Oct 162017
 

CHANGE OF VENUE TO CATER FOR GREAT RESPONSE

The response to the original post, put up last Wednesday, has been excellent. Many, many people have said they’ll be coming and a healthy number of donations has been received. I have also received apologies from those who would have come but for various reasons can’t make it.

For example, an old mate of mine who’s stood for Plaid Cymru many times had already arranged to take his missus to Amsterdam that weekend. But I know he’s serious because he sent £100 to be getting on with. Another who has previous plans is Big Gee.

But what’s really encouraging is that the majority of the messages, and the donations, have come from people I don’t know – and I’ve been around a long time! It tells me that there is out there – in Wales and beyond – a constituency that cares about our country, appreciates the mess it’s in, but has no faith in any of the existing parties to tackle the problems.

In fact the response has been so encouraging that I’ve had to find a larger venue, which is the reason for this update.

The meeting will still be held on November 4th, between 1pm and 5pm, and still in Aberystwyth, but the venue is now changed to the Ocean Room at the Belle Vue Royal Hotel.

So we’ve moved a short distance along the Promenade to a room that holds around 100 people. And if this isn’t big enough then we’ll all go out onto the beach and have an al fresco meeting. I’m sure we’ll find somebody to lead the singing.

The bar will be open, so I repeat what I suggested in the first post, “It might be a good idea if people arrive around mid-day and gather in the bar before the meeting begins. Meeting informally beforehand will give us a chance to introduce ourselves and perhaps decide on the best way to run the meeting.”

My contribution will consist of little more than thanking everyone for attending before passing the meeting over to the pro tem chairman. So is anyone volunteering for that role, or does someone have a name to suggest? We need someone with experience of controlling a meeting.

Is anyone volunteering to take minutes?

At some point before the end of the meeting we shall also need to select a steering committee until the first AGM at which a full committee can be elected. Again, are there volunteers, or nominees? We shall need a chair, secretary, minutes secretary, press secretary, membership secretary, treasurer, and perhaps six other committee members.

This meeting is obviously difficult to organise because by and large we’ll be a bunch of strangers starting from scratch. So I’m open to suggestions that might facilitate its smooth running.

More good news is that Aled Job has agreed to act as translator and to do it for free as long as we pay to hire the headsets. This means that speakers will be able to use either Welsh or English.

There will be tea and coffee available in the Ocean Room and if we can start at 1pm prompt we can have a break at 2:45, but we must be out by 5pm at the very latest because there’s a wedding party there in the evening and the room needs to be set up for that function.

As you might have expected, my earlier post, and the prospect of a new party that might achieve something for Wales, got the predictable responses from certain quarters.

WAS ONCE A JOURNALIST

Former BBC man Phil Parry waded in with an absurd piece entitled The Royston family, in which he trundled out his oft-repeated lies about me accompanied by various photos including – yet again! – the one of Cayo Evans holding a gun.

This picture from the 1960s, which I’ve published a number of times on this blog, really gets under Parry’s skin, and that of his mate Martin Shipton over at Llais y Sais. A couple of years back Shipton tweeted me thinking I’d back down after he’d publicised my use of the picture, when I didn’t, he seemed confused.

They presumably hoped that being challenged would make me recant. When they realised that wasn’t going to happen, that I was proud to display the picture, it seemed to affect the wiring in their BritNat brains.

For they’re unable to grasp that the FWA is part of Welsh history, and that many Welsh people have fond memories of Cayo, Dennis and the rest, even a sneaking regard. The only ones who still get agitated over the Free Wales Army are anti-Welsh elements trying to dress up their atavism – even racism – as reasoned opposition to ‘extreme nationalism’. Something of which they of course are mercifully free.

Parry I can ignore, and would have, but using that title went a little too far. Attack me by all means, I’m a big boy who can answer back, but ‘The Royston family’ is my wife, children, grandchildren.

Maybe I’m getting worked up over nothing, because writing about him here will probably encourage ten times as many visits to his site as the original posting generated.

THE WEEKLY ‘SPOT THE CHARLATAN’ COMPETITION

Talking of sad buggers brings me to another of my critics, Martyn Shrewsbury . . . if that is his name, because there are all sorts of question marks hanging over ‘Shrewsbury’. At one time he seems to have been using the name Rowlands. It’s alleged there have been other names.

As might be expected, he is one of those for whom the truth is somewhat ‘elastic’, but then, he’s a philosopher! An example of this elasticity came some five years ago when he was almost sent down for lying to creditors.

By profession ‘Shrewsbury’ claims to be a psychologist offering Asclepius Therapy treatment at a Swansea clinic. It all sounds a bit New Age to me, but I could be wrong.

Maybe he’s a traditionalist and uses the swinging pocket watch technique, while intoning, ‘Your eyelids are heavy . . . you have an irresistible urge to hand over your wallet’. (I’m sure Groucho did a good portrayal in one of his movies.)

Politically, ‘Shrewsbury’ belongs to the Green Party of Englandandwales, and has stood numerous times for Westminster and the Notional Assembly, without ever overworking the vote counters.

Some years ago he hitched his wagon to the star that was Pippa Bartolotti, then leader of the Wales region of said party, and served her faithfully, to the extent of smearing her opponents using a host of phoney identities.

Among these were ‘Green Dragon’ and ‘Brig Strawbridge’ (the latter an obvious take on veteran Green Brig Oubidge). All explained here. You know, the more I learn about the Green Party the more vivid becomes the unsummoned image of ferrets in a sack.

How could Plaid Cymru ever consider a pact with a party that is itself split into 57 varieties of two-faced, back-stabbing, self-promoting individuals incapable of co-operating with each other let alone with another party!

Everything about the Greens seems to be transitory, or in a permanent state of confusion. Writing this I referred back to More on the Green Party of Englandandwales, which I wrote in November 2014, but none of the links to Green Party sources work any longer!

The only thing that might be said in ‘Shrewsbury’s favour is that he claims to want independence. Though this claim would be more credible if he didn’t belong to a party that doesn’t even recognise the existence of Wales.

♦ end ♦

Sep 302017
 

This is a bumper issue to keep you going as the nights draw in and I get on with a couple of jobs that must be done ere winter tightens its icy grip. The post consists of a number of items enabling you to take it in in easy, bite-sized chunks. (‘Bite-sized chunks’!)

Enjoy!

NORTH WALES HOUSING LTD

News reaches me of another housing association heading for the rocks, this time it’s North Wales Housing Ltd. A body all too representative of ‘Welsh’ housing associations, especially with the retirement properties built by its wholly owned “commercial subsidiary” Domus Cambria. (Though it’s nice to see a bit of Latin being used.)

Looked at more critically, Domus Cambria helps explain what’s wrong with housing in Wales. The Welsh NHS is stretched to breaking point by the demands made on it by, among others, English retirees, yet in Conwy, where almost two-thirds of the pensioners were born in England (2011 census), the council is still giving planning permission for retirement flats that are marketed over the border!

Domus Cambria recently sold the last of its leasehold flats on Llandudno’s West Shore . . . after years of trying. Which explains why it is finally showing a slight profit, though as with Mill Bay Homes in Pembrokeshire, this ray of financial sunshine may be due to cash transferred from the parent body rather than any business acumen attaching to those running the subsidiary.

The ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Opinion and Financial Viability Judgement for 2015 on North Wales Housing was none too encouraging, and explains what a drag Domus Cambria has been for a small RSL with just over 2,000 rental properties.

“Selling homes has proved challenging, but has been managed within the Group’s existing financial resources. Originally, homes were planned to be sold by May 2012. To date, 10 are provisionally under offer but remain unsold. The response from the Group to address the slow sales has drifted along with no real impetus. The mitigations put in place were reasonable but demonstrate the difficulties of the Board deciding to press ahead with this product in highly challenging market conditions.

Despite Domus Cambria’s difficulties, the leadership and some elements of the Board continue to press to undertake more business of this nature – even though phase 1 has fallen short of expectations.” (Something of an understatement considering sales were 5 years behind schedule.)

The Regulatory Opinion for 2016 is marginally better, but the beguiling song of the Shit Creek sirens can still be heard.

Given the problems with Domus Cambria it’s difficult to understand why North Wales Housing has taken on another sideline in Rakes and Ladders an “in house grounds maintenance team”. Especially as the name is hardly original, for I found another Rakes and Ladders in Bridgend, one in Gloucestershire, yet another in Vancouver, and I’m sure there must be more. Confusion guaranteed.

North Wales Housing has also been trustee since 2007 for The Olinda Trust, a registered charity, which ran the Plas Parciau home for dementia sufferers in Old Colwyn. The accounts up to 31 August 2016 paint a bleak picture, showing a deficit of £264,568, which explains the charity ceasing to trade in October 2016.

North Wales Housing Ltd is, like almost all housing associations, an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA website suggests that since 16 September 2016 NWH has also been in the consumer credit business.

click to enlarge

This would have been around the time that The Olinda Trust succumbed to the sirens’ call.

I get the impression of a bunch of incompetents running a housing association too small to survive diversifying desperately in the hope that anyone witnessing this activity will be fooled into thinking those behind it know what they’re doing. They don’t.

Even though North Wales Housing is an IPS, force of habit took me to the Companies House website where, sure enough, I found an entry for ‘North Wales Housing Association Ltd’.

Linked with it is Erw Villas Management Company Ltd, the kind of organisation we encountered when we looked into the Cardiff Bay property dealings of Mark Vincent James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. An organisation that allows tenants a say in the running of the block of flats in which they live . . . unless of course Mark Vincent James and his associates get involved.

Erw Villas Management Company Ltd was originally registered to an address in Catford, East London. It was struck off in May 2008 but restored 31 January 2011. On 2 February 2011 the address was changed to that of North Wales Housing in Llandudno Junction. On the same day all the old directors resigned and North Wales Housing was named as secretary and director.

Though in the Annual Return of 12 August 2015, and even though Paul William Diggory, the North Wales Housing CEO at the time, is named as director, the two original directors – Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin – are still the only shareholders.

Diggory was succeeded as director by Owen Ingram, who has in turn been replaced by Helena Kirk, the current CEO of North Wales Housing.

No Annual Return for 2016 is available with Companies House, so I assume it has not been submitted.

So what is the connection between North Wales Housing, Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin, and Erw Villas on Conway Old Road in Penmaenmawr? Answers on a postcard, please. (And make sure there’s a stamp on it this time! cos I’m not bloody paying again.)

The more I looked into North Wales Housing the more clear it became how thoroughly English it is. Take a look at the Board; start with the chair, Tom Murtha, who retired in 2012 from Midland Heart and now seems to have a number of part-time jobs, including NWH. There may be two or three Welsh people on the Board of 12.

Or how about the management team, headed by Helena Kirk, who arrived in Wales last October?

Even the job of designing the website was given to a company in England, Hallnet Ltd of Warrington, Cheshire. Is there no company in Wales that could have designed a website? Is this the Mersey Dee Alliance in practice, or is it just taking the piss?

Because it always makes me smile when I hear someone respond to complaints about Welsh organisations stuffed with English staff with, ‘Ah, yes, but you’ve got to get the best people for the job – no matter where they come from’.

North Wales Housing is on the brink of oblivion, brought there by bad management, so to suggest that the current shower, and its predecessors, are and were the best for the job is an insult to the Welsh nation. And that’s without considering the longer term consequences.

Domus Cambria sought, selfishly and irresponsibly, to increase the burden on local services by attracting to the Costa Geriatrica yet more elderly people – and all because the parent body was struggling financially!

‘Ah, but that don’t affect us down by ‘ere, look’. Yes it does, you thick-as-shit Labour-voting cretin! To prop up a failing NHS and social services burdened by the activities of Domus Cambria and others your Labour government down Cardiff docks will rob money from other budgets, and that affects us all, in every part of the country.

There is no reason to keep North Wales Housing afloat any longer, so let it be taken over by another RSL, one that is larger, more efficient, more responsible, and more Welsh.

TRIVALLIS

‘Not more f###ing Latin!’ you scream. Well, yes, and from that hotbed of classical learning, Rhondda Cynon Taf. (Three valleys, geddit?)

Trivallis is another Registered Social Landlord aka housing association that I’m told is in trouble. Hardly surprising when we read in the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Judgement of June 2017“The Group has a number of unregistered subsidiary companies – Trivallis Ltd, Meadow Prospect, GrEW, Homeforce, Porthcwlis, Porthcwlis Homes and Bellerophon Project 1 LLP.”

In my experience, whenever a third sector body / housing association creates a ‘trading arm’ or a ‘subsidiary’ things go wrong, as we’ve just seen with North Wales Housing. That’s because these are set up by people who are used to being bailed out by the public purse and have little or no understanding of the realities of business.

Too often they are disasters waiting to happen.

The subsidiaries I’ve just just listed – some of which are dormant, having never got off the ground – are all being brought in-house, obviously heeding the recent recommendation of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on “diversification”. (Though I was unable to find anything at all for GrEW.)

In case you haven’t noticed, go to the Trivallis website again and look in the top right corner, where you’d expect to find the ‘Cymraeg’ option, or the flag. It’s not there, is it? The website is entirely in English, and that’s because of the strong ‘Welsh’ Labour influence at Trivallis.

Scroll down to the bottom of the home page and you’ll read ‘Powered by VerseOne Technologies Ltd’. Click on the link and you’ll see that the Trivallis website was designed by a Manchester company, with an office in Edinburgh.

Such commitment to Wales! But so typical of ‘Welsh’ Labour, and too many of its housing associations.

‘HOUSE!’ (but nothing to do with housing)

Back in July Llais y Sais ran a story on bookies’ fixed odds betting terminals. In it, Carolyn Harris is horrified to learn that £8m a year is lost on FOBTs in the Swansea Bay region. And so she should be, for Carolyn Harris chairs the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group.

Fast forward to last week and the same local media treated us to news that the cavernous Castle Bingo club in Morriston has been refurbished. And there to re-open it was – Carolyn Harris. ‘But bingo’s diff’rent, innit, not like them cowin’ FOBTs’. 

I hope those aren’t “dyke shoes”!

Maybe not, except that it’s not all ‘legs eleven’ and ‘two fat ladies’ in Morriston, for the club provides its customers with other ways to lose their money enjoy themselves on what look suspiciously like FOBTs, or approximations thereof.

Described as “electronic entertainment” in the annual accounts

So why was Carolyn Harris there, officially re-launching Morriston’s answer to Las Vegas? The justification seems to have been that Castle Bingo was giving Harris a cheque for GambleAware.

As I wrote this I got to wondering about Castle Bingo, and so I checked on the Companies House website. The company was Incorporated in December 1995. You’ll see that there were two directors; Mrs Diane Elizabeth Stockford of Pontprennau, Cardiff and Mr Jeffrey Charles Harris of Sketty, Swansea.

Harris was also a director of Crown Buckley Ltd, the Brains subsidiary; Cadwalader (Ice Cream) Ltd, which went into administration in October 2015; and Cadwalader (Criccieth) Ltd. Harris is also a director of Meeron Ltd., another company in the gambling business.

Stockford became Brierley, and moved to Rudry, while Harris moved to St Nicholas. Brierley resigned as director in September 2012 and was replaced by Lisa Mary Morgan as both secretary and director. All the while Castle Bingo was providing accounts as a dormant company, explained by the fact that both Stockford and Harris were also directors of Castle Leisure Ltd.

Parent company Castle Leisure Ltd began life in 1911 as The Central Cinema, Cardiff, Ltd. Somewhere along the way, and certainly before May 1988, the company became known as Castle Leisure Ltd.

Here’s the latest list of shareholders for the 235,533 shares. In the year ended 25 December 2016 Castle Leisure Ltd had an operating profit of £4,164,319 on a turnover of £30,591,231. The company has 661 employees at its 8 clubs in Wales and 3 in England.

Of course it would be easy to be snobbish, or judgemental, but after all is said and done, this is an established Welsh company, one that has branched out into England and provides hundreds of jobs giving a lot of people what they want.

That said, there are obvious benefits for all concerned: Castle Bingo operates in Carolyn Harris’ constituency; Castle Bingo gives Harris publicity and a little cheque in the hope that she steers MPs away from their business model; a mutually beneficial association which Labour-backing Trinity Mirror is happy to report having for years enjoyed ‘promotions’ and ‘partnerships’ with Castle Bingo.

Finally: A disturbing report reaches me of unseemly, drunken cavorting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week involving – it is alleged – Carolyn Harris and rugby-playing Tonia Antoniazzi, the Labour MP for neighbouring Gower.

I don’t want to believe this scurrilous allegation so I would welcome any further information. Especially photographic evidence proving that such an incident did not take place.

CADW

It’s not often that I get the chance to talk of good news and Cadw in the same report, so I’m going to make the most of this.

A good source informs me of a victory won by the natives of Cydweli, who can now enter their local castle for free. Of course they have to provide proof that they are local, and then sing the first three verses of God Save the Queen. (Joke . . . possibly.)

Castell Cydweli

I’m told that the people of Caerffili enjoy the same concession, while in Conwy it’s just a 20% discount on the entrance fee. But why isn’t there a national scheme to allow all Welsh people into all Cadw premises for free? For God’s sake, it’s not as if Cadw built them, or owns them!

And how difficult would such a scheme be to administer? I mean, everybody nowadays has a passport, a driving licence, a bus pass or something that identifies them. Even if it’s only discharge papers from the Sea Scouts (which I still cherish).

The vast majority of those who visit Cadw sites are tourists, with more money than our people, so let them subsidise our visits. To do so would achieve the impossible – make tourism benefit Welsh people.

A national scheme such as I’m proposing could also introduce more of our people to their country’s history, but of course we’d need someone other than Cadw to interpret that history.

‘SPECIAL TRAIN FOR ATKINS’*

There are many people in Wales who take great pride in devolution, and especially in the thought of Welsh laws being made to serve Wales and her people. Obviously, I’m not one of these because without independence or at the very least a Welsh legal system there can be no Welsh laws.

Without independence or a separate jurisdiction what we are served up too often is simply English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ added to the name. We are given the chimera of legislative power but the real purpose is to keep us in line with England.

Where a genuine ‘Welsh’ initiative is allowed, it’s either an expensive gesture such as free prescriptions, or else it’s the ‘Welsh Government’ succumbing to English pressure groups. The perfect example of the latter would be the proposal to open Wales up to canoeists, ramblers and the rest, dressed up as ‘Sustainable Management’.

But I want to focus on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. I have written about it before and pointed out that it gives homeless people priority for housing, and who would argue with that? Well, I would, because we are locked into an Englandandwales system that means a family of scruffs making themselves homeless anywhere in England qualify for accommodation in Wales ahead of locals.

Another curiosity of this legislation is that homeless ex-service personnel are also mentioned in the Act as being priority cases. Curious because homeless ex-service personnel do not qualify as priority cases in the equivalent English legislation. The reference can be found at 70 (1) (i).

So why are men and women who have served the English Crown, and suffered for it, not given priority treatment in England? And isn’t it all too predictable that England’s homeless, disabled ex-service personnel, and those suffering from PTSD, those with drug and alcohol problems, will be ‘directed’ to Wales?

Though perhaps the real question is, who inserted this sentence into the Bill? Was it the ‘Welsh’ Government, once again playing gesture politics? Or was it slipped in by a civil servant based in Wales but obeying his or her masters in London?

I’ve got no problem with looking after some poor sod who’s lost both his legs on a foreign adventure about which we were lied to from start to finish, but the way it’s being done looks suspiciously like Wales being dumped on, again.

  • I’ve taken the heading for this section from Kipling’s Tommy. It seemed somehow appropriate.

♦ end ♦

Sep 192017
 

TWENTY YEARS ON

We are currently celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the referendum that gave us devolution. Ron Davies described it at the time as “a process not an event”, but little if any progress has been made.

In yesterday’s Llais y Sais Ron Davies was allowed to explain why he thinks devolution has failed to deliver, why it has not improved the lives of Welsh people. This seems to have been a print version of what he said the day before on radio (06:00) and television (15:26).

Llais y Sais allowed Carwyn Jones to respond, and his response was pathetic; hiding behind the shade of Rhodri Morgan and talking of increased powers rather than addressing the point raised by Ron Davies, which was that Wales is worse off today – in terms of wealth, health, education and other indices – than she was 20 years ago ergo devolution has failed to deliver. Few outside the Bay Bubble would disagree with Ron Davies.

But lurking in the shadows I perceive another threat, an existential threat to the continuing existence of Wales. A threat made easier to carry out because devolution has failed and because so many people in certain parts of Wales feel that devolution has delivered nothing for their area.

FERRY ‘CROSS THE MERSEY . . . AND MOVING TO BANGOR

Unlike Ireland and Scotland Wales does not have geography or topography on her side, we have a long border with England  and all but one of England’s major population centres are within two hours travelling time of Wales.

This plan for a ‘North Wales Metro’ rather gives the game away (click to enlarge)

Which made it relatively easy for Roman, Norman and English invaders to detach the more fertile, lowland areas from our control, largely confining our ancestors to the uplands. That Welsh nationhood survived was largely due to the fact that Wales had little else invaders coveted.

This helped preserve Welsh identity until the arrival of industrialisation, which impacted on areas that were overwhelmingly Welsh in character, and while the new-found prosperity naturally attracted immigrants these were largely assimilated. But time, an English education system, the resultant decline of the Welsh language, colonisation, tourism, lack of national leadership and other factors have taken their toll, to the point where plans are now being drawn up to finally do away with Wales altogether by dismembering our country.

Of course, these plans will never be called by their true name, they will always be presented as being ‘beneficial to Wales’.

Let’s start in the north east. The decline started with the arrival of the railways, and with them mass tourism. The Rhyl station of the Chester & Holyhead Railway Co opened on 1 May 1848. In the more industrial areas closer to the border Anglicisation took a different form with the importation of English workers and the banning of the Welsh language. Perhaps the most notorious example were the events that provoked the Mold Riots of 1869.

Despite it all, the north east remained Welsh, but it was inevitable that the factors I’ve mentioned eventually took their toll. The Flintshire of Daniel Owen, David Lloyd and Emlyn Williams is gone, replaced by what can often be mistaken for semi-rural suburbs of Merseyside.

Rhyl, the once-bustling holiday resort, is now a dumping ground for English criminals, with the town’s streets haunted by drug-addicts and their dealers. (The only plus would appear to be that the gangsters are killing each other quite regularly.) The same fate has befallen smaller communities on the north coast. And as this chaos wreaks havoc on Welsh communities Welsh politicians have done nothing.

So we arrive at the point where someone asks, ‘Oh dear, what can we do to ‘revitalise’ this region? I know! we’ll have closer cross-border co-operation.’ This was certainly the recommendation of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s City Regions Task and Finish Group’s Final Report, the group chaired by Elizabeth Haywood.

Who is Elizabeth Haywood? You don’t remember voting for this woman who wants to dismember Wales? Of course you never voted for her, nobody did; she’s Mrs Peter Hain, or Lady Hain, I suppose, since the Orange Man was ennobled. (You really should get all silly ideas about democracy and accountability out of your head, they’ll only confuse you in one-party Wales.)

The Mersey Dee Alliance to which Lady Hain refers is a body that has been in existence for some time, though it seems to have a strange idea of Welsh geography, or to go by this map that appeared on the MDA website it doesn’t accept the existence of Wales at all.

The prospect of our north east (or the whole north) being swallowed up by north west England would be bad enough, but as I explained last month in Gwynedd LDP, and Wider Considerations, the threat is not restricted to the old unitary authority of Clwyd.

Nor is this encroachment, this gradual takeover, confined to the north. If anyone was in any doubt about that, then statements made over the past few days should have made the threat very clear.

ENGLAND’S LITTLE MOUTHPIECE

One of the great conundrums of Welsh politics concerns the role of Secretary of State for Wales, and boils down to the question: ‘Is the Secretary of State for Wales the voice of Wales in the cabinet or the voice of the cabinet in Wales?’

Different Secretaries of State have provided different answers, but the current incumbent of that post, Alun Cairns MP, is most definitely – and perhaps more emphatically than any predecessor – the voice of the cabinet in Wales. Little more than a mouthpiece, but because he is a mouthpiece, we can more easily tell the plans of those who put the words into his mouth.

The thinking in London towards Wales now seems to come in two parts – gradually undo devolution and then dismember Wales.

On the first element of that dual-thrust approach I call to the witness stand Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales. The heading gives a clue to the content in “Brexit: Carwyn Jones objects to ‘hijack of devolved powers'”,  or “Ministers in London are trying to get the power to rewrite laws made in Wales – Carwyn Jones”, and a host of similar articles to be found on the internet.

Just about everyone outside of the Conservative and Unionist Party believes that Brexit will provide the excuse for Westminster to a) withhold powers repatriated from the EU, and b) ‘retrieve’ powers already devolved. While those inside the party know it but won’t openly admit it.

Even so, the clues come thick and fast. Alun Cairns was given a lot of space in Llais y Sais – with David Williamson serving as his amanuensis – to promote the idea of Cardiff detaching itself from Wales and linking up with Bristol in a Severnside region. (For some reason I can’t find the piece on the WalesOnline site.)

To ram home the message Llais y Sais chipped in with an editorial, one that went beyond Bristol to “the string of cities along the M4” which of course take us to London.

click to enlarge

I was so vexed by what I read, and incensed by the lies spouted by Cairns, that I took the unusual step of putting out a short post on my Facebook page.

On Monday morning Cairns maintained his assault on honesty with the claim that too much power is centralised in Cardiff . . . and this, remember, is the voice of the Conservative and Unionist Party that wants to centralise even more power in London!

Some might be tempted to agree with him, until they remember there’s little real power in Cardiff because Wales lacks an effective form of devolution. Of course, most people would agree that Cardiff gets more than its fair share of investment and jobs, and it was this resentment that Cairns hoped to tap into.

But let’s take him at his word. He says he wants to devolve power to the regions, he even talks of elected mayors. So would Wil Pughe of Llanfair Caereinion, like his counterparts in London and Manchester, have power over policing? Would Wil – as he has long desired – have control over local PCSO Cerys Evans?

Having one day advocated a Severnside region Cairns pushes on with a back-of-a-fag-packet suggestion masking a deeper message – ‘Devolution isn’t working for most of Wales. In fact, devolution isn’t working at all – let’s get rid of it.’

“Give power to the regions” is something trotted our regularly by the Tories, but it displays no real concern for the regions at all, it’s just a method of doing away with devolution and undermining our sense of nationhood.

DIVIDED, DISMEMBERED, DESTROYED

What of the areas left outside the shining megalopolis of ManPool and the ‘string of cities’ from Cardiff to London?

The remainder of the northern coastal strip along the A55, or those areas not being used to house drug addicts and criminals from over the border, or serving as geriatric ghettoes, will become commuter communities, even over the bridge onto Ynys Môn, as I found out by accident.

For when trawling the internet I often turn up things I wasn’t looking for, such as the map below, produced by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners. They know that there are three Strategic Development Areas (or Strategic Planning Areas) for Wales, the two city regions and the A55 Corridor. I found a number of other references to the A55 Corridor: here’s one, here’s another.

All the sources tell us that these three SDAs/SPAs will be brought into existence by the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, which received Royal Assent on July 6.

click to enlarge

So why, two years on, are the chattering classes only talking of the two city regions? Is the A55 Corridor a dirty secret being proceeded with by stealth? Interestingly, one feature demanded by a SDA/SPA is joint Local Development Plans, which might explain why Gwynedd and Ynys Môn were recently required to produce one.

The area between the A55 Corridor and the urban south is to become one vast recreation and retirement area for England, offering everything from granny farms and zip wires to Cheshire-sur-Mer (Abersoch), the Birmingham Riviera (Cardigan Bay), and Bear Grylls parting suckers from their money with his ‘get-muddy-and-pretend-you’re-in-the-SAS!’ bollocks.

With assorted ‘Care’ bodies, probation companies and housing associations taking in England’s decrepit, dysfunction, delinquent and downright criminal. For housing ex-cons pays well.

The Valleys are to endure yet more managed decline, the Swansea region will be offered scraps from Cardiff’s table, while Cardiff itself expands and grows fat through exploiting its capital status but simultaneously playing the English provincial city, increasingly linked to Bristol and “the string of cities along the M4”.

Cardiff being a player in Severnside will be welcomed by those Cardiff politicians, such as Russell Goodway, who have always wanted Cardiff to enjoy all the benefits of being capital of Wales while looking down their noses at everything Welsh.

Result: Wales enfeebled, fragmented and exploited as never before. There can only be one outcome.

WHO CAN WE TRUST?

It should go without saying that we cannot trust an individual, or a political party, that has allowed this situation to develop.

Wales is being assaulted from all sides, yet Carwyn Jones may be motivated by loss of prestige rather than the loss of nationhood, or maybe it’s the thought of his party losing its vast network of patronage that moves him to stand alongside Nicola Sturgeon.

The Tories of course are driving this project and they’ll be supported by Ukip. As for the Lib Dems, well, who cares? Which leaves only Plaid Cymru.

Seeing as the destruction of Wales has little to do with Donald Trump, refugees, or trans-gender toilets, and is only tangentially connected with another of Plaid’s current obsessions, Brexit, it would be unrealistic to expect any opposition from Plaid Cymru.

In addition, Plaid Cymru is unsuited for the coming fight because, being a civic nationalist party that welcomes everyone (especially those with ‘ishoos’) – and by so doing supports the colonialist system that sees Wales exporting talent and importing problems – it is psychologically incapable of standing up in a struggle in which it will have to be said, ‘No, you’re not dumping any more of your problems in our country!’

And yet, one doesn’t even need to be a nationalist, or a believer in independence, to become involved in the forthcoming struggle. All that’s needed is the belief that Wales is a nation, with a defined and accepted territory, and that both must be respected.

But our enemies are gathering, they’ve laid their plans, they’ve even told us their plans, so we must resist.

Are you up for the coming fight?

♦ end ♦

Jun 292017
 

But first . . .

A LESSON FROM HISTORY

Following victories over the Persians at Salamis (480 BC) and Plataea (479 BC), and with mainland Greece liberated, the Spartans withdrew from their leadership of the wartime alliance. Athens seized the opportunity and in 478 BC created the Delian League.

Athenian greed and heavy-handedness soon made the other city-states realise that what they’d thought was an alliance of equals was nothing of the kind. Everything now flowed to Athens and the other city-states were little more than colonies. The League’s treasury was used to enhance and glorify Athens, funding prestige projects such as the Parthenon.

Courtesy of Ancient History Encyclopedia

Eventually, the other city-states could take no more and rebelled. They appealed to Sparta for help and so began the Peloponnesian War, which ran, in three phases, from 431 BC to 404 BC. At the end of the war Athens was defeated and ruined, Thebes and Corinth even wanted to destroy the city and enslave its citizens, but Sparta said no.

The Peloponnesian War was bloody and destructive. Due to Athenian selfishness the other Greek states were even prepared to seek Persian help in bringing her down and ending the golden age of Greece.

Two news items this week have reminded me of Athens and the Delian League.

BACK TO THE 1960s

The first was that the ‘Welsh’ Government will not back the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale. This is something most of us knew weeks ago, it’s why announcing the decision was postponed until after the general election.

But don’t worry! Economy and Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates, softened the blow with: “The Welsh Government is therefore today committing to building a new automotive technology business park in Ebbw Vale, with funding of £100million over 10 years, with the potential to support 1,500 new FTE jobs. We will begin this work with the delivery of 40,000 sq ft of manufacturing space on land currently in public ownership.”

So the ‘Welsh’ Government kills off the Circuit of Wales yet still plans to build an ‘automotive technology park’ in Ebbw Vale. Apart from Ferrari’s Cafe what links does Ebbw Vale now have with the automotive industry? Or to put it another way, after 18 years of devolution and ‘Welsh’ Labour rule we’ve gone back to the 1960s with depressed areas offered nothing better than industrial parks. God Almighty!

But this saga may not be finished, for what if the scheme’s backers are able to find full private funding for the venture, will the ‘Welsh’ Government then support the Circuit of Wales or continue to be obstructive? I know where my money would go.

Let’s be absolutely clear: The Circuit of Wales was not supported by the ‘Welsh’ Government because Ebbw Vale is too far from Cardiff and the project didn’t offer enough benefits to Cardiff.

MAJOR TRAUMA

The nearest major trauma centres to Wales are in Liverpool, Stoke, Birmingham and Bristol. Some time ago the decision was taken that south Wales should have its own trauma centre. The two candidate sites were Morriston Hospital in Swansea and the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

On Wednesday we learnt that some anonymous panel had recommended that the MTC  should be located in Cardiff . . . despite Cardiff being so near to the existing centre in Bristol.

The centres in England are located where they are for the very good reason that patients suffering serious injury or sudden and serious debilitation benefit greatly from being treated within the first hour; in fact, it’s a matter of life or death. This period is referred to as the ‘golden hour’.

The maps (kindly supplied by BBC Wales) below show the ‘golden hour’ distances from those Major Trauma Centres closest to Wales together with the predicted ‘golden hour’ ranges for MTCs located in Cardiff and Swansea.

The first map, for existing MTCs, tells us that Cardiff and Newport are already within the ‘golden hour’ for the Bristol MTC, while anywhere west of Bridgend is not covered.

Turning to the second map, the Cardiff option, we see a slight improvement, in that Swansea Bay is now covered by the ‘golden hour’, but not western Gower, nor, I suspect, Llanelli. What’s more, rather than complementing the Bristol MTC to form a network of coverage – as we see in England – a Cardiff MTC would almost be in competition with Bristol. The overlap is huge.

The Swansea option, however, provides a real improvement, with the ‘golden hour’ now extending deep into Pembrokeshire and reaching the Cardigan Bay coastline. The ranges of the Swansea and Bristol MTCs overlap around Cardiff and Newport, but they don’t duplicate each other to anything like the same extent as the Cardiff option. Swansea and Bristol would complement each other perfectly.

Of course it’s being argued that, ‘Cardiff has this, and Cardiff has that’, to justify a MTC, but anything can be built or transferred. What cannot be changed is geography, and the critical and determining criterion for locating the Major Trauma Centre should be saving lives in the ‘golden hour’. You cannot emphasise the golden hour all the way through the process and then ignore it in order to locate the MTC in Cardiff.

To put a large area of the south west outside the ‘golden hour’ through handing Cardiff yet another prestige project – for that’s how it’s viewed in Cardiff – will be a difficult decision for politicians to defend.

The role of the ‘Welsh’ media in this debate has been somewhat bizarre, though predictable. On Wednesday WalesOnline ran this story. Putting the case for Swansea was Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea council. (Though the story was quickly updated and for some reason Stewart was replaced with Clive Lloyd, his deputy!)

Putting the case for Cardiff – which is what I assume he was doing – was a ‘speed flyer’ named Niall McCann. (Though by the time the story appeared this morning in Llais y Sais McCann’s contribution had disappeared.)

click to enlarge

McCann had shattered his spine speed flying off Pen y Fan and it had been put together by the University Hospital of Wales. McCann opined, “I’m 100% on board with anything that will improve the NHS services on offer. We are a capital city and we should be leading the way in Wales.”

So in the expert opinion of Niall McCann of Cardiff the new MTC should be in Cardiff, ‘Cos Cardiff’s the capital, innit?’ For reasons best known to itself WalesOnline even included in the article a video of McCann speed flying to remind us of the unnecessary risks he takes.

Perhaps the message we were expected to glean from this article was that having injured himself on the Beacons McCann would have been dead or crippled ere the donkey carrying him could have reached an MTC based at Morriston Hospital. If not, then I have no idea what purpose Trinity Mirror thought it was serving by including McCann’s cameo.

Then on Thursday, the BBC rubbed it in with a story headlined “Swansea ’10 to 15 years behind Cardiff’, think tank says”. Obviously unsuited to have a Major Trauma Centre.

TIME TO RETRACE OUR STEPS

But the problems of Wales today go beyond putting all the nation’s eggs in the Cardiff basket, they reach into every corner of our national life. Just look around you and ask what 18 years of devolution have achieved. Go on, and be honest!

Wales is poorer relative to other parts of the state, and other parts of Europe, than she was before we voted for devolution. Outside of Cardiff our urban and post-industrial areas are suffering managed decline, while our rural and coastal areas serve as recreation and retirement areas for England, with the Welsh population, and their identity, marginalised in both situations.

We have a self-styled Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks that refuses to use even the limited powers it has for fear of upsetting anyone in London – including its own MPs and peers! Competing with Labour we have a Conservative Party currently in league with the Orange Order and the UDA, and a ‘national party’ that is, as Martin Shipton described it this morning, “a pressure group”. (And it’s not often I agree with Shippo!) Though it’s questionable whether Plaid Cymru really is challenging Labour.

‘Ah, but we’ve got devolution now, it’s something to build on’, I hear, from those who are in reality satisfied with this simulacrum of self-government, where free suppositories or some such nonsense qualify as radical initiatives. So who’s going to do the ‘building’? We know it won’t be Labour. It will never be the Conservative and Unionist Party. And there’s not a hope in hell of it being the pressure group.

Devolution has delivered a comfortable and undemanding level for ambitious councillors. To serve these politicians we now have a burgeoning and expensive bureaucracy. Because the party in control is Labour devolution has resulted in a vast and corrupt Third Sector sucking up billions of pounds to keep otherwise unemployable Labour supporters in jobs.

Yet we have no media to hold this juggernaut to account. (Though it’s debatable which is worse – the absence of a Welsh media or the constant bigotry exposed in the English media.) There is no real oversight or control of expenditure, and no justice for anyone wronged by this system. Yet if you investigate ‘devolution’ in any depth you soon realise what a sham it is.

For example, the ‘Welsh’ Government pretends it has its own Planning Inspectorate. The truth is that the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales answers to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London, it merely has a branch office in Cardiff. Which means that the Local Development Plans for Welsh local authorities are determined in London . . . and the ‘Welsh’ Government goes along with the charade!

P.S. Soon after publishing this post my attention was drawn to a perfect example of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s relationship with the Planning Inspectorate. This development at Llay is part of a wider strategy to turn our north east into commuter territory for north west England. And Carwyn Jones knows it.

The ‘Welsh’ Government and the whole apparatus of devolution soaks up money that could be better spent in Wales, and might be better spent if the useless edifice was swept away. Which is why I plan to start a petition to the UK Parliament asking for a referendum to be held to determine whether we should keep the Welsh Assembly and all that goes with it. (This will be done once a new Petitions Committee is formed.)

Yes, I know such a petition will attract Kippers and other BritNats, but I don’t care, there are bigger issues at stake. On almost every issue that matters we are still ruled from London anyway – so what do we stand to lose? Devolution is used to hide this fact, and to make us believe that we control our own affairs. It acts like some national dose of Prozac.

When you’ve taken a wrong turning you have two choices: either plod on until you fall off a cliff or sink in a bog, or else admit you made a mistake, retrace your steps, and next time make sure you know where you want to go.

Devolution was a wrong turning.

♦ end ♦

Apr 032017
 

NATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

REGIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

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

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

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

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

Southern Britain C AD 650

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

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

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

WHY IT WILL NEVER WORK

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

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

BBC Regions, used by many politicians as a template

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end

Mar 132017
 

In which I try to explain how Plaid Cymru became a serious political party in the 1960s, why it was derailed in the 1980 and 1990s, and how we’ve ended up with a self-emasculating party that sees no role for itself other than as Labour’s little helper.

BLOWN INTO THE LIMELIGHT

I can write about the 1960s with some authority because I was there, I was involved, and I knew many of the players. Most weekends would see a gang of us pile into a hired transit van to attend some rally or protest, and there were real issues for us to focus on; we had Tryweryn (plus the other drownings), Aberfan, the Investiture – how could anyone not believe that Wales would be better off if she was independent?

There was a widespread perception among those I mixed with of there being a broad nationalist front, with Plaid Cymru as the political wing. Many people I knew were members of both Plaid and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society), I even knew people who were members of Plaid, CyIG and the Free Wales Army. There was most definitely ‘overlap’.

Though Plaid’s leadership, Gwynfor Evans especially, attributed the bombing campaigns to MI5 and sought to distance the party from them. Whatever the response, the truth is that in the 1960s Plaid Cymru rode the coat-tails of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru and the FWA to became a serious political party, winning Carmarthen in the 1966 by-election and pushing Labour close in subsequent by-elections in the Valleys.

‘That Charles is a lovely boy, Mam . . . I think I’m in love!’

The lesson was clear, get the people to focus on Welsh issues, particularly exploitation and injustice, and Plaid Cymru would reap the electoral reward. Without the reaction to Tryweryn and the protests of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, it’s unlikely that Gwynfor Evans would have beaten Gwilym Prys-Davies in Carmarthen. And Gwynfor’s victory in July 1966 is often cited as the inspiration for Winnie Ewing winning the Hamilton by-election for the SNP in November 1967. Can we go so far as to attribute the impending independence of Scotland to the greed and insensitivity of Liverpool Corporation?

Plaid Cymru’s leaders don’t like being told that the party owes its boost in the 1960s to Owain WilliamsJohn Jenkins and Cayo Evans, but the party certainly lost impetus when MAC and the FWA were broken up. With little to excite and involve the voters Plaid Cymru’s support in the 1970s fell back in the south, but the party entrenched itself in the west and the north, appealing primarily now to Welsh speakers, a trend that damaged its appeal outside the Fro Gymraeg.

Again, I speak from personal experience, having stood as a Plaid Cymru candidate for both Swansea city council and West Glamorgan county council in the mid 1970s. I’d knock on a door, introduce myself as one of the local Plaid Cymru candidates and often get the response, ‘Sorry, love, we don’t speak Welsh’. There was rarely hostility, more the feeling that whatever Plaid Cymru might be (and few knew, or cared), it was definitely a party for Welsh speakers only. Plaid Cymru in the 1970s and 1980s was a national party with a very narrow appeal just bumbling aimlessly along.

PLAID GOES LEFT, AND GREEN, AND DISAPPEARS UP ITS OWN ARSE

Nineteen-seventy-nine was a significant year in Wales for three main reasons.

On March 1st, St David’s Day, Wales rejected the Labour Party’s devolution proposals, with just 20.26% in support. Despite it being a Labour initiative most Labour politicians, led by Neil Kinnock and George Thomas, campaigned vigorously and viciously against devolution.

Then on May 3rd Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were elected to power in Westminster, with the party gaining 32.2% of the Welsh vote and eleven of the thirty-six Welsh seats. In the general election of 1983 – and despite the war in the south Atlantic and the losses suffered by the Welsh Guards on the Sir Galahad – the Tories still gained 32% of the Welsh vote. From a high point of 11.5% in the general election of 1970 Plaid Cymru’s share of the vote slipped to 8.1% in 1979 and 7.8% in 1983.

Finally, on December 11th, we saw the first holiday home arson attacks by Meibion Glyndŵr.

Plaid Cymru continued to bumble along, going nowhere. The party was so rudderless, so unattractive to voters outside of the rural west, that the MG campaign was unable to give the boost that MAC and the FWA had done in the 1960s, possibly because holiday homes were not an issue in the areas where Plaid needed to grow. Plaid Cymru was a weak party of dispirited members, ripe for change, or takeover . . . preferably not a takeover by nationalists.

Gwynfor Evans stepped down as president in 1981 and a new generation stepped into his shoes. First, Dafydd Wigley, who’d been elected MP for Caernarfon in 1974, and then, more significantly, from 1984, Dafydd Elis Thomas, who’d been elected in the same year for the neighbouring constituency of Meirionnydd.

Now things begin to get strange. Because although the obvious problem was that Plaid Cymru was not getting enough support from the anglophone Welsh, under Dafydd Elis Thomas the party started reaching out in other directions, primarily to the hairier fringes of the Left, and to even more hirsute elements of the environmental movement. It will be noted that none of these new ‘allies’ had a snowball’s chance in hell of increasing Plaid’s vote in Swansea East or Merthyr or Wrecsam.

Another in Plaid’s hierarchy keen on ‘reaching out’ was Cynog Dafis, who believed there was common ground between Plaid Cymru and the Greens. These Greens were of course overwhelmingly English and many of them were openly dismissive of Welsh identity. As far as they were concerned, they had moved to ‘the country’, not to someone else’s country.

The Plaid-Green Summer Solstice Conference, Pontrhydfendigaid, 1991

This contempt was returned in kind, for most Plaid Cymru supporters had no time for the Greens, and some, especially those involved in farming and other activities, thoroughly detested these arrogant interlopers who threatened their livelihoods. Yet to Cynog Dafis the hippies and the rest were “those who had moved here to live for progressive and enlightened purposes”.

This episode provides us with an example from thirty years ago of Plaid Cymru’s leadership being out of step with the party’s rank and file, and of course the wider population. Guilty of going off on tangents that did nothing to address Plaid Cymru’s fundamental problem. I wrote a few years ago about this rather silly flirtation with the Greens in Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of Englandandwales.

AN AMERICAN FRIEND

When he was Plaid’s head honcho Dafydd El’s consort was an American named Marjorie Thompson. An interesting woman from an impeccably WASP-Republican background who, after a stint as assistant to a Republican Congressman, crossed the Pond and soon joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, rising to be chair of that body. More remarkably, perhaps, she also served as chair of Scottish CND, though this is not mentioned in her Linkedin profile.

I’m not sure when her relationship with DET began but it lasted some seven years and intrigued observers. Having served her time among the ‘progressives’ in CND and other groups Ms Thompson eventually joined Saatchi & Saatchi, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite ad agency, in 1997, and returned ‘home’, as it were, by joining the Conservative Party in 2009.

I seem to recall that there was interest at the time in a brother of Marjorie Ellis Thompson who, it was alleged, worked for a US intelligence agency. But I could be mistaken, it was all a long time ago. Maybe someone remembers?

By 1992, after all the changes, and all the ‘reaching out’, Plaid Cymru’s percentage of the vote in that year’s general election barely moved. Nevertheless, the party did hold its three seats in the north west and Cynog Dafis added Ceredigion and Pembroke North, almost certainly due to the thousands of bearded ones turning out to vote for him.

Though the only constituency that saw an official Plaid-Green alliance was Monmouth, where the candidate Mel Witherden got 0.8% of the vote, the lowest Plaid vote in the country. Witherden was quite open in stating that many Greens were anti-Welsh in a racist and colonialist way.

Plaid was now firmly located on the political left, it was a ‘welcoming’ party concerned with all manner of ishoos and -isms, and more interested in the opinions of Islington than with what people were thinking in Islwyn.

DESIGNED TO FAIL

Plaid Cymru, the party I joined in the mid-’60s because it – and I – wanted to make Wales a better place for the Welsh people, had become a regional rainbow alliance for which nationhood and independence were dirty words. Wales no longer mattered except for the votes and seats it provided that then allowed the Plaid leadership to rub shoulders with other ‘progressives’.

This party had no chance of winning seats outside of the Welsh-speaking areas, where most of Plaid’s voters supported the party for cultural reasons, and didn’t really care about Plaid’s policies (even if they knew what they were). If this electorate had one concern it was the influx that was breaking up communities and slowly destroying a Welsh way of life.

Plaid Cymru had no intention of making a stand against colonisation; in fact, as we’ve seen, Plaid’s leadership was happy to co-operate with elements of this influx. Never was an electorate taken for granted and treated with such contempt as Plaid Cymru’s rural voters. It’s no exaggeration to say that Meibion Glyndŵr spoke for these people better than Plaid Cymru.

Courtesy of BBC

Plaid Cymru was successfully subverted in the late 1980s and early 1990s into a political party that would never get more than 10-12% of the vote in UK general elections and therefore pose no threat to the integrity of the UK state. It would have been easy to interpret this catastrophic re-alignment to foolishness, were it not for the removal of Dafydd Wigley in 2000.

In the first elections to the new Welsh Assembly in May 1999 Plaid Cymru gained 28.4% of the constituency vote (Labour 37.6%) and 30.5% of the second or regional vote (Labour 35.4%). In addition to predictably winning its western, rural seats the party also won Llanelli, Rhondda and Islwyn. This result sent shock waves way beyond Wales.

In June 2000 an internal plot removed Dafydd Wigley, persuading him to cite health grounds for ‘his’ decision. Seventeen years later he leads a full life travelling up to London regularly to sit in the House of Lords and is actively involved in many other, more worthwhile, activities.

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

In my previous post I wrote of the strange case of Plaid Cymru councillor and AM Neil McEvoy, stitched up on a ludicrous ‘bullying’ charge by the Labour corruption machine and then, instead of being supported by his party, he found Plaid’s leadership siding with Labour and assorted organisations on Labour’s Third Sector payroll such as Welsh Women’s Aid.

In that post – and if you haven’t read it then I urge you to do so – I talked of the ‘consensus’, a delusion prevalent among Plaid Cymru’s hierarchy that they and ‘Welsh’ Labour are natural allies in the fight against the forces of darkness. This results in Plaid Cymru refusing to take Labour on in the way that the SNP has so successfully done in Scotland. But it goes deeper than that, and it’s more sinister.

Like all advanced states, the UK has a ‘permanent government’ which may or may not be made up of military brass, top businessmen, intelligence chiefs, senior civil servants and others. Whatever their attitude towards the Labour Party – and this will vary depending on who’s leading Labour – they understand full well that Labour is the bulwark against Welsh nationalism simply because it’s the largest party in Wales.

Equally, those I’m talking about understand that due to its corruption and incompetence, and the quality of its elected representatives, Labour in Wales is highly vulnerable, and must therefore be protected from any threat to its hegemony. The best way of doing this is from within. From within Plaid Cymru.

It’s no coincidence that Dafydd Wigley, Plaid Cymru’s most successful ever leader, was removed when the party he led threatened to dislodge Labour in the Valleys. And no coincidence that it was done with a palace coup.

Now Neil McEvoy, a politician from a different mould to most other Plaid MPs and AMs, is gaining popularity in working class Cardiff, so he is stitched up by Labour and hung out to dry by his own party.

To achieve this control over Plaid Cymru the permanent government doesn’t need many on the inside, just enough, in senior positions, to ensure that the right kind of left-liberal losers are recruited and promoted, and that nationalists, or anyone threatening Labour’s domination, is sidelined.

THE DOG IN THE MANGER

Since the Neil McEvoy affair blew up I have spoken with people I know inside Plaid Cymru and they are surprised, annoyed or outraged by the actions of the party leadership. No one I have spoken to supports the party leadership. The confusion extended to surprising quarters, like Martin Shipton in the Wasting Mule. Plaid’s leadership must know that they’ve got this one badly wrong.

But then, this is exactly how Plaid Cymru has been programmed to react in a situation like this. As I said earlier, Plaid Cymru was “subverted in the late 1980s and early 1990s into a political party that would never get more than 10-12% of the vote in UK general elections”, achieved by the simple expedient of taking the party in directions that made it unattractive to the great majority of Welsh voters.

Update that figure for devolution and we are talking of less than 25% in Assembly elections. Anything higher sets the alarm bells ringing in the marbled corridors of the permanent government. And action is taken.

 

Plaid Cymru since the bright young things took control has been a party promising everything to everybody . . . and delivering nothing, apart from minor concessions allowed by our masters to delude the rank and file that their leaders can deliver, and that the long-heralded ‘breakthrough’ is just around the corner. The ‘breakthrough’ that never comes . . . and was scuppered from within when it threatened to happen.

But perhaps Plaid Cymru’s most useful role has been as a dog in the manger party, because for as long as Plaid is in place, gaining just enough votes, it blocks the emergence of an alternative that could confront and defeat ‘Welsh’ Labour.

MY MESSAGE TO PLAID CYMRU MEMBERS

Whether you accept my theory or not, you know that your party is going nowhere. Which means that you are probably confused or disappointed by the treatment of Neil McEvoy, your party’s most effective politician.

You know that ‘Welsh’ Labour is there for the taking – so why is Plaid Cymru propping up this stumblebum party?

Or ask yourself why your party is so unattractive that Ukip got more votes in the last general election. And not just in Clwyd, but in Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymni, Swansea East, etcCome on! wise up!

My belief remains that Plaid Cymru has been compromised. For appearances’ sake, and to block the emergence of a credible alternative, it is allowed a certain level of support, in return for which it must deal with anyone threatening to upset the status quo.

To make Plaid Cymru the party it should be, the party most of you want it to be, you need to give our people the message of hope they want to hear. But to achieve this you must remove the deadwood at the top of the party.

Plaid Cymru needs a new leadership prepared to put the interests of Wales and the Welsh people first, no matter what other parties, the commentariat, or the ‘progressives’ of Islington, may say.

♦ end ♦

Jan 292017
 

THE DRUGS RACKET

Once upon a time, in a city far, far away, a clergyman came up with the idea of a charity to help those addicted to drugs. This charity has – like so many others! – recently moved to Wales, it now gets lots and lots of funding, and is quickly taking over the Welsh ‘rehabilitation’ racket.

The Kaleidoscope Project is a company and a charity that began life in 1968 in Kingston-upon-Thames, London. In 2013 it relocated to Newport, Gwent, to share premises at Integra House with The South Wales Association For Prevention Of Addiction Ltd. This outfit, usually known as Drugaid, is also a company and a charity and wouldn’t you know it – I wrote about Drugaid in November 2015, read it here.

Even though Drugaid now has a partner to share the load its funding has increased. For if we look at the most recent accounts, for y/e 31.03.2016, we see that income for the year was £6,200,222, against just £2,698,651 for the previous year (page 11). And of that £6m+ total no less than £3,102,866 went on salaries (page 22), with a further £950,363 going on “partner charge salaries” (page 20). Does this refer to Kaleidoscope? Throw in all the other charges and expenses and you have to wonder just how much goes on treating the ‘clients’.

Turning to the 2016 accounts for Kaleidoscope, we find a similar picture. Total income for this Englandandwales operation was £6,855,603 against £4,973,281 for 2015 (page 9). Yet salaries totalled £5,018,767 against £3,561,817 for 2015 (page 17).

As with so many Third Sector bodies we see that seventy or eighty per cent of the income is spent on salaries, wages, pensions, expenses and other staff costs that appear to have little to do with treating drug addiction or alcohol dependency.

Something else you will have noticed is that by adding the figures for Drugaid and Kaleidoscope we see that their combined income almost doubled in a year, going from £7,671,932 in 2015 to £13,055,825 in 2016. Has there been a massive increase in drug addiction or alcohol dependency? I don’t think so. So how do we explain this increase?

One way of explaining it might be through expansion, into GwentDyfedPowys, the Central Valleys, and The North where Kaleidoscope is working with CAIS, an organisation exhibiting the same pattern of an expanding budget most of which goes on staff costs.

And even though the Kaleidoscope website doesn’t say so, I hear that Kaleidoscope now has an interest in 39 St Mary Street in Cardigan. The mortgage on this property had been held by Cyswllt Contact of Aberystwyth, which finally went belly-up last November (though the mortgage may have been inherited by Drugaid before the final collapse). The link for the Cyswllt website now takes us to this other English outfit.

So since moving to Newport in 2013 Kaleidoscope has been able to pull down many millions in grants and loans from the ‘Welsh’ Government’s civil servants and also from local authorities. It has spread like a rash across the country apart from Swansea and Cardiff. Significantly, Drugaid has no presence in these cities, either.

Somebody’s taking the piss here (and it’s not for urine testing!). An English-based, English staffed, cross-border agency is rapidly expanding in the addiction-dependency-homeless racket, raking in millions in Welsh public funding every year – most of which goes on salaries – yet there appear to be no safeguards in place to ensure that Welsh funding isn’t used in England or that English drug addicts aren’t being imported!

Kaleidoscope’s move into Wales is yet another example of Welsh-based bodies being replaced by English counterparts. Which of course further integrates Wales with England, and further exposes the sham of devolution, and ‘Welsh solutions for Welsh problems’.

Though let me make it clear that I do not believe that our politicians are directly culpable. The problem is at the level of senior civil servant/local government officer and Third Sector management. The former taking their orders from London and the latter believing they must operate in an Englandandwales framework.

Our politicians are guilty for not stepping in to put a stop to these squalid shenanigans.

SWANSEA LABOUR PARTY (always good for a laugh!)

Until May 2012 Swansea council was run by a coalition led by the Liberal Democrats whose leader was Chris Holley. In a campaign of dirty tricks waged by the local bruvvers one tactic was particularly naughty – even for Labour.

It was alleged that secret talks had taken place between the Lib Dem-led coalition and the Tories, with promises of increased spending in Conservative-held wards if an ‘understanding’ could be agreed. The matter was referred to the police, the CPS and the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. The three councillors named were Holley, his Independent deputy John Hague and Conservative councillor Paxton Hood-Williams.

Nothing came of the inquiries. Read a report here from BBC Wales, and note the curious fact that the original story of October 2011 attributed the referral to the council’s chief executive and that it took four and a half years before the correction was made!

We shall never know how much public money and police time was wasted investigating this spurious allegation, but what the hell, this is how Labour does politics, the cost is irrelevant when pursuing a vendetta.

Now it appears that Labour is doing something very similar to what it falsely accused Holley et al of doing, in that it’s buying votes. I’m told that Labour councillors were instructed some time ago to improve their chances of re-election in May by giving money they’d been allocated for environmental improvements to high-profile local groups. Among the recipients are said to be the street markets in Uplands and Morriston. Should this be investigated?

peas from the same pod

The deeply divided Swansea Labour Party – which now insists that ward branches report back each and every thought and deed – is also demanding that all candidates in May adhere strictly to Comrade Corbyn’s Ten-Point agenda for Britain and that all new candidates be loyal to Momentum.

Absent from the glittering array to be presented to Swansea’s electors will be John Charles ‘John Boy’ Bayliss. Although he quit the ugly lovely town some time ago John Boy has managed to hang on as an Uplands councillor.

Now he plans to stand in Cardiff and I look forward to reporting on his defeat, after which he might slink back over the border and never trouble us again.

UPDATE 02.02.2017: More information reaches me insisting that a deal was done, a deal that included the coalition offering to support Paxton Hood-Williams’ nomination to chair the council’s Child and Family Overview and Scrutiny Board.

Also, I have received a copy of an e-mail from chief executive Jack Straw to René Kinzett, leader of the Conservative council group at the time, in which Straw clearly says that he is referring the matter to the Ombudsman. We must assume that’s what he did, so why did the BBC make the ‘correction’? Read the e-mail for yourself.

For those wondering about ‘Rocking’ René, this post from April 2013 might help. Thankfully, Kinzett is now long gone from Swansea. Here-today-gone-tomorrow councillors are clearly not the sole preserve of the Labour Party.

LLANDOVERY YMCA

This is another subject about which I’ve written a number of times. If you want to catch up, start with The Impoverishment of Wales (scroll down) and then Ancestral Turf.

It’s a familiar tale. Middle class English people move to a small rural town and wonder how the locals managed without them. They then set about ‘improving’ things and providing ‘services’. Of course, this impulse to serve the inhabitants of one’s adopted home is not unconnected with the ready availability of moolah, and the salaries and pension pots it provides.

While the YMCA seems to be a focal point for these activities there have been other ventures. One worth mentioning would be the bunkhouse, launched in 2013 and bust by 2016. But what the hell, it’s only money, and with the system we have in Wales there’s plenty more where that came from.

But now I hear of something more worrying than just ripping off the public purse.

As you might guess, the YMCA caters for children and young people. Which explains the concerns many involved there have over the husband of one of the leading lights. A man who is said to spend a lot of time ‘hanging about’ the place. For I’m told that this man is currently on police bail accused of sexual offences against children, with his wife away from work on the pretext that he’s unwell and she’s looking after him.

She wants to return, but, for obvious reasons, this is being opposed. To complicate matters, there is a Big Lottery People and Places grant of £500,000 waiting in the wings.

My position is this: there can be no further investment in Llandovery YMCA of any kind and from any quarter while the wife of the alleged paedophile is still involved. There should also be a thorough investigation by those agencies that have hitherto given such unquestioning support: the ‘Welsh’ Government, Mark James Carmarthenshire County Council, and of course the Big Lottery Fund. One question might be, ‘given that he likes hanging about the building has the man in question ever had a DBS check?’

The unacceptable option would be to ignore what’s happening in Llandovery to save embarrassing certain people in positions of authority.

PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN WALES

A curious tale has reached me about the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

To cut a long story short, a dispute between neighbours was taken to Cardiff council, and then one of those involved, unhappy with the way the case had been handled by the council, took the matter up with the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. At which point things took a strange turn.

When he later asked to see the documentation that had passed between the council and the Ombudsman the complainant was informed that this correspondence was “exempt from disclosure under the FOI Act or DPA” (Data Protection Act). Explicitly mentioned in justification for not providing the information requested was Section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (reproduced below).

If we look at part (1), then if (a) or (b) applied it would be easy for the Ombudsman’s office to quote the relevant ‘enactment’ or ‘obligation’. They chose not to. As for (c), there was no court case so I fail to see how contempt of court can be applicable. Which leaves (2), on which you can make up your own minds.

The Ombudsman’s office eventually relented, to the extent that they were prepared to release a single document – but only if the recipient signed a gagging order! Which makes you wonder what secrets could possibly be contained in correspondence between Cardiff council and the Public Services Ombudsman discussing a relatively minor dispute.

My understanding is that information provided under the FoI Act is considered to be in the public domain. It’s reasonable to assume that this does not apply with the Data Protection Act, and that this explains why the correspondence was released under the DPA rather than the FoI Act.

This case raises more questions than answers. Not least, is Nick Bennett the PSO for Wales a law unto himself, above and beyond the control of those who appointed him? Or, given that he was appointed by a Labour government, and Cardiff is a Labour-run council, is this a bit of quid pro quo?

Has anyone reading this had a similar experience? Can anyone offer suggestions on how to challenge this decision?

MAKING USE OF THE FOI ACT 2000 (by ‘Big Gee’)

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities. More information HERE.

It does this in two ways:

•   public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities; and

•   members of the public are entitled to request information from public authorities.

The Act covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in Cymru (Wales), England and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland. Information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces. However, the Act (unfortunately) does not necessarily cover every organisation that receives public money. For example, it does not cover some charities that receive grants and certain private sector organisations that perform public functions.

Recorded information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.

Why is this of interest to us?

Obviously, by our very nature, as a blogging site that deals specifically with political and politically associated subject matter in Cymru, we often have a need to prise information from the sources referred to above, who do not necessarily publish or release information that is often of public interest or benefit. Information is power, public bodies retain power by holding on to information, the public gain power by accessing information. The process also holds authorities in check and makes them accountable.

How do we presently make FoI requests?

At present, any individual or body can make a direct request for information by letter or e-mail to the public body they require information from. Alternatively there is a web-site run by a voluntary group called ‘What Do They Know’. That site covers all of the UK, it is only one of it’s kind in the British Isles. This excellent web-site does all the donkey work for anyone who wishes to use it. It has a database that covers thousands of public bodies. Anyone wishing to use it can simply choose the organisation they want information from. The site then allows them to post their request on-line. The request is automatically forwarded to the selected authority. All replies are sent back to the site and are automatically displayed for public viewing. The requester is notified of the reply and is given the opportunity to proceed as they see fit with the request. The site also sets deadlines for replies and offers the opportunity for the requesters to ask for an internal inquiry within the authority they made their request to. The site also allows the requester to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, if the situation requires that action.

The only drawback with the ‘What Do They Know’ site is that it has to deal with requests on various levels, throughout the UK. By virtue of the sheer numbers involved, it does not bore down to all parish/ community levels, especially in Cymru. Although many of those small ‘parish’ authorities do not have e-mail contacts that can be used, so they are generally overlooked. We could help rectify that.

How can we improve on this service In Cymru?

The software that powers the ‘What Do They Know’ site is readily available from Alaveteli. Whilst it takes a considerable amount of technical know-how to set up a FoI site, the ones involved with the Jac o’ the North blog site have that technical expertise.

What we would like to explore is the viability of setting up a ‘sister’ site to the Jac o’ the North blog site. It will hopefully provide a FoI service to the citizens of Cymru. It’s database will contain contact information for FoI departments within authorities and the public bodies that serve Cymru, from Y Senedd (the Welsh Assembly) down to local parish/ community councils, where possible. This will fill the gap not provided by the current ‘What Do They Know’ web-site.

The initial work is the heaviest, which entails not only setting up and customising the proposed site, but the harvesting of information for it’s database. In order to achieve this we need a ‘team’ put together to achieve that very important primary step in the process. When the site is up and running it will require minimal supervision, maintenance and moderation.

All those interested in being involved in this project can either contact the Jac o’ the North’s web-master, or contact Jac directly. We will keep you posted of our progress.

A FoI web-site specifically customised for use within our own country would be a huge boost to the availability of information to the ordinary man and woman across our communities.

♦ end ♦

Jan 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

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

Nov 282016
 

PART 1: ‘THE BEAUTIFUL GAME’

This autumn has seen a succession of spats between the football associations of the ‘home’ nations and FIFA the international governing body of the game over displays of poppies, which FIFA deems to be a political symbol. These disputes reached something of a fever pitch last week when FIFA laid a number of charges against the Football Association of Wales (FAW) linked to the game against Serbia on November 12 (which I attended).

Press reports suggest that one of the charges was that fans had worn poppies in their coats! Which, if true, is insane. For not only would such a charge infringe personal liberty but also open up a vat of worms for those having to decide what qualifies as a political symbol. (At the game I wore a discreet Glyndŵr flag lapel badge.)

serbia-ticket

Consider Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world, intertwined with Catalan identity and the independence movement. Everywhere at their stadium you will read it spelled out for you – Mes que un club (more than a club). Their big rivals are of course Real Madrid, the club of ruling Castille, the club of the monarchy, and the multi-ethnic – but definitely unified – Spanish state.

Last week Barcelona played in Glasgow against Celtic, an intense, occasionally tetchy, but nevertheless enjoyable game that saw the magnificent Celtic fans waving their Irish tricolours and singing their Irish rebel songs. Across town you’ll find arch-rivals Rangers, whose fans wave union flags and sing ditties such as The Billie Boys (‘Up to our knees in Fenian blood, etc’).

There are hundreds of other clubs in the world with an intensely partisan identity that is overtly and unmistakably political, or even ethnic. Until very recently only Basques were allowed to play for Bilboko Athletic Kluba and even though that rule now appears to have been relaxed Athletic Bilbao and the other Basque clubs retain an intensely nationalistic ethos. (Though Celtic and Rangers may be unique in that the fans are animated by the history and politics of another country.)

Come to that, what about international games, such as the one between Wales and Serbia that caused FIFA’s representative such concern? As with every competitive international game there were national flags, and national anthems – aren’t they ‘political’? Come to that, national teams, the raison d’être for FIFA, are obviously political because they represent nation-states or, in the case of Wales, a nation without a state.

Whereas on the other hand, the Serbs might argue that Serbia is a nation-state but too many Serbs are stranded outside the homeland, in Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo. And yet, Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia, handed over by NATO to Albanian gangsters was, in a blatantly political decision, admitted to both FIFA and the European governing body, UEFA, in May 2016. Too late to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Russia in 2018, which is just as well, because Russia doesn’t recognise Kosovo.

In other words, football at club and international level has always been political. Whether it’s the England team giving a Nazi salute in 1938, the so-called ‘Football War’ between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969, or German football fans welcoming refugees (last year). So for FIFA to try to punish Wales for individuals making the personal decision to wear a poppy is absurd. Worse, it could be dangerous; for does FIFA now wish to dictate what people wear to football matches?

Early in the second paragraph I qualified my criticism of FIFA with “if true”, partly because I find it difficult to believe that anyone would try to dictate what football fans wear, and partly because it could be that what FIFA meant by ‘fans in the stand’ was the display organised by the FAW, not far from where I was sitting with my son and grandsons. (Being aware of this stunt in advance I was praying that our section of the crowd wouldn’t be involved. Taid being thrown out could have spoilt the night even more than the late Serbian equaliser.)

This stunt was arranged by placing cards on seats which, when held up, combined to give the image of a big poppy. This was rather naughty of the FAW, and very silly. Naughty because it forced people to be part of something about which they might have had reservations, and silly because it was sticking two fingers up to FIFA, which had already warned the FAW that the players should not wear poppies on their shirts, nor should there be other displays. But then, the Sun, the Daily Mail and other good friends of Wales said it should be done, so that presumably made it OK.

faw-poppy

Now if it is this display of poppies organised by the FAW that FIFA is objecting to, and if it results in points being deducted and Wales not reaching the World Cup Finals, then I believe that the officials of the FAW will have failed us all and should consider their positions.

I say that because the duty of the FAW is to manage the game in Wales in the best interests of the member clubs, the national team and the fans, not to jeopardise the best interests of Welsh football by falling into line with the cynical and engineered poppy frenzy.

Personal freedom is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society, and must be defended. And that’s why FIFA is wrong if it charges the FAW for individual fans choosing to wear a poppy in their lapel. But considerations of personal freedom also put the FAW in the wrong for forcing individuals to be part of that poppy display.

I think we’re entitled to answers, from both FIFA and the FAW.

PART 2: “SQUEAKY BUM TIME”

Demanding that everyone, including footballers, wears a poppy for the weeks leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is quite recent, maybe no more than a decade old. Here’s a photo from a Scotland v England game played on Saturday November 14, 1999, the day before Remembrance Sunday. There are no poppies. There was no one-minute silence before the game.

It’s fitting that the photo comes from 1999, and was taken in the home city of Sir Alex Ferguson, the great Manchester United manager, because that year almost certainly marks the start of “squeaky bum time” (a period of nervousness and uncertainty) for those who were soon promoting the poppy and what they wanted it to stand for.

england-v-scotland-1999

Because 1999 was the year of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The SNP got 28.7% of the vote and 35 out the 129 seats in Scotland, while in Wales Plaid Cymru achieved 28.4% of the vote and 17 out of 60 seats. So even though Plaid Cymru did better than expected there was nothing for our masters to get overly concerned about in either country, yet within the establishment there were those who already feared where devolution might lead.

September 11, 2001 saw the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, soon followed by retaliatory US and UK air strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. To be followed by ground troops. January 4 2002 saw the first US soldier killed by enemy fire. The conflict dragged on.

The USA and UK invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein in March 2003. All kinds of reasons were proffered to justify this aggression but none were convincing. It was regime change linked to oil, and another ‘All be home by Christmas’ intervention that dragged on, and on.

Then, in July 2005, London experienced suicide bomb attacks that killed 52 people, and carried out by British-born Islamic terrorists. These bombings were the most extreme expression of the growing anger within Muslim communities in Europe and the USA at the West’s military interventions in the Islamic world.

The May 2007 elections to the Scottish Parliament saw the SNP’s share of the vote climb to 32.9% of the vote, giving it the most votes, and with 47 seats (one more than Labour) it was now the largest party. Squeaky bum time was really upon us (or them).

By the end of 2007 it became clear that the Western world was entering a period of economic turmoil. It was equally clear that the recession had been caused by irresponsible lending by banks and mortgage institutions coupled with the imaginative trading of debts and other worthless packages. As with Afghanistan and Iraq, it was the USA and the UK leading the way, with other countries quick to blame ‘the Anglo-Saxon economic model’ of quick-buck trading having no concern for the wider economy, let alone society as a whole.

By 2010 everyone knew that the UK was up shit creek economically, with the public purse bailing out criminally irresponsible banks. The public turned against banks and the City of London. The UK was still bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Qaeda had been overtaken by the much more ruthless ISIS, which had support from young British Muslims.

To cap it all, the Monarchy started losing what had been its 90+ per cent approval rating. I suspect this started with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, made worse by divorces and scandals, with the prospect of Charles becoming king viewed with concern in certain quarters.

So our elite consulted that well-thumbed manual, ‘Cunning Plans For When Things Go Pear Shaped”. And there, in among chapters headed, ‘Blame Somebody Else’, ‘Start A War’, ‘Scapegoat A Minority’, ‘Do A Runner With The Loot’ and ‘Pray For Divine Intervention’ they found ‘Whip Up A Frenzy Of Faux Patriotism’.

This explains why, in the mid to late noughties the largely neglected poppy saw the first drops of revivifying water and became the symbol not of sacrifice in war but of British identity and ‘pulling together’. The UK media played its role with an enthusiasm almost unknown in democratic societies.

Could it get any worse for the establishment? Yes it could, for in May 2011 the SNP took 44% (+13%) of the vote and 69 seats, giving it a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament. There would now be a referendum on Scottish independence.

Television companies responded by going into overdrive in promoting British unity. In the final year of the Labour – Lib Dem coalition in the Scottish Parliament (to May 3, 2007) there were just 25 television programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title. Between January 2013 and January 2014, with the SNP in power and the independence referendum looming, the number of ‘Britain’ / ‘British’ programmes had risen to 516!

Which brings us to where we are today. To the point where the now regular autumn hysteria has reached absurd proportions. Here are a couple of examples.

On the evening of Friday November 18 I watched a televised football game (Brighton & Hove Albion v Aston Villa) and I couldn’t understand why the players had poppies on their shirts a week after Armistice Day and five days after Remembrance Sunday. Then the commentator told us it was to commemorate the last day of the Battle of the Somme!

So are we now compelled to remember every date that someone, somewhere, deems significant? And if so, where does this end? Can anyone remember any other instance of poppies being worn after Remembrance Sunday?

Nowhere is the poppy cult more slavishly followed than at the BBC. It is now obvious that from mid or late October no one is allowed to appear on any BBC programme without a poppy. (Though Evan Davis on Newsnight held out longer than most.) So terrified is the Beeb of falling foul of the Sun and the other directors of the national mood that anything that moves is liable to have a poppy pinned to it.

But this fear of manufactured British patriotism can bring its own problems, such as when someone at The One Show pinned a poppy on the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. This outraged some for “trivialising the sacrifice of millions”, but as Dara Ó Briain suggested, it might have been satire, somebody having a pop at the poppy fascists. Here’s how the story was covered in Heatstreet, MailOnline, The Express, and the Huffington Post.

cookie-monster

As the BBC discovered with the Cookie Monster, when you’re dealing with poppy fascists it’s difficult to do the right thing. Perhaps the rule for broadcasters should be to pin a poppy on everything that breathes irrespective of whether it wants to wear one or not. Which might result in an apologist for ISIS appearing on Newsnight  or Channel 4 News wearing a poppy.

PART 3: CUNNING PLANS GANG AFT AGLEY

What I hope I’ve explained is that the past decade has seen a poppy cult engineered to engender a sense of Britishness, patriotism and unity, in order to counter threats from within and without; also to divert attention away from military blunders and other cracks in the façade of the British system that had led people to question the roles of the armed forces, the Monarchy, the City of London and other institutions.

To some extent this has worked. For example, the first referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 was ‘won’. Then, the prince who many would like to see accede to the throne instead of his father has knocked out a few sprogs, and the ‘Ah!’ factor always works for the House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.

Yet the success of this strategy is now causing problems that the Elite had not foreseen. You’ll note that I’m talking now of an ‘Elite’, so let me explain myself. Perhaps the best way is to refer back to my post EU Referendum: Why I Want OUT! where I wrote of an Elite that opposes “nation-states, national identities, local governments, languages other than English, regional tastes and peculiarities. In fact, many of the things you and I cherish.”

Those behind the relentless promotion of the poppy are linked to that global Elite. They opposed Scottish independence and they were against Brexit, for they believe in the Elite’s agenda of globalisation and mass migration as these drive down wages and help destroy the national identities that are viewed as an obstacle to globalisation.

The problem is that for most English people ‘Britishness’ and ‘Englishness’, ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, are synonyms, and the English make up almost 80% of the UK’s population. Which has meant that by clumsily promoting the poppy and British nationalism as a short-term fix for assorted problems the Elite unleashed insurgent English populism that resulted in UKIP and Brexit, and may now take us on a journey no one foresaw.

This revolt against the Elite is not confined to the UK. Donald Trump is President-elect of the USA. François Fillon is the Centre-right’s candidate against Marine le Pen, and he will fight that election on a platform that Donald Trump would approve: making friends with Putin, cracking down hard on Islamic extremists, opposing same-sex couples adopting children, etc.

When the French go to the polls in April to elect a new president it will be a choice between a weak and demoralised Left on the one side, while the alternatives are the Hard Right and the Very Hard Right. Then, between Fillon and le Pen, attitudes to the EU could be the main and defining difference.

The liberal, globalist, ‘do your own thing’ consensus we’ve lived with since the 1960s is almost dead. Accidentally killed by an Elite that over-reached itself, assisted by a Left that had been allowed to dictate the social agenda (because it complemented the ambitions of the Elite) but so detached itself from the concerns of most people that ‘liberal elite’ is now a term of abuse.

For me, it’s one of the great political ironies that an annual propaganda exercise to defend established interests favouring the EU, centrist politics, globalisation and unrestricted immigration has breathed life into forces representing their very antithesis. But so fitting.

♦ end 

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 102016
 
A GUEST POST BY ‘STAN(with minor contributions from ‘Anon’ and Jac)

THE MURKY WORLD OF ‘WELSH’ LABOUR NEPOTISM AND CRONYISM, CORRUPTION AND MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS; A DEMI-MONDE WHERE IT SEEMS REGULATORS FEAR TO TREAD

When Stephen Kinnock was elected MP for Aberavon in the early hours of Friday, 8 May 2015 it was hardly the shock of the century. Aberavon has had a Labour MP uninterrupted since 1922.

The first was James Ramsay MacDonald, who went on to become the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. Ramsay was a proper bastard, like many MPs really (but by the dictionary definition not the slang one), and was born into a hard working and poor, working class background – the illegitimate son of a farm labourer and housemaid. A complete contrast to young Kinnock then whose parents could hardly be called working class and who from birth had every chance in life. They will doubtless say thanks to the Labour Party!

No-one has had a lower Labour vote in either numerical or percentage terms than Stephen ‘Boyo’ Kinnock did since Ramsay MacDonald was first elected in 1922. In 1922 Ramsay MacDonald had 14,318 votes and a vote share of 46.6%. In 2016 ‘Boyo’ got 15,416 votes and 48.9%. Political anoraks might like to know that Labour’s peak performance was in 1966 when John Morris secured 33,763 votes and a staggering 75.4% vote share. You could say, “how the mighty have fallen”, or even “how the donkeys have woken up” – but “both” is more accurate.

Another fact is that both men were parachuted into the constituency, neither being a local. Ramsay MacDonald would obviously be a very early example of the “parachute” Labour Party candidate, evidently so successful that the Party seems to have adopted the tactic right up to this day. However, whereas he was indubitably Scottish, it is alleged that Stephen Kinnock is Welsh. Correct that – he must be – because he said in his maiden Commons speech that he was “a global Welshman”.

Kinnock maiden speech

WHY THE ROLL OF LAVATORY PAPER?

What is not in doubt was that he was born in Tredegar in 1970 but from 3 or 4 years of age, young Kinnock lived in England. He received all his Primary and Secondary education there. He went to university to study languages in Cambridge and thereafter seemed to go off to find himself, leaving England in 1992 and studying and working in various countries in Europe and even Africa, collecting a wife and eventually children in Denmark. Whereas the Israelites with all their resources took 40 years to find their Promised Land, Kinnock’s such a bright boy(o) that he did it in just over half the time. He returned to the UK after 20 years, in 2012, to work for an environmental consultancy called Xynteo before discovering at the age of 45 (in 2015) his real purpose in life – to live part-time in a flat in Cwmavon, be the MP for Aberavon and more recently to piss off many of his constituents because of his prominent role in the “Chicken Coup” against his democratically elected Labour Party leader.

He speaks five languages fluently, French, Spanish, Russian, Danish and of course English – but not Welsh, despite his mother Glenys being a Welsh speaker.

This polyglot promised to take Welsh lessons if he became Aberavon MP but that’s typical politician speak for you. There’s no time-frame put to it. So he could start them in 2050 if he wanted and still argue he’d kept his word. He may be a global figure but “Welshman”, let’s pass on that. You can’t help feeling it’s a flag of convenience to endear him to the electorate of a South Wales seat.

But anxious to make a good impression, Boyo was soon up and running after being elected even though Parliament wasn’t opened by The Corgi Woman until 27 May 2015. The local constituency office had been vacated by his predecessor, Dr Hywel Francis. First, because all the staff of a retiring MP have to be laid off, new staff had to be employed. No problem there though. Immediately through the door, in fact taking up her employment on 11 May 2015, just a weekend after the voting result itself, was Ms Cari Morgans. Cari had worked for Peter Hain as his Office Manager. So, she presumably pocketed her redundancy money, as was her entitlement, then walked into an equivalent job almost right next door, on a salary range from about £26K – £38K. Being a woman of some experience she is most likely at the upper end of that range. Incidentally, Cari is also the Neath Port Talbot councillor representing the Tonna ward and pulling in £13,300 a year for that as well.

Welsh Labour, naturellement. Nice work if you can get it. There aren’t many people getting paid over £50K a year in Neath, particularly out of the public sector. But there are more than a few in the local Council. And one of these is likely to be Councillor Anthony J Taylor, who has been the Councillor for the Taibach ward since 2008.

Anthony is already the Cabinet Member for Economic Development & Property Services at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council. This demanding role (no kidding?) is considered to be full time. It pays a salary of £28,890 per annum. Yet Councillor Taylor is also a Political Advisor for Derek Vaughan MEP. Unfortunately we have no idea whether this is part time, full time, weekends or shifts. Because information on MEPs’ staff is almost impossible to get hold of.

Derek Vaughan

DEREK VAUGHAN MEP

He is a relatively new kid on the block, only leaving Cardiff University in 2001 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His first job was with NPT Council as an Anti Social Behaviour Prevention Officer. Being Neath Port Talbot that’s probably such a stressful job that in less than two years he was recuperating in a job working in Cardiff for Carwyn Jones as a Political Advisor. A lot less stress there then, presumably the most difficult part of the job being trying to stay awake in any meeting longer than five minutes with Carwyn. Can he bore for Wales! Anthony did this for six years, presumably without being caught nodding off, before being recruited by Derek Vaughan in July 2009, when Derek became an MEP.  Like Anthony, Derek was an NPT Councillor – in fact, he was Council Leader when he jumped on board the Brussels Gravy Train Express. And what a small, incestuous world this is. It was Anthony J Taylor who acted as Proposer for one Stephen Kinnock in the nominations for the May 2015 General Election. Definitely one to watch!

But let’s get back to Cari (she might be feeling neglected by now). Cari saw some major workplace changes as a result of having a new employer who had lived such a cosmopolitan, privileged lifestyle, hobnobbing it with so many heads of state as the escort of the then Prime Minister of Denmark (aka Mrs Kinnock). And let’s not forget all those senior executives of multi-nationals and global conglomerates in his work at the World Economic Forum. That’s WEF to those who understand what it does, but WTF! to some of us who must wonder just what the hell these exclusive gatherings get up to. Coffee machines were bought in to the Aberavon office, as was a “milk frother“. This latter piece of kit was a complete mystery to his Aberavon constituents and it has been rumoured it was acquired so they would come to his office in their droves just to see this marvellous invention in action. Most people in the constituency are used to their coffee in granules or powder out of a jar, onto a teaspoon, into the mug, boiling water, top up with milk then drink the bloody stuff.

To further reflect his suave, sophisticated, but domesticated image, he bought a sofa for the office too. Or rather – we did. You don’t think they buy these things with their own money, do you?

Milk Frother

Now the speed of this recruitment of Cari Morgans displayed an efficiency seldom seen in the public sector, which is usually so bound up in rules and regulations and red tape that it can take three months to draft a letter. So how did this happen? Well, IPSA guidelines (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) for the employment of MPs’ staff are very helpful and set out the procedures to be followed.

And these include “advertise the vacancy and conduct appropriate assessments to ensure you have the best candidate for the role”. Note there’s a tremendous amount of latitude here – it doesn’t say formal interviews and it doesn’t say you need to shortlist. But it does say advertise and it does say appropriate assessments, so these were obviously undertaken here, weren’t they? In which case, if he was asked, you’d hope young Kinnock will tell us – not that we doubt him, of course.

But one thing that Boyo has not done, to his credit, is follow the nepotistic practices of his predecessor, Dr Hywel Francis, as well as his neighbour in the office next door. Because Hywel employed his wife, Mair, as a Senior Parliamentary Assistant. This meant she was able to keep him company in his London work, a nice touch when you are getting on in age, and you feel the cold at night. When she finished along with Hywel in 2015 her salary is recorded as between £40K – £45K.

She would also have been entitled to a redundancy payment to soften the blow of loss of employment. Let’s be honest though, it’s doubtful she would have wanted to continue in her role. Which is just as well because as we shall soon discover, waiting in the wings was another candidate that was eminently suited to the job and who no doubt came “highly recommended” with great references, just like Ms Morgans.

Labour logo

Oh, let’s not forget “the bloke next door”. That happens to be David Rees, the Aberavon AM who occupies the office suite next to young Kinnock’s. Not to be outdone in the nepotism stakes, Rees employs his daughter Angharad Nia Thomas as a Researcher and Communications Officer (part-time) for 22.3 hours a week.

So it’s clear that Boyo has a precedent, almost a Labour Party custom and practice, to employ a close relative. But let’s be fair, an Office Manager’s or Researcher’s salary is chicken-feed compared to what Mrs Stephen Kinnock, aka Helle Thorning-Schmidt gets as Chief Executive of Save the Children International where she has been working since 4 April 2016. She is paid $344,887 USD annually and works out of the UK. That’s nice and convenient for the Kinnocks because they are now able to share a flat that they (or maybe just Stephen) own in Brent, North-West London. Breaking that Dollars figure down into Pounds Sterling she gets £258,816 give or take a few bob. Kinnock gets £74,962 as basic salary, plus expenses. Beers on them then the next time they drop in to Taibach and Port Talbot Working Men’s Club.

Of course, you don’t just need local staff. So to help him out in his Westminster role, and as his Mrs clearly didn’t want the job, Boyo took on a certain Madeleine Jennings as a Senior Parliamentary Researcher. Now guess who Madeleine worked for? You’re getting good at this by now, or you should be. Yes, she too worked for the Orange Baron (when he was just a plain “Orange” patently). Madeleine didn’t stay long with Boyo, leaving in January 2016 to follow her calling to social work.

But someone’s slipped up because she is still listed on the Register of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants, as at July 2016.

Come on Madeleine or Stephen – pull your finger out and get it off there. Madeleine should be well aware of what can happen when you neglect these little administrative matters. After all, her previous boss Peter Hain cocked up big time when he was angling for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, famously forgetting to register or oversee the timely registration of donations. He declared in his memoirs Outside In that it was “the biggest mistake of my political career” to run for the Deputy Leadership. Surely that sums up the measure of the guy? He voted for the Iraq War and subsequently against investigations into it. Yet it’s an unsuccessful leadership campaign compounded by managerial and administrative incompetence that’s a greater faux pas than supporting an illegal war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, countless people maimed and a whole region destabilised with little sign things will ever come right again.

There’s one other thing before this staffing business is wound up. Hain and his office didn’t just stop with Cari and Madeleine in being a source of staff for other MPs. Yet another of his employees, a chap called Matthew Ward, went on to work for Madeleine Moon, the Bridgend MP.

SCoW Club

One good thing IPSA has done is investigate those cases of retiring MPs and MPs who lost their seats, and what happened to staff laid off as a result. It found that a total of £925,000 was paid to 125 people laid off before the general election, but each and every one had a job with a different MP within 10 weeks! No doubt some or all of the ex-Peter Hain staff referred to above are in this group.

In the case of these appointments it’s important for the public to have confidence in the recruitment process. But the trouble is that we don’t know whether IPSA procedures are being followed. Because IPSA will not tell you, saying it’s a matter for the MPs themselves. They’ve been asked, in the case of the recruitment of Cari Morgans, and thrown it back as a matter for Stephen Kinnock.

But if MPs don’t ‘fess up, we’ll never know. This is a loophole that needs to be closed. There has always been nepotism and cronyism and there always will be. Therefore, the disinfectant of full transparency is needed so that if it does occur we know that due process has been followed at least in advertising jobs. When these appointments take place behind closed doors it is just not on – because we are talking about a lot of public money here. Providing “jobs for life” for the chosen few in some constituencies. Or rather, most constituencies in Donkey Land in Cymru.

Of course, a sense of perspective is needed. In many cases – we’d like to think all – the best person for the job may be getting it. But when MPs are themselves given the job of hiring and firing the staff they need, it needs to be done by processes that the public can get to the bottom of. IPSA turning its back on checking its own guidelines are being followed is totally unacceptable.

# # # # # # # # END # # # # # # # #

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!

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