Jun 052013
 

Over the past couple of days you’ve probably read or heard about what has been presented as a scandalous waste of public money on a silly idea for a “kung fu lodge” in Llangollen. This is how the BBC News website covered it. (The Public Accounts Committee reports can be found here.) Having followed this story for a couple of years, and spoken with Pol Wong, the man behind the project, quite a few times, I can tell you that the truth is very different. And rather worrying.

To get where we find ourselves today official documents have been altered; senior civil servants have been dishonest and partial; the Welsh Government deliberately misinformed the Public Accounts Committee; decent people have been scapegoated; while the former local Labour Assembly Member (Karen Sinclair) sank to a level of vindictiveness that would have drawn gasps of awed approval from the brothers and sisters down south.

A valuable and financially viable project, a project that could have become a national asset, was sabotaged because those behind it ‘didn’t fit’, they didn’t meet with the approval of the Labour Party and certain civil servants. Wales could have been home to the only officially-sanctioned Shaolin monastery outside China, but the party of Cledwyn Hughes and Jim Griffiths destroyed Pol Wongthe project because the man leading it is ‘too Welsh’.

Though I am convinced that the death-blow to the project was provoked by Pol’s simultaneous involvement in exposing the hitherto secret West Cheshire sub-regional strategy (in which ‘West Cheshire’ equates with north east Wales). The chronology persuades me that fighting this takeover of our north east made Pol enemies in high places, and they took their revenge.

For me there are three lessons to be drawn from this case:

1/ The Labour Party in Wales still contains too many anti-Welsh bigots. Bigots of the kind that would, in a normal country, be an embarrassment to any mainstream political party.

2/ Wales is in reality governed by civil servants, who can run rings around the buffoons sitting in the Assembly. Many of these civil servants operate with complete freedom because their authority comes from London, and this trumps anything in Cardiff. The perfect illustration of this would be the Local Development Plans being forced on Welsh local authorities by the English Planning Inspectorate.

3/ In a normal country, with a healthy and independent media, the story of Powys Fadog would be meat and drink for investigative reporters. In Wales today, all we have are sad and compliant outposts of London, or else regurgitators of press releases and promoters of Cardiff.

What follows is Pol Wong’s reponse the Public Accounts Committee report. It was originally issued – yesterday – as an e-mail. Pol has kindly allowed me to reprint it here, so that more people might learn the truth of the Powys Fadog / River Lodge project. (I decided to publish certain sections in bold type to highlight what I consider to be their significance.)

“Powys Fadog response to Welsh Government report on River Lodge – “half a story”.

The headline quote of the report is that “over £1.6m of public money has been wasted”. This is nonsense. The same could be said of any Welsh Government property bought at the top of the market and which has substantially reduced in value as a result of market forces. The Welsh Government still own a valuable asset in River Lodge, which they acknowledge is worth at least £500,000 in today’s market, so how can the money have been wasted? They still own the property. Similarly had the lease to Powys Fadog gone ahead, the Welsh Government would still have owned the building and Powys Fadog would have been obliged to pay a rent of £31,000 a year , which is an income for the public purse.

Value for money only became an issue from 2010 onwards, AFTER the Welsh Government stopped the project. The relevant officers with the relevant authority making the decisions, thought in their professional opinion that the project was value for money. Of course, these officers had read the business plan. It’s only many years later that these decision have been overturned without being quantified. As far as we know, the people who overturned these decisions don’t seem to know anything about the project.

Value for money is of course a very subjective issue. The purchase price was market value, this is now acknowledged through this report, therefore I think they need to explain why they think it was a waste of money.

If Powys Fadog had been successful then the value for money in terms of the project is proven. If it wasn’t successful then the building would have reverted back to the Government. Instead they’ve chosen to keep the building empty with a vague plan for a health centre, that has clearly been pushed through whilst holding back our project approval. Is that value for money?

We also need to look at value for money in terms of other projects and the criteria used for them. For example, Canolfan Cywain in Bala (more here and here), Nant Gwyrtheyrn*, the Royal Hotel in Llangollen. They’ve all received funding from the public purse which is many, many more times what Powys Fadog was looking for. Although we’re not knocking these projects, a hotel in Llangollen had £1m to refurbish the outside of their building,  and this was a private business. We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, the question we ask is: “what was different about our project?”

Generally, I think there is too much focus on what are very sweeping statements that are not detailed nor evidenced, concerning value for money. I think what is more important are some of the other issues that the report acknowledges. These point to much more worrying actions regarding the use of public money and public trust in the Government

The report clearly states that Powys Fadog had been treated unfairly. It also clearly states that there was a “tantamount communication blackout”, and explains that Powys Fadog were shut out of options for the site in 2010, when we were the most viable option on the table even according to the district valuer. Under those circumstances they ran our lease out of time and prevented us from securing any other funding. They did not act in good faith and even stopped our potential funders from viewing the site. We were never given chance to address any so called “issues”. None of the reasons for this treatment are addressed by the report.

Possibly the most concern should be the acknowledgement that a crucial document, which was an independent review of the project, that looked into all the issues raised by Karen Sinclair AM and those responsible for stopping the project, was altered. Again this was done AFTER the project was stopped not before. The report notes that the original review found no impropriety and that the value for money was fine. The amended report shows different conclusions.Karen Sinclair

When asked to provide the tracked changes of this vital evidence by the Committee, the Welsh Government refused to provide it to the Committee. This is unbelievable to any reasonable person and highlights serious issues in terms of honesty and integrity regarding the Governments story.

To summarise, we are happy to see that some things we’ve been saying for a long time have finally been acknowledged. We understand the remit of the report was quite narrow but it has flagged up some serious concerns which now need further investigation. There are far more serious issues raised in terms of public trust than the value for money headline, which seems to be a bit of a red herring.

The Welsh Government have a building that is sitting empty and deteriorating, instead of having a centre delivering jobs, a major development in health fitness, promoting the Welsh language and culture and history, along with education and community cohesion. The project has a viable business plan and will provide international out of season tourism to Llangollen. Is the money the Welsh Government spent stopping our project over the last 6 years value for money? Hundreds of thousand of pounds has been spent on solicitors and reports to avoid speaking to us. The whole way they’ve treated Powys Fadog and the message that gives out does not show the Welsh Government in a good light. The message is that the Welsh Government think it’s perfectly acceptable to do what they’ve done.

A substantial body of the evidence we submitted has not been considered, such as what was the legal issue that was raised to stop our project? This still hasn’t been answered. What is the value for money issue exactly? Also why was the Chris Munday report altered and why are they hiding it? Why did they close the door on us, was that fair? A lot of the evidence we submitted actually reveals another timeline of events, as yet undeclared, involving Karen Sinclair AM, Welsh Audit Office officers and Welsh Assembly officers and Ministers involved in the halting of the Powys Fadog project. Most of this evidence is already in the public domain.

In my evidence I declared that I thought the Welsh audit office report was not impartial due to communication between Karen Sinclair AM and the Wales Audit Office. Since I made that declaration, more evidence has come out through FOI that in fact Karen Sinclair and Audit Office officials, and the officers responsible for blocking the project were meeting at her home. Some of this evidence contains an arrangement to meet and discuss an unfinished disciplinary report in march 2010, between Karen Sinclair AM, Arwel Thomas (Welsh Government officer responsible for recommending the project was stopped) and Richard Harries of the Welsh Audit Office. Surely this speaks for itself and at the same time letters between the Health Board, various Ministers and Karen Sinclair demonstrate that plans for a health centre on the site were well under way whilst we were being subjected to our ‘communication blackout’ and the review document was being altered.

It is beyond doubt from the evidence that we have seen that the Welsh Government and the Wales Audit Office have deliberately misinformed the Public Accounts Committee. This is a very serious matter and should be investigated as a matter of urgency.”

*One of the income streams planned for River Lodge was residential Welsh courses. As this piece shows, there is definitely a demand for such courses. It may be argued that this would have put River Lodge in competition with Nant Gwyrtheyrn, but NG is solely for language courses whereas at River Lodge such courses would have been part of a wide range of activities and courses on offer. Also bear in mind the distance – some 80 miles – between the two locations.

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25 Comments on "River Lodge and Powys Fadog: Wales Lied To, Again"

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Keith Parry
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Pol Wong is a fine local activist and supporter of community events in the Wrexham Area. He had a worth while intiative to make in the community, similar but not exactly the same centres that provide useful facilities for teenagers in poor communities in cities in England. Mr Wong’s problem was that he was not a member of the Labour Party.
We have got two great tasks in Wales, to free our country and to get rid of the New Labour Party. The New Labour Party stands for nothing but furthering the careers of the Boyos.Thus the mad salary increases ifor Caerphilly and Cardiff Council Officials. New Labour third rate scumbag Tory Party.

Jac
Guest

I agree entirely, Keith; but I would argue that we need to break the power of the Labour Party before we can have any chance of independence.

Pol
Guest

https://picasaweb.google.com/111501544944561056590/KarenSinclairToEdwinaHartAndJaneHutt

And here is a letter to Rhodri Morgan (First minister at the time),when our application was live…

Dear Rhodri,

Re: River Lodge, Llangollen

I write this letter in utter frustration as every avenue I have explored to date has failed to stop, or at least fully explain, the propriety of this scheme by Powys Fadog in my constituency – indeed in my home town.

As far back as March 2007 I raised the plans being formulated for the purchase of River Lodge in Llangollen by WAG. Powys Fadog presents itself as an established community group with representatives drawn from a wide section of the local community, though which “local community” it represents I have yet to establish, as it certainly is not known by local representatives in Llangollen. The Town Council and other long established members of the local community have raised questions regarding the project only to be given minimal information citing “commercial sensitivities” as an excuse. The only people who seem to know anything are the Plaid representative for Llangollen on Denbighshire Council and the Local Plaid agent. It is worth noting at this point that Llangollen is a dual member ward and the other Council representative Cllr Lucy Morris, is as in the dark as the rest of us and has contacted me and written to leuan Wynne Jones AM for clarification.

In 2007 I received a briefing from Andrew Davies’ special adviser which gave a brief outline of the plans and some details of who is involved in the project. Powys Fadog is chaired by an Amanda Brewer who works for WAG as Senior Land Manager in the North Division. I stated at the time that buying this site in order to lease or sell it on to a member of staff was in my opinion questionable practice. I was told that as long as she registered her interest then all was well. I still have my doubts as to whether this is acceptable practice.

Over the past 2 years I have periodically raised questions regarding the appropriateness of this project. When I asked at one point for a business plan I was given a very sparse executive summary – copy of which I enclose for your information, along with my response. Please note that Powys Fadog’s continual assertion that they will be a resource for the whole community masks the reality of this group not once keying into the uses of other community buildings in the town or indeed explaining how this scheme will add value to existing facilities. The Town Council manage the town hall as a community facility and have not been approached, neither have Denbighshire County Council who manage the International Eisteddfod building and the local Youth Club building. None of these buildings need competition for community use. There is a huge emphasis on the use of the Welsh language in community services that will be offered (see enclosed Executive Summary) but I am not sure that the level of Welsh spoken in Llangollen indicates the need for such a service exclusively through the medium of Welsh.

Recently more things have happened to increase my anxiety about the financing of such a venture and indicate the lack of local involvement by a group of people who are largely not local to the Llangollen community. I enclose a press cutting which reports on a visit by Alun Ffred Jones to the site. Interestingly, although I was informed he would be in my constituency, the only local representatives present were Janet Ryder, the Denbighshire Plaid Councillor and 3 Plaid Councillors from Wrexham (what on earth was the rationale for inviting Wrexham Councillors?). Yet again the other local County Councillor was excluded and interestingly the local Town Council were like-wise ignored I actually think such a visit breached the ministerial code but I held back from formally complaining about this at the time, though I did raise it informally with Jeff and Lawrence.

I was telephoned today by someone who had been party to the receipt of a bid for funding from Powys Fadog, the bid came from the work email address of Amanda Brewer which as you know is our @wales.gov.gsi email address. Is this acceptable? Surely it is tantamount to WAG applying for such funding! Please bear in mind that Powys Fadog is a registered company.

Quite honestly I am at the end of my patience regarding this venture and the lack of transparency from the start. I suggest that the auditor should be asked to look at what has gone on here. Rhodri, when we met last week, I showed you some press cuttings about a group calling themselves The People’s Council for Wales who were marching against regional development work being undertaken by Local Authorities in the Mersey Dee area which includes Wrexham and Denbighshire along with Cheshire. (I enclose a cutting from The Wrexham Leader dated May this year which I forwarded to Jeff Andrews at the time). Make no mistake the people involved with Powys Fadog and the people involved with The People’s Council for Wales are one and the same group of people and whilst people are totally free to hold extreme political views I do not think it appropriate for the tax payer to purchase premises for such a group.

I would be grateful for your comments and for independent scrutiny of all circumstances, past and present, surrounding this project.

Yours Sincerely

Karen Sinclair
AM Clwyd South

Jac
Guest

Karen Sinclair had her knife into you from the start, because you held the ‘wrong’ political views. But I think your opposition to the Lebensraum plan brought you to the attention of more shadowy figures, who decided to punish you.

Welsh not British (@welshnotbritish)
Guest

“Though I am convinced that the death-blow to the project was provoked by Pol’s simultaneous involvement in exposing the hitherto secret West Cheshire sub-regional strategy (in which ‘West Cheshire’ equates with north east Wales). The chronology persuades me that fighting this takeover of our north east made Pol enemies in high places, and they took their revenge.”

Pol has just posted a letter (facebook link) from Karen Sinclair AM Clwyd South to Rhodri. I’ve snipped the following…

“Quite honestly I am at the end of my patience regarding this venture and the lack of transparency from the start. I suggest that the auditor should be asked to look at what has gone on here. Rhodri, when we met last week, I showed you some press cuttings about a group calling themselves The People’s Council for Wales who were marching against regional development work being undertaken by Local Authorities in the Mersey Dee area which includes Wrexham and Denbighshire along with Cheshire. (I enclose a cutting from The Wrexham Leader dated May this year which I forwarded to Jeff Andrews at the time). Make no mistake the people involved with Powys Fadog and the people involved with The People’s Council for Wales are one and the same group of people and whilst people are totally free to hold extreme political views I do not think it appropriate for the tax payer to purchase premises for such a group.”

So it’s clear this was a vendetta against people who were trying to protect their community AND make it better as well.

Typical Labour scumbags.

Jac
Guest

Read my response above.

Helen Jones
Guest

Ignorance and corruption are a deadly combination. Pol, galw fi. 07939357782

Waste of Trees
Guest

Hi Jac,
Your post, comments and links from others and the BBC Wales News report make it extremely difficult to understand what has happened. It’s like trying to complete a crossword when most of the clues have been redacted.

Jac
Guest
Waste of Trees
Guest

Many thanks.
I searched the ‘Powys Fadog’ on the web and found this: –
http://www.wao.gov.uk/assets/englishdocuments/River_Lodge_Video_Transript_ENGLISH.pdf

Mary Bellis Williams
Guest

The biased Labour Party politics regarding Powys Fadog are disgusting. Wouldn’t one think getting that building back into use and creating jobs for the community as well as providing useful services for the community would be of interest to those politicians pretending to represent the area? In some parts of the US, it would be understood that the politicians who opposed it weren’t offered big enough bribes to finally do something right and good.
. How much do you imagine Karen Sinclair would need to change her mind???

Waste of Trees
Guest

MBW,
What you appear to be saying is that the Welsh Government should have illegally funded the organisation.

Pol
Guest

Waste of Trees – This short film may explain the background to the story.
http://vimeo.com/user3490668/videos

Waste of Trees
Guest

Hi Pol,
Thank you for providing a link to the videos. You are obviously sincere and passionate about the advantages of having a Shaolin centre and dearly wish that I could provide you with a way to open a new facility.
One of the hard things to accept in life is that the Law is not based on fairness or ethics. In the case of your project, lawyers acting for the Welsh Government warned the AMs that the provision of funding could be deemed unlawful.
Irrespective of political party, ignoring the advice of legal experts is a dangerous step that could result in dire financial consequences for those involved.

I wish you well and hope that you will be able to restart classes again soon.
Have you tried to obtain funding from the National Lottery?

Tarian
Guest

This episode (like many others) simply reinforces my belief that it is fatal for any project to seek funding from any state agency, whether local or national. The only hope is to cast the net wide and draw funding from ordinary people across Wales who share a vision and truly believe in improving our communities. Dependence on the the state is fatal – it compromises your independence and puts you at the mercy of the stalinist mafioso of Welsh Labour.

Sooner or later one of these projects will have to be made to succeed despite the oppsition of the political classes. How many successes will we need before the penny drops and the power of Labour’s patronage is broken forever?

Talk is cheap but I truly believe that this can be achieved – why not start with this project? It would be a real humiliation for the enemies of the nation if this project could be resurrected and made to succeed.

Jac
Guest

Of course you’re right, Tarian. Another ‘pennies for the university’ campaign would be wonderful, but just not workable.

To begin with, people like to donate to a specific cause. You couldn’t go around asking for money for a whole range of projects the ordinary person not might identify with.

More importantly, perhaps, let’s remember that the money we’re talking about here comes from outside of Wales, often the EU. It is simply administered and disbursed by the agencies of the Welsh Government. Were it disbursed equitably then there would be no problem.

But because the Labour Party, and those beholden to it, have control over the funding, we see people like Pol losing out while Labour members and supporters in the Third Sector get as much as they want for absurd and idiotic schemes that make no pretence at ever being self-financing – once the funding runs out the scheme closes, and those running it dream up another project to pull down more funding.

The money is already there. It has been given so that it might be fairly distributed to worthwhile schemes. Too much of the funding goes to Labour Party hangers-on and luvvies. So the real problem is the system. It must be exposed and brought to the attention of those who give the Welsh Government its funding. I’ve tried. I’ve written to the EU funders, This must be the way forward. Because appealling to anyone in Wales is a waste of time.

Steve
Guest

I consider myself lucky to have trained under Pol for a time. I found him a man of deep integrity and spirit, trained in one of the great art forms of man. What has happened with this project strips me of any faith in the decency of governance across the UK.

However I would like to say one thing, I think there is a danger of allowing the disgraceful policies of the English government to taint strongly patriotic Welsh people against ordinary English people who are just as susceptible to the whims of governmental baffoons as other across the UK and indeed the world. I would like to point out I feel no patriotism at all towards my own country, England; but make no judgement on people who are patriotic or hold strong views. I just feel that any animosity created between ordinary citizens, across any borders, is in some ways a victory for divide and conquer governance.

As a media savy man yourself Jac could you possibly help me understand why this story has recieved a fairer representation, or indeed any representation in papers such as the Guardian and the Independant. Is this story even on their radar or is it too politically sensitive to be touched? Surely there are ways of spreading this grim tale to the masses across respected alternative media outlets, perhaps on the internet? Or am I just being naive!

Jac
Guest

Not sure I follow you here. What do you mean by, “disgraceful policies of the English government”? This decision on River Lodge was – ostensibly, at least – taken within Wales by Welsh politicians and civil servants.

When it comes to the English media ignoring Wales, I think the answer is obvious. First, they’ve always ignored us. Second, since devolution they’d had even less need to cover Welsh stories. This would be no problem if, like Scotland, we had our own media, but the ‘Welsh’ media has gone into decline since devolution.

The only alternative is enough people getting together to produce an internet newspaper, even an internet radio or TV channel. God knows, Wales needs it badly.

Because at present we have a poor country (getting poorer) run as a one-party State, in which supporters of the ruling party are rewarded with funding and positions of authority, while opponents are punished. And all this is possible because this country lacks a free and effective mass media.

Jesus! I could be describing a Third World country there . . . but I’m not. This is Wales, today.

Steve
Guest

*the story has not recieved fairer representation

Mary Bellis Williams
Guest

I agree that bringing the project into being would be strongest and most effective if privately funded through grass-roots solicitation, fund-raising events, and careful cultivation of people with the means to make large donations. When the government controls the funding, it controls the project.
It would be a wonderful rebalance of power to succeed in spite of the opposition of crooked politicians.
Re: press coverage: freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses (Kermit Eby)

Pol
Guest

Waste of trees – thanks for those comments. The point is though that,although there has been talk of “catergoric legal advice”, NO written evidence of this legal issue has ever been described or even discussed.Please remember that the project was approved by all the relevant officers. This happened under the WDA,then approval was given a second time under WAG. Therefore approval ,with all the associated due dilligence and legal advice actually happened twice.NO legal issues were identified.
Following complaints/allegations by Karen Sinclair more scrutiny was poured on the project through a Ministerial briefing in 2006,again NO issues. In 2007 another Ministerial Briefing to the new Minister was provided,again due to the insistence of Karen Sinclair.

You will see from all the evidence put before the PAC the legal issue is referenced many times by Govt officials,although NEVER has this been described.Indeed contained in their report,there is NO mention of this legal issue.Similarly with the Welsh Audit report ,although the “legal issue is cited it is NEVER revealed what the issue was.
I have an e mail from a legal service officer to a director,concerning a final submission of our proposal(fully costed and funded),where the director is saying that the submission is “the finished article”(Also containing a newly completed project compliance review,which was done by the man that wrote the guidelines).The legal man makes it clear also that there were NO legal issues.These legal issues were only mentioned a long time AFTER the project was stopped and Powys Fadog started to kick up a fuss…

TARIAN – We could not apply anywhere else for funding until we had a decision on our proposal and it’s funding package.WAG held back our submission from going for approval,then also barred us from even making another bid.This is referenced in the PAC report.

Pol
Guest

Actually I am confident that I could still raise the money AGAIN, but I have been shut out of bidding!

Mary Bellis Williams
Guest

Does sound like a third-world country, doesn’t it? Of course, nobody GIVES you autonomy and freedom to govern your own self — autonomy and freedom must be claimed and taken. So much learned helplessness and ennui and pessimism just sink any idea.

Waste of Trees
Guest

Thanks Pol.
Your predicament may be of interest to members of the Avaaz Movement.
There’s no harm in contacting them at the http://www.avaaz.org website.

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