Canolfan Frongoch

Feb 132015
 

Last month I wrote a couple of pieces about Canoe Wales and the National White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn at Frongoch, near Bala. First here and then with the follow-up here. Unfortunately, while writing these pieces Companies House had not made the most recent accounts available to the general public. Though I was assured by the affable and helpful Mark Williamson – who phoned me after the publication of the first piece – that the latest accounts for Canoe Wales credit reportCanoe Wales would show an improvement. For he had been brought in for that very purpose. And someone was certainly needed, because Canoe Wales was shedding auditors at an alarming rate and the most recent to depart had expressed concerns as to whether CW was a viable concern.

Talking of the National White Water Centre, Mr Williamson stressed that this venue now has nothing to do with Canoe Wales; a company called C W Sales and Services Ltd runs the Centre, which seems to be little more than an outdoor playground for adults, offering rafting, quad bike off-roading, clay pigeon shooting, bungee jumping and similar activities. While Canoe Wales goes back to 1990, C W Sales and Services was Incorporated as recently as November 7, 2012 . . . and is wholly owned by Canoe Wales.

So, now that I’ve got the latest (abbreviated) accounts, what do they show? For Canoe Wales, the parent company, the picture does indeed look a little brighter . . . but only a little. Net assets, which stood at -£22,950 on March 31, 2013, had improved to -£20,313 on March 31, 2014. Perhaps the figure would have been worse had it not been for two of the directors lending Canoe Wales £55,000. Though this may be explained by not taking out money owed rather than by putting money in. (Diolch, Dewi.) The March 31, 2014 accounts for C W Sales and Services Ltd show net assets of -£76,798 (there is of course no previous figure), which means that Canoe Wales’s net assets should be read as -£97,111, though Canoe Wales chose not to do this.

consolidated accounts

As that extract from the accounts puts it, “the parent of a group”, for there is yet another ‘child’, Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. This company was also formed in November 2012, and the accounts for year ending March 31, 2014 shown it as a dormant company with a share issue of £1. It, too, is wholly owned by Canoe Wales. I suppose the question has to be, why form another company in addition to Canoe Wales and C W Sales and Services Ltd; what role is envisioned for Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd? Canoe Wales and its two subsidiaries have their addresses as ‘Canolfan Tryweryn Frongoch’. Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd and C W Sales and Services Ltd each have just two directors, David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, both of whom are also directors of Canoe Wales.

While the reason for setting up Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd may be unknown, it could be that C W Sales and Services Ltd was set up to run the White Water Centre because it would be difficult to justify using Welsh public funding to subsidise an IT department from Birmingham having an alcohol-fuelled weekend of farting about in the Welsh countryside.

Which brings me to the issue of public funding, for at the time of writing the original pieces I had yet to receive a reply from Sport Wales to my Freedom of Information request. I now have those figures, see below. You will note that between 2009/10 and 2014 /15 the Sport Wales grant to Canoe Wales rose from £247,500 to £378,000. Or to put it another way, during the worst financial crisis in living memory, when Wales is experiencing cutbacks across the board, someone saw fit to increase funding to a bunch of paddlers by some 53%! How did no Welsh politician pick up on this?

Sport Wales funding

So what is the justification for this extravagance? Because we can be sure that this funding creates very few (if any) jobs for Welsh people. And why is Sport Wales putting so much money into canoeing while cutting back funding on grass-roots sport with much more Welsh participation? Especially when we know that canoeing attracts some very unsavoury colonialist types who go out of their way to seek confrontation with Welsh anglers by demanding unrestricted access to all Welsh rivers and lakes?

And here’s a question for the ‘Welsh’ Government. How can you justify bumping up, year on year, funding for an activity offering little tangible benefit to the people you claim to represent – and nothing they couldn’t do without until economic conditions improve – while cutting back on funding for food banks? What order of priorities does this exhibit? Or is it ‘window-dressing’, an attempt to hide the truth of contemporary Wales? Then there’s the funding cut to young Welsh farmers, yet another attack on our farming community . . . to clear the land for the fleece jacket invaders such as those attaching to Canoe Wales?

So many questions about canoeing in Wales. Time, surely, for our politicians to insist on answers to a few pertinent questions: 1. Which outfit is responsible for which debts, and will publicly-funded Canoe Wales pick up the tab if the Frongoch Centre – run by its subsidiary, C W Sales and Services Ltd – sinks? 2. What is the point or purpose of Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd? 3. Given that so much public money is involved is anyone concerned that ‘parent’ and subsidiaries are run by the same two men? 4. For an organisation in receipt of public funding on this scale to be in debt to the tune of almost £100,000 is very worrying, so who is monitoring the situation on our behalf? 5. Finally, and fundamentally, how can anyone justify giving £378,000 a year to Canoe Wales?

UPDATE 14.02.2015: Something else I should have mentioned is the sinking of a previous subsidiary, Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd, written off in the 2013 accounts for £50,000, which may or may not account for the ‘loans’. Though ‘written off investments’ in the 2013 accounts totalled £69,742, the remainder described as ‘intercompany balance’.

Jan 162015
 

By one of those delightful coincidences that brighten up our lives I was working yesterday on an update to the previous post, ‘White Water Up Shit Creek’, when I received a phone call from someone I’d mentioned in that piece. Mark Williamson and I then had a lengthy and interesting discussion. He even invited me over to the White Water Centre at Frongoch to see some of the wonderful things going on there . . . and promised not to drown me!

After giving the discussion a little thought I realised that an update would be no way to handle this development, and so I decided on a new post. Also, I decided there and then – impetuous devil that I am! – to give Mark Williamson a chance to respond to the points I had intended raising in the update. I had no idea how this was going to work out – or even if it would work out – but the promise had been made so I was prepared to give it a try. (In the end Mr Williamson decided not to take up my offer, but phoned on Friday morning to suggest a couple of changes.)

Such an offer would have been unique in the history of Jac o’ the North, and may never be repeated. So I don’t want Third Sector shysters, Labourites, white flight colons, BritNats, etc., etc., thinking that this courtesy will be extended to them, because it won’t – you are ever in my cross-hCanoeistairs.

Before proceeding there are a few things that need to be said, points that emerged from the discussion on Thursday that might help with the understanding of what follows.

1/ Mr Williamson was keen to stress again that the National White Water Centre at Frongoch is run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd not Canoe Wales . . . though Canoe Wales does have staff on site.

2/ Mr Williamson readily admitted that things had been handled badly in the past, but that this was why he’d been recruited – to clear up the mess. He assured me that an improvement in the finances would be observable in the most recent accounts, submitted towards the end of 2014 and not yet publicly available. While the accounts for year ending March 31st, 2015 would be even better.

3/ When I raised the question of why the Centre’s website is ukrafting.co.uk Mr Williamson admitted that that’s mainly what happens there, it’s used for the purposes I mentioned in the post. Though this was qualified by telling me that Canoe Wales runs lots of courses – using the Sport Wales funding – at other venues around the country. He also assured me that none of this funding finds its way to Frongoch or Canoe Wales Sales and Servicing Ltd because the Centre is separate and entirely self-financing.

*

Despite telling myself (and you) I needn’t bother, curiosity got the better of me and I did after all buy the DueDil credit report on Canoe Wales. A few points extracted from that report were to have been the substance of the update. (Incidentally, I was able to download and open the report, in pdf format, but was unable to save it. Does anyone know what a (135) error message means on Adobe Acrobat?)

  • As we have learnt since the banking crisis of 2008, credit ratings are important for countries, but credit ratings started off as a means of gauging companies’ credit worthiness. Canoe Wales’ credit rating was paddling along serenely at 97 or 98 (out of 100) until it hit choppy water in July 2013 that took its rating down to 87. By January 2014 it was down to 70 and bobbed up and down until nearly going under altogether in September 2014 when the rating sunk to 12. Canoe Wales managed to right itself and stay afloat, with the last recorded rating of 53 in October 2014.
  • A curiosity I would welcome an explanation for is that in the DueDil credit report for Canoe Wales ‘Wages & Salaries’ are £294,260 for year ending 31.03.2013 but show nothing for previous years.
  • What is the explanation for Day Smith & Hunter resigning as the Canoe Wales auditors on May 9, 2013 and Salisbury & Co resigning as auditors Canoe Wales credit reporton March 31st, 2014? Who are the auditors now?
  • Salisbury & Co were so unimpressed with the state of Canoe Wales’ finances that, according to the DueDil credit report, they were unsure whether Canoe Wales was a going concern. (See panel.) Did anyone at Sport Wales pick up on this? Is this in any way connected with the same auditors’ resignation?

*

Although Mark Williamson declined my offer of 250 words he did have a few things to say in a third phone call this morning. Unfortunately, this call caught me at an awkward moment and I wasn’t able to remember all the points on which I wanted clarification.

For example, I should have raCanoe Wales Tree Top Adventureised the point that he (Mark Williamson) has been recruited to get the finances of Canoe Wales into better shape. Which should not be difficult given the large amounts of public funding being received from Sport Wales (and possibly other sources). Another advantage – from now on – is that Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd has folded and been written off. Further income is anticipated from the profits of the Frongoch Centre, now being run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd; this from the rafting and other activities available there. These include 4 x 4 off-road driving, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking and ‘tree top adventure’ (see panel). In fact, when you take all that into account, it would be difficult for Canoe Wales not to show a profit.

Though this still leaves unresolved the status of the mysterious Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. There are no accounts yet available for this company, so it might still prove a burden for Canoe Wales. Additionally, what if Canolfan Tryweryn does not make a profit, how will it survive seeing as it’s run by a separate company from Canoe Wales and unable to access Canoe Wales’ public funding? I ask this because the most recent figures available for Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd show current liabilities of £164,131.

Despite what the helpful Mark Williamson told me I still have difficulty regarding these three entities as separate. A difficulty due to the fact that Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd has just two directors, David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, who are also the only directors of Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. Both these companies are wholly owned by Canoe Wales of which Wakeling and Booth appear to be the controlling directors. So with the best will in the world, I remain unconvinced that public funding given to Canoe Wales will not find its way to one or both of the subsidiaries. And seeing as both subsidiaries are wholly owned by Canoe Wales then the parent company is responsible for any losses these might incur, as with Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd. (Refer to previous post.)

*

Over and above these financial and structural concerns there are other, less material considerations that would probably not occur to those running these ventures, and even if they did, would be unlikely to resonate.

Everything at the White Water Centre has been made possible by the drowning of Capel Celyn and the expulsion of its people; our people. Now stag parties and other groups from England – Liverpool included – go there to have a good time, to drink and laugh, to career about the countryside on quad bikes and in 4 x 4s, to whoop and holler almost within earshot of the drowned village. Another example of tourism in Wales but not of Wales.

The whole concept of Canolfan Tryweryn is insensitive, almost vindictive and triumphalist. Perhaps not a lot different to dancing on the grave of a vanquished foe.