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.

Nov 202016
 

SWANSEA

Persecution

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

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

Meryl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution Complex?

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

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

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

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

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

‘Good Night, John Boy’

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

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

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

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

LLANELLI

The Invisible Man Moves

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

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

rob-james

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

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

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

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

Now a Labour Politician Who Didn’t Move, Allegedly

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

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

‘Poumista’

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

poumista

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

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

poumista-russian-sniper

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

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

THE LEAVING OF LABOUR

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

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

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

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

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

OUR HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

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

link-gibraltar

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY DONKEY HILL

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

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

Lady Kate Clamp Facebook

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

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

happy-donkey-hill

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

♦ end ♦

Nov 012016
 

INTRODUCTION

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

gwynedd-council-tax

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

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

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

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

COUNCIL TAX ON SECOND HOMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cambrian-news-letters-1

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

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

LAND TRANSACTION TAX (FORMERLY STAMP DUTY)

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

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

1/ Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group

2/ Residential Landlords Association

3/ National Association of Estate Agents

4/ KPMG

5/ Central Association of Agricultural Valuers

6/ Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwynedd SW Wards merged

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

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

TOURIST TAX

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

venice

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END 

Oct 232016
 

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

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

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

Hugh James logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mbh-s106

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

coastal-housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which might be the answer to everything.

END 

Oct 172016
 

October 17th 2016

First Minister,

You may have read my previous post, ‘Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd‘. If not, then I suggest you read it, if only to help you understand what follows.

Your government gives a great deal of public money to housing associations. These bodies are largely unregulated and, as a consequence, a law unto themselves. (One reason so many of them run into ‘difficulties’.) For example, Pembrokeshire Housing – a body that receives a great deal of money from the public purse – funds its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes in the building of private houses for sale.  

The emergence of this particular scandal is due entirely to dedicated individuals rather than to the media, politicians, or those answerable to you who claim to be overseeing the Registered Social Landlords you so lavishly fund.

Now it emerges that housing associations funded by your government are leasing – perhaps also renting – property from Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that is registered in a tax haven to hide the identity of those behind it, also to escape UK regulations and of course to avoid paying UK tax.

On Sunday, the Guardian told us that Arron Banks, funder of Ukip, friend of Nigel Farage and financial backer of his recent Leave.EU campaign, also makes use of Gibraltar. (Read it here.) When I read the story bells rang because details of Banks’ Gibraltar connection seemed familiar to me.

That’s because both Link Holdings and Arron Banks use Parliament Lane Nominees as directors, and both also use STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries. (Check Link Holdings’ company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar to confirm this.)

Coincidence? Probably, but the Guardian article raises the possibility that Welsh housing associations, funded and supposedly regulated by the Welsh Government, could be leasing properties from Arron Banks.

Despite the blog post I refer you to focusing on Swansea this problem is not confined to that city, or to Link Holdings. To begin with, Link Holdings owns property across southern Wales, so it’s reasonable to assume that RSLs in other areas have an arrangement with Link. Then, knowing that Link is one of many offshore companies owning property in Wales makes it equally reasonable to assume that housing associations have dealings with companies other than Link. (Read this.)

It doesn’t matter which possibility we consider, neither does your government or the housing associations involved any favours. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd could be owned by Arron Banks, or it could be owned by the Mafia, the Moonies, or money-launderers, we just don’t know.

Successive Labour administrations in the Assembly have told us they believe in ‘openness’, they’ve also reminded us how responsible they are in their handling of the public purse. You now have an opportunity to prove that these claims are more than empty rhetoric.

Unless, that is, you see nothing wrong with housing associations passing on public funding to property companies registered in tax havens. But I find that difficult to believe.

I also believe that no right-thinking Welsh politician would sanction what I have explained here, so we are entitled to know who is behind Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. We are also entitled to know if you and the housing associations involved are unable to identify who is behind this company.

Someone also needs to explain why the Welsh Government allowed publicly-funded bodies to do business with companies registered in tax havens. Before, finally, promising that such behaviour will be brought to an end.

It’s clear from the Link Holdings case, from what’s happening in Pembrokeshire, and from other evidence, that the social housing sector is in one hell of a mess. A well-funded but almost completely unregulated mess.

The answer to this problem lies in genuine reform, not in encouraging housing associations run by Labour Party members to take over faltering RSLs in order to increase Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh public life. (I am of course referring here to the recent Wales and West takeover of Cantref.)

Let me conclude by suggesting that you, First Minister, practise what your party preaches about openness and concern for the public purse by making sure that no more of our money reaches secretive companies registered in Gibraltar or any other tax haven.

END

UPDATE 18.10.2016: I have now decided to write directly to the First Minister. Here’s my letter.

Oct 102016
 

Regular readers of Private Eye – and perhaps those who abjure Lord Gnome’s organ – will know there is now a database available that tries to list all property in Wales and England owned by overseas registered companies. You can browse it here.

Naturally, my interest was in Wales, and so I extracted the Welsh properties from the database and these can be viewed here, grouped by local authority, and then, within each LA area, ownership is shown alphabetically.

It soon becomes clear that different companies can be found operating in different areas, some in more than one area; but one particular company stood out for the sheer number of properties it owns.

I’m referring of course to the company of the title, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. Here’s a list of Link’s properties, again, grouped by local authority, and in date order with the most recent purchases at the top. Though you’ll see that Link also owns a few houses (and a garage!) in Colchester, Essex, which seem to be the only properties the company owns outside of Wales. I’d love to know the explanation for the Essex outlier.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Link properties is that a great majority of the title documents, almost all, in fact, bear the same date, July 24, 2006. There are so many titles bearing this date that I think it must signify the transfer of a large property portfolio to Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd on that date. Which raises the question, whose portfolio was it before Link bought it? Alternatively, it could just be a change of name. In which case, what was the previous name of Link?

Although my interest was aroused by reading the articles in Private Eye and checking out the map, what really kick-started this investigation was someone in Swansea contacting me through Facebook to say that a number of the properties listed for Link in fact belonged to a housing association, which I thought was odd.

The properties my source was referring to are in Penmaen Terrace in Mount Pleasant, three- or four-storey houses, once homes to the local bourgeoisie now broken up into self-contained flats of the kind popular with students. (The picture below shows the kind of properties I’m talking about, though not necessarily the one I shall now focus on.)

penmaen-terrace

My informant referred me to No 5, which she assured me was rented out by the Coastal Housing Group. Nearby properties were also said to be rented out by Coastal. The obvious thing to do was check with the Land Registry, where the mystery was cleared up . . . sort of.

Yes, 5 Penmaen Terrace is owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, but there is a leasehold agreement with Coastal. The details can be found here in the freehold title document, and here in the leasehold title document.

Though remember that Coastal is a relatively new organisation, registered on April 1, 2008 and formed through the merger of Cymdeithas Tai Dewi Sant (1991) and the Swansea Housing Association (1978). Which means that although Coastal is named as the registered owner and proprietor (of the lease) on 04.02.1983 this must have been the Swansea Housing Association.

The two ‘Restrictions’ dated 23.04.2008 would appear to be some kind of recognition that the merger and reorganisation had taken place.

Scrolling to the end of the leasehold document, under the ‘Charges’ (loan, mortgages, etc.) heading brings us to this entry: “(04.02.1983) Proprietor: The Housing Corporation of 149 Tottenham Court, Road, London W1T 7BN.” This quango was the body that oversaw and funded housing associations between 1964 and 2008. I assume it ceased to have any authority in Wales after devolution.

An assumption that seems to be confirmed by a later entry reading: “(12.10.2000) A Deed dated 4 October 2000 made between (1) National Westminster Bank Plc (2) The National Assembly For Wales and (3) Swansea Housing Association Limited relates to priorities as between the Charges dated 12 January 1983 and 4 October 2000 referred to above as therein mentioned.”

In order to find out exactly what this meant, I contacted the ‘Welsh’ Government with a FoI. I submitted the request on Sunday, October 2, which meant that no one would have read it until Monday, then I had a phone call on the Tuesday from a Regulation Manager at the Housing Directorate! Here’s a section from the written reply that arrived a couple of days later.

link-5-penmaen-terrace-welsh-gov-deed

The answer to my question, ‘How much did the ‘Welsh’ Government chip in?’ would appear to be that the ‘Welsh’ Government put in no money but instead acts as some kind of guarantor for housing associations taking out or revising loans.

Having satisfied myself as to who owns and who leases 5 Penmaen Terrace I decided to look at another property in Swansea owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, one mentioned in the freehold of 5 Penmaen Terrace, where it says, almost at the end, “(24.07.2006) Registered Charge dated 29 June 2006 affecting also other titles. NOTE: Charge reference WA99891”.

WA99891 takes us to a part of town with which I am more familiar, for this title number refers to the freehold of 379 Neath Road in Plasmarl, the neighbourhood where my father was born and raised. Once a busy road, in fact, the main road from town to Morriston, it has become something of a backwater due to the new road that now runs past the Liberty Stadium and on up to the M4.

The property on Neath Road is a just a terraced house but, again, it’s owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, though unlike the one in Penmaen Terrace it belongs to those properties bought, or registered, after 24.07.2006. To be exact, 06.10.2006. Another difference is that the lessee in this instance is the Family Housing Association Wales Ltd. And the money to fund the lease came from Orchardbrook Ltd.

family-housing-association

I couldn’t get a great deal of information on Orchardbrook, for one thing, it doesn’t seem to have a website, but I did turn up minutes from a 2009 meeting of the York Housing Association, which say, “The Chair explained that Orchardbrook (a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland) took over all Housing Associations loans and the interest rate specified was high.” Suggesting that when the Housing Corporation was wound up in 2008 its assets, in the form of loans made to housing associations, were sold off.

So the Charge entered against the leasehold title of the Neath Road property in 2014 probably means that Orchardbrook ‘revised’ the terms of the loan it had inherited from the Housing Corporation.

We don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents so to explain a little more I’ll use the Zoopla website. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd owns hundreds of properties in Swansea and many more across the south (but none west of Llanelli).

For example, Link owns many properties on relatively new developments in the Llansamlet area, in Brynteg, Ryw Blodyn, Lon Brynawel and Clos Eileen Chilcott and other streets. Using the data I’d compiled and cross-referencing with Zoopla and other property websites we find that most of these properties are leasehold.

link-clos-eileen-chilcott

Obviously I can’t check all Link’s properties, there are just too many, but I suspect the same picture will be found elsewhere: older properties – especially large ones and Houses of Multiple Occupation like those in Penmaen Terrace – are leased or rented to housing associations, with newer properties – bought as buy-to-lets – are privately leased or rented. Though I’m not ruling out that newer properties might also be leased or rented to RSLs.

Which leaves the big question – what exactly is Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, and who’s behind it? Against my better judgement – knowing I wasn’t going to learn much – I shelled out £15 for a company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar.

While the big question – ‘Who owns Link?’ – goes unanswered, the profile does advance our knowledge in other areas. It tells us, for example, that Link was incorporated in Gibraltar on September 11, 2003.

Digging around in the FCA website turned this up, which tells us that on 24.02.2006 Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey changed its name to or merged with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. This might explain the rush of registrations with the Land Registry a few months later, for this could be the Cymru Investments portfolio being registered under the new name.

link-fca-info-name-change

Though given that Link was Incorporated in Gibraltar in September 2003 what was it doing in the intervening period?

You’ll also see that the name Cymru Investments Ltd had only been used for a year or so, so was there a previous name? Yes there was, as this document from the Jersey Financial Services Commission tells us. From 10.09.1991 to 15.02.2003 Cymru Investments was known as Rastlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd, and before that, from 14.03.1974, the company went by the name of Gwalia Investments Ltd.

Something you may have picked up on is that there’s a gap of 23 months between Jersey saying the name Rastlebeg ceased to be used (15.02.2003) and the FCA telling us that the name Cymru investments was adopted (08.01.2005). Is this a typo, or was another name used in this period?

link-jfsc-name-change

In the hope of getting to the bottom of things I decided to buy the original registration document for Gwalia Investments Ltd from 14.03.1974 from the Jersey Financial Services Commission. Here it is. You’ll see that despite what we’re being told, the company was originally registered as Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd not Gwalia Investments Ltd. Yes, that’s Castlebeg not Rastlebeg – another typo? Well, no.

Because further Googling turned up this entry (below) from Hansard. Castlebeg and Rastlebeg are one and the same, so why the different spellings, was the name changed in an attempt to confuse, or is it a repeated typo?

link-castlebeg-hansard

Here’s a link to another Commons exchange from 1986 concerning Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. The company was clearly behaving in improper and even underhand ways. There seems to have been some reluctance on the part of the then Conservative government to introduce leasehold reform. The kind of reforms recommended in the Nugee Report.

Having started the previous section by saying I didn’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents I’m now in danger of getting us bogged down in information from other sources, so I’ll just refer to a few more scraps of information before trying to pull the various threads together.

This first document, from the FCA, is the one that confirms Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd as the successor to Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey (see panel above), but there are tabs on it we have yet to explore. If we click on the ‘Principals’ tab we bring up the name of Brian D Thomas Insurance Services Ltd of Swansea. Here’s the Companies House entry.

This company goes back to May 1977 and was chugging along quite comfortably, with total assets less current liabilities of £399,517 at year end 31.03.2005. But then, this thoroughly Swansea company, soon after it gets involved with Link Holdings, is taken over by the Jelf Group of Bristol, undergoes a few name changes, is moved to Bristol, goes dormant, and is finally put out of its misery by being dissolved 07.09.2010.

Interestingly, one of the many names Brian D Thomas briefly traded as in this period was Gwalia Insurance Services. It’s strange how the name Gwalia keeps cropping up, and those of you familiar with the social housing scene will know that there’s a Gwalia Housing Group in Swansea, which recently merged with the Seren Group to create Pobl. Is there a connection?

link-brian-d-thomas-fca-gwalia

You will have noticed that the Principal Place of Business given on the FCA document for Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is, ‘Cymru Investments Ltd., Po Box 232, Jersey, Channel Islands JE4 8SF‘.

At that same address we find Cymru Management Ltd, Company Number 91117, Registered 06.09.2005. The date of Registration fits perfectly with all the moving and shaking going on, and Link Holdings in the wings waiting to take over. The Annual Return for 2016 informs us that Cymru Management has just two £1 shares issued to Mrs Deanne Mary Pascoe.

Mrs Pascoe is a woman pushing 80 and a director of GUKL Ltd, which I guess is run by another director, Paul Henry Barron Pascoe, a solicitor, who I take to be her son. The registered office is in London, and yet, if you scroll down on the ‘People’ page you come to a couple of names and addresses from the city of my dreams.

One is Zoe Teresa Brooks of Killay, and the other is James Christopher Coughlan of Llansamlet. Both served as directors for just six weeks, from 15.05.1995 until 30.06.1995. And when appointed Ms Brooks was only 18 years of age! Mr Coughlan is a builder, and had his own firm for a short time. It appears Ms Brooks did not trouble Companies House ever again.

Digging into the history of GUKL tells us that it began life in March 1990 as Cruisebase Plc, but the name was soon changed, in July 1990, to Golfads (UK) Plc, and again in October 2015 to GUKL. Would it be reasonable to assume that the current name means Golfads UK Ltd? And if so, what the hell does such a company have to do with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd?

It might be worth adding that even though a number of sources suggest Cymru Investments morphed into Link Holdings it still exists in some ethereal form, using the same number, 8431, as this Annual Return for 2016 to the Jersey authorities tells us. Five thousand £1 shares held by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd.

I feel a bit like old Gildas writing De Excidio, where he talks of having made a ‘heap’ of all he’d found, because I’ve collected a lot of information but I’m still not sure what it tells us. Anyway, let’s try to make sense of it. (And I need your help.)

We know from Hansard, quoting Ron Davies and Nicholas Edwards, that there was a leasehold company operating in the mid-1980s named Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. This company was also and variously known as Cymru Investments (Jersey) Ltd and Gwalia Investments (Jersey) Ltd. Though the jury is out as to whether it also called itself Rastlebeg or whether this was a clerical error. As the names suggest, all these companies were based on Jersey in the Channel Islands.

This company leased both to private individuals and bodies such as housing associations. It may or may not have also rented properties. Then, after being Incorporated in Gibraltar 11.09.2003 (but, according to the FCA, still using the Jersey address of Cymru Investments Ltd) Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd took over or became the latest incarnation of Gwalia/Cymru/Castlebeg. Probably confirmed with the splurge of Land Registry registrations of 24.07.2006.

It doesn’t matter how many sidetracks we follow, or from which angle we choose to approach this subject, there always seems to be a path back to Swansea. Whatever we are dealing with has its origins in or close to that city. But what is it? If Link Holdings is now a massive buy-to-let portfolio, then there is one outstanding candidate for the man behind it. I won’t name him, but everything fits.

It could even be that the Link portfolio today is an amalgam of an older leasehold business, Castlebeg, and more recent purchases by another party of newer properties, such as those in Llansamlet and other parts of Swansea which look as if they could have been bought off plan. So please look at the Private Eye map and the data I’ve compiled, what kind of properties does Link own in your area?

And yet . . . I have this nagging worry that some of the properties now owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd may once have belonged to social housing providers. I hope not. Equally, I hope that Link is not a social housing portfolio that has been moved offshore.

link-gibraltar

What we can be sure of is that Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is registered where it is a) to pay as little tax as possible, b) to escape the UK regulatory system, and c) to hide the identity or identities of whoever owns the company. That in itself arouses suspicion.

More worrying is that Link and other offshore companies own so much property in Wales. But worse, is that housing associations, bodies receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in public funding, are doing business with Link.

My enquiries covered just one local authority area, and I looked into only one (admittedly large) offshore property company. But I doubt if the picture will be very different in other areas and with other companies. So go through the information I’ve linked to, have a look around your area, and send me your feedback.

We are entitled to know how much Welsh public funding ends up with companies registered offshore. The ‘Welsh’ Government also needs to explain why these deals were entered into. Finally, we must have a promise that there will be no more of these deals, and that Welsh public funding will no longer enrich those who view Wales as a country to be exploited.

END

UPDATE 16.10.2016: The online Guardian today carried a piece about Arron Banks, big buddy of Nigel Farage and funder of both Ukip and the Leave.EU campaign. Unsurprisingly, Banks has accounts in many a tax haven, including Gibraltar, where Link Holdings also hides its loot.

But the connection doesn’t end there, for Banks also uses Parliament Lane Nominees Ltd as directors and STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries, just like Link Holdings. (Read Link Holdings’ company profile.) Probably just coincidence, I suppose, but what if . . .

Aug 072016
 

Cantref, or Tai Cantref, is a housing association based in Castell Newydd Emlyn (Newcastle Emlyn) on the border of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. It ran into trouble last year and is now in the process of being handed over to a Cardiff housing association run by a Labour Party member. This after an ‘independent’ investigation by an English management consultancy run by a Labour supporter.

Cantref Cym

Many of you will know that I’ve written about Cantref’s woes before, so listed below you’ll find the posts in which Cantref has figured. They will help you understand how we arrived at a situation where a housing association using the Welsh language in its day-to-day operations seems to have been handed over to an English housing association based in Cardiff with no concern for the Welsh language at all.

This handover was facilitated by a ‘Welsh’ Government ‘committed’ to the Welsh language that, only last week at the National Eisteddfod, expressed the ambition of having a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Housing Associations, Time To End The Madness, 3 July 2014

To Those That Have Shall Be Given – Housing Benefit! 4 May 2015

Updates, etc: Cardigan Castle, Organ Harvesting, Overseas Aid Programme, Housing Associations, Labour Leadership Contest 26 July 2015

Boors & Crooks; Cowards, Spooks & Idiots 29 September 2015

Social Housing Back to Council Control? 11 April 2016

Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named 21 April 2016

Housing Associations – All Change? 25 April 2016

Tai Cantref: Fate Decided by Labour Cronyism 29 April 2016

MELTDOWN

Let’s start by conceding that Cantref being up Shit Creek is in large part due to poor business decisions and less than inspiring management. Indicated in this comment to one of my earlier posts.

Cantref Insider comment

Even so, a change of management and the injection of a little moolah could have steadied the ship and saved it from being taken over by pirates. So what do we know of these ‘pirates’?

WALES AND WEST

Wales and West is no cuddly housing association but a ruthless and acquisitive business. ‘Association’ was dropped from the name in 2012, which should give you a clue as to how W&W likes to see itself and be perceived by others.

Something else I’ve previously remarked on is the ‘Englishness’ or non-Welshness of Wales and West, and I’m not just referring to language (when compared with Cantref), I’m talking about those who run it. Look through the Board of Management and the Directors’ Team. There seems to be minimal Welsh involvement at the top of this ‘Welsh’ housing group. (Maybe lower down as well.)

Nationality aside, the important figure to note is the chief executive, Labour Party member Anne Hinchey. She’s married to Cardiff councillor Graham Hinchey. Mrs Hinchey you may recall had her staff going around Cardiff during May’s Assembly election campaign making sure none of her tenants had the temerity to display non-Labour posters or placards, and removing any that were found.

Wales and West header

Knowing how ‘Welsh’ Labour likes to conflate Plaid Cymru with the Welsh language, and hate both, the thought of this woman taking over Cantref should make anyone concerned for the Welsh language, political pluralism, or just fair play, shudder. But then, as I’ve been telling you for years, this is how ‘Welsh’ Labour operates – when presented with the opportunity it will always encourage nepotism and cronyism to further its political ends.

Mrs Hinchey attends the Vine Christian Centre in Bridgend. Knowing how the devout enjoy each other’s company I couldn’t help but wonder if any of those listed in the Board of Management or Directors’ Team at Wales and West share Mrs Hinchey’s faith? Just a thought.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Like all housing bodies Wales and West survives and prospers due to our generosity, in the form of funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. The main funding comes from the Social Housing Grant. Between 2008 and November 2015 Wales and West was given £65m in SHG alone.

Part of this figure is broken down (I assume) in the Wales and West entry on the Transparent Wales website, which shows a total of almost £45m between 28.04.2011 and the end of the financial year on 31.03.2016. Though one thing puzzles me.

Payments made up to 28.11.2012 are listed as “Capital Grants to Private Sector”, and after that date as “Capital Grants to Voluntary Organisations”. Yet the changes implemented in 2012 by W&W were if anything in the opposite direction, from voluntary to private.

Perhaps even curiouser is why Wales and West should have received funding from the UK Government which is – given that social housing is devolved (so we are told) – in this context the English government. Yet that’s what happened in 2014. So why did the ‘English’ government give money to a Welsh housing association?

CANTREF LATEST

The latest communication I’ve received from within besieged Cantref paints a worrying picture of intimidation, but one that also offers some hope. Read it carefully and digest what it says.

Cantref Insider redacted

Clearly, Wales and West has absolutely no sympathy for the Welsh language. In other aspects, the information above ties up with what I’m told by another contact appeared in the Carmarthenshire Herald last week.

Cantref Ble ti'n myn i fyw

So it might be that things are not yet cut and dried. Because if Wales and West needs 75% approval from stakeholders, and this group includes bodies opposed to the Wales and West takeover, indeed, in the case of Carmarthenshire County Council, a body that itself wanted to take over Cantref, then there might still be hope.

Another of the leading players in this drama remains something of a mystery. I’m referring now to the interim chair at Cantref, Kevin Taylor. (There is currently no chief executive.) It is he presumably referred to above, in the note smuggled out of Cantref, as “Cantref’s english acting chairman”.

According to his Linkedin profile Taylor was employed by Forte Hotels 1977 – 1987 then, from 1987 to 2013, he worked in Bermuda. How did this complete stranger turn up at such a critical juncture in the history of Cantref, just in time to recommend the takeover by Wales and West? Or to put it another way, who parachuted him in?

CONCLUSION

Note the reference in the message I was sent to it “all being stitched up in a Labour meeting in Cardiff last year”, for it’s easy to see the advantages for Labour in this takeover.

The bulk of Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, where Labour got 9.7% of the vote in the 2015 UK general election and 6.5% in May’s Assembly election. And where there is just a single Labour member on the local authority (and he’s in a university town). Consequently, ‘Welsh’ Labour controlling Cantref would give the party influence in an area where it is consistently and comprehensively rejected at the ballot box.

The suggestion that opponents of the takeover are being refused access to shareholders is worrying, as is the allegation there is also a refusal to accept new shareholders. Unfitting behaviour I would have thought for the Christian CEO of Wales and West. But not surprising, for we’re dealing here with ‘Welsh’ Labour, and that’s how they operate.

(I’m also beginning to suspect that in the wider picture ‘shareholders’ might be a way for a clique or political party to maintain control of a housing association, by encouraging ‘their people’ to become shareholders, and then be eligible to join the board of management, while turning away those who are likely to disagree with them.)

The Wales and West takeover of Cantref is less a business deal and more a political manoeuvre, and an assault on the Welsh language. An agenda that would meet with the approval of most members of ‘Welsh’ Labour, despite the pie-in-the-sky promises from the party’s local leadership.

I therefore suggest that if Carwyn Jones wants to be believed when he talks of his party’s commitment to the Welsh language he should step in and call off the Wales and West takeover of Cantref. If he doesn’t, then it’s just further proof of what I’ve been saying for years about ‘Welsh’ Labour.

P. S. A Special General Meeting is to be held on Tuesday August 9th, presumably at the Cantref offices. Why not try to get details and go along there, make your feelings known?

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

Update 10.08.2016: The worst happened at the Special General Meeting last night, and Cantref is to be taken over by Labour-run Wales and West. Comments to this blog and information received by another route paint a worrying picture of how this was achieved.

First, Wales and West decided not to accept new shareholders – who would have had voting rights – after May 26. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it smacks of how Blairite Labour tried to stop any more Corbyn supporters joining. And Wales and West is run by ‘Welsh’ Labour which, above NCO level, tends to be Blairite.

Cantref Insider Aug 10 2016

The other comments made in the anonymous message I received to the ‘Contact Me’ box on my sidebar explain themselves. Plaid Cymru does not emerge from this saga with any credit. Penri James being a local Plaid luminary.

Note also the comment from ‘Simon’, another indictment of those left in charge of Cantref after the dismissals. I urge you to read ‘Simon’s comment carefully because it tells us what a shamble our housing associations are in.

Our old friend ‘Cneifiwr’, in another comment, tells us that those present last night, “were given assurances about local jobs and the use of Welsh”. Does anyone really believe that? I don’t. (Nor, I suspect, does ‘Cneifiwr’.)

Wynne Jones – who knows of these things – reminds us that a business case must be presented to the ‘Welsh’ Government by W&W and approved by the WG before the takeover can be completed. Those are the rules. But given that W&W and the WG are both Labour, I can’t see this being an obstacle.

‘Llyr’ questions Plaid Cymru’s role, wonders why they weren’t more active. They were – but on the side of the ‘enemy’!

Let me end by returning to ‘Anon’, who writes “Hillary jones sold us out to wales and west and the welsh government gave them the wink as they want only five or six rsls in wales”. Hilary Jones of the Bro Myrddin Housing Association was shipped in as Interim Strategic Director, and over a year ago rumours were circulating that she wanted Wales and West to take over Cantref but leave her in charge.

I have argued more than once that we need many fewer Registered Social Landlords. But if we are to have mergers then let them be local, with other housing associations that understand the realities of working in a bilingual rural area. Another consideration is that RSLs need a working relationship with their local authorities.

As a match, Cantref with Wales and West can be compared with Dianne Abbott shacking up with Nigel Farage. It’s so bizarre as to be unthinkable, and certainly unworkable. Or if we are to stick with matters connubial, then perhaps the best analogy is with an arranged marriage, with all that that conjures up.

Jun 142016
 

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

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

A BIG FAT I.O.U.

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

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

MBH Why Buy With Us

FROM THE MILL BAY HOMES WEBSITE (click to enlarge)

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

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

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

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

PH Combined figures 2015

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

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

MBH Loans received 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PH Income from subsidiary 2015

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

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

INTERPRETATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCT Homes salary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jun 072016
 

THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION

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

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

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

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

Hugh James logo

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

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

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

*

WHERE I’M COMING FROM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MATTER

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

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

The genesis of Mill Bay Homes

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

PH2000 Ltd FCA return 2011

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

The nature of Mill Bay Homes

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

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

MBH Welcome

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

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

‘Welsh’ Government’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Conduct Authority

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

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

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

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

FCA new rules

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

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

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

Help to Buy – Wales

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

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

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

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

Uka land grab

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

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

‘Neighbours from Hell’

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

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

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

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

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

MBH Pentlepoir composite

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

MBH digger bucket, head

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

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

Considerate Constructors

*

‘SUBSIDIARIES’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

A PLAGUE OF LAWYERS

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

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

But it didn’t end there!

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

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

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

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

capital_law_Logo_500x260

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

MY MOTIVATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 052016
 

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

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

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

Apr 292016
 

You will recall that in a few recent posts (below) I have looked at the Newcastle Emlyn-based Cantref housing association, which seems to have gone through a rocky patch of late and, following an ‘investigation’, is to be taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A bit of digging combined with election dirty tricks has turned up some rather disturbing connections.

Social Housing Back to Council Control? Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named. Housing Associations – All Change?

The investigation into Cantref was carried out by a company called Campbell Tickell, of London. So who are Campbell Tickell? They seem to be a company that has all the bases covered in the social housing and charities sector.

They are, in their own words, ” . . . an established multidisciplinary management consultancy focusing principally on housing, regeneration, charities and social care, and with a growing involvement in sports and leisure. Our services extend across: strategic and business planning; governance and regulation; performance management; procurement; asset management and development; growth and new business; regeneration and stock transfer; customer services; communications and public relations; human resources and recruitment. Alongside our central team of 18, we have a network of nearly 150 associate consultants, both generalist and specialist”. Phew!

The eponymous Campbell and Tickell are Greg Campbell and James Tickell. So who are they?

Well, Greg Campbell has a long career in social housing, local government and the Labour Party. (The three often intertwine.) And as his Linkedin profile tells us, for three years he was a full-time employee of the Labour Party.

Linkedin tells us that James Tickell has a somewhat similar career history to Campbell; that is, after attending prep school, Westminster School and Cambridge. (Sub, check if he’s the son of Sir Crispin Tickell.) And while I’ve found no direct link with the Labour Party we can be fairly certain he’s no Conservative.

James Tickell tweet

Campbell Tickell it was that recommended Cantref be gifted to Wales and West Housing. The chief executive of Wales and West is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Anne Hinchey herself has worked for Cardiff city council.

If the name Anne Hinchey sounds familiar, it may be because she’s been in the news recently for ordering Plaid Cymru election placards to be removed from Wales and West properties in Cardiff (2:05). Mrs Hinchey is of course a paid-up member of the Labour Party. In fact, there seems to have been a coordinated effort by ‘Welsh’ Labour and its offshoots – especially in Cardiff – to engage in lies, vandalism, intimidation and other tactics. This is nothing new.

A few years back a Cardiff shopkeeper was threatened because he refused to promote Labour Party literature. A few miles away, during the 2011 election, a Labour MP admitted to taking down Plaid Cymru placards. Today it’s being reported that Plaid supporters in the Butetown (‘Tiger Bay’) area of Cardiff are being intimidated.

Perhaps one of the weirder incidents thus far reported (for I have no doubt there will be others) is the pub that was visited by council officials after putting up Plaid Cymru posters . . . so now they’ve put up placards!

Robin Hood pub

But as we know, this is how Labour operates. Labour, and especially its ‘Welsh’ branch, is corrupt and anti-democratic. It now begins to look as if canvassing returns in some areas are giving Labour activists the heebie jeebies, and panic is setting in.

Carwyn Ceaucescu

But enough of this visual banter, let us return to Cantref, and Wales and West, and of course, Campbell Tickell. This is how they are connected:

The Labour regime down Cardiff docks went to a Labour-supporting company in London and asked it to look into a (non-Labour) housing association in west Wales. The unsurprising outcome was that the company in London recommended that said housing association be handed over to a housing association in Cardiff run by a Labour Party member whose husband is a Labour councillor.

Perfectly normal behaviour . . . for a one-party state.

I don’t doubt that things went wrong at Cantref. But nor do I doubt that those involved in the ‘investigation’ had a vested interest in transferring its operations to Wales and West Housing.

A cynic might wonder if the decision to gift Cantref to Wales and West wasn’t taken before Campbell Tickell got involved; and that they were brought in as an expensive cosmetic exercise, given the desired result, and told to manufacture ‘justification’. But as I say, only a cynic would think that, and there’s no place for such people on this blog. Oh no.

What I will say is that this whole business stinks. And until there is an independent investigation into how best to resolve Cantref’s difficulties it must not be taken over by the Labour Party Wales and West.

 

COMING UP: In my next post I’ll tell you how I’m voting on May 5th, and try to explain why.

 

Apr 252016
 

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

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

HA mergers England

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

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

CANTREF

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

Cantref logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dai the Post

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

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

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

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

RCT HOMES

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

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

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

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

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

Adrian Barber

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

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

PSI Consultancy

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

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

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

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

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

Tower Fund

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

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

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

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

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END