Cantref

Nov 072017
 

TO RECAP . . .

I have written many times about social housing in Wales, and of the many problems created by the more irresponsible housing associations. Here are just a few of the problems:

  • Unlike in Scotland, social housing providers in Wales are tied into an Englandandwales system. This results in our housing associations having to give priority treatment to people with no Welsh connections.
  • Many of those being housed by these routes will be ‘problem families’, or young tearaways, they might be drug and alcohol abusers, or they’ll be recently released from prison. These issues will inevitably place a burden on our health service and other facilities while also affecting the quality of life in many Welsh communities.
  • Wales has an ageing population. In a decade or so Wales will be the ‘oldest’ country in western Europe. This also places a strain on our NHS and other services which results in money being taken from education and other budgets. Yet many housing associations, particularly in the north, are using public funding to build housing for the elderly and the infirm brought in from outside of Wales.
  • Despite the recommendations of the Notional Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee social housing providers are still diversifying through unaccountable subsidiaries. This results, for example, in the insane situation in Pembrokeshire where The Pembrokeshire Housing Association is passing public money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes for MBH to build houses for sale on the open market!
  • Many Welsh housing associations lease or rent properties from companies based in tax havens. I explored this connection in Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. Yet no one in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems to care that Welsh social housing tenants could be living in properties owned by the Mafia, or ISIS.
  • Housing associations form secretive and costly links with Third Sector and other bodies. Some of these links are of questionable legality, of dubious benefit to Wales, but always costly to the Welsh public purse.
  • And that, perhaps, is the biggest worry of all. That no one with responsibility for overseeing social housing bodies, no one who funds them with hundreds of millions of pounds of public money, seems to care how they operate. It’s left to self-evaluation and self-appraisal – box-ticking exercises which of course never find any problems. So everybody’s happy!

NEWS FROM THE NORTH

A taste for what follows may be obtained from the post Bits & Pieces of September 30th. Now here’s the latest:

Paul Diggory, the Chester-based former boss of ailing North Wales Housing, is now promoting himself – something he’s very good at – as a ‘housing and social enterprise freelance‘, which fits in nicely with his role as chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales.

Diggory gives us one of the two qualifications needed to run a Welsh housing association: either be English like him and the CEOs recently appointed to Valleys to Coast, Bron Afon and Hendre; or else have good links with the Labour Party, which accounts for the appointments of both Trivallis’ new £150,000 a year CEO and the new Board chair, Tracy Myhills, previously CEO at the Welsh Ambulance Trust. (How’d you like that on your CV!)

It should go without saying that if you’re English and a member or supporter of the Labour Party then you get to take your pick of which housing association you’d like to run. Being English but supporting some other party would be acceptable, but if you’re non-Labour Welsh, forget it.

This is how a one-party state operates.

Staying in the north for a minute . . . Not so long ago Labour’s most favoured housing association, Wales & West, built a big new office building in Ewloe, Flintshire, very close to the border.

Courtesy of Google, click to enlarge

Many thought at the time that a Cardiff-based housing association might be over-extending itself with this office block, but no, for since then W&W has not only swallowed up Cantref of Castell Newydd Emlyn, and branched out into Ceredigion, but is also hovering, vulture-like, over ailing HAs across the land.

One housing association viewed as sickly and about to fall is Pennaf. The Pennaf Group is based in Llanelwy (St Asaph) and includes the Clwyd Alyn housing association and Offa, a lettings and management service. A northern source tells me that a couple of factors may be contributing to make Pennaf look a tasty dish.

First, CEO Graham Worthington – also based in Chester! – has just announced his retirement; plus, it seems that Pennaf has been tardy in bringing its 4,500 properties up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard, something it should have done by 2012.

The reason for Pennaf finding itself in this parlous position is I’m told due to spending too much time and money building care and residential homes – i.e. using Welsh public funding to bring in more retirees, so as to put extra strain on the NHS and social services that will result in education and other budgets being raided.

Only in Wales!

WALES & WEST WAY OUT WEST AND WAY OUT OF LINE

I’ve just mentioned that Wales & West snaffled up Cantref of Castell Newydd Emlyn, which operated mainly in Ceredigion, but W&W is also branching out in other ways.

When the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government handed Cantref over to Wales and West part of the dowry was valuable land at Plas Morolwg in Aberystwyth, overlooking the marina and with nice views out to sea. That site is now earmarked for 60 extra care flats. It’s doubtful if Ceredigion needs this development, certainly, it’s suggested that if it goes ahead it will jeopardise Mid Wales Housing’s Cylch Caron project in Tregaron.

But things are never that simple in Ceredigion.

Ceredigion council’s leader, Ellen ap Gwynn of Plaid Cymru, is under intense pressure over the closure of the Bodlondeb care home in Aberystwyth. Motivated by nothing more than a deep and heartfelt concern for the old biddies therein Labour and Lib Dems have taken to protesting against the closure, even recruiting that one-boy rent-a-mob and self-promoting little shite, Owen Jones.

It is further suggested that certain council officials such as strategy officers and planners who – how can I put this? – whose first spoonful might not have been puréed laverbread, are bending over backwards to help an anti-Welsh organisation like Wales & West.

An unholy alliance of Plaid Cymru and Welsh-haters.

Let’s now turn our attention to Lampeter, where Wales and West is very active, and plans yet more expansion. What follows is information for which I offer thanks to someone obviously well-informed about council business.

To begin with, there are widespread concerns in Lampeter that Wales & West is failing to evict its drug-dealing tenants in Bryn Road and North Road. But things are almost certainly going to get worse, for W&W is said to be in the process of buying the old Ffynnonbedr school building in order to build yet more flats in an area of low need. So Lampeter can expect more drug addicts to arrive. Lucky Lampeter!

UPDATE 08.11.2017: A pre-planning consultation notice appeared on the door of the old Ffynnonbedr school today. The architect Geraint John of Cardiff is making the planning statement/application in the name of Hacer Developments of Swansea.

This document – at 5.5 and 5.6 – makes great play of an agreement between Ceredigion council and Cantref in the early part of 2016 and seems to suggest that Cantref is the client. But of course Cantref was taken over by Wales & West over a year ago, but I can find no mention of Wales & West. Understandable given the drug dealers and others W&W has already brought into the town.

As if that wasn’t worrying enough for the good people of Lambed, I hear from a former weekend soldier that the old Territorial Army building – also on Bryn Road – is up for sale, and word is that W&W want to buy this as well. But I bet you’d guessed that already!

I’ve mentioned that Wales & West refuses to evict its lucrative drug-dealing tenants in Lampeter, and for this it has been congratulated by fellow Labour Party members in Shelter Cymru. Mutual back-scratching among Labour-run Third Sector bodies is so prevalent and blatant that they even try to make a virtue of it.

click to enlarge

Elsewhere the tale of evictions is different. For back in Aberystwyth, mainly local 16- and 17-year-olds are being evicted from Wales & West’s Tŷ Curig hostel  . . . to make way for new ‘guests’. Most of these replacements will arrive burdened with ‘issues’, but it is these very ‘issues’ that will allow W&W to charge a hefty fee for housing them – leaving the rest of us to pick up the bill.

Before leaving Wales & West for a moment I should also point out that the new office building wasn’t restricted to Ewloe, for there’s also the new HQ in Cardiff. This too may be in anticipation of expansion, with one of the potential victims rumoured to be Cardiff Community Housing Association, where CEO Kevin Protheroe is about to retire.

WHY DO I SAY ‘ANTI-WELSH’?

I try to be careful in using the right word, and that’s why I have no hesitation in describing Wales & West Housing – and others I’ll soon mention – as anti-Welsh.

Non-Welsh or un-Welsh might imply someone or something having nothing to do with Wales; it might suggest ignorance of Wales’ distinctiveness, possibly ambivalence; but by using anti-Welsh I mean awareness of the Welsh language, and other things that make Wales different, but deliberately seeking to denigrate and undermine them. This certainly applies to Wales & West, which is why I describe W&W as anti-Welsh.

Let’s start with the W&W website – it’s in English only. As is the website of another Labour-run housing association I’ve mentioned, Trivallis (formerly RCT Homes). This is no accident, for when it comes to the Welsh language most Labour Party members and supporters agree with Neil Kinnock rather than with Carwyn Jones.

Other HAs – Bro Myrddin, for example – rely on Google Translate. The CEO at Bro Myrddin is Hilary Jones, said to be an ‘ally’ of W&W, who is rumoured to be taking an interest in Hafan Cymru, reported to be in serious trouble due to its over-reliance on the Supporting People programme and EU funding.

But the point is that all Registered Social Landlords are legally required to give equal status to both languages, and also to have a Welsh language scheme in place. But the Regulation Managers employed to enforce these requirements obviously aren’t up to the job (or maybe they too missed out on the puréed laverbread).

Or does the fault lie with those above them? I ask because this recent advertisement for a Regulation Manager bizarrely and confusingly talks of “capability to work in both English and Welsh” but then says that Welsh is “not necessary“!

click to enlarge

This seems to be a case of going through the motions: ‘Look, we’ve got to say this about the Welsh language . . . but in practice it doesn’t really mean anything‘.

A concrete example of Wales and West’s contempt for the Welsh language came recently with its advertisement for a Development Officer in Newcastle Emlyn, with the advertisement in English only and no requirement to speak Welsh in an area where Welsh is widely spoken. Welsh is certainly the majority language among the native Welsh.

This advertisement is not an oversight, nor is the absence of a Welsh website. This is flaunting power. This is a bunch of Labour bigots, with the ‘Welsh’ Government behind them saying, ‘Fuck you, and your language!

How will this attitude contribute to Carwyn Jones’ one million Welsh speakers by 2050?

IMAGE CONFLICTING WITH REALITY

We are encouraged to think of housing associations as streamlined, twenty-first century replacements for the old local authority housing departments, but doing a much better job. In fact, they have so little in common that any comparison is invalid.

To begin with, councils operate within defined geographical areas, whereas housing associations are spread all over the country competing with each other and duplicating each other’s work. Competition and duplication that places a wholly unnecessary burden on the public purse.

This has obviously been realised, and the problem is being addressed by encouraging those housing associations that are most ‘reliable’ from a Labour Party perspective – which also happen to be the least Welsh in staff and attitudes – to expand and take over the others. Which has two main results.

One, it increases Labour Party influence in areas of Wales where the party has no MPs or AMs. Two, it encourages instinctively anti-Welsh organisations to expand into areas where the Welsh language is strong. Good for the Labour Party but a disaster for the Welsh language and for Wales

Another difference is that local authority housing departments would never have struck deals with outside agencies to import someone else’s criminals, paedophiles, drug addicts, problem families, etc. The reason being that councils had that link with their patch, that commitment to their people, and of course councillors needed to be re-elected. With housing associations such considerations and restraints are absent.

For housing associations are distant bodies, answerable to nobody, and can do what they damn well like. And because there’s little profit to be made from housing decent, law-abiding locals, but lots of money available if they inflict problems on small Welsh towns like Lampeter, that’s the model they follow.

A good source of income for many ‘Welsh’ housing associations

And while there are healthy profits for Wales & West and others from importing undesirables, once here they place an inevitable burden on local health and other services, and police resources, while causing misery and disruption to Welsh communities. In a different category, but having a similar effect on the Welsh public purse, are the retirees being brought into Wales, and this is no longer confined to the Costa Geriatrica.

All of which results in the Welsh public purse, which funds W&W and the rest of them, losing out again, and again, and again. And we are the public purse, you and I. It is we who lose out in having to endure inferior facilities and strained resources.

But the model followed by Wales & West is profitable. And the profits made, coupled with ‘Welsh’ Labour backing, allow W&W to undermine and then swallow up their smaller and weaker brethren, which will include responsible social housing providers sticking to what should be the role of housing associations – providing rented housing for local people.

And some day in the not-too-distant future, when towns like Lampeter and Aberystwyth are awash with drug addicts and criminals from God knows where, and there are only a few housing associations left standing, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party will control them all.

Allowing ‘Welsh’ Labour, through its housing associations and other Third Sector bodies, to exert a control over Wales denied it by the ballot box. We shall have arrived at the one-party state.

Endgame.

♦ end ♦

Jan 232017
 

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know about the takeover of Cantref, a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, a company with strong links to the Labour Party. For those catching up, I advise starting with the post Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged? To give some chronological marker, the takeover was officially registered with the Financial Conduct Authority 19 September 2016.

Even before the takeover I was receiving information from a person or persons I must assume were ‘in the know’. This information came by a number of routes, and was of varying degrees of confidentiality; what came as comments to this blog I can use in full, but information received by more discreet routes will require more circumspect treatment.

Let’s start with a comment from July 2015. Two points from it are worth noting. First, I believe the “something else going on” is a reference to the increasing suspicion that Cantref was about to be sold down the river. Second, the reference to “David Hedges of Cyngor Da” (Good Counsel/Advice) was a little confusing at the time because Hedges is a consultant and Cyngor Da is his company, yet he’s described as one of Cantref’s directors.

I shall return to our Dai, son of Glamorgan cricketer the late Bernard Hedges, later.

As we now know, Cantref was indeed sold down the river, taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, ‘Welsh’ Labour’s favourite housing association. (Though the ‘Association’ bit was dropped from the name in 2012, now it’s just Wales and West Housing.)

As the takeover was going through I was being told about Wales and West “surveyors” evaluating Cantref’s stock and joking about taking down opposition party – mainly Plaid Cymru – placards and posters from WWH properties in the Cardiff West constituency during last year’s Assembly election campaign. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Wales and West Housing is ‘Welsh’ Labour by another name.

Something else I was hearing through other channels – though I confess I paid little attention at the time – was that Wales and West is linked somehow with the Mid Wales Housing Association. Now MWH inherited much of its stock, either directly or indirectly, from the Development Board for Rural Wales, that agency set up to ‘repopulate’ the five counties of central Wales. Part of the DBRW strategy included building homes for ‘key workers’, which in practice meant housing the complete workforces of relocating English companies or factories.

As I say, I should have paid more attention to this Mid Wales Housing reference if only because something interesting had emerged a few years earlier.

The nub of the story I’m referring to can be found in this news item from 2012 which tells that the Development Board for Rural Wales borrowed money at 14% interest over 50 years to build those ‘key worker’ houses, and when the DBRW (together with the Land Authority for Wales) was merged with the Welsh Development Agency in October 1998 that debt was transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Which if you think about it was odd . . . if not impossible.

Because the devolution referendum was held on September 18th 1997 and the first Assembly elections on May 6th 1999. Which means that when this transfer was effected in 1998 there was a devolutionary void. The transfer was therefore accomplished by Westminster, and this saw our incoming AMs confronted with a fait accompli. (Makes you wonder what else might have been dumped on our Assembly before it came into existence.)

In addition to the news story there was an interesting discussion on the blog of Montgomeryshire Tory MP Glyn Davies. Davies was the last chief executive of the DBRW.

Now we hear of deals being struck between Mid Wales Housing, Wales and West Housing and an unnamed English housing association to bring in tenants to Llandrindod. The ‘Paul Diggery’ referred to is Paul Diggory, currently chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales, and before that, for over 15 years, chief executive of North Wales Housing.

The ‘Ann Hinchy’ mentioned is Anne Hinchey, chief executive of Wales and West Housing, wife of Graham Hinchey, Labour councillor for the Heath ward in Cardiff.

Naturally, I tried to make enquiries about WWH developments in Llandrindod. Turning to Google I came up with this . . . but the link is broken. I was unable to find anything for Llandrindod on the Wales and West website, either.

So what ‘Jonny English’ seems to be saying is that Wales and West Housing, with its HQ in Cardiff, its new western office (the former Cantref office) in Castell Newydd Emlyn, it’s northern base on Deeside, is now trying to get a footprint in the middle by linking up with Mid Wales Housing and some English housing association.

Entirely predictable, because when we look at who’s running MWH we see the usual English mediocrities staring back at us from the Executive Group page. Without whom we’d still be living in caves.

I’m sure ‘Jonny English’ will read this, as will others with information, so please let me have more details, most importantly, the name of the English housing association involved in this scheme. I’d also appreciate clarification on the relationship between WWH, MWH and the English outfit (the one from England).

Let us return now to David Hedges. After being at Cantref when the transfer to Wales and West was arranged, the word on the street is that he’s now ensconced at Pembrokeshire Housing! What can it mean?

Again, for newcomers, or those with short memories, Pembrokeshire Housing is a body I have written about many, many times. Not just the parent body but also its bonny offspring Mill Bay Homes. I suggest you start here with Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and then Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2.

The set-up is as follows. (And here I have to be careful cos writing about this lot has resulted in Jac getting solicitor’s letters.) Pembrokeshire Housing appears to be a normal housing association, grabbing its whack from the Welsh public purse to build social housing, much of which is allocated to persons and families having no previous connection with the area, or indeed with Wales.

Back around 2011 someone came up with the wheeze of using the dormant Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd to build properties and sell them on the open market. The name was soon changed to Mill Bay Homes. Now, after £7m+ has been transferred from parent to subsidiary, and houses built for retirees, investors, and friends of the MBH management, it seems that questions are – belatedly – being asked about this highly unusual arrangement.

This might explain the recent ‘retirement’ of Peter Maggs, Pembrokeshire Housing’s chief executive, and the arrival of David Hedges as – so ‘Dai the Post’ tells us – interim housing director.

Even allowing for the fact that within the social housing racket field in Wales there are bound to be connections and linkages, there seem to be far too many between Cantref, Pembrokeshire Housing, Wales and West and Campbell Tickell, of whom more in a moment.

As I said at the outset, David Hedges appeared in Cantref just before it was handed over to Wales and West Housing, like some harbinger of doom. Now we hear that he’s involved with Pembrokeshire Housing, and we’re also told that Wales and West is again manoeuvring into position to pounce. Interestingly, if we consult David Hedges’ Linkedin profile we see that he has worked for Wales and West. (If you can’t access the Linkedin profile click here for a downloaded version.)

UPDATE 26.01.2017: An anonymous source tells me that Dai Hedges is more of a fire-fighter than an assassin, sent in when things are going pear-shaped. Which may be true, but won’t be much consolation to those at Pembrokeshire Housing.

I’m reasonably certain that Jonny English is somewhere in the north, while Dai the Post is probably in the south west, so it’s interesting that both mention Campbell Tickell; which gives me the opportunity to explain for late arrivals where this management consultancy fits into the big picture.

Campbell Tickell is the company of Greg Campbell and James Tickell, both Labour Party supporters. And as his Linkedin profile tells us, Campbell has even worked for the party. Also note the reference to Common Purpose, that shadowy, some say sinister, Labour-leaning, globalist organisation for professionals in public life.

In addition to being rather suspect in its motivation and workings Common Purpose has a distinctly contemptuous attitude towards Wales. Check out this list of CP’s programmes for 2017. Scotland and Northern Ireland are covered, as are the regions of England (even individual cities in Scotland and England), but Wales might as well not exist. Search for ‘Wales’ on the Common Purpose website and you’ll turn up this little story about Chinese students on a flying visit to the Assembly in December 2015, nothing more.

Here we have a network that results in English appointees to many Welsh jobs. On the ground, it operates thus. ‘Welsh’ Labour helps its very own housing association to expand within Wales to the point where – already the largest – Wales and West Housing becomes dominant. (What’s the next stage?) To avoid accusations of cronyism it passes the recruitment process to Campbell Tickell, a Labour-supporting Common Purpose recruitment agency.

This procedure is not confined to housing associations, it can be found across public life in Wales, to the extent that I sometimes wonder if devolution is nothing but a scam to create a few thousand jobs for our neighbours in the £50,000+ salary bracket. Worth asking because devolution is achieving sod all for us Welsh.

This system satisfies two vaguely linked agendas.

On the one hand, it helps the Labour Party compensate for its declining electoral support by spreading the party’s influence, via Wales and West Housing and other agencies, into areas where many would rather Glasgow kiss a rough stone wall than vote Labour. Areas such as Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Powys.

But the system also serves the agenda of civil servants in Cardiff and elsewhere, who answer to mandarins in London, and whose overarching ambition is to keep a check on – even roll back – devolution. One of the best ways of achieving this to ensure that as few Welsh people as possible fill positions of authority. This creates the impression that we Welsh can do nothing for ourselves and also comes in useful when ‘consultations’ are undertaken to determine future policy direction.

All of which brings us back to my post earlier this month Housing Associations: Secret or Public?, in which I explained why Labour politicians and civil servants wish to maintain the secretive status of our public funds-guzzling housing associations. I suggest you read it.

And if you have a beef with a housing association then there’s no point in appealing to Nick Bennett, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. Bennett was CEO of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations, from July 2006 until July 2014. Bennett is also close to ‘Welsh’ Labour, having been in business with a former Labour minister.

HE’S NOT AND HE IS (if you want to watch the video click here)

To take the explanation a stage further, we have a system of social housing, increasingly controlled at national level and managed at local level by people who know nothing about Wales and without any concern for – or even contemptuous of – Welsh identity, using vast sums of Welsh public funding, and regularly housing people with no connection to Wales. Because of course social housing in Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system. I have that on impeccable authority.

Back in early December 2010 I wrote a reader’s letter to the Wasting Mule seeking answers from Nick Bennett to a number of points. Instead of publishing it the Letters Editor passed my questions on to Bennett who then e-mailed me directly, saying: “Strong local connection cannot be the only acceptable qualification for social housing in Wales. Social housing is a scarce resource for homeless people and those on low incomes who can’t access housing in the private sector. There are over 2 million people on waiting lists for social housing”.

Wales is the most corrupt country in Europe because it suits so many to have it that way. This corruption helps the Labour Party in Wales maintain power and influence despite declining support at the ballot box. Facilitated by Common Purpose and other bodies, this corruption discredits devolution and thereby strengthens England’s hold on Wales to the point where assimilation will have been achieved before most of us realise it.

If I was working for Pembrokeshire Housing I’d be getting worried now, because the vultures are circling – they may already have landed! And yet, just like Cantref, you brought it on yourselves, in your case with the insane decision to fund a private house builder subsidiary. And what will happen to Mill Bay Homes when Wales and West Housing takes over?

To understand how this system of colonialist corruption operates you have to recognise and understand the linkages, how they influence and contaminate public life in Wales. Social housing is the perfect example because it brings together so many threads. And it explains why the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants who ‘advise’ it want to save housing associations from public scrutiny.

But don’t think for one minute that the corruption is confined to our housing associations. Corruption is endemic in Welsh public life – because it’s encouraged.

♦ end ♦

Jan 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

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

Oct 172016
 

October 17th 2016

First Minister,

You may have read my previous post, ‘Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd‘. If not, then I suggest you read it, if only to help you understand what follows.

Your government gives a great deal of public money to housing associations. These bodies are largely unregulated and, as a consequence, a law unto themselves. (One reason so many of them run into ‘difficulties’.) For example, Pembrokeshire Housing – a body that receives a great deal of money from the public purse – funds its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes in the building of private houses for sale.  

The emergence of this particular scandal is due entirely to dedicated individuals rather than to the media, politicians, or those answerable to you who claim to be overseeing the Registered Social Landlords you so lavishly fund.

Now it emerges that housing associations funded by your government are leasing – perhaps also renting – property from Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that is registered in a tax haven to hide the identity of those behind it, also to escape UK regulations and of course to avoid paying UK tax.

On Sunday, the Guardian told us that Arron Banks, funder of Ukip, friend of Nigel Farage and financial backer of his recent Leave.EU campaign, also makes use of Gibraltar. (Read it here.) When I read the story bells rang because details of Banks’ Gibraltar connection seemed familiar to me.

That’s because both Link Holdings and Arron Banks use Parliament Lane Nominees as directors, and both also use STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries. (Check Link Holdings’ company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar to confirm this.)

Coincidence? Probably, but the Guardian article raises the possibility that Welsh housing associations, funded and supposedly regulated by the Welsh Government, could be leasing properties from Arron Banks.

Despite the blog post I refer you to focusing on Swansea this problem is not confined to that city, or to Link Holdings. To begin with, Link Holdings owns property across southern Wales, so it’s reasonable to assume that RSLs in other areas have an arrangement with Link. Then, knowing that Link is one of many offshore companies owning property in Wales makes it equally reasonable to assume that housing associations have dealings with companies other than Link. (Read this.)

It doesn’t matter which possibility we consider, neither does your government or the housing associations involved any favours. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd could be owned by Arron Banks, or it could be owned by the Mafia, the Moonies, or money-launderers, we just don’t know.

Successive Labour administrations in the Assembly have told us they believe in ‘openness’, they’ve also reminded us how responsible they are in their handling of the public purse. You now have an opportunity to prove that these claims are more than empty rhetoric.

Unless, that is, you see nothing wrong with housing associations passing on public funding to property companies registered in tax havens. But I find that difficult to believe.

I also believe that no right-thinking Welsh politician would sanction what I have explained here, so we are entitled to know who is behind Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. We are also entitled to know if you and the housing associations involved are unable to identify who is behind this company.

Someone also needs to explain why the Welsh Government allowed publicly-funded bodies to do business with companies registered in tax havens. Before, finally, promising that such behaviour will be brought to an end.

It’s clear from the Link Holdings case, from what’s happening in Pembrokeshire, and from other evidence, that the social housing sector is in one hell of a mess. A well-funded but almost completely unregulated mess.

The answer to this problem lies in genuine reform, not in encouraging housing associations run by Labour Party members to take over faltering RSLs in order to increase Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh public life. (I am of course referring here to the recent Wales and West takeover of Cantref.)

Let me conclude by suggesting that you, First Minister, practise what your party preaches about openness and concern for the public purse by making sure that no more of our money reaches secretive companies registered in Gibraltar or any other tax haven.

END

UPDATE 18.10.2016: I have now decided to write directly to the First Minister. Here’s my letter.

Aug 072016
 

Cantref, or Tai Cantref, is a housing association based in Castell Newydd Emlyn (Newcastle Emlyn) on the border of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. It ran into trouble last year and is now in the process of being handed over to a Cardiff housing association run by a Labour Party member. This after an ‘independent’ investigation by an English management consultancy run by a Labour supporter.

Cantref Cym

Many of you will know that I’ve written about Cantref’s woes before, so listed below you’ll find the posts in which Cantref has figured. They will help you understand how we arrived at a situation where a housing association using the Welsh language in its day-to-day operations seems to have been handed over to an English housing association based in Cardiff with no concern for the Welsh language at all.

This handover was facilitated by a ‘Welsh’ Government ‘committed’ to the Welsh language that, only last week at the National Eisteddfod, expressed the ambition of having a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Housing Associations, Time To End The Madness, 3 July 2014

To Those That Have Shall Be Given – Housing Benefit! 4 May 2015

Updates, etc: Cardigan Castle, Organ Harvesting, Overseas Aid Programme, Housing Associations, Labour Leadership Contest 26 July 2015

Boors & Crooks; Cowards, Spooks & Idiots 29 September 2015

Social Housing Back to Council Control? 11 April 2016

Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named 21 April 2016

Housing Associations – All Change? 25 April 2016

Tai Cantref: Fate Decided by Labour Cronyism 29 April 2016

MELTDOWN

Let’s start by conceding that Cantref being up Shit Creek is in large part due to poor business decisions and less than inspiring management. Indicated in this comment to one of my earlier posts.

Cantref Insider comment

Even so, a change of management and the injection of a little moolah could have steadied the ship and saved it from being taken over by pirates. So what do we know of these ‘pirates’?

WALES AND WEST

Wales and West is no cuddly housing association but a ruthless and acquisitive business. ‘Association’ was dropped from the name in 2012, which should give you a clue as to how W&W likes to see itself and be perceived by others.

Something else I’ve previously remarked on is the ‘Englishness’ or non-Welshness of Wales and West, and I’m not just referring to language (when compared with Cantref), I’m talking about those who run it. Look through the Board of Management and the Directors’ Team. There seems to be minimal Welsh involvement at the top of this ‘Welsh’ housing group. (Maybe lower down as well.)

Nationality aside, the important figure to note is the chief executive, Labour Party member Anne Hinchey. She’s married to Cardiff councillor Graham Hinchey. Mrs Hinchey you may recall had her staff going around Cardiff during May’s Assembly election campaign making sure none of her tenants had the temerity to display non-Labour posters or placards, and removing any that were found.

Wales and West header

Knowing how ‘Welsh’ Labour likes to conflate Plaid Cymru with the Welsh language, and hate both, the thought of this woman taking over Cantref should make anyone concerned for the Welsh language, political pluralism, or just fair play, shudder. But then, as I’ve been telling you for years, this is how ‘Welsh’ Labour operates – when presented with the opportunity it will always encourage nepotism and cronyism to further its political ends.

Mrs Hinchey attends the Vine Christian Centre in Bridgend. Knowing how the devout enjoy each other’s company I couldn’t help but wonder if any of those listed in the Board of Management or Directors’ Team at Wales and West share Mrs Hinchey’s faith? Just a thought.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Like all housing bodies Wales and West survives and prospers due to our generosity, in the form of funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. The main funding comes from the Social Housing Grant. Between 2008 and November 2015 Wales and West was given £65m in SHG alone.

Part of this figure is broken down (I assume) in the Wales and West entry on the Transparent Wales website, which shows a total of almost £45m between 28.04.2011 and the end of the financial year on 31.03.2016. Though one thing puzzles me.

Payments made up to 28.11.2012 are listed as “Capital Grants to Private Sector”, and after that date as “Capital Grants to Voluntary Organisations”. Yet the changes implemented in 2012 by W&W were if anything in the opposite direction, from voluntary to private.

Perhaps even curiouser is why Wales and West should have received funding from the UK Government which is – given that social housing is devolved (so we are told) – in this context the English government. Yet that’s what happened in 2014. So why did the ‘English’ government give money to a Welsh housing association?

CANTREF LATEST

The latest communication I’ve received from within besieged Cantref paints a worrying picture of intimidation, but one that also offers some hope. Read it carefully and digest what it says.

Cantref Insider redacted

Clearly, Wales and West has absolutely no sympathy for the Welsh language. In other aspects, the information above ties up with what I’m told by another contact appeared in the Carmarthenshire Herald last week.

Cantref Ble ti'n myn i fyw

So it might be that things are not yet cut and dried. Because if Wales and West needs 75% approval from stakeholders, and this group includes bodies opposed to the Wales and West takeover, indeed, in the case of Carmarthenshire County Council, a body that itself wanted to take over Cantref, then there might still be hope.

Another of the leading players in this drama remains something of a mystery. I’m referring now to the interim chair at Cantref, Kevin Taylor. (There is currently no chief executive.) It is he presumably referred to above, in the note smuggled out of Cantref, as “Cantref’s english acting chairman”.

According to his Linkedin profile Taylor was employed by Forte Hotels 1977 – 1987 then, from 1987 to 2013, he worked in Bermuda. How did this complete stranger turn up at such a critical juncture in the history of Cantref, just in time to recommend the takeover by Wales and West? Or to put it another way, who parachuted him in?

CONCLUSION

Note the reference in the message I was sent to it “all being stitched up in a Labour meeting in Cardiff last year”, for it’s easy to see the advantages for Labour in this takeover.

The bulk of Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, where Labour got 9.7% of the vote in the 2015 UK general election and 6.5% in May’s Assembly election. And where there is just a single Labour member on the local authority (and he’s in a university town). Consequently, ‘Welsh’ Labour controlling Cantref would give the party influence in an area where it is consistently and comprehensively rejected at the ballot box.

The suggestion that opponents of the takeover are being refused access to shareholders is worrying, as is the allegation there is also a refusal to accept new shareholders. Unfitting behaviour I would have thought for the Christian CEO of Wales and West. But not surprising, for we’re dealing here with ‘Welsh’ Labour, and that’s how they operate.

(I’m also beginning to suspect that in the wider picture ‘shareholders’ might be a way for a clique or political party to maintain control of a housing association, by encouraging ‘their people’ to become shareholders, and then be eligible to join the board of management, while turning away those who are likely to disagree with them.)

The Wales and West takeover of Cantref is less a business deal and more a political manoeuvre, and an assault on the Welsh language. An agenda that would meet with the approval of most members of ‘Welsh’ Labour, despite the pie-in-the-sky promises from the party’s local leadership.

I therefore suggest that if Carwyn Jones wants to be believed when he talks of his party’s commitment to the Welsh language he should step in and call off the Wales and West takeover of Cantref. If he doesn’t, then it’s just further proof of what I’ve been saying for years about ‘Welsh’ Labour.

P. S. A Special General Meeting is to be held on Tuesday August 9th, presumably at the Cantref offices. Why not try to get details and go along there, make your feelings known?

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

Update 10.08.2016: The worst happened at the Special General Meeting last night, and Cantref is to be taken over by Labour-run Wales and West. Comments to this blog and information received by another route paint a worrying picture of how this was achieved.

First, Wales and West decided not to accept new shareholders – who would have had voting rights – after May 26. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it smacks of how Blairite Labour tried to stop any more Corbyn supporters joining. And Wales and West is run by ‘Welsh’ Labour which, above NCO level, tends to be Blairite.

Cantref Insider Aug 10 2016

The other comments made in the anonymous message I received to the ‘Contact Me’ box on my sidebar explain themselves. Plaid Cymru does not emerge from this saga with any credit. Penri James being a local Plaid luminary.

Note also the comment from ‘Simon’, another indictment of those left in charge of Cantref after the dismissals. I urge you to read ‘Simon’s comment carefully because it tells us what a shamble our housing associations are in.

Our old friend ‘Cneifiwr’, in another comment, tells us that those present last night, “were given assurances about local jobs and the use of Welsh”. Does anyone really believe that? I don’t. (Nor, I suspect, does ‘Cneifiwr’.)

Wynne Jones – who knows of these things – reminds us that a business case must be presented to the ‘Welsh’ Government by W&W and approved by the WG before the takeover can be completed. Those are the rules. But given that W&W and the WG are both Labour, I can’t see this being an obstacle.

‘Llyr’ questions Plaid Cymru’s role, wonders why they weren’t more active. They were – but on the side of the ‘enemy’!

Let me end by returning to ‘Anon’, who writes “Hillary jones sold us out to wales and west and the welsh government gave them the wink as they want only five or six rsls in wales”. Hilary Jones of the Bro Myrddin Housing Association was shipped in as Interim Strategic Director, and over a year ago rumours were circulating that she wanted Wales and West to take over Cantref but leave her in charge.

I have argued more than once that we need many fewer Registered Social Landlords. But if we are to have mergers then let them be local, with other housing associations that understand the realities of working in a bilingual rural area. Another consideration is that RSLs need a working relationship with their local authorities.

As a match, Cantref with Wales and West can be compared with Dianne Abbott shacking up with Nigel Farage. It’s so bizarre as to be unthinkable, and certainly unworkable. Or if we are to stick with matters connubial, then perhaps the best analogy is with an arranged marriage, with all that that conjures up.

Apr 292016
 

You will recall that in a few recent posts (below) I have looked at the Newcastle Emlyn-based Cantref housing association, which seems to have gone through a rocky patch of late and, following an ‘investigation’, is to be taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A bit of digging combined with election dirty tricks has turned up some rather disturbing connections.

Social Housing Back to Council Control? Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named. Housing Associations – All Change?

The investigation into Cantref was carried out by a company called Campbell Tickell, of London. So who are Campbell Tickell? They seem to be a company that has all the bases covered in the social housing and charities sector.

They are, in their own words, ” . . . an established multidisciplinary management consultancy focusing principally on housing, regeneration, charities and social care, and with a growing involvement in sports and leisure. Our services extend across: strategic and business planning; governance and regulation; performance management; procurement; asset management and development; growth and new business; regeneration and stock transfer; customer services; communications and public relations; human resources and recruitment. Alongside our central team of 18, we have a network of nearly 150 associate consultants, both generalist and specialist”. Phew!

The eponymous Campbell and Tickell are Greg Campbell and James Tickell. So who are they?

Well, Greg Campbell has a long career in social housing, local government and the Labour Party. (The three often intertwine.) And as his Linkedin profile tells us, for three years he was a full-time employee of the Labour Party.

Linkedin tells us that James Tickell has a somewhat similar career history to Campbell; that is, after attending prep school, Westminster School and Cambridge. (Sub, check if he’s the son of Sir Crispin Tickell.) And while I’ve found no direct link with the Labour Party we can be fairly certain he’s no Conservative.

James Tickell tweet

Campbell Tickell it was that recommended Cantref be gifted to Wales and West Housing. The chief executive of Wales and West is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Anne Hinchey herself has worked for Cardiff city council.

If the name Anne Hinchey sounds familiar, it may be because she’s been in the news recently for ordering Plaid Cymru election placards to be removed from Wales and West properties in Cardiff (2:05). Mrs Hinchey is of course a paid-up member of the Labour Party. In fact, there seems to have been a coordinated effort by ‘Welsh’ Labour and its offshoots – especially in Cardiff – to engage in lies, vandalism, intimidation and other tactics. This is nothing new.

A few years back a Cardiff shopkeeper was threatened because he refused to promote Labour Party literature. A few miles away, during the 2011 election, a Labour MP admitted to taking down Plaid Cymru placards. Today it’s being reported that Plaid supporters in the Butetown (‘Tiger Bay’) area of Cardiff are being intimidated.

Perhaps one of the weirder incidents thus far reported (for I have no doubt there will be others) is the pub that was visited by council officials after putting up Plaid Cymru posters . . . so now they’ve put up placards!

Robin Hood pub

But as we know, this is how Labour operates. Labour, and especially its ‘Welsh’ branch, is corrupt and anti-democratic. It now begins to look as if canvassing returns in some areas are giving Labour activists the heebie jeebies, and panic is setting in.

Carwyn Ceaucescu

But enough of this visual banter, let us return to Cantref, and Wales and West, and of course, Campbell Tickell. This is how they are connected:

The Labour regime down Cardiff docks went to a Labour-supporting company in London and asked it to look into a (non-Labour) housing association in west Wales. The unsurprising outcome was that the company in London recommended that said housing association be handed over to a housing association in Cardiff run by a Labour Party member whose husband is a Labour councillor.

Perfectly normal behaviour . . . for a one-party state.

I don’t doubt that things went wrong at Cantref. But nor do I doubt that those involved in the ‘investigation’ had a vested interest in transferring its operations to Wales and West Housing.

A cynic might wonder if the decision to gift Cantref to Wales and West wasn’t taken before Campbell Tickell got involved; and that they were brought in as an expensive cosmetic exercise, given the desired result, and told to manufacture ‘justification’. But as I say, only a cynic would think that, and there’s no place for such people on this blog. Oh no.

What I will say is that this whole business stinks. And until there is an independent investigation into how best to resolve Cantref’s difficulties it must not be taken over by the Labour Party Wales and West.

 

COMING UP: In my next post I’ll tell you how I’m voting on May 5th, and try to explain why.

 

Apr 252016
 

I sense that changes are taking place in our housing associations. Maybe someone, somewhere, has at last realised that pouring obscene amounts of public money into fifty or so bodies, many of them overstaffed and / or inefficient may not be the best way of meeting the need for rented accommodation.

In England, the process of Registered Social Landlords merging is steaming ahead. So we can expect more mergers here because it’s basically an Englandandwales system, the main differences being of scale and the fact that concessions are made here to faux socialists over sales of social housing and other matters that might drive them to the barricades . . . or to their iPhones to put out an indignant tweet.

HA mergers England

For various reasons set out below, mergers are to be encouraged, but here in Wales they seem to be things of great mystery, perhaps because housing associations are allowed to behave like secret societies. For despite receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of public funding they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This cannot be right. I defy anyone to argue that it is right.

Despite being confronted with a culture of omerta a few dogged individuals have persistently asked the awkward questions, but some of the ‘answers’ from officialdom have come direct from the Ministry of Bullshit.

CANTREF

Let us start by reminding ourselves of recent developments at this housing association in Castell Newydd Emlyn, and try to figure out what these changes might mean because, predictably, the findings of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s investigation into Cantref will remain secret. For those who missed it, here’s a link to my previous post, Tai Cantref: Favoured Suitor Named.

Cantref logo

The ‘Favoured Suitor’ is the Wales and West Housing of Cardiff. A curious choice, some may think. Much of its business is in the care home sector, not only in the south but also in towns like Brecon, Llandrindod, Newtown, reaching up to Flintshire and Denbighshire where many of its clients come from over the border.

Between 2008 and 2015 Wales and West received almost £65m in Social Housing Grant alone. (There are a number of other ‘funding streams’ for RSLs or, given the amounts involved, raging torrents.) Why is Wales and West – or any ‘Welsh’ RSL – allowed to use Welsh public funding to ease the care bill of Liverpool and other English authorities?

And I’m still waiting to learn why Wales and West was awarded £25m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2014 “to build 251 homes in Wales”. Social Housing is devolved, so why did Wales and West apply for funding to what is in these matters the English government? Come to that, why did the DCLG award the money?

The announcement of Cantref’s proposed connubials with Wales and West was made in this press release, in which we see the name of mystery man Kevin Taylor. He turned up in 2014 after a career spent in the hotel business in Bermuda and now – in his role as ‘Interim Chair’ – he’s deciding the fate of a Welsh housing association. So I’ll ask again: Who the hell is Kevin Taylor? And who forced him on Cantref?

The only real development since my previous post is that another press release was issued late on Friday afternoon, this one by the propaganda bureau at Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having given the matter of Cantref’s fate some thought, I have concluded that while there are almost certainly better options, if it comes to a straight fight between Carmarthenshire County Council and Wales and West Housing, then I shall support Carmarthenshire. And let’s not rule out Tai Ceredigion. Now I’d better explain my reasoning.

  • Most of Tai Cantref’s properties are in Ceredigion, ideal ‘retirement’ country that granny-farmers Wales and West would certainly exploit.
  • Carmarthenshire’s tyrannical chief executive Mark James will not last for ever. His days may already be numbered.
  • Council mergers are on the horizon, so the days of Carmarthenshire itself are also numbered.

Stop Press: You will recall that in my previous post we heard – from ‘Dai the Post’ – about Hilary Jones, chief executive of the Bro Myrddin housing association, who served as interim CEO at Cantref. According to ‘Dai’, she pressed Wales and West to take over Cantref and put her in charge. And of course, ‘Dai’ also told us that Hilary’s hubby served as interim head of finance at Cantref.

Dai the Post

Another name ‘Dai’ mentioned was David Hedges. Those with good memories might recall that this man got a mention last July in this post of updates and tit-bits (scroll down). Hedges runs a ‘consultancy’ called Cyngor Da. I now learn that David Hedges has also served time recently with Cantref, presumably ‘consulting’, or rather, being consulted, or however it works. And that his time at Cantref coincided or overlapped with Hilary Jones’s.

Perhaps more importantly for the purposes of this post, I’m being told that David Hedges has also worked with Campbell Tickell, the English company called in by (London-loyal civil servants acting in the name of) the ‘Welsh’ Government to investigate Cantref.

P.S. When reading the Wales and West website I saw the name Anne Hinchey, Chief Executive, which rang a bell. She is of course married to Councillor Graham Hinchey of Cardiff Council. Yet another example of the troubling link between the Labour Party and the Third Sector.

A link that does so much damage to Welsh public life through nepotism and other forms of corruption. And in this case perhaps explains why Cantref is being gifted to a housing association in Cardiff.

RCT HOMES

In my Easter Miscellany 2016 I touched on comings and goings, and tenant unrest, at RCT Homes. A body that gained brief notoriety in the public prints when it advertised for a chief executive at a salary of £150,000 a year. Here’a report from Inside Housing dealing with the departures.

The most high profile of those departures was CEO, Andrew Lycett, who left in mysterious circumstances in November last year, but soon took up a job with the Jehu Group Ltd, a construction company “operating throughout Wales and the West”. (The ‘West’ of where?) Jehu is just the sort of company that would recruit someone with inside knowledge of how housing associations operate and public money is splashed around. Here’s a video of Lycett bragging about RCT Homes’ labour being “locally sourced” . . . but obviously not for the top jobs.

RCT Homes lost a couple of other senior staff around the same time. One was Lycett’s deputy, Malcolm Wilson, who took ‘early retirement’. Wilson is yet another Englishman who slunk over the border to take advantage of the billions of pounds in public money sloshing about Wales with neither oversight nor monitoring. Wilson is said to have been “demeaning” to Wales and the Welsh language.

The third to jump ship, or be pushed overboard, depending on how generous you feel, was Finance Director Lisa Pinney. ‘Jolly hockey sticks’ is not a phrase I employ but it’s often used to describe a certain type of female; in the case of Pinney, a board member of Hockey Wales (not ‘Welsh Hockey’, note), it seems entirely appropriate. Ms Pinney also found lucrative employment, in her case with Pobl, a recent merger between the Seren Group and Grwp Gwalia.

It really is a jobs merry-go-round, giving free rides to people who would struggle to survive in the world of real business. And we pay to keep this ‘merry-go-round’ turning.

Adrian Barber

The consultant (that word again) called in to see what was going on at RCT Homes – and no doubt paid many hundreds of pounds a day – was an Adrian Barber. It should go without saying that he’s English. What else do we know about him.

From August 2010 until April 2011 Barber was Interim Head of Housing at the London Borough of Bexley. In September 2011 he joined the PSI Consultancy (UK) Ltd. This is an outfit that provides “Interim Management” to councils and housing associations in trouble – at extortionate daily rates of course.

PSI Consultancy

He first came to Wales to join RCT Homes as Interim Housing and Repairs Director in February 2014, and was in that post until May 2015 – at consultant’s rates. In June 2015 he became RCT Homes’ Interim Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods, a post he still fills. That is, when he’s not being Interim Chief Executive as well, a position he’s held since last September. (Does he get paid two consultant’s daily fees?)

I’m told that despite holding two ‘interim’ posts at RCT Homes Barber is never available. Is he off moonlighting, being a ‘consultant’ to somebody else!

It’s easy to understand why we, the people who pay, are being denied the facts about RCT Homes, just as with Cantref. For a start, we’d be told how much has been paid out in consultants’ fees. (Because Barber may not be the only ‘consultant’ at RCT Homes.) We’d know what gross inefficiency or corruption caused the implosion. And we’d also learn how much public money had been lost. Our money.

Something obviously went very badly wrong at RCT Homes last year – and it might have been brewing for some time before that – but just as with Cantref, we are not allowed to know the facts. Nobody is to blame, public money doesn’t matter – so mind your own business!

Though information I’ve received suggests that the sackings – for that is what they were – may have been partly due to the manner in which Lycett, Wilson and Pinney administered grants from the Tower Fund, linked to Tower colliery, and Meadow Prospect, the charitable arm of RCT Homes. If you were ‘in’, then you got a grant, if not, well . . . There is also said to be an unaccounted for deficit of £10,000 in the Tower Fund.

Tower Fund

Something else that might have contributed to the threesome’s downfall was the planned housing on Penrhys, above the Rhondda valleys.

A source has written: “Various deals were made to build more houses on Penrhys with dodgy firms some that didn’t even exist. One such scheme for several millions was fronted by a local builder who said he was raising the money on his mortgage for example”. Is this for real!

After reading this I delved into my archives (they can’t touch you for it!) and lo and behold! what did I turn up from September 2012 but Penrhys: What’s Happening? Regrettably, the comments were lost when those bastards at Google pulled the plug on my earlier blog due to some other bastard complaining about something I’d written – can you believe that!

Anyway, my guess is that there’s a lot more to be unearthed about RCT Homes, so please point me in the right direction, folks.

PEMBROKESHIRE HOUSING AND MILL BAY HOMES

This content had to be removed under threat of legal action from Hugh James of Cardiff acting for Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Seeing as so much Welsh public funding is being used to build social housing in Wales (or at least, being diverted to housing associations) we, the people of Wales, have every right to be assured that the money is being properly spent. Here are some observations and recommendations:

1/ RSLs should do what it says on the tin – provide social housing for those within Welsh communities who need social housing.

     They should not build student accommodation; they should not build properties for sale to ‘investors’; they should not enter into partnerships with the Probation Service and other bodies seeking to ‘relocate’ undesirables to Wales. In short, RSLs should not deviate from their raison d’être.

2/ There must be far better monitoring of RSLs by the ‘Welsh’ Government. More rigorous oversight would allow a ‘doctor’ to be sent in rather than an ‘undertaker’. 

     Though it must be a better system than the current one of importing ‘consultants’ at exorbitant fees, especially when those ‘consultants’ so often remain as ‘interim’ executives.

3/ RSLs should not be allowed to create ‘subsidiaries’ in the hope of using these to avoid legislation applying to RSLs or any other devious purpose.

4/ RSLs must be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

5/ A RSL must demonstrate need for social housing from within a community before funding is awarded or planning permission granted for new social housing within that community.

6/ No tenancies are to be awarded to anyone who has not lived in Wales for the three years prior to the application or for five years at some earlier time.

7/ The existing system of Registered Social Landlords and the provision of social housing is unsustainable for the following reasons:

a) The vast amounts of public funding they absorb, too much of which is spent on salaries, pensions and administrative costs.

b) The inefficient or non-existent monitoring and oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

c) The fact that RSLs underperform, making little real impact on housing need.

8/ In the medium to longer term RSLs must either a) have their public funding withdrawn and become private companies or b) their housing stock – built with public funding – must be taken back into local authority control or some other form of public ownership.

     Given the colonial relationship between Wales and England privatised social housing companies would inevitably be swallowed up by larger English companies; consequently (and reluctantly), I prefer the public ownership option. Not least because this course is more likely to create jobs within Wales and to keep money circulating within the Welsh economy.

END

Apr 112016
 

THE TRAVAILS OF CANTREF

Over the years I have written exhaustively on housing associations, I’ve explained the funding they receive, their staffing levels, and the fact that at a time when politicians argue our 22 local authorities must be cut to 8 or 9 those same politicians are quite content to see Wales lumbered with 50 or so housing associations, often with three or four operating in the same area, duplicating each other’s work and sometimes competing for clients and funding.

The contradiction in the differing attitudes to local authorities and housing associations is obvious, with the result that it has become increasingly difficult to defend the generosity extended to so many housing associations. But rather than openly admit that the social housing system is a very expensive shambles, it now appears that our masters have chosen to make changes to the social housing system by subterfuge.

Cantref logo

One housing association I have written about more than once is Cantref (formerly Tai Cantref), based in Newcastle Emlyn and operating mainly in Ceredigion, plus north Carmarthenshire and north Pembrokeshire, with an outpost in the Machynlleth area of north west Powys.

I haven’t been the only one training a beady eye on Cantref, others are the ever-watchful Wynne Jones, even the ‘Welsh’ Government! Though given the way the ‘Welsh’ Government cossets housing associations things must have been really bad for that lot to step in. But we aren’t allowed to know what ailed Cantref because the report will not be made public and FoI requests have been refused.

To fill in the background . . . It was known by July 2015 that Cantref was being investigated, the Cantref Board received their copy of the report in December, and early in the new year the chief executive, Lynne Sacale, and others, left. Cantref is now looking for a merger.

As is the way with such things, and just before it was publicly known that Cantref was being investigated, I received a revealing comment to this post alleging Bacchanalian excesses at Cantref’s expense in the grounds of Chateau Tucker. Read it for yourself.

Cantref piss-up

As the writer states, one reason for Cantref’s woes was undoubtedly that it had invested in student accommodation in Aberystwyth at the very time Aber’ Uni began sliding down the various league tables, with the predictable consequence of student numbers dropping.

Though it has to be asked who funded this student accommodation. Presumably the funding originated with the ‘Welsh’ Government, which then raises the question: Should money allocated to social housing have been used for student accommodation? Perhaps not, so maybe the report is being withheld to save the blushes of Carwyn and his gang.

The good ship Cantref now appears to have at its helm a Hilary Jones, of the Bro Myrddin housing association. Ms Jones’ husband (sub fill in name) is said to be a former finance director at Grwp Gwalia HA. And according to ‘Dai the Post’ in a recent comment she, ” . . . has been trying to self promote herself by persuading Wales and West HA from Cardiff to bail out Cantref and give her a bigger job as head of their western poorer Welsh speaking colony.”

You’ll note from the Gwalia website that it has recently merged with the Seren Group of Newport to form Pobl. And this site seems to tells that Charter Housing is also part of Pobl. So mergers, or takeovers, whether voluntary or enforced, are obviously in vogue.

Another change in personnel that may be relevant to recent events at Cantref was the appointment in July 2014 of Kevin Taylor to the management board, where he now serves as interim chair. It may simply be a coincidence of timing, but the problems for Sacale and the others seem to have started soon after Taylor arrived on the scene. So who is he?

According to his Linkedin profile Taylor was employed by Forte Hotels between 1977 and 1987, then, from 1987 until 2013, he worked in Bermuda. More recently, from January 2013, he has been a ‘Hotel Financial Consultant’ for Taylor Accountants, a company for which I can find no record. (I do hope it’s not registered offshore!)

An interesting employment record that raises a number of questions:

  1. Does he have any knowledge or experience of social housing?
  2. Is he familiar with the social patterns and housing issues of rural Wales?
  3. Assuming the answers to 1 and 2 are No, who appointed him, and why?

As I say, Cantref is now looking for a partner, and referring again to the comment from ‘Dai the Post’, there are said to be five suitors. One is Millbay Homes, the ‘Welsh’ Government-funded ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing that builds homes for sale to ‘investors’. Another is Carmarthenshire County Council, though whether the executive board knows anything about this is open to question, and we can guarantee that the common herd of councillors is completely in the dark.

Elsewhere in his comment ‘Dai the Post’ tells us that someone answering to Robin Staines, Head of Public Protection and Housing at CCC, has been parachuted in to Cantref, possibly to prepare the ground for a takeover. ‘Dai’ further suggests that this aggressive move is viewed within Cantref as a bit of empire building ahead of local government reorganisation. I think the suspicion is correct, and we could see more such moves, all done in the shadows with the connivance of a ‘Welsh’ Government committed to ‘openness’!

pobl

Despite not having seen the WG’s report into Cantref the executive board of Carmarthenshire County Council will, on April 19th, be expected to approve in principle the council taking over Cantref. Not for the first time, chief executive Mark James will present councillors with a fait accompli. Ain’t democracy wonderful!

Another source tells me that despite what are alleged to be its failings Cantref is the largest employer in Newcastle Emlyn, it employs locals and conducts most of its business in Welsh. The fear is that if the takeover goes through then the HQ will move to Llanelli and, given the recent recruitment record of the council, it will swiftly lose its Welsh character.

The James Gang

Thinking about Carmarthenshire County Council and the record of Mark James raises the obvious question – why is he still there? After using council money to fight a private libel case, after wasting council money to fund Christian fundamentalists in building a church and a bowling alley (yes, a bowling alley!), and after turning Sir Gâr into the Welsh equivalent of North Korea, why the hell hasn’t the ‘Welsh’ Government stepped in to remove him?

Let me answer that by taking a little detour. When inexplicable things happen there is very often a simple explanation, but one that the media and our political class would rather not touch. I have recently written about the land deals conducted by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales that might eventually lose the public purse as much as £200m. Let’s stop beating about the bush – this is corruption, pure and simple.

Many times we see things happen in public life that are difficult to explain; contracts given without a tendering process; people being promoted above their ability; wrongdoers escaping justice. In such cases Freemasonry or other secretive groups can often be behind such corruption. Then there are the instances where outright and obvious criminals are ignored by the police. Such persons may be police informers, or relocated witnesses.

I’m not suggesting that Mark James owes his survival to any of these explanations, but I believe he does have a ‘guardian angel’. It may have been pressure from this celestial quarter that persuaded him to carry on after ‘standing down’ in 2014 rather than the council panicking when they realised the size of his severance package.

Mark James may have been put in place as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, and has been maintained in that position, to oversee the anglicisation of the county.

Let me explain.

If you listen to Labour Party historians they will talk about towns or areas that are ‘iconic’ in the party’s history and development, Merthyr and the Rhondda come to mind. For those of a more patriotic bent, Carmarthenshire fills this role through Gwynfor’s 1966 by-election victory and the county delivering the votes that won the 1997 devolution referendum.

In addition, Carmarthenshire is the geographical ‘bridge’ between the rural heartland (or former heartland) of Plaid Cymru and the urban south. Add to that the fact that Carmarthenshire’s seats at Westminster and Assembly level are either held by or are vulnerable to Plaid Cymru, and the county becomes a prime target for the kind of attention I’m suggesting.

Carmarthenshire LDP

Part of this ‘attention’ is the insane and unneeded housing developments being imposed on the county . . . yet welcomed by Mark James and his circle of senior officers, almost all imported from England. Despite being born in Merthyr, Mark James has no feelings for Wales or her identity whatsoever, and is actively working to see Carmarthenshire anglicised.

That may be the reason he was directed to Wales, and why he has been allowed to keep his job when anyone else would have been forced out years ago.

But of course this does not explain the woeful impotence of Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire.

*

NATHAN GILL MEP

News reaches me from an anonymous source concerning our much beloved UKIP MEP Nathan Gill of Hull and Menai Bridge. You may recall that I have written of Mr Gill more than once – about a dozen times in fact – so you may care to refresh your knowledge of the great man by starting here then working back from the links provided.

In particular, I would draw your attention to this post, Nathan Gill: It Just Gets Worse, because the information I have received concerns an incident mentioned in this particular post. Mr Gill owned a church in Hull that he was hoping to develop in some way, but on November 5th 2001 it caught fire, Mr Gill was quoted in the Hull Daily Mail as saying that ” . . . some residents had seen youngsters aiming fireworks at the church”.

Though a source I had in Hull a while back described the fire as “suspicious”, and insisted that Nathan Gill’s application for planning permission had been refused.

Gill church

The information I received a couple of days ago says, “Before the fire in the grade 2 listed Hull church Gill had all the Oak paneling and benches stripped out, Brian Quilter sanded and reused them to Oak panel Lledr House and make window shutters.”.

Brian Quilter is one of Gill’s US Mormon brothers-in-law, married to Gill’s sister Melanie, and the couple lives in Lledr House, Dolwyddelan. Maybe the panelling referred to can be seen in this photo from TripAdvisor. Read more about Brian Quilter in Nathan Gill, Family Man.

Now there’s nothing wrong in what is described. Obviously Gill bought the church, planned to do whatever he planned to do, and in preparation for that – though perhaps in advance of receiving planning permission – stripped the building and let his brother-in-law have the panelling and the benches. All perfectly innocent.

Though less generous souls than what I am might suggest the possibility of foreknowledge.

*

JOHN BOY BAYLISS

I know you’ve been asking what our wandering boy has been up to lately, and the answer is, well, a bit more wandering. You will recall that last October I wrote The Case of the Disappearing Councillor in which I expressed deep concern for the whereabouts and welfare of Councillor John Boy Bayliss of the Uplands ward in Swansea. (In fact I have written quite regularly about John Boy and his friends, most of whom have now deserted him. Sob!)

At the time of writing the post just referred to, John Boy was giving his address as a property in Cambrian Place, in the city centre, a row of fine old town houses near the marina. In fact, where his friend and fellow-councillor Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Theaker had lived ere his departure to Araby. But now, I’m informed, he has moved again.

My concern for John Boy’s whereabouts last year was two-fold. After learning that he had taken a job in Bristol I was worried that the daily travelling between Swansea and Bristol might tire the poor boy. So I was almost relieved to hear that he was in fact living in Bristol, and merely using the Cambrian Place address as a letter-box. But then I thought, ‘Hang on, if he’s living in Bristol how can he remain a Labour councillor in Swansea?’

A message over the weekend directed me to updated information on John Boy’s council website bio (see below) which now has him living in Llangyfelach, still not in his Uplands ward, and as far from it as Cambrian Place.

Bayliss address

‘But still’, I generously and paternalistically thought (well you know me), ‘it might not be in his ward, but at least he’s got a place of his own now’, but then I read the message I’d received again, and it suggested that this address is in fact the residence of one David Collins. So who is David Collins? Here’s his Linkedin profile.

Collins is clearly a Labour professional who appears never to have done a real job, having studied History and Politics at Brunel from 1992 until 1997 and then starting work in January 2000 as a Researcher and Political Assistant to Ann Jones, the former Labour AM for the Vale of Clwyd. (Leaving two and a half years unaccounted for on his Linkedin profile.) He now works as a Political Assistant to the Labour group on Swansea council.

So is John Boy shacked up with Collins, or is he engaged in a nightly tussle with the cat for the rug in front of the fire? I think we should be told!

David Collins

Put both images from your mind, because further reading of the revised bio tells us that his correspondence address is “c/o Members Support Unit, Guildhall, Swansea SA1 4PE”, which suggests to me that he might not be living in Llangyfelach at all, and that this address doesn’t even serve as a letter-box.

The PR outfit John Boy works for recruited him because he is a councillor, and for no other reason. That being so they will of course give him time off to attend the important council and planning meetings, which in turn helps the Labour group on Swansea council maintain the fiction that their boy is still living in Swansea. Everybody’s a winner . . . except the people John Boy is supposed to represent.

This ‘Now you see him, now you don’t’ could be interpreted as a conspiracy on the part of the Labour Party in general, and certain individuals in particular, to maintain the deception that John Charles Bayliss still lives in Swansea and daily represents the interests of the people in the Uplands ward. If so, then perhaps the Local Government Ombudsman might be interested.

We know Councillor John Charles Bayliss does not live in Swansea. So my advice to the Labour Party in Swansea would be: Come clean, make John Boy Bayliss resign, and call a by-election in the Uplands ward.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention that John Boy is standing for the Assembly next month, he’s third on the list for Mid and West Wales, a region he knows intimately. His chances of being elected are slim, but of course Cardiff is nearer than Swansea to Bristol, so it would easier for Bayliss to commute from Bristol and turn his back on Swansea for good.

UPDATE 23:00: I am informed that David Collins no longer works for the Swansea Labour group, he has, I’m told, “been released” . . . into the wild? If so, will he be able to fend for himself, cut adrift from the Labour Party, all he’s ever known? I await reports that he has been spotted at night, scavenging in the back streets of Morriston.

 

Jun 152015
 

After interruptions and various distractions I’m finally pressing on with my Magnum Opus ‘The Colonisation of Wales’. One distraction has been the disturbing news received from a number of quarters about the Llandysul, Drefach and Dre-Fach Felindre area of Dyffryn Teifi. It seems that this area, straddling the boundary between Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, is a hotspot for the importation of non-working and elderly populations, by both private landlords and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).

Llandysul non-working

CLICK TO ENLARGE

I’m hearing of ex-council properties being turned into flats, and these then being rented to drug addicts and others brought in from over the border. I’m hearing of people who bought their council house being pestered by ‘investors’ and housing associations to sell to them. I’m hearing of an estate in Llandysul owned by Tai Ceredigion where most of the tenants, originally from Birmingham and Liverpool, are almost all of the non-working and / or long-term ‘sick’ variety. Yet Tai Ceredigion plans to extend this estate by adding 50 more houses!

Which means that Tai Ceredigion expects the rest of us to pay – through the Social Housing Grant and other ‘Welsh’ Government funding – for new properties for which there is clearly no local demand. And once they’ve arrived, then we shall be expected to pay housing benefit for those Tai Ceredigion will import to fill the 50 new properties.

Other reports talk of an influx of Londoners and Brummies into Dre-Fach Felindre. While nearby, at Waungilwen, there are bungalows for elderly and disabled people, a disproportionate number of which are now occupied by other recent arrivals from England, some of whom don’t seem too sure where they are! When canvassed for the general election one response was, “Is it Labour or Conservative round here?” So who is bringing into Wales people that can only be a burden on the NHS and other services? And do the housing associations (and private landlords) responsible pass on to the NHS and other providers part of the extra funding they get for taking in people with ‘problems’?

Another angle I’d like to explore is the possible relationship between private landlords and RSLs. Because it has been suggested to me that a relationship exists, with private landlords taking in dubious and undesirable tenants with the guarantee that such tenants will soon be re-housed by a local housing association. This system leads to certain privately-owned properties operating a revolving-door system of tenants changing every few weeks. (One advantage here being that, with such people already having an address in the area, an RSL can claim it’s housing ‘locals’.) So any info on links between private landlords and RSLs would be welcome.

Another aspect to the wider racket much-needed work being done is the re-housing of the ‘homeless’. I hear of a large terraced house in Aberteifi (Cardigan) owned by Cantref. A steady flow of ‘homeless’ individuals and families pass through this property before, presumably, being housed elsewhere by Cantref. What these people have in common is that none of them is Welsh. Nor were any of them ever homeless in Wales. So why is a Welsh housing association using our money, yours and mine, to house people who became homeless in England?

Llandysul Social Rented Housing with towns -1

CLICK TO ENLARGE

The RSLs involved in Dyffryn Teifi are, in addition to Tai Ceredigion, Cantref (formerly Tai Cantref) and, possibly, our old friends Gwalia, responsible for inflicting the Kidwelly Paedophile Gang on Wales. Given that I already have such good information on Dyffryn Teifi I plan to use it as an example of the wider problem to be found across rural and coastal Wales. A problem that makes it clear there is no shortage of social housing, in fact, in most areas there is an oversupply – so why is the ‘Welsh’ Government funding housing associations and others to build yet more properties for which there is clearly no local demand?

The only answer is that the ‘Welsh’ Government is deliberately funding, from the stretched budget of a poor country, the colonisation of that country. There can be no other explanation for what would otherwise be economic illiteracy. With one result being that Dyffryn Teifi, an area that until very recently was overwhelmingly Welsh in language and sentiment, is being rapidly anglicised.

So I appeal to everyone reading this for more information on the rented and social housing sector in Dyffryn Teifi. I want to know which housing associations are involved and which properties they own. I would also like specific addresses for the privately rented properties – particularly former council houses now converted into flats – in the hope that I can find out who owns them. I would also be interested in hearing from locals who might have experienced difficulty in securing social housing.

Finally, I appeal to those working for housing associations, in Dyffryn Teifi and elsewhere in our rural and coastal areas. You know how your employer operates, you should therefore realise that this lunacy cannot continue. Sooner or later the ‘Welsh’ Government will have to pull the funding plug on a system that sees housing associations wasting tens of millions of pounds every year bringing into Wales the kind of people that would have doors slammed in their faces if they tried to move anywhere else.

They’ve had a good run but time is running out for housing associations. So think ahead, and think of yourself; a few years from now having ‘————- Housing Association’ on your CV may not do you any favours. Write in confidence to editor@jacothenorth.net.

May 042015
 

We should all be indebted to the Daily Mirror for the work put in to gather a breakdown of the housing benefit being paid to private landlords by every local authority on this septic isle. The figures are for “last year”, though it’s unclear whether this means the calendar year or the financial year ending on March 31st. Either way, we are only interested in the figures for the Welsh councils, but gluttons for statistics can find the full piece here. The table I have produced below gives the bare bones of this scam essential funding  You will see that the bottom line (how nice to use that term literally) gives two totals for two of the columns, this is due to the figures calculated in different ways not agreeing. Any statistician out there is welcome to explain this apparent anomaly.

Let’s start by looking at the national picture I’ve tried to explain in the table. It tells us that, as a general rule, urban authorities pay a lower percentage of their housing benefit to private landlords than more rural authorities, with Torfaen paying just 18.2%. (Though the Vale of Glamorgan, with 49.7% needs some explaining. Unfortunately the VoG council declined to release detailed figures.) The two exceptions to this rule, the two rural authorities paying the lowest percentages, lower than many urban areas, are Monmouthshire (28.6%) and Gwynedd (32.2%). Monmouthshire’s low figure can be accounted for partly by its prosperity, while the figures for both councils are also influenced by a refusal to patronise many of the Labour-allied shysters dealt with below.

The two authorities paying the very highest percentages to private landlords are – and I bet you’d never have guessed! – on the north coast. Conwy pays out 50.8% and Denbighshire 53.2%. (Though not far behind is Ceredigion with 48.2%.) Many unfamiliar with this area will think of these as rural councils but they are overwhelmingly urban, containing Llandudno, Conwy, Prestatyn, Colwyn Bay, and of course – Rhyl! Much of the housing benefit paid here will be going to slum landlords and third sector parasites that have shipped in ‘clients’ from Liverpool and Manchester, then demanded that Wales pays to look after their charges, while also providing said parasites with salaries and pension packages . . . for to demur would be ‘racist’. One such organisation in Conwy, the biggest grossing private landlord, is dealt with below, but Denbighshire came over all coy and named just four out of the top twenty earners on its patch.

Housing benefit tax table

For more detailed results, you’ll see that I have screen captured from the Daily Mirror interactive to make the gallery below. (In order to avoid confusion I have kept to the names – some obviously English – used on the DM website, so it starts with ‘Anglesey’.) Keep your cursor off the image and each of our 22 local authorities will appear for 8 seconds. If you want to study the details for any particular council then leave your cursor on the image or its black surround. If you don’t like the gallery then just click on the name of the council in the details section below to bring up the information. (God! I spoil you!)

A number of councils refused to give out information beyond the total amount paid to private landlords, these shy, retiring types are, Anglesey, Ceredigion, Flintshire, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham. A mixed bag in terms of the rural / urban divide, culture and language, and also political control. Other councils released only partial information, in that they named some of the private landlords trousering the loot, but not all. Though if I was one of the private landlords named I’d want to know why others were granted anonymity. These councils were Denbighshire, Monmouthshire and Torfaen. So that’s ten of Wales’ twenty-two local authorities withholding information. Not a great start.

 

So let us look a little more closely at the twelve local authorities that made full disclosure, and let’s do it alphabetically.

BLAENAU GWENT: The individuals named mean nothing to me, and this is why I suggest that local knowledge will be needed to identify these people. The same will apply in other areas. The one name I do recognise is Wallich Clifford Ltd, the charity for the ‘homeless’, which received £56,728. Is there that much homelessness in Blaenau Gwent? Not always easy to keep track of Wallich Clifford aka The Wallich and operating under various guises as both a charity and a business. Though top of the list in Blaenau Gwent, by some way, with £263,159, is Ronald Herbert Lawrence. So who is he, one of the Herbert clan?

BRIDGEND: The biggest recipient of housing benefit in Bridgend is . . . well, Bridgend. The council paid itself £685.595, which I don’t quite understand seeing as the council housing stock appears to have been taken over by Valleys to Coast Housing. I suppose it depends when the transfer took place. Someone down that neck of the woods will have the answer. Next in the queue for the easy money vital funding is A1 Lettings of Maesteg, coining no less than £391,410. Wallich Clifford appears again – this time as ‘The Wallich’ – for £139,216.

CAERPHILLY: Again, many of the individuals listed will be known to those familiar with the area. Though the biggest earner by a mile is the Shaw Healthcare Group Ltd of Cardiff which, as the name suggests, specialises in care homes rather than rented accommodation. Shaw scooped £482,792. Second on the list, with a paltry £83,739, is the Care Management Group, an English company with a Welsh branch operation. Are there really that many care homes in Caerphilly? If so, why? And does the absence of The Wallich / Wallich Clifford suggest that there is no homelessness in the borough? Maybe the homeless are all in the care homes!

CARDIFF: The first thing to say about Cardiff is that the amounts paid are surprisingly low given the total figure of over 53 million pounds paid to private landlords, with the top landlord getting just £192,822. So it’s reasonable to assume that there are a great many small- to medium-sized enterprises in the city. Unless I’m missing something? Whatever the answer to that, one of the major earners in Cardiff, with £138,908, is the Reside Housing Association Ltd, a company based in Kingston-upon-Thames. But if there is a local need for the service provided by Reside why doesn’t Cardiff council find a Welsh company to provide that service rather than sending money out of Wales? And despite Cardiff having the largest population of any Welsh council, and despite The Wallich / Wallich Clifford being headquartered in Cardiff, it does not appear on the list of the top private landlords. Why? In fact, the most striking feature of the Cardiff figures is the total absence of the big third sector recipients found elsewhere, found especially in Swansea.

CARMARTHENSHIRE: Always ‘interesting’, Carmarthenshire doesn’t let us down by throwing up a major query. The biggest private landlord, with £455,893, is listed as ‘Social Lettings Agency’, which turns out to be an umbrella for a number of local housing associations, Coastal Group, Gwalia, Cantref and others (though, confusingly, Coastal also appears on its own, lower down the list, with a figure of £62,134). Suggesting that the council ruled over by the litigious and overbearing Mark James regards housing associations as private landlords, which I would argue is correct. Carmarthenshire pays 36.8% of its housing benefit to private landlords, compared to Cardiff’s 35.8%. But why don’t housing associations appear in the Cardiff list, and the lists for most of the other authorities?

CONWY: Touchstones 12 is the biggest recipient of housing benefit here with £167,485, and as already stated it makes its money by bringing into northern Wales alcoholics and drug addicts from north west England. Another big earner is Sanctuary Trust, an English charity also dealing with the homeless, alcoholics and drug addicts. Just read the link I’ve provided and see how grateful these parasites are for ‘Welsh’ Government help. And you wonder why Wales is poor! Again, no housing associations listed.

GWYNEDD: Few surprises here. The main recipient being Agorfa / Cefni Lettings. Though it’s not easy to find information about this outfit, certainly I can’t find the website, only ‘company check’ references and a Facebook page. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on Agorfa / Cefni, it receives a lot of money but I’d like to know more about the organisations it deals with. The same applies to number two on the list, GISDA. Things are much clearer with another body, one that received £59,027 last year, though I’m surprised to see Nacro Cymru, the organisation for offenders and ex-cons, so active in largely law-abiding Gwynedd.

MERTHYR TYDFIL: Being the smallest of our local authorities in terms of population, and one of the poorest, there’s not a lot of housing benefit to be distributed in Merthyr. The biggest payout was £43,104 to a ‘Mr Evans’, no forename or even an initial. As for the rest, they’re mainly individuals and a few small companies.

NEATH PORT TALBOT: More individuals interspersed with small companies are to be found in NPT, but with six exceptions who all received over £100,000 last year. These are, Tony John & Co (£498,113); Port Talbot YMCA (£240,398), “No local connection required”; Pennaf Sales and Lettings Ltd (£123,753); Parker Estates of Skewen (£118,263); Mr David Breach (£116,330); and I E S Davies Property Rentals (£103,959), which seems to be based in Ceredigion, though of course we can’t check how much business it does on its home patch because Ceredigion won’t release any detailed figures.

NEWPORT: Top of the pops in our third city is ‘Mrs M Payne’, with £181,558, but a quick check on Google turned up nothing. So who is she? We can only assume that Newport City Council knows, if only to send the cheques to the correct address. Second on the list with £148,051 is Newport Mind. Now we all know that Mind is the charity helping those with mental health problems, but why is it a major recipient of housing benefit in Newport but not in other local authority areas? Third on the list with £135,311 is the Libra Investment Property Group, another of those agencies that acts on behalf of landlords and those who’ve taken advantage of ‘Buy to Let’ mortgages. It has offices in Newport and Wolverhampton.

PEMBROKESHIRE: If Carmarthenshire’s dysfunctional council has provided much entertainment over recent years then the same can also be said of Pembrokeshire with the Bryn Parry-Jones saga. Though it doesn’t end with the great man. A case currently being investigated by a number of agencies is that of grants awarded in Pembroke Dock for renovation work that, it is alleged, was never carried out, or certainly did not cost anything like the amount charged. The developer at the centre of the confusion is one Cathal Yell E-Lettings reviewMcCosker, who also trades as E-Lettings of Pembroke Dock. The panel (click to enlarge) shows a review from the Yell E-Lettings page. Anyway, who do you think comes top of the Pembrokeshire list for private landlords in receipt of housing benefit? Yup, leading the pack with £236,834 is Mr Cathal Eamonn McCosker . . . and lower down the list, with a mere £35,248, we find E-Lettings. Compared to McCosker the rest are small fry, though I was taken by the name Graham Perfect.

SWANSEA: Ah! the city of my dreams. At the top of the list, receiving no less than £1,632,262 in 2014 is “Community Lives Consortium” which “provides support for adults with learning disabilities working in partnership with Social Services and Health Agencies” in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. (Though it seems to receive no housing benefit from NPT!) Now I’m sure this body does good work, but knowing my home town’s reputation for third sector spivery there is bound to be a strong element here of ‘Invent an “ishoo”‘ and then milk the system for all you can get!’.

Second on the list with a whopping £727,426 is Walsingham, yet another outfit providing support for those who cannot look after themselves. Walsingham is an English company, with English partners and suppliers, so this is another dollop of Welsh money leaving the country. Also on the Swansea list we find, inevitably, The Wallich (£588,342) and a host of third sector grant-grabbers such as Cyrenians Cymru (£207,651), Swansea Womens Aid (£190,463), Haven Trust Supporting People Ltd (£135,994), S.Y.S.H.P. (Drws Agored) (£130,161), Cymdeithas Caer Las (£118,801), S.Y.S.H.P. (again!) (£103,525), Black Association of Women Step Out Ltd (BAWSO) (£98,323), Cymdeithas Caer Las (Carmarthen Road Project) (£77,355).

It grieves me to say it, but Swansea is a magnet for third sector shysters. If I’m wrong, then explain to me how other local authorities can manage without all these agencies. If I’m wrong, then explain why organisations such as The Wallich, BAWSO and others, with their headquarters in Cardiff, seem to do all their work in Swansea. Is it – as I have been told, and as the Cardiff figures suggest – that neither Cardiff council nor the ‘Welsh’ Government wants the capital’s streets despoiled with dossers, disabled people and others who might give important visitors the wrong impression? Whatever the answer, it is clear that to justify the grants, the housing benefit and all the other goodies that keep so many in unnecessary jobs the groups operating in Swansea must be importing many of their ‘clients’ because there’s no way Swansea, or the wider conurbation, could provide enough.

*

Some of you reading this will dismiss me as a callous, hard-hearted bastard, but I’m not. This article is prompted by the knowledge that the housing benefit system is a racket that attracts the wrong sort of people to rented housing and the third sector. It is a system that is taken advantage of in so many ways, especially in Wales. For example, in dealing with Swansea I mentioned Walsingham, which received from Swansea council last year £727,426. The Walsingham website tells us that this company operates across WalsinghamEnglandandwales. Yet according to the Daily Mirror article that supplied the figures, this £727,426 from Swansea was Walsingham’s total income from housing benefit. (Click on panel to enlarge.) So why doesn’t Walsingham receive housing benefit for any of its many operations in England?

I genuinely want to believe that housing benefit is being well spent and that people are being helped without those providing the funding – and this means all of us – being taken advantage of. But this is not the case. We have a corrupted housing benefit system in urgent need of reform. And given the colonial relationship between Wales and England Wales will always lose out.

UPDATE 05.05.2015: I should of course have mentioned this in the main article, but it needs to be said. In the table I’ve used subtract the amount paid to private landlords from the total housing benefit and it gives us a figure of £634m. The bulk of this will be going to housing associations. Add this to the amounts paid in Social Housing Grant – and remembering that housing associations also have yet other funding streams! – and we get an idea of how much money is paid to the third sector, which is then promoted as if it was a real economy. It is not, and never will be. An over-large third sector is a sure indicator of poverty. And because it cannot generate wealth it guarantees that the poverty persists. And when one country is prepared to take in another country’s ‘problems’ then the problem will be exacerbated.