Big Lottery Fund

Nov 122017
 

THE PUBLICLY-FUNDED THIRD SECTOR

HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

In my previous post, Anti-Welsh Housing Associations, I told you about Wales & West Housing’s irresponsible behaviour in Lampeter, part of a more widespread problem of housing associations chasing the money by housing criminals, which is much more lucrative than putting roofs over the heads of locals.

Of course they argue that there’s a dreadful shortage of accommodation for ‘vulnerable’ people, and of course they’re right – England doesn’t have enough accommodation. Which is why Wales, through its housing associations and other third sector bodies, is currently taking in so many problems.

And yet, while housing associations and others receive premium payments from whoever supplied their new tenants, plus housing benefit and other goodies, there is an obvious downside.

I’m referring to the effect on formerly peaceful communities caused by the arrival of undesirables. But there’s also the extra work for the police and associated agencies. Though perhaps the biggest burden falls on the NHS and associated services, for most of those being moved to Wales by the route described will have ‘issues’ needing expensive treatment.

So while taking on these problems is good business for housing associations and others, the wider implications, and costs, for the country as a whole, more than outweigh the financial benefits accruing to the landlords. Which makes this behaviour selfish, short-sighted and socially irresponsible.

It can fairly be described as anti-social housing.

And of course it raises the question of why the ‘Welsh’ Government allows these bodies, all of which are in receipt of public funding, to behave in this manner.

But the problem isn’t confined to housing associations.

HOMELESSNESS

I have written many times about the overlapping, interweaving and competing homelessness organisations. I thought I knew most of them but someone just brought a new one to my attention. It’s called Emmaus UK and the business model centres on charity shops and workshops for the homeless.

Which means that the Emmaus model should be self-financing. Which is what Emmaus claims.

Its Welsh presence – at the moment, anyway – seems limited to Bridgend, where it appears to have started in 2011. The screen capture below is taken from the Charity Commission website, and it tells us that in 5 years the income has rocketed from £53,728 to £1,570,327. (Private companies would love to see growth like that!)

click to enlarge

When we look more closely at the accounts for the year ended 30 June 2016 we see that the biggest source of income is the ‘Welsh’ Government with a gift of £300,000, up from £200,000 the year before.

But why does a “self-supporting” organisation require any public funding? Especially as we can see it’s not needed, for despite having an income of £1,570,237 it only spent £886,832, which leaves a profit balance of £683,405.

Does Wales have no better use for that £500,000?

Apart from the Emmaus presence in Bridgend the Charity Commission website offers dozens of options for Emmaus operations in every corner of England. Curious to see how much funding these English operations get I checked out a few.

I looked at Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and Tyneside, four major English cities/conurbations, where the problems of homelessness must be far greater than in Bridgend and Porthcawl. What I found surprised me. Emmaus in these areas operates with a third or less of the annual income of Emmaus in Bridgend – and there’s no public funding at all!

Moving north of the border, the income for Emmaus in Glasgow, where the charity has two shops, a workshop and a warehouse, was only £572,264 in 2016. So why does the Bridgend operation get so much money?

Another telling fact is that Emmaus spends twice as much per ‘companion’ in Bridgend as it does in England. Is Emmaus in Bridgend providing luxury accommodation? Or paying £25 an hour? Is the Welsh operation just inefficient? Or is public money so easy to come by in Wales that it’s being squandered?

Finally, the Emmaus UK housing unit in Bridgend was built on land provided by Valleys to Coast Housing Association. So not only is Emmaus UK receiving Welsh public funding, it also looks as if it was gifted publicly-owned land.

I began this section by saying that Emmaus was new to me, despite being familiar with many organisations claiming to be helping the homeless in Wales. As I don’t know how many there are I have submitted a FoI to the ‘Welsh’ Government. They must know how many homelessness organisations they’re funding . . . surely?

P.S. I know there are different criteria for assessing homelessness, and those ‘threatened with homelessness’, though I don’t like that second category because – rather like ‘jobs secured’ (as opposed to ‘jobs created’) – it’s open to misuse. Even so, I went the StatsWales website and checked the figures for rough sleepers.

You’ll see that the most recent figure for Bridgend tells us that the estimated number (right hand column) of rough sleepers is 10, with nary a single emergency bed. Whereas in Ceredigion there are no less than 30 emergency beds for an estimated 6 rough sleepers.

I suggest both figures tell us a lot about what really goes on in the ‘Welsh’ homelessness racket.

UPDATE 13.11.2017 – PARTNERSHIP?

It’s become clear to me over the years that there is some kind of co-operation between the ‘Welsh’ Government – or rather, the civil servants who operate in its name – and the various Lottery funds. Emmaus South Wales provides another example.

If we go to the Companies House entry we find under the ‘Charges’ tab two listings, both concern ‘Land and buildings at Nant Lais, Heol y Nant, Bridgend’. I should explain that Charges usually means mortgages, loans, or other forms of indebtedness. If you see too many marked ‘Outstanding’ it can be a cause for concern.

On the Emmaus entry we find one charge with the number 0718 8459 0001 for a mortgage entered into between The Welsh Ministers, as the ‘Mortgagee’ and Emmaus South Wales as the ‘Mortgagor’. This agreement is dated 7 August 2015.

The other Charge, number 0718 8459 0002, is between Emmaus, the ‘Grant Holder’ and the Big Lottery Fund as ‘The Fund’. This is not a mortgage but a grant of £425,000. (See below.) So why is it treated as something other than a straight gift? Because it comes with certain conditions; for example, if Emmaus turns the building into a massage parlour, or flogs it off to some Russians looking for indoor growing facilities, then the grant is forfeit. This agreement is also dated 7 August 2015.

In a sense, they complement or cancel each other.

From the Big Lottery Fund website. Click to enlarge

Here’s a scenario. The ‘Welsh’ Government wants to give this property to Emmaus but fears some malcontent finding out and kicking up a fuss, so they contact the Big Lottery Fund – ‘Oh, look, we’ve got this very worthy cause looking for money to buy something from us, so we’d like you to oblige with a grant’.

Maybe it’s done some other way, but I am in no doubt that there is a well-used system for the various Lottery funds to give money to projects recommended by the ‘Welsh’ Government. The ‘worthy cause’ gets what it wants, the ‘Welsh’ Government can appear prudent with public money, while from the Lottery’s standpoint, if things go tits up, they can say, ‘Ah! but the Welsh Government recommended these people’.

Everybody’s back is covered. Everybody’s a winner!

Except perhaps those communities, and those projects, that aren’t so well connected. Those worthy causes that spend months or years building up support, preparing their bid, only to be beaten by insider dealing such as I’m suggesting in Bridgend. Which of course, just happens to be Carwyn Jones’s constituency.

And if I’m right, then in their very short time in Wales Emmaus has received over one million pounds thanks to the ‘Welsh’ Government.

THE PUBLICLY-FUNDED PRIVATE SECTOR

Another net importer of criminals, paedophiles and others, plus many homeless, is of course the private rented sector – just think Rhyl! – where we find the same ugly combination of self-interest and lack of concern for the consequences of pursuing that self-interest.

A recent news item re-awakened my interest in events in Pembrokeshire. On the evening of November 7 there was a disturbance at a block of flats in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock, and it was reported that armed police officers had attended. The flats are in the former Coronation School.

I got to wondering who owns these flats, and so I went to the Land Registry website where I was presented with what appeared to be a long list of individual titles, and although I didn’t count them I assumed it was one for each flat.

I chose two at random, Flat 10 and Flat 31, which was unnecessary because they both have the same title number CYM402081. Why so many different entries for the same title number? Was the intention to sell off the flats individually?

Both title documents say the building was bought by Cathal Eamonn McCosker for £200,000 with money that seems to have been borrowed from Barclays Bank. But others now having a claim on the property are Alexander and Rose Russell of Swindon and Pembrokeshire County Council.

It would appear that in order to meet his obligations Mr McCosker has tried to sell the building. First, at auction on Thursday 27 April 2017 with a guide price of £1.3m. This obviously failed because it was marked “withdrawn by agent”, and then put up for auction again on 08 June 2017 with the guide price now reduced to £975,000. But as we know from the Land Registry, it is still owned by Mr McCosker and his creditors.

With Cathal Eamonn McCosker we have one of the more intriguing stories to emerge from Pembrokeshire in recent times. Despite the widespread assumption that he’s Irish, on the Companies House website he describes himself as British, and gives an address in Oxford.

So what’s the story?

Basically, McCosker stands accused of receiving funding for projects in Pembroke Dock for work that was never done. This scam may have been conducted with the connivance of senior council officials and even a councillor or two. If they weren’t in on the scam then they’re now trying to draw a veil over the whole affair in the hope of saving face.

A number of people have followed the case over the years, including two councillor-bloggers. A good start would be with Councillor Jacob Williams’ Trumped-up charges – Part 4. While another excellent source is Councillor Mike Stoddart, and his Strange business.

I believe I’m right in saying that the Woodward and Bernstein of the Kremlin on the Cleddau actually unearthed the McCosker scandal.

McCosker has appeared on this blog after he cropped up a couple of years ago in a newspaper story about the vast amounts of money being paid in housing benefit to private landlords. I wrote about it in To Those That Have Shall Be Given – Housing Benefit!

McCosker was quoted as receiving £236,834 in housing benefits for his Pembrokeshire properties, with a further £35,248 paid through his E-Lettings company, which he used for the Coronation School flats. A local journalist tells me that this money was being paid into a bank account in the Irish Republic, which raises questions about taxation.

The Coronation School seems to target young people leaving care, many from ‘away’; vulnerable, mainly uneducated young people, many of them with ‘issues’. Conditions in the old school building are said to be primitive, which if true will of course qualify the tenants for social housing.

CONCLUSION

In an earlier post I referred to a system of human trafficking in Wales, a system run by selfish and unscrupulous individuals and organisations that brings into our country people needing expensive help or simply criminals and undesirables that no one else wants.

Which would be bad enough in itself, but we are paying for this. The public money of a poor country is being spent on problems that should not be ours. We are effectively paying to make our communities, like Lampeter and Pembroke Dock, less happy, less safe, and all done in order that Wales & West Housing can expand, or Cathal Eamonn McCosker can get even richer.

This system of bringing another country’s problems into Wales exposes a number of issues.

First, it tells us that we have a third sector that has become bloated due to over-feeding, and because of its size it now wields a malevolent influence on the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants who actually run Wales. This influence damages other sectors that we should be encouraging . . . you know, things like real businesses, that might create real jobs, and increase Wales’ wealth . . . without wrecking Welsh communities

‘Nah, we don’t want none of that nasty prosperity round by ‘ere’.

But then there’s the issue of corruption in Welsh public life, at all levels. Who in their right mind believes it’s a good idea to give hundreds of thousands of pounds to Emmaus, a supposedly self-sufficient organisation?

And why is the investigation into the corruption centred on Cathal Eamonn McCosker stalled? Is it because too many people at both Pembrokeshire County Council and the ‘Welsh’ Government are involved? For the money used to enrich McCosker was EU funding, administered by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

While writing this I’ve been drawn to three recent posts about Carmarthenshire. The first, was by Siân Caiach, then there was the latest from Jacqui Thompson, and finally, another gem from my favourite blogger, Y Cneifiwr. They all prompt the same question – what other democracy would allow Mark Vincent James (OBE) to ruin so many lives and run Carmarthenshire County Council like a medieval barony?

It doesn’t have to be like this. But everything you see around you is part of the problem, and so can never be part of the solution. Radical change is needed. Wales will soon be offered the hope of change. Be ready!

♦ end ♦

 

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA AFAN

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

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

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

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

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

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

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

LLANELLY HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end ♦

Sep 172016
 

‘BESPOKE ACTIVITY SESSIONS’

I am indebted to Brychan, a regular visitor to this blog, for drawing my attention to another example of misguided do-gooding, this time linking with enviroshysters and the ‘heritage’ racket – yea! even unto the Strata Florida Trust! (You couldn’t make this up!)

We start in the Elan Valley, the collective name for a number of reservoirs vaguely south east of Aberystwyth that supply fresh water to Birmingham. Built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century these reservoirs occupy land much of which was compulsorily purchased.

But let’s not be negative, for as the Elan valley website tells us, “The choice of the Elan Valley as the source of Birmingham’s future water supplies was to lead to the creation of a spectacular new landscape in mid-Wales.” (Who writes this patronising crap!)

elan-lakes

“The Elan Estate is owned by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water although a greater part of it is vested in the Elan Valley Trust on a 999 year lease.” Does Dŵr Cymru own the reservoirs and dams or just the land surrounding them? Either way, the water goes to Brum for free.

From what I can see, the Elan Valley Estate is a tourist playground doubling up as a nature reserve. But the estate also runs ‘courses’ for superannuated hippies and others who have washed up in Wales. Now it’s branching out.

Some of these courses are run by an outfit called Tir Coed, which describes itself as ” . . . a charity and social enterprise that engages people with woodlands through volunteering, training and bespoke activities that develop skills and improve woodlands for the benefit of everyone”. The kind of gibberish I encounter all the time, dreamt up to justify the existence of a group and, more importantly, its funding.

Here’s a screen capture from the Tir Coed Charity Commission page. We shall refer to this later.

tir-coed-charity-commission

The project to which I want to draw your attention is something called Elan Gives Back, the premise of which is so unutterably colonialist that you’ll have trouble believing it, but just bear with me.

Last month, representatives of Tir Coed, acting for the Elan Valley Estate, visited Birmingham ” . . . explaining how the project would like to reconnect the people of Birmingham with their water source . . . before explaining about the weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions in the Elan Valley available through Elan Gives Back.” Read it for yourself.

(‘Bespoke activity sessions! Bloody hell! I know people who’ve been done for offering that sort of thing.)

If this venture is a ‘success’, then we can expect to see Brummie drug addicts, petty criminals and others having a jolly old time on the Elan Valley Estate. And at our expense, because of course Tir Coed, being a charity and a social enterprise, relies almost exclusively on grant funding.

The biggest single funder for year ending March 31 2015 was the Big Lottery Fund, which coughed up £82,783; but in there with other grants we see the Countryside Council for Wales, £35,000; Natural Resources Wales, £20,000; Llanidloes Town Council, £3,000; and Jobs Growth Wales, £11,276.

The only way I can interpret Elan Gives Back is that someone, somewhere, believes the area owes Birmingham something. But, surely, Birmingham, responsible for the enforced eviction of the area’s population, and the subsequent exploitation of Welsh resources, owes us. If Liverpool can apologise for Tryweryn then why can’t Birmingham apologise for Elan?

And if that is the thinking behind it, then what twisted colonialist mind could have dreamed up Elan Gives Back?

Finally, we need to consider what it says on the Charity Commission website, shown in the screen capture I referred you to earlier. Tir Coed’s stipulated ‘Area of Benefit’ is Wales. Birmingham is not in Wales, and I object strongly to public funding, much of it Welsh, being used to give bespoke weekends in the Welsh countryside to Brummie ne’er-do-wells. I further object to this being done as some kind of ‘apology’ for them having to drink our water!

Someone, maybe the Charity Commission, or the funders, needs to investigate this bollocks.

LINKS AND COINCIDENCES

Take yourself back to the Charity Commission website for Tir Coed and click on the box ‘Contact & trustees’ (on the left), you’ll bring up a list of trustees. Top of that list is a ‘Mr J Wildig’.

Wildig is also a trustee of the Plynlimon Heritage Trust (note the corrupted spelling of Pumlumon) and also Ymddiriedolaeth Yr Hafod Hafod Trust.

In fairness, the first of those seems to have raked in very little money and is now almost defunct, but give it its due, it used the tried and tested method, even the descriptive template, “The Trust enables work on heritage projects within the Ceredigion uplands”.

The second of Wildig’s trusts is connected with the Hafod Estate near Cwmystwyth. He is also a director of Pentir Pumlumon Cyf, which markets the area to tourists, while of course giving plugs to various trusts, such as Strata Florida, which is ‘flagged’ on its interactive ‘attractions’ map.

The Hafod Estate is managed by Natural Resources Wales “in partnership with the Hafod Trust”. It’s noticeable how many of the ‘trusts’ and individuals this blog has looked at recently work with NRW.

hawthorn-cottage

Hawthorn Cottage, available for rent on the Hafod Estate

When talking of 19th century mining operations the Pentir Pumlumon website is keen to remind us that “Miners migrated to the area from Cornwall, Yorkshire, and elsewhere: their names can be found on gravestones in country churchyards and some of their descendants are here still”. Stressing a long-standing English (and Cornish) presence in the area seems to have been important for whoever wrote that.

Sites like this, written by English people trying to describe a country of which they have no real understanding beyond its perceived potential to benefit them; and for which they have little appreciation beyond the visual, the scenic, remind me of those 19th century posters encouraging English settlement in some benighted corner of the empire where the natives had recently been quelled.

Also involved with the Plynlimon Heritage Trust is Jennifer Jill Macve, whose name crops up a number of times in connection with Wildig. Macve is also a trustee of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust where, again, you’ll struggle to find any Welsh involvement.

Before bidding the omnipresent J Wildig adieu it should surprise no one to learn that he is also a trustee of the Strata Florida Trust, the body you’ve read about on this blog over recent weeks. (If you haven’t, then read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism.)

To make sense of the plethora of ‘heritage’ and ‘preservation’ trusts that have sprung up in Wales during the past couple of decades it might help if you visit the website for the United Kingdom Association of Preservation Trusts (APT). Here’s the APT’s Wales page.

The screen capture below explains it all. There was a development officer in Wales 2004 – 2008, and “over a third of Trusts in Wales were formed in the past seven years”. And to cheer you up even more, “There are also examples of Trusts still being formed, such as the Welsh Georgian Building Trust, and the Llanelli Goods Trust.” (I suspect there might be Welsh involvement in the latter, but not the former.)

apt-wales

HEADING SOUTH

If we go back for a sec to the Tir Coed website, and look at the ‘Contact’ page, then we see that it offers three addresses. One is presumably its HQ in Aberystwyth. Another is its Elan operation, where it ‘Gives Back’ bespoke weekends, and the third is Denmark Farm, Betws Bledrws, near Lampeter.

So now you’re wondering what denizens of that parallel universe sustained by grants await at Denmark Farm. You will not be disappointed. (Oh, yes, before any of you narrow-minded nationalists think the name has been changed, it was always Denmark Farm. Explained here.)

As is the way with these things, Denmark Farm is not just any old farm, run by primitive Welshies who keep animals and grow crops. No, sir, this is a conservation centre, offering eco-friendly holidays, nature trails and, yes – courses!

Confusingly – but not for old Jac! – this lot are registered with the Charity Commission as the Shared Earth Trust. Though the CC website tells us that income is falling, down from £135,000 in 2012 to a mere £45,000 in 2015.

A correspondingly sombre picture is to be found on the Companies House website, with the most recent accounts available (y/e 31.03.2015) informing us that this venture has tangible assets (almost certainly the farm buildings and land) of £310,666 (£324,991 in 2014). Yet ‘total assets less current liabilities’ brings that figure down to £258,346 (£277,418 in 2014). Denmark Farm is in trouble, perhaps it will soon be recycled.

Companies House also tells us there are charges against Denmark Farm. First there’s the mortgage of £170,000 with the Ecology Building Society of West Yorkshire. Then, on the same date, 25.07.2012, there was a loan of £25,000 made by the trustees of the Shared Earth Trust to the Denmark Farm Conservation Centre.

So who’s running things? Well, the three individuals who are both trustees of the Shared Earth Trust and directors of Denmark Farm Conservation Centre are Guy Alistair Hopwood, who lives at Denmark Farm, David Andrew Bradford Smith of Llandrindod, and Glenn Edward Strachan of Penuwch.

denmark-farm-activities

The staff at Denmark Farm – apart from one who seems to be married to a real farmer, living on a real farm – are the usual crew of ecocharlatans. Reading their potted bios reminds us how many silly little projects there are out there.

Take Gary Thorogood, who “moved to this part of Wales with his family 9 years ago after retiring from the Fire Service in London.” His bio mentions his involvement with the Lampeter Permaculture Group and Transition Lambed. (Don’t say you haven’t heard of them!)

Then there’s Mara Morris who lives with chickens, which I suppose is one way of guaranteeing fresh eggs. Next up is James Kendall, ” . . . responsible for procuring external funding so that we can maintain and increase our staffing resource, deliver engaging projects and develop the Shared Earth Trust membership”. The Accounts I’ve quoted would suggest that Kendall is not doing very well as a fund-raiser.

But in fairness, maybe he’s too busy with the Long Wood Community Woodland, where he serves as project manager. “He also works as a Forest School leader(?), woodland skills tutor and runs an outdoor after-school club, Young Rangers.”

Companies House also tells us there is a charge against Long Wood Community Farm. The mortgagee is the Big Lottery Fund and the property is described as “all that freehold property known as land at Long Wood, Llangybi, Lampeter registered at H M Land Registry under title numbers CYM271065, CYM271131, CYM270610”.

What becomes clear when we look into these projects, whether they are heritage and conservation, environment, or even social enterprises and community benefit companies, is that they are not businesses a bank would lend money to for the very simple reason that they are just not viable businesses. So they have to rely on grant funding.

Because they are not financially viable they invariably fail, which results in funding that could be better used being wasted. Those involved in such failures often re-form, take on a new name, and wait for the grant-giving agencies to come up with new funding streams and priorities. It’s a merry-go-round.

Those involved are simply indulging a private passion at public expense, there is no public benefit whatsoever . . . unless of course, you include the ‘courses’ and the ‘bespoke activity sessions’, which are not intended for the likes of us.

What I found interesting in writing this post is that, in J Wildig, we have unearthed a link between the environmental, the social enterprise, and the heritage sectors. Looking beyond this individual there are other linkages and overlaps to be found.

What is also clear is that many of these grant-grabbing groups are located in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, spilling over into neighbouring local authority areas. Suggesting that these two councils offer encouragement; but the major funders remain the ‘Welsh’ Government, in its various guises, and assorted Lottery funding streams.

Everywhere I look in the environmental lobby I see hypocrisy and contradictions. Perhaps the most glaring is the commitment to ‘Nature’ . . . discredited by the belief that Nature would be lost without them managing it.

George Monbiot and others talk of wanting to ‘re-wild’ large tracts of Wales, yet if they were allowed their way they’d produce little more than a manicured woodland where everything down to the last fungus would have its allotted place. They want to play God.

george-monbiot

This sylvan idyll of overbearingly managed ‘wilderness’ would of course provide many jobs and businesses for the kind of people we’ve met in recent posts. Almost all funded from the public purse.

They’d offer courses in yurt construction and other ‘traditional’ crafts. James Kendall could bring his Young Rangers from the Long Wood. With weekend retreats and bespoke activity sessions so that we could fulsomely apologise to Brummies, Scousers, and all the others we’ve wronged. And of course there’d be the tourists. Combining to give us wildlife-free woods constantly ringing to the sound of human voices . . . none of them Welsh.

My idea of re-wilding would be to set aside an area of land and take human beings out of the picture entirely (especially those I’ve been writing about). Let Nature reclaim the land, naturally, as it did when the last ice retreated. Anything else is just a veiled attack on Welsh farming and a scam to milk the public purse.

Fortunately, the figures tell us the funding is drying up, and now, with Brexit, things can only get better. Let’s hope that the ‘Welsh’ Government, the Big Lottery Fund and others come to their senses and free us from heritage racket con men (and women), enviroshysters and all the rest.

UPDATE: I am informed that Monbiot has departed whence he came. That probably accounts for the sounds of raucous celebration that has been reported emanating from local farmhouses.

END

Early on the morrow, Mrs J and I are off to the Old North. I shall be back next weekend. But keep sending in your comments, for Big Gee is in charge as moderator.