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.

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THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MATTER

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

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

The genesis of Mill Bay Homes

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

PH2000 Ltd FCA return 2011

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

The nature of Mill Bay Homes

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

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

MBH Welcome

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

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

‘Welsh’ Government’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial Conduct Authority

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

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

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

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

FCA new rules

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

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

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

Help to Buy – Wales

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

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

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

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

Uka land grab

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

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

‘Neighbours from Hell’

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

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

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

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

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

MBH Pentlepoir composite

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

MBH digger bucket, head

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

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

Considerate Constructors

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‘SUBSIDIARIES’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A PLAGUE OF LAWYERS

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

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

But it didn’t end there!

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

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

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

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

capital_law_Logo_500x260

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

MY MOTIVATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

  48 Responses to “Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing”

  1.  

    […] post Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing appeared first on Jac o’ the […]

  2.  

    Another great post Jac. Well done. Many heads should roll over the treatment of that poor family in Pentlepoir. Thank you for raising their plight. I hope they get the justice they deserve.

  3.  

    On threats of legal action regarding comments left on your blog, this mght inteest you, Jac: https://davidbanksmedialaw.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/why-the-media-should-not-back-brexit/

    I’m no lawyer, but I wonder whether threatening you / your blog host over comments left by others is intimidation, rather than a true legal threat. It’s worth investigating.

    •  

      I take the view that, irrespective of the legal position, it amounts to intimidation. That they should target me and my host might be understandable, but to persecute a third party that has already suffered so much is going a bit far. That was all from Hugh James, but when Capital Law got involved on behalf of Leighton Andrews I began to wonder what the hell was going on.

      I can only wait now and see how determined they are to get me. Because I don’t think there’s anything in this post they can run with, so they’ll have to come up with another excuse.

      •  

        You should have a legal disclaimer prominent at the top of your blog along the lines of

        “All Blogposts contain only personal views and are published in an entirely personal capacity. I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any blogpost or comment unless I have refused to amend the blogpost or delete the comment following a valid complaint. Any complaint must set out the grounds for the amendment of the blogpost or deletion of the comment. Like the BBC, this Blog is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.”

  4.  

    Your excellent post suggests to me an urgent need for regulators to intervene and undertake a detailed investigation into funding arrangements, particularly transfer of funds between parent and subsidiary company. The relationship between local authority and this housing group should also be investigated.

    •  

      I agree, Wynne. During our digging into MBH and PH I’ve often thought of Russian dolls.

    •  

      The reason why the peculiar relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing (a registered social landlord) and Mill Bay Homes (a commercial developer incorporated as a community benefit company) is that it allows the developer to exercise leverage that would not be available to other commercial developers, most notably local building firms.

      To see an example of how this leverage works, you just need to examine the minutes of Pembrokeshire County Council planning meeting in April of this year. At issue was the granting planning for the Mill Bay Homes development in Cilgaran. Besides 55 objectors to the development, there were also issues over drainage. The argument was put forward at the planning meeting was that if the development was not given planning permission, post haste, delay could put the funding stream to ‘other social housing’ at risk. The Cligaran development is not social housing. Social housing is actually planned at Staynton where 117 dwellings for rent are proposed. This enterprise is not by Mill Bay Homes, but planned by Pembrokeshire Housing Association, the parent company.

      Normal commercial developers (usually local building firms) do not have this leverage, and because of this they are at a disadvantage. They cannot get planning, so they cannot provide new-builds and then they are effectively frozen out of the help-to-buy support from the Welsh Government. It’s also holding a gun to the head of county councillors saying ‘grant planning for these posh houses otherwise the poor won’t get a low rent flat’. I’m sure this is not what the Senedd proposed when the housing legislation was passed.

      •  

        Other considerations – linked to registration with the FCA – are VAT and Corporation Tax.

        But however you look at it, organisations like Mill Bay Homes definitely have an unfair advantage over genuine local building companies, operating as genuine commercial enterprises. So why does the ‘Welsh’ Government encourage the nonsense that Mill Bay Homes is a Registered Social Landlord?

        And where the hell is the Conservative Party, the party that is supposed to stand up for the small businessman? And if modern Tories only speak for mega business, then where is the Federation of Small Businesses?

        I’ve reached the point where I believe that the way rented accommodation is provided, using so much public funding, is unsustainable. With the right encouragement for investors and the right protection for tenants, rental housing could be left to the private sector. It’s an obvious, safe and ethical investment for pension funds and others looking for somewhere to put their money.

        Even if that’s too radical, the current system is out of time, and has to be replaced.

        •  

          Unlike renovation of existing residential properties, there is no VAT on new-builds.

          A new-build becomes an existing property when it’s signed off (certified) by building control, not at the point of exchange of title to the new occupiers, or any subsequent change of title. Exemptions exist for spragging of faults but this does not include stuff like material changes to the property like extensions, changes in roof design, adding a bathroom etc, which is then subject to VAT.

          This does not usually affect new-builds sold on the open market as the customer can buy ‘off-plan’ or ‘a completed property’, however, problems arise if the property is ‘promised to a friend’ who wants a bit of extra work done. The developer would need to be clear on what part of the works is ‘new-build’ and what is customisation conducted subsequently.

          If there is collusion between the ‘friend’ who gets first title over the property and the developer to avoid accounting of VAT on works completed subsequently but this is pre-arranged between the parties, then there is fraud.

          The principle is that if you buy a new-build without a conservatory and it is certified by building control as such, and then you go back to the developer to ask for one to be added, the developer needs to add output-VAT onto the invoice for the conservatory.

          This principle definitely applies to a normal development company, but I am unsure how this applies if the company is incorporated as one of these new ‘community mutual’. I’m sure HMRC can offer free advice on what does apply.

      •  

        Your analysis is spot on Brychan, Very helpful comment.

  5.  

    It will be interesting to see how this post is received by those expensive city lawyers. I suspect that discussions will still take place between Hugh James Legal and PHA/MBH to see if they feel there’s mileage in taking things any further. But it’s good to see that Jac has not been silenced. And the letter to Capital Law showed there’s still plenty of the old Jac still there – “failed Labour politician …..a losing candidate in the recent PCC elections………convicted paedophile…”. Ouch.

    I’ve said before that housing associations are not my area but Jac’s revelations and comments made thereon have awakened a bit of an interest. For instance, at first I thought that Hugh James Legal had been given instructions by PHA/MBH because they had a particular expertise in cases of alleged defamation and the like. Not a bit of it though. Looking at earlier financial returns for MBH and PHA I see that in fact HJL are company solicitors for those organisations. Don’t tell me – there are no solicitors in Haverfordwest, Pembroke, Carmarthen, Llanelli or Swansea capable of doing such work. Let’s hire smart Cardiff lawyers at £260/hour plus VAT to do anything legal for us. But a quick browse through a few others reveals HJL have hit the jackpot with these housing associations. Obviously I’ve not runthrough the dozens or more there are but I see NPT Homes near me uses them, the Gwalia group (now part of Pobl) listed them, and they appear on the website of the Rhondda Housing Association. I gave up then – I have a life as well. But how many of these HA’s have got HJL in some capacity or other? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that?

    On a point relating to Help-to-Buy in Wales http://gov.wales/docs/statistics/2016/160427-help-to-buy-wales-shared-equity-loan-scheme-31-march-2016-en.pdf I see that first time buyers accounted for 75% of the completions thus far and the mean purchase price was about £181K. You can use HtB for homes up to £300,000 apparently. I just think what a cock-eyed scheme. Why is the ceiling set so high? £300K is hardly a starter home or even a second or third purchase in lots of parts of Wales. WTF – you could buy half a street in Resolven with that. Should not help be restricted to first time buyers only, otherwise it encourages speculators and investors?

    •  

      Sorry – HJL had a piece of the pie with Wales and West Housing as well back in 2010 though not sure if they still do as latest financial statements do not publish solicitors’ names.

    •  

      You’re talking now of ‘The Cardiff Effect’. Welsh housing associations are all registered with the ‘Welsh’ Government – in Cardiff. They all belong to Community Housing Cymru – based in Cardiff. You can guarantee that Hugh James and similar companies – based in Cardiff – tout for business with bodies like the WG and CHC, who will then ‘advise’ housing associations which lawyers to use.

      But it goes beyond lawyers and housing associations. It permeates all aspects of Welsh life. As I travel around I’m amazed by how many hoardings I see on new developments, across north and mid Wales, with the logos and other details of Cardiff firms controlling the project. And major buildings being sold in Porthmadog or Welshpool by Cardiff estate agents.

      There’s no question about it, devolution has been good to Cardiff. And things can only get worse, because more and more of Welsh life is being concentrated in Cardiff. What are the major capital projects for the next two decades – the Cardiff Metro and the M4 upgrade – to Cardiff.

      Devolution was supposed to be a counter to power and wealth being concentrated in south east England – but it’s being replicated now in Wales! And at a time when England finally seems to be realising the problem, with talk of HS2, Northern Powerhouses, etc.

      I argued a few years ago for regional parties to fight Assembly elections. For two reasons. 1/ No matter which politician you vote for, once they get into the Assembly they forget the area that elected them and fall into line with the party line of ‘Greater Cardiff’. 2/ The major function of the Assembly is doling out money, so every area needs politicians to go to Cardiff to ensure that the money is evenly and fairly distributed.

      This might figure in my next post, in which I explain why I, a lifelong Welsh nationalist, will be voting to leave the EU on the 23rd.

      •  

        This might figure in my next post, in which I explain why I, a lifelong Welsh nationalist, will be voting to leave the EU on the 23rd.

        I’m a member of and go campaigning for Plaid Cymru – and I’m voting Out as are a fairly large amount of Plaid members and Plaid voters that I know. Round this neck of the woods the only Remain signage you see is in the gardens of the local Labour Party activists – and not very many of them either.

        The vote in my opinion boils down to only two definate facts:-

        If you vote Remain you are voting in approval of what the EU is at this moment in time.
        If you vote Leave you are doing the opposite.

        I do not support the EU as it is at this moment in time and therefore I will vote Leave.

        Everything else is merely speculation hence why all the politicos, economists, bankers and business people on both sides heavily caveat every claim they make with might, could, may, possibly etc etc. Because they don’t actually know.

        And what Corbyn and McDonnell are doing running round with Remain when all their political lives they have been anti-EU is beyond me. Likewise Theresa May given the speech she made last year.

    •  

      Hugh James Legal are also the solicitors employed by Tai Ceredigion.

  6.  

    OK, good work by the look of it. I´m still working my way through this post, so just a few comments on IPSs and suchlike.

    A society needs to be either a Bona Fide Co-op or a Bencom, the two are mutually exclusive. To find out which you´ll need to examine the registered Rules which will be on file at the FCA and publically available. Somewhere near the start it should be made clear which type of society we´re dealing with.

    A Bona Fide Co-operative is run by and for it´s own members. Who then are its members? Who is eligible to join? Normally the members democratically elect a committee of management which functions as a board of directors, unless there are very few members who all effectively become the committee. All this should be set out in the Rules, if not they could not have been accepted for registration.

    A Bencom is ¨A Society for the Benefit of the Community¨ which normally implies some socially useful function. The ¨community¨ in question can it seems be quite vaguely defined nowadays. Traditionally they were real local communities or at least communities of interest, groups with some interest or activity in common. There are rules and court judgements about what criteria can and can´t be used to include/exclude people from membership. The members of a Bencom may be people who agree to invest a minimum sum in shares in the project, but they only get one vote regardless of the size of their investment. Limited interest may be paid on investments, however the whole ethos is that you´re investing to support the social aims of the project, not primarily to make a return, although reasonable interest may be paid in recognition of the fact that you are putting your money at risk.

    I think MBH is most probably a Bencom, so the exact wording of their Rules where all the above has to be spelled out would be most interesting (as in how did they ever get away with it). For may part I fail to see anything ¨Socially useful¨ in their apparent activities, which are clearly ¨For profit¨. The only possible justification would be if they were providing housing of a type and at a price that was lacking in the local community, or where a need was anticipated for e.g. incoming skilled workers required by a new industrial development.

    As for the dual naming of MBH, don´t let this distract you. It´s quite possible to register under one name, and later trade under a different name, especially when the original name becomes misleading or confusing. So their official documents should describe them as PH2000 Ltd t/a (= ¨trading as¨) MBH.

    Hope that helps. Pob Hwyl!

    •  

      “The only possible justification would be if they were providing housing of a type and at a price that was lacking in the local community”. Take a look at the properties they build and tell me that these could not be built by genuinely commercial local builders. And under no circumstances should an RSL be building ‘bespoke’, 4-bed detached houses for mates of those running the RSL.

  7.  

    Housing development can be a risky business for any company, particularly a fledgling company like Mill Bay Homes Ltd. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong: changes in market conditions; vagaries of the planning system through to health and safety and problem neighbours, Many property developers have been successful at managing the risks and become very profitable but equally many have also come unstuck and gone to the wall.

    MBH have a massive advantage as they work in an almost zero risk environment: they receive nearly all their funding from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ (PHA) and if things go wrong such as the recent case of ‘naughty Jac’ saying rude words, they can afford the best legal advice money can buy. If market conditions change against them and they bankrupt their parent, I’m sure the grandparents up in Cardiff will dip into the inheritance money and sub them out!

    The deck is stacked completely in their favour, to the detriment of their competitors and possibly themselves because their monopoly status breeds a sort of expectation, even contempt, where the company like a ‘spoilt child’ begins to think ‘they can do whatever they want’ and start upsetting people. Sadly in in this case the people they are upsetting are decent people in peaceful communities who are growing concerned and ‘fed up’ with this company playing at being ‘Bob the Builder’ with what is essentially their own money!

    I know there are many people in Pembrokeshire, not just neighbours and competitors, that have reservations about the way MBH are operating and some of that concern and discontent extends to members of the PHA board. As the PHA board is a pure democracy ‘one man one vote’ I for one will be lobbying their board members, leading up to their AGM on July 27th 2016, for change, even possibly a change in leadership. As the PHA accounts show the CEO is accumulating a healthy pension ‘pot’ and no doubt would find gainful employment somewhere else within the burgeoning third sector – maybe a nice little consultancy on a healthy day rate!

    Keep the pressure up Jac! ‘Pembrokeshire Housing – Time for Change’

    Have to go…. postman at the door with a Hugh James letter to sign for … it’s from Tracey Some-Body!

    •  

      As a ‘subsidiary’ maybe Mill Bay Homes could go bust and its debts be written off with no damage to Pembrokeshire Housing. Depends on the legal wording.

    •  

      That’s an excellent analysis by Owen of how this set-up favours outfits like MBH and I trust he sent the postman packing before that solicitor’s letter could be pushed through the letterbox. Brychan’s input about how pressure can be brought on the planning process is bang on the mark too. As you say, Jac, where are the Conservative Party – traditionally the champion of small businesses, and where are the Federation of Small Businesses in shouting from the rooftops that this is a Frankenstein’s monster that has been created? But when you think of it MBH are really only securers of planning permission, undoubtedly helped greatly by they are part of PHA. The actual building and engineering works are carried out by other firms. Presumably this should be done by competitive tender but then this in itself can be a source of who you know and opens itself up to criticism if not done transparently. Could it be that some local firms are kept sweet by either winning main builder status on these new developments, or alternatively being employed as sub-contractors on these jobs? Come to that, do PHA and MBH have any policies favouring the employment of local labour or is it that cash is always King and if we can build it with navvies from Eastern Europe more cheaply, that’s what will happen?

  8.  

    Keep going Jac……the flak is always at it’s most intense, the closer you get to the target!

    •  

      ……. but you don’t need to get too close, just get some GPS and laser guidance fitted by ….Big Gee ? …. and you should be bang on target even if you launch from just above your own house !!!! Just waiting for the bang (and maybe a whacking big body count, mostly solicitors and 3rd sector graft merchants )

      •  

        Who? Me?

        •  

          Well it’s your big chance and if it works you could be in at the start of a native Welsh arms industry ! or the sophisticated bits anyway. Just think of the headlines in the Llais y Sais – “BG goes global, Chinese buyers seen in Aberaeron on a Sunday” ! Factories in Tregaron, Crymych and perhaps Ynys Mon just to prove you are willing to invest overseas.

  9.  

    PHA are running a free seminar on Health & Safety today (09/06/16) ….

    http://www.pembs-ha.co.uk/About-us/News-and-events?news=218

    Dare I suggest that they could use the digger swinging ‘stunt’ at Pentlepoir as a Case Study.

    •  

      I note reference to CDM Regulations. It would be interesting to establish whether any of MBH sites in Pembrokeshire have been notified to the Health & Safety Executive under Construction {Design & Management} Regulations 2015. These replace the 2007 regulations. All of their sites are notifiable under the Regulations. This requires a Health & Safety file to maintained and updated at all stages of the project and handed over to the client at the end of the project. Failure to comply would be a breach of the Regulations.

  10.  

    Cardiff.
    There used to be a Co-operative and Community Benefit Society called Care and Repair Cymru Limited (IP27363R), but it was de-registered by the Financial Conduct Authority on the 5th May 2015. It was based in Cardiff. Another company then emerged called Care & Repair Cymru 2015, the word ‘Limited’ being excluded from it’s name by exemption. This hybrid was registered with the charity commission on 5th May 2015 (registration number 1163542).

    Haverfordwest.
    In the 2015 annual report of the Pembrokeshire Housing Association, the chief executive tells us that there are two subsidiaries, (a) Mill Bay Homes and (b) Pembrokeshire Care & Repair. The latter, however has never been recorded as a company, charity or mutual.

    London.
    A bit of nifty footwork finds that on 1st July 2015, Pembrokeshire Care & Repair Two Thousand Limited (29111R), which was registered as a Co-operative and Community Benefit Society and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, changed it’s name to West Wales Care & Repair Limited. This is the body currently ‘assisting the elderly’ with adaptations to residential property in both Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. Their main clients are Pembrokeshire Housing and Tai Cantref.

    Back to Cardiff.
    There is a substantial funding steam from the Welsh Government called the ‘Rapid Response Adaptations Programme RRAP’ and is cash awarded for the adaptation of residential property, stuff like ramps for wheelchairs, stair-lifts, lowering kitchen worktops and stuff for the elderly. This is a rather difficult scheme to administer, especially on new-builds as a boundary needs to be struck between what is ‘adapted’ and what is ‘off-plan’. No doubt often the same workforce do both on site, at the same time.

    Conclusion.
    There have been significant claims on the RRAP pot of cash from the various incarnations of the Care & Repair outfits in West Wales, and I’m sure the funding stream can be accounted for and will be audited. The man to do this is the eminently qualified Mr Peter Francis Maggs the chief executive of Pembrokeshire Housing Association, who by complete and utter coincidence, was a trustee of Care & Repair Cymru 2015 (see start of this comment).

    •  

      This RRAP pot was unknown to me, but I’m not surprised. Housing associations and other bodies are forever dreaming up new ways to milk the public purse, while civil servants are happy to oblige because it gets rid of cash that if not disposed of might be withheld next year, and also gives the impression of desperate need that then generates more handouts. It is a racket.

    •  

      The flurry of activity in my comment relates to events of 2015.

      I have been in contact with the FCA myself and they have confirmed to me in writing about Mill Bay Homes. The reply says “we [the FCA] do not have the annual return you have requested in respect of year end 2015”.

      If I paid a lawyer £260 an hour, I’d first make sure they are provided with all the facts, or make sure they checked up on things, before sending out threatening letters.

      •  

        Mill Bay Homes did not make a return to the FCA for y/e 31.03.2013, the return was made by Pembrokeshire Housing for the group. But why?

        •  

          A consolidated return can be made. There should be columns for MBH and WWC&R, as well as a consolidated column for PH, the parent organisation. This is as long as they are wholly owned, and share the same registration status.

          It gets interesting, however, in 2014 where two charges appear. Firstly, from Prudential Trustee Company Limited in March of that year and from the Principality Building Society in May of that year. Such complications may explain why the FCA has not complete the ‘review’ of their returns for 2014. It gets complicated for a Co-operative and Community Benefit Society when you borrow money. You have to be clear as to what assets are used as collateral, who owns them, who’s got a charge over them, and that any exposure falls within the objects recorded within the mutual registration. Even more complicated if you squirt down to a subsidiary some of the cash that has been borrowed.

          Once the FCA has completed their ‘review’, then I’m sure the Welsh Government will like to see the books. Of interest will be to see if the Pru and the Prince have secured their loans on an office block, because to secure it on the houses of the poor (those subsidised on social or intermediate rents) and then using that capital borrowed to snaffle it down to a subsidiary to build posh houses around Saundersfoot to sell as ‘investments, second homes and buy-to-let’ this might raise a few eyebrows both in county hall and the floor of the Senedd.

          •  

            All interesting stuff, Brychan. How do you explain this?

            Does it tie in with what you’re saying that MBH was, apparently, registered as a ‘credit broker’? (Click on ‘Permissions’, top left.)

            •  

              Lapsed means they are no longer allowed to act as a credit broker.

              I’d have thought it would be an essential feature to administer the ‘Help-to-Buy’ scheme as you have to get all three elements in place, (a) the deposit, (b) the HtB share of equity, and (c) the main chunk of mortgage.

              Permission ended on 29/02/2016.

              •  

                According to Ms Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Mill Bay Homes does not administer Help to Buy, and this fact undermines any attempts to make capital of the friendship between Garrod and Uka.

                But it does not rule out the possibility that MBH tried to become a credit broker, and may even have succeeded, and operated as one for a short time. Which might explain the ‘Interim Permission’ granted by the FCA. Which in turn could mean that Ms S-W was telling the truth when she wrote to me at the end of May, seeing as the permission was ‘lapsed’ at the end of February. So it’s possible that MBH was administering HtB for a while.

                The question now is, where does the ‘lapsing’ of the ‘Interim Permission’ leave Mill Bay Homes, how does it affect its operations?

                •  

                  I may be overlooking something here but surely the “administration” of Help to Buy is under the remit of Help to Buy Wales Ltd. As I understand it you can ask the developer of the house for assistance – I take it that’s the requisite forms to apply for HtB, or you contact Help to Buy Wales Ltd direct. So legally the administrators are that company, hence the comment you had from Ms S-W that Mill Bay Homes does not administer Help to Buy. If I’m right regard it as advice given pro bono!

                •  

                  So to say the least it looks like someone´s been sailing rather too close to the wind … small wonder your attentions weren´t appreciated. Keep digging … 🙂

                •  

                  Completion on the Uka property occured in January 2016.

                  •  

                    Earlier this evening someone sent me a link to a piece that appeared in the Guardian last August dealing with a London housing association that is going private, with the article saying that others will be following the same path.

                    This could be what’s happening with Pembrokeshire Housing / Mill Bay Homes. If so, has this course of action been officially approved? If the answer’s yes, does the ‘approval’ come from civil servants or politicians?

  11.  

    I’d be surprised if the housing associations throughout Wales deal with anything like the number of council houses that used to be managed by Local Authorities in the days before Right to Buy. Yet in those long gone days you presumably had the legal side of housing all handled by a few local council solicitors and legal executives all on Council paygrades not the superstar salaries of those employed in firms like Hugh James Legal. But now you have God knows how many HA’s using private sector solicitors and accountants, and they are all getting fat on sucking the public tit (because let’s face it that’s how HA’s keep going). I bet Council solicitors and accountants of the 60’s and 70’s must wish they had a time machine then so they could have been transported from those days into the present, where they too could give that tit a good old sucking in the knowledge that it’s one that never, ever dries up. As you say, Jac, it’s a racket.

    •  

      Stan that’s how it’s been since ages ago, certainly since WDA started making a name for itself. Despite having inhouse resources there was a trend to rely increasingly on externally sourced “expertise” and the costs started to escalate. Despite some noteable successes the Agency was well known by about 1990 as a source of well paid services/consultancy work – lawyers, accountants, property jerks, and less frequently civils/structural/ other engineers, and no doubt there were some “irregular” relationships. This model of working was drifting into local authorities, and I suspect that the last reorganisation, about 1995, was a watershed for that sector. At that time the reconfiguration of public sector housing led to the first wave of new H.A’s as councils hived off their remaining stocks ( post sell off ). That in turn created this new ambiguous beast with bags of scope and willingness to use external advisers of all kinds.

      And that’s why we are in this place today. The tits are bigger and so many pigs wanting to feed.

  12.  

    Jac
    This is the wrong place (and I don’t think I’ve missed it), but weren’t you going to write up a blog giving the reasons why you were voting for Brexit? I think I’ve got broadly similar views to you about Cymru, but take the ‘Remain’ view so would be interested in your opinion on the matter just in case there’s arguments I’ve overlooked or not considered.
    Diolch

    •  

      My planned ‘Wexit’ post has been delayed by the latest Pembrokeshire Housing / Mill Bay Homes post, which will be out later today. Another complication is the football – I watch every game, and it must be live. Expect my ‘Wexit’ post by the weekend, Monday morning at the latest.

  13.  

    If Tracy Singleton Ward is being paid form the public purse then she should not be charging £260 per hour.

    She should be subject to a tender/competition or framework agreement. Hugh James are on a national procurement service for wales framweor but I doubt at £260 p/h.

    Where public money is involved there is supposed to be value for money principles involved. [as well as the avoidance of corruption/bias of giving work to mates].

    This is something that must always be looked at by the public where the public purse is involved – was it the cheapest or best value quote [no good using the cheapest builder if he’s incompetent] or was the successful bidder a mate of the councillor/AM or another paid public servant.

Ok, you’ve read what I think, now what do you have to say?