public scrutiny.

The worst possible outcome would be for the ‘Welsh’ Government to be swayed by individuals like Nick Bennett, Stuart Ropke, the £150,000 a year CEO of Trivallis, and too many others with a vested interest in maintaining the indefensible status quo.

To maintain that status quo would be to pander to a selfish, sectional interest against the national interest. Of which we have seen far too much since 1999.

♦ end ♦

P.S. Here is my submission to the Public Accounts Committee for its Inquiry into the Regulatory Oversight of Housing Associations.

Dec 082016
 

When the incoming Labour government offered us devolution in 1997 I didn’t get too excited, but still, if Kinnock and George Thomas are against it, I thought, then it might have something going for it. So I voted Yes, but only because I saw devolution as a step on the road to independence. Encouraged by Ron Davies calling devolution “a process, not an event”.

Once the Yes vote had been arranged everyone assumed that the new Assembly would sit in Cardiff City Hall, but a dispute over costs blew up that was never satisfactorily explained. I believe that this spat was contrived, dreamed up in London to compensate Associated British Ports for not getting the planned opera house designed by the late Zaha Hadid.

It was no coincidence that the driving force behind the opera house project – as head man at Welsh National Opera – was Nicholas Edwards (later Lord Crickhowell), Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher, and chairman of Associated British Ports, the company that owned Cardiff docks.

With Cardiff City Hall ruled out we had a national ‘competition’ to find a replacement. The ‘winner’, in the sense that it was the only entrant to meet the requirements of price and immediate availability, was Swansea’s pre-war Guildhall designed by Percy Thomas. But in April 1998 Secretary of State Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be sited in Cardiff after all.

Swansea Guildhall (picture from 1991)

Everyone in Swansea – and indeed people in Cardiff and the rest of Wales – then realised that the ‘competition’ had been a charade, and that the Assembly was going to Cardiff even though there was no site for it. As late as 2001 Swansea politicians were still claiming a conspiracy.

Further, I have always believed that Ron Davies, being vulnerable to pressure, was ‘leaned on’. His justification at the time for ripping up the ‘competition’ rules and awarding the prize to Cardiff was that to have located the Assembly in Swansea would have undermined Cardiff’s status as capital of Wales. So why have a ‘competition’?

Without a building for the Assembly it was decided to lease Crickhowell House down Cardiff docks, named after Lord Crickhowell. The ‘Welsh’ Government is still leasing Crickhowell House, now renamed Tŷ Hywel. You might be interested in the figures.

From 1999 to 2012 the public purse splurged £40,654,093 on leasing, maintaining and improving the building. The current lease runs until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m plus VAT. When I submitted my FoI in 2013 the building was owned by Crick Properties, but was bought in March 2014 for £40.5m by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The final bill for leasing and maintaining this building will be well over £100m, after which it will still belong to whoever owns it at the time. We could have had a new, purpose-built building for a tenth of that figure. But of course, that would not have suited Associated British Ports and those linked to the company.

The squalid saga of how the public purse was abused in order to transform Cardiff docks into Cardiff Bay for the benefit of Associated British Ports is explained in the Corruption Bay document I put together in 2000-2001.

It’s well over 18 years since Ron Davies announced that the Assembly would be located in Cardiff . . . somewhere. In that time Cardiff – which, incidentally, voted against devolution – has prospered greatly from hosting the Assembly, and gained from politicians and civil servants making decisions that talk of ‘Wales’ but benefit only Cardiff.

To the point where, today, it seems that all investment is focused on Cardiff while other urban areas are condemned to managed decline and our countryside and coasts serve as recreation and retirement areas for England. The north, certainly the north east, is, with the connivance of the ‘Welsh’ Government (acting on the recommendation of a Mrs Hain), being detached from Wales to become commuter territory for Merseyside and Greater Manchester. For some time now, dwellings around Wrecsam have been advertised by estate agents as being in ‘West Cheshire’!

The Mersey Dee Alliance is the plan for north west England to absorb north east Wales

This process of dismembering Wales is made easier by Cardiff’s distance from and indifference to the north east.

Few things illustrate the Cardiff-centricity of contemporary Wales – and more worryingly, how it has become accepted in official circles as the template for all development – than the Cardiff Capital Region project and its associated Metro system.

The City Region is nothing but a scheme for encouraging further investment in Cardiff but, by improving local transport links, it’s hoped that the Valleys and the M4 corridor from Bridgend to the border will feel part of this enterprise. In truth, it’s the formalisation of a city-commuter region arrangement. To dress it up as anything else is dishonest.

That this project has progressed so far with so few objections from those communities being reduced to dormitory status can be attributed to the malign influence of a Labour Party that may be losing its grip but still deals ruthlessly with dissent. Plus the fact that opposition parties seem to share the ‘Everything in Cardiff’ mindset.

To ensure that the focus remains on Cardiff major developments elsewhere in the region may be sabotaged, and this explains the recent attacks on the Circuit of Wales project at Ebbw Vale. These attacks came from the traditional mouthpiece of the Cardiff business community, the Western Mail, and BBC Wales which, as I remarked in Circuit of Wales Revisited“has as much claim to being our national broadcaster as the Mule has to being our national newspaper”.

Despite my criticisms, what I’ve dealt with thus far is understandable, even excusable, in that it’s the duty of the politicians and the business community of a city to promote the interests of that city.

Of course my absolution does not extend to Assembly Members from other areas who simply nod through every project to promote and enrich Cardiff. Nor does it extend to those who pose as our ‘national media’, or other institutions and bodies claiming to represent the whole country.

Cities, even capital cities, looking out for themselves is one thing, but we have now reached the stage in Wales where Cardiff serving its own interests, and being encouraged to do so by the media and the ‘Welsh’ Government, is working against the interests of the country as a whole.

Worse, we are now seeing the corruption that is almost inevitable when the public life of a country is concentrated in a relatively small city, and when this concentration sees those with the power of patronage and control of the public purse rubbing shoulders on a regular basis – and too regularly in social environments – with those wishing to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. Two examples will help explain what I’m talking about.

First, a case that attracted much attention was the deal to sell off land on the outskirts of Cardiff to a very well-connected group of Cardiff businessmen at a knock-down, agricultural-use price, despite the fact that everybody knew the land had been earmarked for housing. I dealt with this in Pies, Planes & Property Development and Pies, Planes & Property Development 2. Let’s not beat about the bush, this was corruption, pure and simple.

Next, have you ever wondered why Wales – unlike Ireland and Scotland – does not have a national cricket team? The answer is that we are represented by England. No, honestly, and to be precise, by the England and Wales Cricket Board (though the ‘Wales’ bit is never used).

Swalec Stadium, home to England Test matches and the reason Wales has no national cricket team

In 2015 Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was an honour to welcome the Test match between Australia and England to Cardiff, adding: “Attracting major events not only boosts our international profile, but has clear benefits for our economy”. 

Two points: First, a national team would boost our ‘international profile’ far more, because many people around the world now believe that Cardiff is in England; second, how much of the money generated by the Test match did other parts of Wales see?

Of course, at one time, we did have a national cricket team, but that was before Glamorgan County Cricket Club and others surrendered to England in order that Cardiff could enjoy the publicity, the prestige, and the revenue, from hosting England ‘home’ matches. Another example of the counter-devolution strategy at work and another step towards Englandandwales.

Another way Wales loses out to Cardiff is in the exodus of too many of the brightest and best from other parts of the country. ‘Ah, but the same thing happens in Ireland’ shout Cardiff’s defenders. Not really. The fastest growing cities there are Cork and Galway, and perhaps more importantly, Donegal and Kerry, Sligo and Roscommon are not being overrun by tens of thousands of retirees, problem families, good-lifers, hippies, paedophiles, white flighters and tourist trappers.

The economic imbalance in Wales that makes Cardiff so attractive to our young people deprives many rural communities of their future leaders, their opinion-formers, those who might challenge the invasion taking place. Coincidence, no doubt.

We have reached the stage now where that economic imbalance is so severe, and being exacerbated year on year, that those who direct things in Cardiff – including those who not so long ago would readily display their contempt for ‘Welshies’ – are quite open about their long-term strategy of positioning the city as a medium-sized provincial English city, in competition with Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle and others. Slowly but inexorably Cardiff is turning its back on Wales.

For Cardiff has the advantage that, as capital of Wales, it can always argue that projects in the city are ‘national’ in importance, and being done for the benefit of 3.2 million people. Which makes it odd that Plaid Cymru politicians get exercised over Crossrail 2 and HS2 being described as ‘national’, yet seem oblivious to the same thing happening under their noses in Cardiff.

Though sometimes the brew gets really heady and ambition stretches beyond competing with Sheffield, proven by an article this week by Siôn Barry, Business Editor of the Wasting Mule, whose brother Mark is the brains behind the Metro system. Barry quotes some estate agent – a profession renowned for its scrupulous avoidance of exaggeration and misrepresentation – who believes that Cardiff can become a “global capital”.

click to enlarge

Think about that. We are asked to believe that a city of less than 400,000 people can compete with Tokyo and Paris, Buenos Aires and Beijing. It’s laughable; with the laughter ratcheted up to hysterical level by the fact that Cardiff’s just a provincial centre, and the full idiocy is realised by remembering that those pushing this bollocks, at the Wasting Mule and elsewhere, oppose Welsh independence, without which Cardiff is not, and never can be, a real capital.

This kind of stuff gets hyperbole a bad name; it borders on the delusional. Young Matt Phillips of Knight Frank clearly needs help, but rather than waste money on some expensive treatment I suggest that he be slapped around the head with a freshly-caught halibut until he recants. (It never fails.) As for those who repeat such nonsense, well, they want to believe it, but worse, they also want you to believe it.

Welcome to the never-never world of devolution. An estate agent tells a journalist that Cardiff is about to go head-to-head with Paris, this is repeated as gospel by our ‘national newspaper’, yet it takes place to the backdrop of Wales being colonised and by other means having its identity eroded as the prelude to complete assimilation into England.

While it yet lasts, this fantasy I’ve described bears some resemblance to a corrupt Third World country where all the goodies are concentrated in the capital and the provinces are allowed to rot; what’s missing is the dictator and his extended family and friends ripping off the state finances, but standing in we have ‘Papa’ Jones and his Labour Party, plus Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector and gangs of well-connected businessmen.

As I said at the start; when I voted Yes in 1997 it was only because I saw devolution as the first step on the road to independence. Devolution has been a complete failure in that regard, and it has even failed as a devolved system – apart from the growth of Cardiff. And this week we were told that even the devolution some thought we had is worthless because Westminster can overrule the ‘Welsh’ Government any time it chooses.

To remedy the situation in which we find ourselves Wales needs to be ‘re-balanced’. I believe that the quickest and surest way of achieving that necessary objective is by moving the Assembly out of Cardiff. Which is why I have launched a petition urging that the Assembly be moved to Aberystwyth. Click here to sign that petition.

end ♦

UPDATE 20.12.2016: Well, bless my soul – Plaid Cymru agrees with me!

Dec 052016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

clearsprings-operates

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

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

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

clearsprings-dumping

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

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

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

clearsprings-marquis-of-worcester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

Nov 202016
 

SWANSEA

Persecution

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

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

Meryl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution Complex?

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

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

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

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

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

‘Good Night, John Boy’

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

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

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

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

LLANELLI

The Invisible Man Moves

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

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

rob-james

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

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

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

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

Now a Labour Politician Who Didn’t Move, Allegedly

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

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

‘Poumista’

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

poumista

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

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

poumista-russian-sniper

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

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

THE LEAVING OF LABOUR

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

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

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

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

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

OUR HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

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

link-gibraltar

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY DONKEY HILL

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

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

Lady Kate Clamp Facebook

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

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

happy-donkey-hill

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

♦ end ♦

Nov 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

Nov 052016
 

IN THE BEGINNING . . . 

Once upon a time there was an obscure little charity in Barry called the John Rowley Trust, formed in 1986, which ran a hostel for homeless young people.

But then, in May 1999, came the first elections to the National Assembly for Wales. Someone said, ‘Ah, a new source of funding – time to get organised!’ What’s more, because Plaid Cymru did so well in those first elections, they thought they saw the future, and said, ‘Let’s give our revamped organisation a Welsh name’.

And so, at an Extra-ordinary meeting of the John Rowley Trust on July 12, 1999, Llamau Ltd was born, and a few new directors appointed. (Though there was obviously some confusion about the name chosen because the document submitted to Companies House says that the new name is ‘Llaman’.)

Though Llamau’s commitment to the Welsh language is questionable, seeing as there is no Welsh version of the website, nor indeed any Welsh at all to be found on it. Clearly the ‘commitment’ extends no further than the name.

ENTER FRANCES BEECHER

In October 2000 Frances Beecher was appointed CEO, and boy! did things then take off. Ms Beecher is also a Fellow and a Trustee of the Labour-supporting Institute for Welsh Affairs, where her bio (scroll down) tells us that, “Frances steered the organisation (Llamau) through an extensive development programme from 28 staff to approx. 350 staff.”

Ms Beecher was next appointed to the board of Llamau Ltd, as secretary, on February 10, 2005. There is also the charity Llamau. As is normal practice the directors of the company also serve as trustees of the charity, with two exceptions. Frances Beecher, as an employee and a director, is not a trustee. And even though Stuart Duffin is listed on the Llamau website as Vice Chair (under Trustees) he does not appear on the Charity Commission page as a trustee, nor on the Companies House website as a director. Which I find odd.

The ‘Governing document’ is the Memorandum and Articles of Association which sets out what the company is allowed to do and how it operates, a copy must be filed with Companies House. You can see that a number of changes are mentioned, but we only need to concern ourselves with the most recent.

llamau-governing-document

Let’s start with the last but one amendment. This is dated St David’s Day 2012 and was agreed at a General Meeting of the company held on February 25. It says, “3 The Company’s objects are – To promote the welfare and well being of people in need in the South Wales area, etc., etc.” Which is what we should expect.

But if we go to the amendment of roughly a year later, following another General Meeting, this one held on January 26, 2013, we read, “That the Memorandum of Association of the Company be altered by deleting paragraph 3 in its entirety and inserting the following – 3 The Company’s objects are to promote the welfare and well being of people in need in the United Kingdom, etc., etc”. 

So in the space of less than a year this hitherto insignificant outfit, once an unknown charity in Barry, has taken on a UK-wide role. Given what it does, and that Llamau operates only in Wales, the fact that it benefits people from across the United Kingdom suggests only one thing – that people from outside of Wales benefit from Llamau’s services by moving to Wales.

But even “across the United Kingdom” is misleading because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own judicial systems, so it should read ‘England and Wales’.

ALSO INVOLVED . . . 

The Chair of the Trustees at Llamau the charity, and of course a director of the company Llamau Ltd, is Angela Mary Gascoigne; a busy woman with an interesting background.

From 24.09.1998 until 27.09.2001 she was a director at Community Housing Cymru. There then seems to be a gap – or at least I’ve found nothing – until some time in 2008 when she turns up as managing director of the Somer Housing Group in Somerset, which has since changed its name to the Curo Group (Albion) Ltd.

llamau-angela-gascoigne

The name change may have come about in response to a less than favourable report on Ms Gascoigne’s running of the Somer Housing Group.

Obviously cue to exit stage left, so in November 2011 we find Ms Gascoigne joining the ‘Wales’ Probation Service, which has since split, in 2014, into the Wales Community Rehabilitation Company and the National Probation Service which, as the Justice website tells us, ” . . . is a statutory criminal justice service that supervises high-risk offenders released into the community in England and Wales”. So it’s an Englandandwales body.

UPDATE 12.11.2016: Here’s an example of the kind ‘high-risk offender released into the community’ . . . to kill an innocent teenager. The family of the murdered youth is now planning legal action against the Wales Community Rehabilitation Company.

llamau-national-probation-service

It would appear that Angela Mary Gascoigne was still connected with the National Probation Service for Englandandwales when she joined Clean Slate Training & Employment Ltd of Bath as a non-executive director on July 1, 2013. Its website tells us, “Clean Slate Training & Employment was set up in 2006 as a social enterprise creating and supporting paid work opportunities for people facing barriers to the labour market”. Ms Gascoigne left Clean Slate on July 4, 2016.

While a director with Clean Slate Angela Gascoigne also took up a directorship, on November 11, 2013, with Sedgemoor Housing Management Services Ltd, of Bridgewater, Somerset. She was appointed secretary on January 2, 2014. This company might be the trading arm – it’s certainly a subsidiary – of SHAL Housing, an Industrial and Provident Society. She is still director and secretary of SHMS Ltd.

From reading both websites and picking up information from elsewhere it’s clear that SHMS Ltd and SHAL Housing have links with London and help relocate people from the Great Wen to the west of England.

Finally, Ms Gascoigne joined Victim Support Cymru on January 14, 2014, and is still there. Though what she does is a mystery, seeing as Victim Support Cymru is listed as a dormant company by Companies House. In fact, the last accounts filed for Victim Support Wales (as it then was) were for year ended 31.03.2006.

From this website it’s clear that Victim Support is yet another Englandandwales body. The Javed Khan referred to was chief executive of Victim Support before moving on to Barnardo’s. Prior to the change shown in the panel, dated October 30, 2013, the Trustees of Victim Support Cymru were, with the approval of “the National Charity”, free to appoint “a Chairman, Treasurer and other honorary officers from among their number”.

llamau-victim-support-memorandum

Can we conclude that this change in October 2013 to the way Victim Support is run explains Angela Mary Gascoigne’s appointment in January 2014, was it made by ‘The National Charity’ in London? But why bother? The company has been dormant for 10 years, there is no charity called Victim Support Cymru, and it doesn’t seem to exist in any other form either. Victim Support Cymru seems to be as imaginary as the ‘Wales Probation Service’.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

Time to lift the lid on Llamau’s finances. Here are the most recent accounts available on the Companies House website, for year ending 31.03.2015. The accounts for 2016 should be available soon.

Before going to the figures, let’s look at some other information found in the accounts. Turning to page 6 (numbered at top of page), the use of ‘principal’ in the first paragraph may be significant.

Page 9 is interesting with its reference to the “Young Persons Resettlement Broker Project for North and Southern Wales”. (Why not just say ‘Wales’?) More information can be found on the website under Llamau’s Resettlement Project.

The ‘Brokers’ are, for the north, Dr Kathy Hampson, and the south, Tracey Kinsey. Dr Hampson’s Linkedin profile tells us that the project is really run by the Youth Justice Board, yet another Englandandwales outfit. I can find little information on Tracey Kinsey beyond the fact that at some time previously she was Family Mediation Manager for Llamau. Though her real claim to fame may be as the Chair of the Chepstow-Corneilles Twinning Committee.

The first paragraph on page 10, particularly the bracketed section referring to “company law”, again calls into question the status of the ethereal Irishman, Stuart Duffin.

Turning to the figures, Ms Gascoigne is forced to admit that Llamau is living a hand-to-mouth existence, with no reserves whatsoever. Hardly surprising with total resources expended in 2015 of £10,997,104 (an increase of £1,217,973 on 2014) against income of £10,837,897 (an increase of just £886,155 on 2014).

llamau-salaries

The largest component of the expenditure, is staff salaries. Staff costs (wages, pensions and social security payments) total £7,585,065. And that doesn’t take into account staff training (£111,703), travel and subsistence (£178,418), etc., etc. But then, we must remember that CEO Frances Beecher “steered the organisation through an extensive development programme from 28 staff to approx. 350 staff”. That don’t come cheap.

UPDATE 06.11.206: When writing this I neglected to consult the Transparent Wales website. Having now done so I find in the funding for Llamau a number of payments of the type ‘Current grants to private sector’, and these total £1,116,420. Private sector!

THE TROJAN HORSE THAT IS THE THIRD SECTOR

To recap, with the advent of devolution someone saw the opportunity to turn a small Barry charity into a major player in the Third Sector, and this is what happened.

But then, just short of four years ago, Llamau spread its wings to become a ‘UK’ – in reality, Englandandwales – organisation. This seems to have happened soon after lead player Angela Mary Gascoigne, a woman with feet on both sides of the Severn, got involved with the Probation Service and other elements of the judicial system.

Giving us an organisation based in Wales, largely funded from within Wales, but run in the main by people from outside Wales and serving England’s interests by rehousing young tearaways and those released from the ‘secure estate’. Making Llamau little more than an agency of the Englandandwales judicial system.

To achieve this position, agencies that previously had a modicum of Welshness and independence, such as the Probation Service and Women’s Aid have been absorbed into an Englandandwales framework.

Another example is of course Victim Support, where successive amendments to the Memorandum have exposed the increasing hold of the ‘national body’ over its Welsh outpost. As I’ve pointed out, Victim Support Cymru is registered with Companies House as a dormant company. It still has a skeletal presence with the Charities Commission that tells us it operates ‘Throughout Wales’, though when it comes to the ‘Area of benefit’ box it says:

llamau-victim-support-cymru

Don’t be surprised, for it’s how the Third Sector operates. The era of devolution and easy money has attracted all manner of shysters across the border with no commitment to Wales, they’ve come either to take over existing Welsh organisations or else to set up new ones in order to tackle ‘ishoos’ of which we were blissfully unaware ere the arrival of said shysters.

What were once separate Welsh bodies, serving Wales, are now locked into Englandandwales frameworks. This explains how undesirables and all manner of criminals appear out of the blue to occupy – and very often wreck – Welsh social housing.

I could set up an outfit tomorrow claiming to help distressed caber tossers and start milking the system. And if anyone said, ‘But, Jac, there are no distressed caber tossers in Wales’ I’d just pop up to Scotland and find some. Because that’s how the Third Sector in Wales operates – demand money to tackle fictitious ‘problems’ or else import problems that aren’t ours.

DEVOCOLONIALISM

Last month I coined the term devocolonialism to explain this system we now live under. This post gives me an opportunity to expand on what I said in that tweet.

devocolonialism-tweet

We have an Assembly down in Cardiff docks, and within it a group of Labour Party deadbeats desperately hoping to be mistaken for a government. They are a joke, they and the whole apparatus of devolution is a sham, proven by the fact that no one outside of Wales – and certainly not ‘Welsh’ Labour MPs – takes devolution seriously, so why should you?

The Assembly’s powers have been restricted by Government of Wales Acts ensuring that the Assembly can never operate in the best interests of the Welsh people. All we get is ‘Welsh’ Laws that are English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ added, and civil servants answering to London acting as ‘advisers’ to this self-deluding ‘government’.

Yet all the time, while it’s hoped we are focused on those slobbering grotesques in Cardiff, behind our backs, in a hundred and one ways that our thoroughly useless media will never report, Welsh identity is being crushed, and we become strangers in our own country as Wales merges into England.

Devolution is nothing but a comfort blanket against the encroaching darkness of assimilation. And if devolution is the comfort blanket then the comforter itself, designed to make you forget your fears and nod off, is the belief that a few more Plaid Cymru AMs can improve things.

Take my word for it, there is no political solution to the problems confronting the Welsh nation.

~ ♦ ~ end ~ ♦ ~

Nov 012016
 

INTRODUCTION

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

gwynedd-council-tax

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

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

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

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

COUNCIL TAX ON SECOND HOMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cambrian-news-letters-1

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

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

LAND TRANSACTION TAX (FORMERLY STAMP DUTY)

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

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

1/ Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group

2/ Residential Landlords Association

3/ National Association of Estate Agents

4/ KPMG

5/ Central Association of Agricultural Valuers

6/ Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwynedd SW Wards merged

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

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

TOURIST TAX

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

venice

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END