Carmarthenshire County Council

Sep 022016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

Ystrad Fflur, or to give it its ‘English’ name, Strata Florida, is a quiet, remote and beautiful place. The Cistercians chose it as a site to build a great abbey and monastery precisely because it was off the beaten track, with huge expanses of grazing for their sheep and cattle and plentiful water from Afon Fflur, a tributary of the Teifi.

There are ruined monastic sites with more to see, but Ystrad Fflur has enough to fire up the imagination, and you can spend an hour or two wandering around with the place pretty much to yourself, except for a couple of times a year when Cadw puts on events to bring in the crowds. The highlight this year is a “Spooky Halloween Day” when you can follow a secret trail to discover ingredients for a witch’s spell.

Quite what Rhys ap Gruffudd, the abbots and monks would have felt about this combination of commercialised Anglo-American popular culture and the occult is not difficult to imagine because the whole point of Ystrad Fflur was to be a beacon of Welsh Christianity and culture, and a counterweight to the increasingly intrusive Anglo-Normans with their policies of military control and colonial assimilation.

What keeps the hordes away is in part the almost complete lack of facilities (no gifte shoppes or tea rooms here), partly the remoteness of the place, and partly because to make sense of Ystrad Fflur and why these fairly modest piles of stone are so special, you need to know something about Welsh history and culture. There is a sense of deep and abiding Cymreictod about Ystrad Fflur, and to understand the place is to understand the dreams and hopes of this nation.

Enhancing the visitor experience

All of this may be about to change thanks to some heritage industry “charities” which want to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ with government grants and huge dollops of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a scheme which would keep their bosses in clover for decades to come.

Brace yourselves for the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro serving heritage monks’ brew, herbal liqueurs made to ancient and “long-lost” secret recipes, sustainable medieval burgers and Brother Anselm’s Amusement Park for the kiddies.

The site is owned by the Church in Wales and managed by Cadw which sensibly closes the place for 5 months a year, but  visitors who want to save themselves a few quid and don’t mind the winter weather can nip over the fence and wander round for free.

strataflorida

The threat to Ystrad Fflur as we know it comes not from Cadw directly, although Cadw executives are almost certainly cheering it on, but from two charities called the Strata Florida Trust and the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, formerly known as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr.

High Tea in the Trenches

For those of you reaching for your dictionaries, that splendid name translates as the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, and it was under the Welsh name that the trust carried out the restoration of the Georgian patrician residence known as Llanelly House.

There was always something a little odd about the use of that Welsh name to cover all the sensitive financial and legal stuff, while steadfastly refusing to drop that Anglicising ‘y’ from Llanelly.

If Ystrad Fflur was built to be a beacon of Welsh culture against the rising tide of Anglo-Norman influence, the ‘y’ in Llanelly signifies that here is a genteel oasis of English culture in a sea of rough Welsh working class awfulness. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Sosban Fach.

Running the show in Llanelli is CEO and Company Secretary Claire Deacon, originally from Southampton, who says that she is passionate about restoring old buildings. The £7 million restoration of the Georgian mansion in Llanelli was indeed a fine piece of work, funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh European Funding Office and ‘Welsh’ Government, with enthusiastic backing from Carmarthenshire County Council and the veteran Cllr Meryl Gravell.

Cllr Gravell, never a shrinking violet, likes to use Llanelly House as a backdrop for some of her many media appearances as evidence of how, in her own mind at least, she has transformed the town’s fortunes.

Other visitors come to enjoy a Palm Court High Tea, tapas evenings, murder mystery events, ‘Afternoon Tea with the Harmony Wellbeing Charity’, displays of military medals and Dad’s Army costumes, a Somme exhibition – and a special treat – a special showing of one (yes, 1) of those ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London.

What could be more patriotically British than a nice scone, a cup of Darjeeling and a lot of sanitised, misty-eyed reminiscence about British military achievements, minus any references to awkward characters such as Hedd Wyn or the criminal incompetence of the top brass?

Village People

Fresh from the triumph in Llanelli, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr cast around for more Carmarthenshire buildings to save, and discovered the old YMCA building in Merthyr Tydfil.

A quick glance at the map showed the trustees that there was just one small problem here – Merthyr is not in Carmarthenshire. So the name and the ‘operational footprint’ of the charity were eventually changed to the more English-friendly Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust.

Once again, the trust managed to trouser phone-number size grants from the Welsh Government and local council as well as £2.6million from the Lottery. The plan was to bring ‘café society’ and 877 sq. m of new offices and work space for “the modern creative industries and the traditional professions” (a description that covers all eventualities from software development to massage parlours) to the good people of Pontmorlais, but so far it appears to have just been used for ‘reminiscing days’ and free tours of an empty shell for school kids.

Just how little progress has been made in the years since the trust acquired the YMCA building can be see from this family snapshot:

Merthyr YMCA Facebook

In the red

The Llanelly House project overran significantly in terms of time and money, but is now finally up and running. In the trust’s accounts for 2014-15 the chairman notes, “It is essential that we develop the skills and vicissitude necessary to ensure that Llanelly House becomes a sustainable business so that it act (sic) as a model and example to our future projects”.

The latest annual report which, incidentally, would fail an English GCSE examination badly, goes on to note that visitor numbers, average spend and the commercial operations at Llanelly House did not meet expectations, something which “has lead (sic) to the shortfall”.

The extent of the shortfall becomes apparent when we read the independent auditors’ report which notes that the trust had a deficit of unrestricted funds of £59,910 at 31 March 2015, “ indicating the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Needless to say, the charity’s director trustees took a different view, saying that they should still be considered a ‘going concern’ because (a) they have reached an agreement with Llanelli Town Council to defer indefinitely the repayment of a working capital loan, although it is doubtful if Llanelli Council tax payers have been consulted, and (b) put in place a ‘turnaround strategy’ for the activities of their commercial operating subsidiary running Llanelly House, which is running at a loss.

In addition to Llanelli Town Council, another major creditor is Finance Wales, and the accounts show a total of £437,527 outstanding in working capital loans. The trust is also pinning its hopes on renegotiating terms with Finance Wales, and a growing stream of consultancy revenue provided by CHRT Ventures Ltd.

This last hope remains something of a mystery, but consultancy is clearly something the CHRT trustees are very keen on. Claire Deacon (CEO and Company Secretary, remember) was paid £56,787 in consultancy fees, and the charity also spent £2,000 on undefined (consultancy?) services from CHRT Ventures Ltd, as well as borrowing £14,720 from the same source. Not to mention other services and loans provided by another company in the same group, Plas Llanelly House Cyf. (There was even Llanelly House Trading Ltd., which bit the dust in December 2014. Jac.)

All very odd.

In common with so many other modern, forward-looking charities, Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT) is almost completely dependent on grants. Income for 2014-15 was £724,460, of which donations accounted for just £1,325.

Another change of operational footprint

Material uncertainty, targets not met, hope that the creditors will be forgiving, hopes of future consultancy income, lots of peculiar inter-company magic and rather less than bugger all in the bank. Combine that with the Chairman’s barely coded warnings that the charity has got to up its game, and you might think that the trustees would be wondering where their CEO (appointed back in 2011) is leading them.

With Llanelly House now finally up and tottering towards an uncertain future, and the prospect of another large project in Merthyr looming, you would think that the trustees’ enthusiasm for yet another ambitious scheme might have been exhausted, but in that same annual report for 2014-15 we read that the trust was ploughing ahead with the acquisition of Mynachlog Fawr (or Great Abbey Farm) at Ystrad Fflur.

A single donation of £200,000 was received in May 2014, and the trust took out an option to buy. The annual report notes that the lawyers were dealing with this while Ms Deacon “concentrates of (sic) further fundraising with our project partner, Professor David Austin”, about whom more in a moment.

Strangely, since the report was published, the farm was acquired not by CHRT but the Strata Florida Trust, chaired by Professor Austin, in July of this year.

Claire Deacon has come on board as Project Director for the Strata Florida Centre Project, reporting to the Strata Florida Trust, while Professor Austin will run a separate “Strata Florida Research Project” in parallel.

How CHRT fits in with all this is not at all clear, even though in its 2015 report CHRT was manifestly confident that it would be running the show and had received a £200,000 donation towards it.

The board of the Strata Florida Trust is made up of various academics, the great and good and a retired British Army Lieutenant-General, Jonathon Riley, whose interests include the history and “maintaining the military efficiency” of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Perhaps future visitors to Ystrad Fflur can look forward to floodlit military tattoos and, who knows, we may even get an assault course. (Continues after ‘The Life of Riley’.)


THE LIFE OF RILEY

At first sight it may look odd that a retired Lieutenant General from England whose interests are military history and warfare should become a trustee of a charity set up to determine the fate of a ruined abbey in Ceredigion founded to champion the cause of Welsh independence and Welsh culture, but it’s who rather than what you know that matters.

Jonathon Riley, who is among other things a Companion of the Order of the Bath, grew up in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Channel Islands. A product of English public schools and Sandhurst, he began his military career with the Queen’s Regiment before transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an experienced hand who could be trusted to keep the native recruits in their place.

Hobnobbing with the Windsors and the legion of upper middle class camp followers who surround them eventually resulted in marriage to upwardly mobile BBC Wales news reader, Sara Edwards.

Edwards’ extra curricular activities include being Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Duke of Edinburgh Awards and member of the council of University of Wales, Lampeter.

Having retired from the British Army, Riley was appointed to the plum establishment job of Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries. His rather sanitised Wikipedia entry says that he resigned from this job to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, but here is a snippet from The Independent from 2013:

“Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a retired infantry officer, former NATO commander and distinguished military historian, was suspended as Master of the Armouries over an auditing inquiry in May, only to resign from the post six months later. It can now be revealed that he was suspended after senior staff were given irregularly large pay increases at a time when the museum’s budget was being slashed.”

Jonathon Riley

click to enlarge

Honourable retirement on health grounds after this unfortunate revelation of rampant cronyism was clearly enough to salvage Riley’s reputation, and he went on to be appointed to two committees in Cardiff Bay where he now advises the ‘Welsh’ Government on how to commemorate World War One.

The departed souls of Welsh cannon fodder must be looking down and wondering what their deaths achieved, because 100 years on here is an English military toff, the successor of all those other public school generals who rounded up the Welsh and sent them off to walk slowly towards German machine guns, making sure that the Somme and other slaughters are remembered as the necessary sacrifice of brave British patriots who laid down their lives for the King.

Riley and Edwards, who have a holiday home in Carmarthenshire not far from Big Ears’ retreat at Llwynwormwood, together illustrate nicely how in 21st century democratic Wales, you can get yourselves appointed to numerous influential jobs and committees without ever having to face the voters or even spending much time here.

Any civil servants or grant dispensers tapped by Professor Austin’s charity for dosh are unlikely to put up any resistance knowing that there is a hot line to old Big Ears.


Bearing in mind that under Ms Deacon CHRT expanded its “operational footprint” to cover the whole of Wales, she has chosen to live about as far as she can get from most of the country by basing herself in Marloes. While Llanelly House is a mere 57 miles distant, Ystrad Fflur is 83 miles away along narrow country lanes, and Merthyr is a cool 95 miles.

If she is concentrating on Mynachlog Fawr, Llanelly House and Merthyr are hardly likely to get much of a look-in.

Mynachlog Fawr comprises a Grade II* listed farmhouse, some listed mid-nineteenth century stone barns and various other more recent structures.

The farm itself came into existence after the dissolution of the abbey, and certainly was never a part of the Cistercians’ landscape. It was the childhood home of Charles Arch, a well known personality on the Welsh farming scene, and appears to have been acquired at some point in more recent years by Lampeter University.

Although the house and some of the outbuildings are listed and attractive to look at, they are in relatively good condition and hardly of national importance. There are plenty more farmhouses and barns like them all over Wales.

How the farm came to be acquired by Lampeter University, presumably with public money, and whether it was the university which sold the place to Professor Austin’s trust are questions readers may be able to help with.

So why was CHRT, whose purpose is to “regenerate the physical and other heritage of Wales”, so keen to acquire a not particularly special group of farm buildings not in need of rescue?

The answer would seem to be that heritage industry Eldorado: millions and millions of lovely grant money to fund pet projects for years if not decades to come.

This grand scheme has been Professor Austin’s pipe dream since 1999, and he envisages turning the farm into a centre with all sorts of activities. “At the moment these fall under five broad headings, although these will undoubtedly expand as we develop our plans and talk to potential partners”, writes the professor on the Strata Florida project website, where just about everything is copyrighted to the great man personally.

It will be sustainable; enhance the visitor experience; there will be summer schools and workshops; ecological tourism; it will foster the arts and traditional skills; it will help locals to “advance senses of their own identity and wellbeing”; it will create events and activities to enhance human well-being in recognition of the abbey’s great infirmary and holy wells; and much, much more besides.

If that all sounds a bit, well, woolly, we can get a glimpse of a rather more tangible project design here on the website of architects Acanthus Holden who were commissioned to come up with a plan that includes a visitor centre and “a small exclusive hotel”.

One of the benefits of all this, of course, is the carrot of new jobs in Pontrhydfendigaid and the surrounding area. Whether the owners and employees of existing hotels, such as the nearby Black Lion, cafés and other local businesses would be quite so enthusiastic about having to compete with an entirely grant funded and heavily subsidised newcomer is another matter, and locals may find that the professor’s vision will entail the demise of established local businesses.

In another review carried out by The Prince’s Trust, the recommendation was for self- catering accommodation as opposed to the Acanthus hotel.

Mynachlog Fawr architects

No doubt Ms Deacon, Professor Austin and their friends have already come up with a business plan to explain how all these aims can be achieved and become commercially viable in a remote rural location, far from the coast and next to a ruined abbey which is closed for five months of the year. In a climate which is not exactly Chiantishire.

Even more confusingly, Professor Austin’s vision for Mynachlog Fawr and the wider Ystrad Fflur site appears to vary depending on his audience. Is it to be a New Age hangout for city types wanting to commune with nature in a sustainable and ecological sort of way, or is it to be a “small, exclusive hotel” with a visitor centre attached? Or is it to be the front end of what sounds in this video like the ultimate archaeological wet dream: a vast and endless dig extending across a swathe of countryside to uncover whatever is left of what the prof claims may be the largest Cistercian monastery in Britain, “if not Europe”. Or even the universe.

Where this forest of trusts and companies leaves Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA is an interesting question. Is Claire Deacon still CEO and Company Secretary in Llanelli? It would seem so. How did Mynachlog Fawr come into the ownership of Lampeter University, as it then was, and why did it end up being acquired by the Strata Florida Trust rather than CHRT with its expanded operational footprint, and on what terms?

Answers on a postcard please.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to head up to Ystrad Fflur and enjoy it while you can before Professor Austin and Ms Deacon set about improving our experience and indulging their hobbies.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says: While this piece was being written I though I’d try to help by doing some background work.

The first and obvious question was – ‘Who owns Ystrad Fflur / Strata Florida? The answer (as you’ve read) is that the Abbey ruins are owned by the Church in Wales. In 2008 the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, was appointed ‘Guardian’. Here are the relevant documents from the Land Registry.

That role of ‘Guardian’ may have been subsequently transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government, because in June 2010 “The Welsh Ministers” bought an adjoining parcel of land. No price is given, but unless Rhodri Morgan and his gang had a whip-round this land was purchased with public funding, and we are therefore entitled to know how much of our money was spent.

Ystrad Fflur for Cadw

What of the farm buildings, destined to become the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro – Get In The Habit!! On its website the Strata Florida Trust says, ” . . . the Trust has purchased the historic buildings which until recently formed the working core of Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey farm”. So naturally, I wondered how much had been paid.

I went to the Land Registry website, but found nothing under Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey Farm. Which I thought was a bit naughty, because if the Trust has bought the buildings then not filing the details with the Land Registry is simply a way of withholding information, and again, we are dealing here with the public purse.

(Though, confusingly, the website also says, ” . . . the Strata Florida Trust has acquired the buildings and some adjacent land”. So which is it – ‘purchased the historic buildings’ or ‘acquired the buildings and some adjacent land’?)

UPDATE 03.09.2016: I just unearthed this piece from the Cambrian News dated August 13 which can only be interpreted as announcing the purchase of Mynachlog Fawr. Which strengthens my belief that we are not being told the truth about who owns what, when it was bought, who paid for it, and how much was paid.

Poking around on the Land Registry website unearthed more recent land sales in the area. One involved land quite close to the Abbey and the farm, bought last year by David Thomas Arch and Eleri Arch. Here are the details. Mr and Mrs Arch were the owners of Mynachlog Fawr, so did they sell only the farm buildings, retain the land, and are they now adding to their land holdings?

We must know who owns what at Ystrad Fflur and how much it has cost the Welsh public purse

Over the years I have recounted many stories about the plundering of the Welsh public purse, this is another such tale. Yet another story of strangers to our land finding an old building or site, and instead of respecting a part of our history, appropriating it in order to promote themselves and boost their bank balances.

Claire Deacon of the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust already has two very expensive disasters to her name. Llanelly House may be impressive, but it’s now an economic millstone around the necks of the town and the county. Merthyr YMCA was never viable from the outset, yet the money keeps flowing. And now this woman – who managed, while running the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, to employ herself as a ‘consultant’! – wants more millions from the Welsh public purse to despoil and commercialise Ystrad Fflur.

Her partner in this lurid venture is Professor David Austin, an academic at Lampeter University, who has one eye on a very lucrative retirement and the other on an ‘Honour’. According to Austin Ystrad Fflur may be the biggest Cistercian monastery in the universe . . . in which case it’s too big a job for him and the Lampeter outpost of Trinity St Davids. I would prefer to see a team of French archaeologists with experience of Cistercian sites employed.

Then we have Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley. First, we have to ask what he brings to the party, for Ystrad Fflur is the site of a monastery not a castle? Whatever anyone may think Riley can contribute his profligacy with public funding whilst at the Royal Armouries should disqualify him from any other publicly-funded project, no matter who he knows or who he’s married to.

This squalid project being hatched in Ceredigion is only possible because Wales is a colony of England, with all that that implies. A primitive people unable to do anything for ourselves we must shower with money any shyster who turns up with a half-baked, self-serving bit of nonsense. Our chiefs like it that way because it saves them having to think of better ways of using the money.

There is one lesson to be drawn from the Ystrad Fflur project and one obvious recommendation.

The lesson – articulated on this blog more than once – is that Wales needs a genuinely national conservation body to replace the English National Trust, CADW, Landmark Trust, and all the Claire Deacons infesting our homeland.

The beauty of Ystrad Fflur lies in its remoteness and tranquility. To attract those who wouldn’t bother going had there not been a burger bar and a bouncy castle is to attract the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And the motivation for doing this is obvious.

So here’s the recommendation, for the ‘Welsh’ Government and all other funders:

Pull the plug on this lunatic scheme and leave Ystrad Fflur at peace.

*

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 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.

 

Feb 292016
 

I’m off to Swansea this weekend, treating myself and the wife to a wee break. (Well, actually, the wife’s paying for the hotel.) I shall visit relatives and friends and go watch the Swans playing Norwich (son’s treating me!). So it will be at least a week until I put up my next post.

In the meantime, enjoy these tit-bits from hither and yon and have a good St. David’s Day. I might pop over to Wrecsam for the parade there, or maybe down to Aber’.

*

DAWN BOWDEN AM?

Some of you will know by now that Dawn Bowden has been selected as the Labour Party candidate for Merthyr and Rhymni in May’s Assembly elections. If you haven’t heard – and even if you have – you’re probably wondering who the hell she is.

Around this time last year I also got to wondering, because I was told that she’d Dawn Bowden 3been promised a place in the Assembly, and although the seats suggested were Islwyn and Caerffili, my source was adamant that her elevation would be stitched up with a women-only shortlist. This prompted me to make enquires, resulting in a mention for Ms Bowden in my post ‘Welsh’ Labour And A Milking System Unknown To Farmers. And lo! it came to pass . . .

On the right you’ll see two screen-captured Twitter profiles for Ms Bowden, the ‘Before’ image taken at around 19:30 on Saturday, the ‘After’ around 00:30 on Sunday. (Thanks to ‘S’ for tipping me off.) There are significant changes in the second profile.

First, the reference to loving the unions is gone. Second, she has changed out of the Brizzle City shirt – a dead giveaway for her origins. Third, she is no longer a socialist. (Rhodri Morgan’s ‘clear red water’ seems to be flowing the other way at the moment.) Fourth, she has removed the reference to @Carrageryr, aka Martin Eaglestone, her current beau and another Labour insider. Gone with the reference to Eaglestone is the mention of being step-mother to his children by an earlier wife in Gwynedd. (Or at least I assumed they were his.)

The new profile was obviously put up in a hurry; such a hurry that she couldn’t tell us the full title of her job with UNISON or even get the spelling right for the party she represents. Maybe the champagne had gone to her head. No doubt everything has been put right by now.

Dawn Bowden is obviously a Labour loyalist first and foremost, knowing little about Wales, and even less about Merthyr. Just another Labourite on the make who’s come through the system of Unions and Third Sector, the kind of woman who’s always banging on about ‘the people’ but rarely gets to meet them because she lives in a Labour cocoon where she only mixes with her own kind.

Her success in Merthyr came about because the sitting AM, Huw Lewis, surprised quite a few people last month by suddenly announcing he was standing down. I won’t go into the reasons for this decision, suffice to say that they are of a delicate and intimate nature, the kind of messy personal relationships of which Ms Bowden and Martin Eaglestone have experience.

The other two women on the Merthyr and Rhymni shortlist were Carol Estebanez, who is also from that magic land, ‘Away’, and also helps prop up a ‘Welsh’ Labour Party having serious problems finding Welsh candidates of any quality; and then there was Anna McMorrin, who worked as an advisor to the dickheads down Cardiff docks and who is / was having an affair with Alun Davies AM former Natural Resources Minister.

The decision to impose an all-women shortlist in order to guarantee Ms Bowden her promised seat did not go down well with the bruvvers in Merthyr. Misogynists almost to a man who see La Bowden as the beginning of the end, for not only do the long shadows of council merger creep ever closer, but in the distance can be heard the heavy tread of the Westminster executioner coming to take an axe to the Merthyr constituency.

There’s nothing here to surprise anyone who knows how the Labour Party operates in Wales, but I still have three questions:

1/ Is ‘Welsh’ Labour now an official branch of UNISON?

2/ How much of the donkey vote will turn out for this latest parachutist?

3/ Will the Merthyr bruvvers – and, indeed, the disgruntled local sissters – canvass for Dawn Bowden?

*

OXBRIDGE AND THE WELSH CRINGE

The aforementioned Huw Lewis is still the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Education Minister, and something (else) that causes him sleepless nights is the fact that so few of us aspire to Oxford and Cambridge universities. To listen to him and others who talk through their back heads the Welsh education system should be geared to getting as many as possible of our young people to Oxbridge.

So I was intrigued to see this item on the BBC website by Gareth Jones, a producer with BBC Wales, talking about the Oxbridge ‘success’ rate of his old school in Swansea, Olchfa Comprehensive. Though what I found most interesting, and disturbing, was that hardly any of those who went from Olchfa to Oxford and Cambridge returned to Wales.

Olchfa

And yet, this is how it must be in a colonial relationship. Wealth gravitates to the centre, where power and influence is also concentrated. The peripheries provide raw materials and manpower, holiday destinations and other benefits for the centre. This is how it was in Rome and every empire since.

Which means that Huw Lewis and all the other cringers, all those desperate to show ‘our English friends’ that we’re (almost) as good as them, want us to pay for our brightest and best to leave Wales and never return – and we are expected to be ever so grateful! This, remember, is ‘the Welsh Government’.

Here’s a better suggestion, Lewis . . . Why don’t you and your half-wit, forelock-tugging colleagues try to shake off your inferiority complex and start putting Welsh interests first. And to give you a clue where to start, subsidising a brain drain does not serve the Welsh national interest.

And if you aren’t serving the Welsh national interest then you really have no right to call yourselves ‘the Welsh Government’.

*

TOURISM PAYING ITS WAY

Regular readers will know that I have firm views on tourism in Wales. Basically, I believe that it is a colonialist activity from which few Welsh people benefit, and that it is also destroying Welsh identity. In fact, from a patriotic perspective, I see nothing to be said in favour of the tourism Wales suffers today.

This unregulated and destructive ‘industry’ is doing irreparable harm to our homeland. Just look at the photograph below showing hordes of tourists swarming up to the summit of Snowdon, having been brought up almost all the way by the vile little train. Shouldn’t we be treating our beauty spots and our iconic mountains with more respect? Perhaps we would, but of course we Welsh have no control over the tourism ravaging our country.

Snowdon tourists

In Italy they do things better. With tourism taxes in various locations that suffer from too many gawpers and clickers. The latest moves are to limit the numbers of visitors to the Cinque Terre area. And as the article I’ve linked to tells us, big cruise liners are now banned from the Venice lagoon.

Elsewhere, in Italy and other countries, tourists are expected to put money into the public purse, not just the pockets of those taking the tourists’ money, who may be foreign companies or individuals from outside the country. The article I used tells us that such economic pragmatism is not limited to Italy, for “Bhutan doesn’t limit its number of tourists, but it does force them – through package tours – to spend $250 a day in high season ($200 in low), which apparently funds education, healthcare and so on.”

Here in Wales, when the subject of a tourist tax was mentioned last year, a spokesman for the industry was quite receptive to the idea – “providing the cash raised was ploughed back into the sector”. Er, no.

Wales has a problem with tourism. We have too much of it causing too much damage and bringing too few benefits to Welsh people and Welsh communities. So let’s tax tourism, thereby reducing the unmanageable numbers, and invest the money raised in those areas suffering the worst.

One way of using this income would be to help young locals buy homes in areas where tourism, and the resultant irruption of good-lifers and retirees, has priced them out of the property market. But it would be insane to ‘invest’ the money raised from tourism to encourage more tourism!

Of course the argument usually employed against a tourism tax is the same one used against raising council tax on holiday homes, which is that such measures would reduce the numbers of tourists coming from England.

I have given this argument a great deal of thought. It has caused me many a sleepless night. But for the life of me, I don’t get it. Because from where I’m sitting, Welsh people and Welsh communities seeing financial and other benefits from fewer tourists is a win-win situation.

*

 IS ‘WELLNESS’ A SYNONYM FOR PRIVATE HEALTH CARE?

Those of you lucky enough to live in James-shire, the entertainment capital of Wales, may already be aware of the goodies coming your way in the very vague form of the Wellness village, or the Wellness centre, planned for Delta Lakes in Llanelli. I say ‘very vague’ because even if you are aware of it, I guarantee you don’t know who’s involved and what it’s all about.

Meryl

MERYL GRAVELL

There are so many interlinking and overlapping organisations involved with this project that I shall not attempt to list them, let alone guess at how they might be connected. Instead, I refer you to a piece that appeared on the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board website in December 2015, and this article from last week’s Llanelli Herald which quotes the one and only Meryl Gravell, Mark James’ plenipotentiary extraordinary to us mere mortals.

If I was cynical (and I thank God I’m not!) I might suggest that what’s happening is this: The leisure centre is being demolished and a new one built; but to get as much lolly as possible bells and whistles are being added in order to promote the project as a ‘Wellness Centre’ incorporating a health centre, a hotel and conference centre, facilities for various ‘therapies’, etc.

Which could result in some poor bugger struggling down there with a bad back, going through the wrong door and finding himself confronted by a Siberian shaman; or perhaps getting legless with a bunch of middle managers down for a conference.

And if I wanted to be really, really cynical I might wonder who is involved in this project that isn’t among the many bodies named. For even the most trusting soul might have his or her suspicions raised by this document on South Llanelli, adopted by Carmarthenshire County Council in December 2014, which has this to say of Delta Lakes (on page 25): “Other related uses (eg healthcare /service sector – social and/or private health care) may also be considered appropriate”.

“Private health care”! Can we hypothesise that the undisclosed ‘partners’ in this project might be private health care providers? Though let me say that I have no objection in principle to private health care. Who can possibly object as long as such companies build hospitals and other health facilities using money provided by investors, banks, and those subscribing to private health care schemes?

But this is Wales and, more importantly, Carmarthenshire, so there must be a possibility that a company providing private health care has been wooed to Delta Lakes with the promise of spanking new facilities funded with public money, sixty million pounds of it.

And this being Wales it will also be trumpeted as a great coup that BUPA or Spire has chosen to ‘invest’ in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. The massive investment from the public purse that underpins and explains this ‘coup’ will of course be downplayed if not excised entirely from the hyperbolic narrative.

So I suggest that instead of trying to confuse the public, those behind this project explain it better, and give us the names of all the ‘partners’. If only to allay the suspicions many hold.

Because Carmarthenshire in recent years has seen too many projects pushed through in secret. Loans have been made (and lost), and planning permission has been granted, on a nod and a wink. Small wonder that some ask if backhanders might explain this curious methodology.

And seeing as this Delta Lakes project – whatever it is – has the enthusiastic support of Mark James and Meryl Gravell we’re also entitled to ask if the council’s favourite business adviser, Robin Cammish, is involved.

*

A LITTLE HOME IN THE WEST – RENTED FROM AN ‘INVESTOR’?

I like a man who can’t be fobbed of with flim-flam and bullshit, and one such man is regular correspondent Wynne Jones down in Cardigan. Not only is Wynne alert to flim-flam but he’s also very well organised, knowing what questions to ask and to whom they should be directed.

Not so long ago, after receiving information from Wynne, I wrote about Pembrokeshire Housing and its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes, first in Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy (December 14), and then with Mill Bay Homes, Tai Ceredigion, Answers Needed (January 03).

To briefly explain, Pembrokeshire Housing is a publicly-funded – £27m since 2008 in Social Housing Grant alone – housing association or Registered Social Landlord (RSL). Mill Bay Homes, a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing builds and sells properties on the open market, with the money made from this activity going to the parent company for it to invest in more units of social housing . . . or at least, that’s the theory.

But as Wynne found out in a recent reply from Helga Warren, Head of Housing Funding for the ‘Welsh’ Government, Pembrokeshire Housing has yet to see a penny of the money Mill Bay Homes has made from five private developments! Admitted in the extract below, taken from a larger document (click to enlarge).

Wynne Jones Helga Warren

 

 

 

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, Mill Bay Homes advertises its properties as ideal investments for Buy-to-let landlords. Some reading this might think it odd for the subsidiary of a publicly-funded RSL to be encouraging such activity, I certainly think there’s something not right here.

Especially when we realise that Mill Bay Homes also administers the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy – Cymru scheme, intended to help people, presumably young people, buy their first new home. Inevitably, Wynne and I wondered if ‘investors’ had been allowed to avail themselves of the Help to Buy scheme.

Ms Warren came to the rescue with this assurance: “Help to Buy is operated by Help to Buy (Wales) Ltd. They carry out extensive checks on behalf of Welsh Government as part of the affordability calculations for any potential buyer. As part of this assessment customers are advised that buy-to-let investments are strictly prohibited under the scheme. Scheme documentation clearly indicates that any fraudulent application for Help to Buy (Wales) assistance could be liable to criminal prosecution. Any fraudulent claims uncovered as part of our monitoring and governance arrangements, will always require immediate repayment of the shared equity loan assistance”.

Read it carefully. There is ‘advice’, there is ‘documentation’, but there seem to be no real checks. As things stand, someone from outside of Wales could buy a new property from Mill Bay Homes, taking advantage of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and use it as a holiday home – because nobody is checking. It is a system yelling to be abused.

But even this is only part of the much wider problem we have with housing associations, which in Wales have received, since 2008, close on £800m in Social Housing Grant alone. Then there’s Dowry Gap funding projected to cost £1.3bn and Welsh Quality Housing Standard funding of an estimated £1.7bn. Finally, there’s the Housing Finance Grant totalling £120m.

These are huge amounts of money in a poor country like Wales, so surely the ‘Welsh’ Government insists on every penny being accounted for . . . umm, no. The ‘Welsh’ Government dishes out the cash and seems to say something along the lines of, ‘If you get a chance, you might want to send in a report telling us how you’ve spent the money. No need for any nonsense like differentiating capital from revenue, or explaining where the money’s actually gone, all we need is good news to use as propaganda and to justify us giving you the money in the first place’.

There is no official oversight or monitoring. Housing associations regulate themselves. No one in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems to give a damn as to whether or not billions of pounds of public funding are being properly spent.

Keep up the good work, Wynne.

*

‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ SAYS CYNGOR CEREDIGION PwC 

Someone else with whom I’m in contact down west tells me of a curious partnership that has developed between Cyngor Ceredigion and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). It seems the council has retained bean-counters PwC to identify areas where cuts can be made – for a fee of 16% of identified savings.

And as in neighbouring Carmarthenshire, openness and telling the public what you’re doing in their name comes very low down on the list of priorities, with things being stitched up at private meetings.

Though this report from the ‘Nazis’ Cambrian News is able to tell us that by late January the council had already paid PwC £963,630. If my maths is up to it, this must mean savings already of over £6m. (And this must be delicate or even dangerous work, because it looks as if the reporters need to use pseudonyms.)

When you come to think about it, it’s a bloody strange system. This company is paid by cuts it identifies. So let’s say Ceredigion spends £100m a year on education, PwC could argue that, ‘The little buggers have all got iPads and smart phones nowadays – let them get their education from Google and Wikipedia‘, and make themselves a quick £16m! I could do that!

Then again, maybe there’s a simple explanation for it all.

Cuts have been forced on our local authorities by the Labour regime in Cardiff docks, and every time cuts are announced rural – i.e. non-Labour – councils take the hit, with Labour-voting councils being protected from the worst.

Now it just so happens that PwC is a major donor to the Labour Party. This article from the Guardian (12.11.2014) explains that Labour received £600,000 of advice from PwC on forming its tax policies – from a company that specialises in tax avoidance schemes. This article from the New Statesman (19.02.2015) tells us that, apart from trade unions, PwC is Labour’s biggest donor.

Ceredigion PwC

I was surprised to find no mention of Ceredigion on the PwC website

As we all know, few individuals and no companies give large sums of money to a political party without expecting something in return. I guarantee that PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is no exception.

Can’t you just imagine the phone call from London to Cardiff: ‘Listen now, Carwell, PwC have been very generous to the party, so we’d like you to put some business their way, some out-of-way place where nobody’ll ask too many question. Got that?

Though that still might not explain why a non-Labour authority would agree to go along with this lunacy, so maybe the responsibility lies within Ceredigion. Can you help?

                                             ———————————————————————

Of course, none of our local authorities would need to cut services if the ‘Welsh’ Government wasn’t so profligate with it’s meagre resources; especially with the funding it showers on housing associations and the Third Sector, money that the ‘Welsh Government loses all interest in once it’s been handed over.

*

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus / Happy St. David’s Day

 

Jan 202016
 

You will recall that up until the end of last year I had this widget at the top of my sidebar, asking for signatures to a petition urging the ‘Welsh’ Government to intervene when chief executives get too powerful and take control of local authorities. That petition was ‘discussed’ yesterday by the Petitions Committee.

But before considering the reaction it received from the Committee, it might be worth you reading the petition, the letter responding to the petition from Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services, and my response to his response to my petition.

Here are those documents in PDF format and merged into a single document, so scroll down. Essentially, Andrews says, ‘Nothing to do with us, it’s up to councillors to rein in over-powerful chief executives’. To which I respond, ‘But what if they don’t do it, what then?’

Chief Executive petition combined

I had hoped to download a copy of the video of the meeting, to paste into this post, but apparently this is not allowed. So I can only offer you this link to the ‘discussion’ of my petition.

From his general demeanour it’s pretty obvious that the chairman, William Powell, a Liberal Democrat AM for the Mid and West Wales region, believes that the petition addresses a serious problem and should be given the attention it deserves . . . the other two members of the Committee clearly disagree, and can’t wait to get on to the next petition on roundabouts, though their reactions were revealing.

Joyce Watson, a Labour AM for Mid and West Wales did all the talking, and, boy, was her delivery revealing. She was hesitant, her voice cracked a couple of times, and she swivelled uncomfortably on her chair. As for what she actually said, it was nothing but paraphrasing what Leighton Andrews had written in his letter, about everything being put to rights in the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which is open for comments until February 15th.

I shall of course submit my suggestions, but I’m not optimistic. My reading of Leighton Andrews’ letter is that in the new legislation curbing the power of dictatorial chief executives will still be entrusted to the very councillors who allowed the problem to arise in the first place.

Joyce Watson applied the stun gun to the discussion with, “There is no way we can take this any further forward, and I would recommend closing it”. At which point a little voice could be heard, off camera, squeaking, “I agree”.

This thin and distant voice belonged to the other member of the Committee, Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion. Ms Jones had kept her head down throughout Watson’s stuttering monologue, riveted to the correspondence before her as if it revealed that Saunders Lewis had been identified as the man on the Grassy Knoll.

Then again, maybe she was just keeping her head down.

To his credit, William Powell tried to breathe life into the dying debate, “It (the petition) does raise some very serious issues” he said, before going to remind everyone that these problems have arisen in “certain councils” in Wales.

Which councils, exactly? Well, let me be frank – and surprise no one – by saying that when I decided to submit this petition I was thinking primarily of Carmarthenshire, with Pembrokeshire in the reign of Bryn Parry Jones not far from my thoughts.

Making the dismissive attitude of Joyce Watson rather surprising, with her being the regional AM for both Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. But as I say, she had obviously been briefed by her Labour superiors.

Equally odd was Elin Jones’ reaction, seeing as her constituency shares a border with both counties. In her case the lack of concern might be explained by the fact that Plaid Cymru is now leading the coalition in Carmarthenshire, and so her party may not want to rock the boat ahead of the May Assembly elections.

Petitions Committee

A mistake. For I suspect that in the run-up to the May elections Labour will try to capitalise, in both Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (which Plaid holds) and Llanelli (where Labour has a majority of just 80), on Plaid’s refusal to rein in Mark James and Meryl Gravell. I can see it now on the hoardings, and plastered over the 198 Llanelli – Carmarthen omnibus: Plaid Cymru – the new broom that refused to sweep!’. It’s what I’d do.

Another factor worth considering from Plaid’s perspective is that very soon after the May elections Plaid Cymru hopes to again be Labour’s little helper in a coalition. Or could Plaid’s refusal to restore democracy to Carmarthenshire be attributable to something else?

I ask because in the age of devolution we have seen a shadowy clique remove Dafydd Wigley, the party’s most successful leader ever. Then in 2007 the party rejected a deal that would have seen a Plaid First Minister lead a ‘rainbow coalition’. And now, Plaid has been gifted the chance to make a name for itself by cleaning up the most corrupt and undemocratic council in Wales, but it does nothing.

It’s almost as if there is, deep within the party, a malign and self-destructive force at work. A successful force, for I predict that Plaid Cymru will lose votes and seats in May, and might even end up as the fourth party in Wales, behind Labour, Conservatives and Ukip.

In the meantime, I shall, as I’ve said, submit my comments to those working on the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, and I urge you all to do the same. It would appear that political parties are not much interested in preserving or restoring local democracy, and so the responsibility falls to concerned individuals like us to remind them that it matters.

 

Dec 012015
 

After posting my previous piece on colonialism, and using as an example the thwarted biomass plans of Welsh businessman Clive Hughes, I received some very interesting feedback naming Hughes’ nemesis as Robin Andrew Cammish. ‘Who him?’ you demand. Well, make yourself comfortable and settle back for a quite remarkable story.

Robin Cammish 1

First of all, read this Llanelli Star report from October 2012 in which Cammish explains how he got involved in the campaign against Clive Hughes’ proposed biomass power station at Coedbach, and how he became chairman of the group opposing the plan. Note that in the second paragraph it says, ” . . . the 58-year-old, who leads global purchasing and supply chain consultancy QP group”. So naturally, I checked up on the QP Group, and found that it had liabilities in excess of assets to the tune of £100,000 when it was struck off in June 2009. Which means that at the time the Llanelli Star piece was written, the QP Group had been defunct for over three years.

Or perhaps the Star meant QP Group (France) Ltd (based in Aldershot!). Or QP ES Group SA of Luxembourg. How about QP Group Sas, with an address in central Paris. Or maybe it’s QP Group Gmbh in Germany. There are even QP companies in the USA and Australia! So take your pick. In fact, Cammish has been involved with over thirty companies, some of which I shall explore below. (Note that the address given for him by Company Check is in Birmingham.)

QP companies

Maybe I’m being a little unfair to Cammish, it’s so easy to get confused when one has so many companies using the QP name (an abbreviation for quality and performance). Perhaps what he told the Star was that he ran Quality and Performance in Development Ltd (Co. No. 03391150), which seems to be the main vehicle for his business activities and currently enjoys a net worth of £944,053.

Though Quality and Performance in Development Ltd threw up another mystery. Cammish’s address is Llandyri House, between Kidwelly and Trimsaran, but the address given for his main company is Coomb Mansion, Llangynog, a truly ugly nineteenth-century ‘mansion’ that has served as an approved school and a Cheshire home for ex-servicemen. In addition to Robin Cammish the other directors of Quality and Performance in Development Ltd are his partner, Pauline Bowers, and a Craig Thomas Henry Warrington of Wokingham, in Berkshire.

Naturally, I got to wondering who owns Coomb Mansion, so here is the title document. Coomb Mansion was bought by Robin Cammish for £200,000, 06.11.2012. I wonder what plans he has for this grotesque pile? And will he get planning permission? Read on for the likely answer to the second of those questions. (You’ll note that Coomb Mansion is in Cammish’s name alone, whereas Llandyri House is in both his and Bowers’ names.)

Cammish and Warrington have collaborated elsewhere, with Summit House Close Estate Management Ltd, also in Berkshire, Co. No. 08959266, Incorporated 26.03.2014 and apparently sold on 09.10.2014. Incorporated on the same date and from the same address was Summit House Close Flat Management Ltd, Co. No. 08959172. Cammish and Warrington resigned 24.09.2014 when five new directors took over.

Though I find it strange that Warrington is named as a director for both companies but Cammish appears as QPB Ltd, Co. No. 06687464. Seeing as Warrington is a long-serving director of QPB, why is he listed separately; or should the question be, why isn’t Cammish listed under his name, rather than the company’s? QPB was Incorporated 02.09.2008 with a debt of £1.3m, presumably mortgages, paid off with the sale of the two Summit House companies.

We shall return to Robin Cammish’s many companies anon, but for the time being I want to explore how successfully this man has put himself about in his adopted community, how he has found favour with local power-brokers, and how favour and patronage has resulted in some remarkable appointments.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To recap . . . As the Llanelli Star told us, Cammish began to make himself known in Carmarthenshire when he got involved with the protest against Clive Hughes’ plan for a biomass plant in the Gwendraeth valley. Those protesting against this project called themselves the Coedbach Action Team.

Though there was also a company set up, Incorporated 01.08.2008, called Coedbach Action Team Ltd, Co. No. 06662006. The sole director until the company was struck off in December 2014 was Robin Cammish. This company never had any assets and existed only on paper . . . but for what purpose? Was it for legal reasons?

I strongly suggest that you scroll down in this judicial review document from September 2010 to paragraph 18, and paragraph 19, in which we read, “Mr Cammish says that the Claimant (Coedbach Action Team Ltd) does not have the resources to fund its own costs in this judicial review and to pay the costs of an opposing party if it is unsuccessful. That is at odds with a letter sent to the solicitors for the Interested Party (Developer) dated 21 July 2010 in which the Claimant’s solicitor asserted that it did have the funds to pay the costs of successful parties if the claim for judicial review failed.”

Which suggests to me that in order to secure the judicial review Cammish said he / the group had the money needed to meet any costs, but when push came to shove he / the group claimed to be skint. Draw your own conclusions.

In fact, I strongly suggest that you read the document to the end. Essentially, Cammish was told to piss off because a biomass plant at Avonmouth had nothing to do with, and would have no impact upon, a bunch of people living in Carmarthenshire. They seem to have escaped payment of costs due to having formed a private limited company, with Cammish as its sole director. But why were they fighting this project in Bristol anyway?

Kidwelly map

The biomass plant that made a star out of Cammish was planned for a location not far from Pembrey airport, and only a few miles from Ffos Las racetrack. Now keen watchers of Carmarthenshire County Council will be aware that this area is dear to the heart of Meryl Gravell, Mam to the Independent group on the council, former leader of the council, and right-hand woman to and mouthpiece for the man who runs Carmarthenshire, Mark James, the chief executive.

Which makes this the appropriate time to give some background information about this area and those entertaining grand ideas – who said ‘grandiose’? – for this part of Carmarthenshire.

UPDATE 15.12.2015: I have been directed to a film made for HTV in 2008 featuring both Clive Hughes and Robin Cammish.

Meryl Gravell – who does not appear – is quoted as saying that the area’s economic future lies with “leisure and tourism projects”, which as we know, will provide very few worthwhile jobs for locals, whereas Clive Hughes wants to create jobs for locals.

Cammish, who, it could be argued, has retired to the area, represents a type we find all over rural Wales nowadays. His rural idyll is more important than jobs for those who belong here.

It is alleged that during the filming of this programme Cammish claimed that Hughes owed £18m to his accountants. This was not broadcast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Her affection for this area means that Meryl Gravell will tolerate nothing jeopardising her grand vision, be the threat a biomass power station, an opencast coal operation or a vast solar energy complex – against all of which Robin Cammish has taken up the cudgels in recent years. Only developments approved of by Meryl Gravell are welcomed, or allowed.

One such enhancement in the pipeline is Robbie Savage’s luxury hotel at Ffos Las, though earlier this year he had to apply for a planning extension, which makes many locals sceptical that it will ever be built. Then there are the executive homes in open country to further improve the Gwendraeth’s cachet. Though quite how either project will benefit locals is matter for conjecture.

Llanelli news with James story Wednesday 19th November 2014 Meryl Gravell with her new bookFor Pembrey airport, there was – and may still be – a plan to turn it into some kind of international duty-free business hub. As it was worded on the airport website until quite recently, Pembrey was “one of the few Airports in the United Kingdom that has 5000 acres of adjoining land available for joint venture with very little planning and environmental constraint”. (Unkind souls might suggest that ‘very little planning and environmental constraint’ could apply to the whole county.)

What’s certain is that by 2011 Cammish had his feet under the table with Meryl Gravell, literally, as this film shows (at 23 minutes in), where we see Cammish discussing with Meryl how Pembrey airport could be improved, and made more profitable. A carefully rehearsed bit of play-acting it may be, but it nevertheless tells us that Cammish was by this stage ‘in’ with those who dispense patronage, funding and planning consent thereabouts.

As was proven a few years later when on 06.09.2013 he was appointed a director of the Scarlets, one of the three vanity projects accepted by the Welsh Rugby Union as ‘regions’. Most people will know that the Scarlets are effectively bankrupt and largely kept afloat by Carmarthenshire County Council writing off debts and doing the Scarlets countless other favours. The most recent figure I can find gives the Scarlets a net worth of £-4,164,241.

Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ Board is quite remarkable. For when we look at who has served as directors we see some great players of the past, Phil Bennett, Derek Quinnell and the late Ray Gravell, these supplemented by local worthies brought up at Stradey Park. By comparison, Cammish, the Englishman who has lived in the area for a few years, and may know nothing about rugby (certainly little about Llanelli), sticks out like a sore thumb. The only explanation is that he was appointed by the council . . . or rather, Meryl Gravell.

Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ board may have been surprising, but what came next was almost unbelievable. Just a year after being imposed on the Scarlets by Meryl, he was appointed chairman of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), since renamed Pro Rugby Wales, the body representing the Ospreys and the three vanity projects. An incredible promotion for an unknown after just one year at the Scarlets. What possible experience or understanding of Welsh rugby could he possess to qualify him for the RRW job?

UPDATE 23.12.2015: I’m hearing that Robin Cammish has today resigned as chairman of Pro Rugby Wales. Here is his e-mail of resignation.

Note that it was sent just a day after a meeting of Pro Rugby Wales at which it became clear he was being given the old heave-ho. Note in particular the reference to PRW wanting an “independent chairman”. So why wasn’t Cammish considered independent?

Whatever the answer to that, this is good news and it could mark the start of Cammish being exposed for the bullshitter he surely is. But it still leaves the concern that this man is dangerously close to the centre of power in Carmarthenshire. He must be removed.

Gentlemen,

As a follow up (sic) to the PRW Ltd board meeting on 22nd December 2015, I offer you my resignation as Chairman of Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, and I would propose to make that effective from 7 January 2016, which will enable to me complete some previously arranged meetings associated with the Welsh Rugby cost down and revenue up opportunity analysis.

I fully understand your desire to have an independent chairman of PRW Ltd , and during my short tenure as Chairman I have worked diligently and with complete integrity to ensure that I have acted objectively and impartially in all aspects of the PRW role when discharging my responsibilities and conducting myself on behalf of PRW and the Welsh regions.

It is ironic that having worked hard in the background to identify the collaborative opportunities across the 4 Welsh regions and the WRU, which if implemented, has the potential to deliver £+1million in cost down and revenue up in 2016-7, it is clear from our discussions on 22nd December that I do not have your full support as Chairman of PRW Ltd.

As I’m sure you will understand this position leaves me with no alternative but to offer you my resignation.

I am, and will remain, a very strong advocate and supporter of having 4 strong financially sustainable high performing Welsh regions, and as we discussed on the 22nd, previous management in the WRU created a set of relationships and behaviours which we described more associated with being at war. This is now changing to a much more collaborative environment, which has significant implications for the way that you lead and manage the regions affairs going forward.

Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year

Regards

ROBIN CAMMISH

Chairman Cadeirydd

Pro Rugby Wales

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What else has Cammish been up to since he first graced us with his presence? Well, for one thing, he joined forces with Julian Ruck, the Welsh-hater who was recently badly injured when hit by a car. They teamed up to run an e-literature festival in 2011 that flopped badly, some suggesting its failure was due to it being held at Ffos Las racecourse, rather than somewhere easier for visitors to reach by train and bus. But then, by 2011, Cammish was best buddies with Meryl Gravell, and Ffos Las is her baby, to be nourished with all manner of bookings. Or it could have been the combination of Ruck and Cammish that ensured local attendance was zero. Among those booked to perform at this disaster were the Three Welsh Tenors.

Read Ruck’s response to the Tenors when they asked to be paid. He came out with one anti-Welsh barb after another, ‘. . . bastions of Welsh language birdsong . . . my insistence on the reduction of Welsh language songs . . . Welsh hymns and nationalist rugby songs . . . one of them is a North Walian (sic) . . . go and sing for your money . . . rugby ditties . . . a tenner for each of you. A tenner for a tenor!’ What an odious little rucker he is, easy to understand why he’s banned from his local Spar store.

I wonder if Robin Cammish found this anti-Welsh diatribe funny, did they perhaps share a chortle or two? Whether he laughed or not, for a man trying to ingratiate himself with his new Welsh neighbours Cammish made a serious misjudgement by getting mixed up with the odious Jools. Though if you hurry you can buy some of his books through Amazon for . . . a penny! (Postage £2.80.) What am I saying! There’s no need to hurry at all, they’ll still be there in 2025.

Ruck on Amazon

When he’s not consorting with yet another Labour Welsh-hater Cammish gets himself into scrapes, either through indiscretion or else an overweening desire to promote himself. Here are a couple of examples of the latter.

The first comes from 2000 and an article entitled ‘Man on a Mission’, to be found on a site called Supply Management. It’s such a shameless puff that it could only have been written by Cammish himself. As he modestly puts it when talking of how his company has grown, “The site is the second that the consultancy has occupied. The first quickly became too small, not long after Cammish set up the company as a one-man band five years ago. He quickly found that he needed to take on more consultants and since then the firm has doubled in size every nine months or so. It now has offices in four other countries – the US, France, Germany and Australia – and employs more than 100 consultants. It’s long list of clients includes Viagra-producer Pfitzer, Cable and Wireless, Cathay Pacific, Caterpillar, BT, Carlsberg and Glaxo Wellcome.” He employs more than “100 consultants”!

I hate to sound pedantic, but the name of the massive pharmaceutical company is Pfizer, not Pfitzer as Cammish spells it. You think he’d know the name of the company that is one of his “doubling in size every nine months or so” empire’s major clients.

Here’s another OTT self-encomium from the QP Group UK website. This website is current because if you click on the History tab you’ll find, “In 2014, we partnered with Procurement Academy to provide a world-class blended learning Procurement offering to the market.” Very impressive, until you remember that the QP Group Ltd, of Llanydri House, Llanydri, Kidwelly, was struck off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-100,000. So why is the website still being updated as if QP Group UK was a going concern? Is this another example of the ‘confusion’ arising from having so many companies sharing the QP element in their names?

Read the two puffs together and just look at the companies he claims to have worked for or ‘advised’, they are some of the biggest companies in the world, which is no more than we should expect from Cammish. On the QP Group UK website go to Training > Overview and scroll down to the ‘Testimonials’. Do you believe those are genuine testimonials?

As for his indiscretions, these seem to be spawned by the same devil, Ego, that takes control when he attempts to write anything about himself. He has to exaggerate his own importance, his contacts, what he knows. After the famous dialogue with Meryl at Pembrey International it is rumoured that he was describing himself as an ‘advisor’ to the council, and Mark James had to put the record straight.

Then, before a London audience, he accused Clive Hughes of using bribery to promote his biomass project. What’s more, he claimed to have been told this by “the council”. Unfortunately all this was recorded, and while Cammish himself refused to say any more, Mark James, Carmarthenshire’s chief executive, was forced to issue a statement, part of which said, “I am perturbed to hear what Mr Cammish says. I am not aware that the council has made any such comments to Mr Cammish. As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council and I am therefore not in a position to control or question what he might say.”

I find it intriguing that Mark James says, “As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council”. ‘As you are aware!’ Does this refer to the previous such statement I suggested above? Even though Robin Cammish may not have been on the county payroll, there’s no question that he was close to Meryl Gravell and, according to one well-connected source, “had the run of County Hall”.

Ironically, it was Cammish who took legal action against Hughes, alleging that the Welsh businessman had suggested Cammish’s business record was less than spotless. (Surely not!) Cammish won, but I’m told Clive Hughes is refusing to pay.

Another avenue explored, perhaps with the encouragement of La Gravell, was the Kidwelly Heritage Trust, Charity Number 1153260, formed by Robin Cammish 15.08.2011. When I read what this lot planned to do – take over the Town Hall (owned by the County Council) and turn it into ‘community space’ – it was like deja vu all over again. This piece from the Llanelli Star (August, 2013) shows the Trust members standing a respectful distance behind Cammish while in the blurb the man himself mentions what has been done in Llandovery as one of his inspirations.

What happened in Llandovery was that a bunch of English drifters saw the chance to pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money (including salaries and pensions for themselves) to create ‘community space’ not for locals but for them and their friends to hang out drinking Fair Trade coffee, swapping tales of Kathmandu while listening to Joni Mitchell and planning the next organic Morris dancing festival. Scams like this are happening all over Wales. I wrote about the Llandovery racket in The Impoverishment of Wales 26.08.2014 (scroll down to ‘YMCA Wales’), and more fully in Ancestral Turf 02.09.2014.

I’m reasonably certain that this was the path Cammish intended to follow – he was certainly looking for funding – but then came the call from Parc y Scarlets, soon followed by promotion to Regional Rugby Wales. Cammish jacked in the Kidwelly Heritage Trust Ltd in April 2015. The company, No 07741052, struggles along with just two directors and £40 in the bank.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let us return now to Robin Cammish the businessman. As I said earlier, he has been involved with over thirty companies. Most of these have been liquidated, struck off, dissolved, often with big debts. None more so than the company I mentioned earlier, the one referred to in the screen capture, Hacer Consulting Ltd.

In my years of blogging – and indeed in the years before I started blogging – I have made many enquiries into assorted individuals’ business dealings, some of these individuals have been absolute rogues, but never have I come across a company like Hacer, that started life in 2003 with a net worth of £-762,000, then rose to the giddy heights of a net worth of £6,521,00 in 2005, before plunging to a net worth of £-18,651.00 in 2006. Hacer was struck-off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-18,643,595. (See panel below, click to enlarge.)

Hacer Consulting Ltd

As you might expect, I paid for and downloaded the accounts for Hacer, and for the period when the company’s fortunes deteriorated by £25m, leaving the company valued at £-18.6m. You’ll find the accounts here. It seems to have been a company with no assets, a company that just shuffled shares around. I would appreciate feedback. An incomplete list of the companies he has been involved with can be found here. Check them out for yourself.

The only companies listed with Company Check as active are: Earls Removals Ltd, Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, QPB Ltd and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Of these, the only company that is his, and worth anything, is Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Here are the abbreviated and unaudited accounts up to September 2014. They tell us that the ‘assets’ of Cammish’s sole viable company are made up of debts. In other words, debts that were either bought or inherited and will probably never be paid. But in the crazy world of UK business these count as ‘assets’ and can be used to misrepresent the financial health of a company

UPDATE 04.12.2015: QPB Ltd is being wound up. “First notification of strike-off action in London Gazette (Section 652)” on 12.11.2015. Which leaves Cammish with just two companies. The removals firm in Brum and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd, a company whose ‘assets’ are made up of debts unlikely to ever be paid.

Other than that, what have we learnt about Robert Cammish? I could be generous and dismiss him as a bullshitter, because he certainly is a bullshitter, but there might be more to him than that.

I don’t entirely agree with Clive Hughes that Cammish having so many failed companies to his (and his partner, Pauline Bowers’) name is in itself damning, but this pattern might suggest a ‘business’ that most people would find unpalatable.

The value of Cammish’s companies seem to consist largely of share issues and debts; nothing is produced and there is little to show in the way of assets. He advertises himself as someone who ‘advises’ other companies, he even lists blue chip multinationals like Cathay Pacific, SmithKline Beecham, you can believe that or not, but what does he really do?

When I asked someone more au fait with such matters to look into Cammish’s affairs his description of Cammish’s activities involved the use of a large, scavenging bird. Alternatively, a woman paid to disrobe in public.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Whatever the truth of that suggestion, I am perhaps more concerned with Cammish’s relationship with Carmarthenshire County Council. I think we have established that he came to the attention of then council leader Meryl Gravell through his opposition to Clive Hughes’ biomass project for Coedbach. Cammish then further endeared himself to Meryl by opposing other unwanted developments. Was there a quid pro quo?

What did Cammish get in return for acting as Meryl’s rottweiler when she pointed him at anything threatening to sully her vision for the Gwendraeth? I think we can assume that the appointment to the board of the Scarlets was one ‘biscuit’. Maybe Meryl even believed Cammish’s bullshit and thought he might be able to staunch the flow of money out the gates of Parc y Scarlets.

Then there’s Coomb Mansion. No sane person would have bought that Hammer House of Horror, and taken on the expense of maintenance and upkeep, without clear promises of planning permission, clearance for change of use, and who knows what else. It will be interesting to see what Cammish does with Coomb Mansion.

Then there’s the film I linked to, that excruciatingly staged ‘discussion’ between Meryl and Cammish at Pembrey International Airport. Cammish was claiming at that time to be an ‘advisor’ to the council, he is said to have “had the run of County Hall”, he was recorded in London saying that he had been told by the council that Clive Hughes was bribing people in order to facilitate his biomass project.

All this tells me that Carmarthenshire County Council, or certainly, Meryl Gravell, fell for Cammish’s shameless self-promotion and the fanciful stories of his glittering business record. Given that she is the chief executive’s representative on earth how much confidential council business has she involved Cammish in? How many council decisions has Cammish influenced? What is his relationship today with the Council?

And yet, there is something so quintessentially Carmarthenshire about this story. A smooth-talking stranger turns up, no one knows anything about him – so they accept what he tells them about himself! – and before you know it he’s got the key to County Hall, and those running the council are hanging on his every word! Sod background checks! Ignore probity! Bugger democracy!

There must come a point when even the size of Mark James’ redundancy package is no longer a deterrent to the ‘Welsh’ Government taking Carmarthenshire County Council into special measures. God knows they’ve done it with less cause in other areas.

Aug 062015
 

A Guest Post by ‘Blodyn Tatws’

(Illustrations supplied by ‘Green Fingers’ Jac showing some of the gems you might encounter at the Garden)

The National Botanic Garden of Wales germinated as an idea in the 1990s and opened its gates to the public in May 2000. In common with so many of the other projects which saw the light of day under Tony “Things can only get better” Blair, it was sold to the public on an entirely unrealistic prospectus that it would become financially self-sustaining and shower economic benefits on Wales. It has never come close to achieving either of those objectives, and it never will.Common Flim-flam Flower

To what extent the Garden can claim to be a national garden for Wales is also debatable, and it bears all the hallmarks of those countless third sector charities and trusts whose primary purpose seems to be to find something to do for members of the British establishment now that the market for sahibs and memsahibs has dried up.

Faced with low visitor numbers and dependent on annual subsidies from the Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council, the Garden is now attempting a new throw of the dice to reverse its fortunes with a £6.7 million scheme based on a truly weird reading of Welsh history, which on closer inspection seems to have rather more to do with celebrating the history of merchant banking and the arcane world of the City of London.

UP THE GARDEN PATH

In June of this year, Carmarthenshire’s county councillors were treated to a 30 minute Powerpoint presentation by Dr Rosie Plummer, Director of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, as she took them on a whistle stop tour of claims, few of which were backed up by evidence and some of which simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Plummer is nothing if not enthusiastic, and after a few words in Welsh (Rosie is proud of the O Level she took when she moved here), the rest of the spiel sounded like a games mistress addressing the Roedean junior lacrosse team with a sideline in corporate bullshit-bingo doublespeak. Our Rosie is very fond of words such as terrific, fantastic, cutting-edge, collaborative, strategic, tremendous and massive. “We are strategic!” she exclaimed at one point in what she obviously considered to be a slam-dunk argument, and the councillors duly gave her warm applause.

In an oblique reference to an earlier row about the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language, Dr Plummer declared that the Garden was massively respectful of the Welsh language, but failed to explain why her marketing manager had effectively told a well-known local broadcaster to bugger off when she asked politely for a bilingual version of a newsletter, or why the Garden had taken to putting up English-only signs to advertise various events.

MORE DOSH, PLEASE

Rosie was clearly much too well brought up to mention to rank-and-file councillors that she would be heading back to County Hall shortly to ask the council’s top brass for some of the cash for the £6.7 million scheme, an extension of the garden’s £1.3 million interest-free loan and a commitment to renewing the council’s annual subsidy.

By the by, there is also an interesting arrangement with the council whereby if the local authority ever sells three farmhouses currently occupied for free by the Garden, the capital recOffshore Orchideipts will go to the Garden, rather than the council.

And so, a couple of weeks later the Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County Council sat down to consider Rosie’s request. To its credit, and for the first time in recorded history, the word “consider” did not mean “rubber-stamp”. The council decided that future funding of the Garden should be dependent on a less cavalier attitude to the Welsh language, and that Dr Plummer should consider offering all-year discounted entry tickets to the local peasantry rather than allowing them in once a year for free in January when there is nothing to see.

If that was not embarrassing enough, the council also opined that the Garden needed to become more financially self-sustaining by attracting families and improving its marketing.

WELSH NOT

For several weeks all went quiet, but the leopard was not about to change its spots, and at the end of July it emerged that Dr Plummer had refused to meet representatives of Cymdeithas yr Iaith unless they provided their own interpreter at their own cost, adding that she would be willing to participate in such a meeting only as long as this process did not restrict the free exchange of ideas.

Separately, Dr Plummer told Cymdeithas that they should stop sending her e-mails in Welsh as English was her preferred language. When it was pointed out to her that the garden was committed to providing a service in Welsh under its language policy, Dr Plummer replied that the policy had been entered into voluntarily.

When the BBC tried to interview her about this, they were told that Dr Plummer’s busy schedule meant she had no time.

Cymdeithas has now written to Carwyn Jones to remind him that his government’s agreement on continued funding of the Garden contains conditions about the use of the language, and asking him to take steps to make the Garden meet its commitments.

Being the National Botanic Garden of Wales does not extend to paying anything more than lip service to the Welsh language or culture, and in reality it is much more interested in marketing itself to visitors from England.

WEEDS AND STALE BARA BRITHLaburnum

Visitor numbers have been on the slide since Dr Plummer took over the running of the Gardens. The Garden is understandably reluctant to publish details, but according to a council report there were just 147,000 in the year to March 2015, despite 2014 being an unusually warm summer. That works out at about 400 per day. Back in 2009-10 income from admission fees was £445,000. In 2013-14, the most recent year for which published accounts are available, it was down to just £368,000. In 2013-14 the Garden received subsidies and grants from national and local government to the tune of £1,335,000, and without that and dipping into its reserves, the Garden would have to close its gates for good.

The closest Dr Plummer got to talking about visitor numbers in her pep talk to councillors was a picture of a little girl skipping for joy, but she was in no doubt that the Garden was vital to the local economy.

A more realistic picture of what visitors think of the Garden can be gained from Tripadvisor. Some enjoy their days out, and some are positively ecstatic, but then they would probably have given rave reviews to Basil and Sybil after a weekend at Fawlty Towers.

More worrying for the Botanic Garden is a thread which runs through most of the less positive reviews: this is a Garden which suffers from a distinct shortage of plants, with vast areas given over to grass, and a surprisingly shabby entrance area.

“It was all rather drab, and that was on a bright day,” said one visitor, while a couple of others noted their disappointment after a trip in March to see what the Garden’s promotional literature said would be 50 kinds of daffodil. Others complained of stale bara brith and weeds in the vegetable garden.

As amateur gardeners in Carmarthenshire know, unless you have a very favoured spot, most of us won’t see daffs in our gardens much before the end of March.

Mawrth a ladd, Ebrill a fling (March kills and April flays), says the old Welsh proverb. And they knew what they were talking about.

But Dr Plummer and her board have a big idea to transform the Garden’s fortunes.

A VISION

Dr Plummer’s presentation did include a reference to a £6.75 million project called “Middleton: Paradise Regained” (geddit, all you readers with English A Levels?) which has won initial funding from the National Lottery and a pledge of around £1.4 million from a businessman called Richard Broyd, the Mercers’ Company in the City of London and a couple of other charities.

The lottery grant was awarded in 2014, but the Garden is still about £5 million short of its target, and Dr Plummer warned that if the additional funds could not be found, there was a risk that the dosh could go to Kent.

If the project does get the go-ahead, it will join the once state-of-the-art bio sciences centre aPetuniat the site in Llanarthne, now unoccupied and looking for new tenants. It was built under the Welsh Government’s disastrous Technium scheme which was enthusiastically overseen by Cllr Meryl Gravell, the veteran former leader of the county council. Technium may have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre in an orgy of what in some cases amounted to large scale fraud, but Meryl is still with us and is enthusiastically backing her new friend Rosie.

Dr Plummer was pretty miffed about the first round of criticism of the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language in April, and issued a regal statement at the time to tick off the ungrateful locals:

“It is therefore enormously disappointing to be subject to such vigorous approaches that largely seem to overlook the very wide range of ways in which the garden actively contributes to bringing the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits”, she declared.

So how Welsh is the garden and its vision for the 21st century?

CARMARTHENSHIRE OLD SPICE

Rather than spending a bit of time and money on those planty things and weeding, the great and good who run the place have hit on the idea of putting a lot of the site under water and doing a bit of archaeology to recreate a vision of Regency England Wales which will somehow incorporate the massive glass and steel dome designed by Norman Foster when he was in his glass and steel dome phase (see the Berlin Reichstag).

This historical justification for this is set out in a gushing press release to celebrate the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims “to tell the story of more than 250 years of East India Company influence that shaped the landscape of this part of Wales”, it purrs.

According to Rob Thomas, the Garden’s Head of Development, this is an “incredible story of pirates, plague and plants for health”, set at a time “when nutmeg and mace were worth more than their weight in gold”.

As we shall see, this is indeed a truly incredible yarn.

The chair of the HLF’s Welsh committee added that the project would help people learn about the history of the site and “the little known links the East India Company had to the area”.

So little known that they had escaped the attention of everybody else, including the late Dr John Davies, whose magisterial History of Wales does not contain a single reference to the Company or its influence on Wales.

A HISTORY LESSON

As far as the Garden is concerned, the history of the site began in the first half of the 17th century when the estate was bought by a Mr Henry Middleton.

The Middletons, or Myddletons, were municipal bigwigs in Chester under the Tudors, possibly originally from Oswestry, and a couple of them spotted an opportunity to cash in on the burgeoning spice trade under Elizabeth I. The most famous of these was Sir Henry Middleton whoSassafras led a series of very lucrative and often violent expeditions to Asia. Sir Henry died childless after his final adventure, and his money was distributed among the large Middleton brood.

The Middletons’ association with the East India Company appears to have stopped at the death of Sir Henry, who as far as we know never went anywhere near Llanarthne. The Henry who bought the estate was probably a nephew.

The extent of the estate’s links with the East India Company up to the end of the 18th century was therefore that it was once owned by someone whose uncle made a lot of money out east.

Henry built a house on the site, and eventually the Middletons fizzled out. The Gwyns of Gwympa succeeded, but they lived beyond their means and the estate came up for sale in 1789 when it was acquired by William Paxton.

MONEY BAGS

Paxton was a Scot who rose up through the ranks of the East India Company to become Master of the Bengal Mint. In common with other Brit officers of the company, he amassed a huge fortune while running bits of India, and he ran a very lucrative sideline in helping other ex-pat plunderers to transfer their money back to Blighty.

Thus, it is claimed, Paxton laid the foundations of what was to become merchant banking, a branch of the banking industry which eventually morphed into investment banking, or as it is sometimes popularly known, casino banking.

Paxton’s main hobby was money, and there is nothing whatsoever to back up the Garden’s claim that the story of the estate is a tale intertwined with nutmegs, cloves and cinnamon.

East India Company men who made lots of money were known as ‘nabobs’ back home, and were about as popular with people at the time as investment bankers are today, although unlike their modern counterparts, they tended to wreck only the economies of other countries.

Nabobs generally liked to spend a few years out in India accumulating as much cash as they could before heading for home, where they would build mansions and buy their way into politics. Just like many modern Conservative Party donors, in fact.

This is exactly what Paxton did. Although he had never set foot in Wales before, he ended up buying the estate at Llanarthne in 1789, and shortly afterwards work began on a new neo-classical mansion.

The old Middleton Hall was turned into a farmhouse and then demolished, with much of the fabric being recycled for use in Paxton’s building projects. A study a few years back by the National Botanic Garden concluded that very little of the old house Cedar of Libornonremained to be uncovered apart from some foundations and bits of rubble, and yet uncovering what is left is one of the ideas behind the £6.7 million project.

Having built himself a house, Paxton turned his attention to the grounds, which he improved with a series of lakes and waterfalls.

His attempts to break into politics were less than successful, and he notoriously spent £15,000 (almost £500,000 in current values) on food and drink in the 1802 election trying, unsuccessfully, to become MP for Carmarthen. His investment paid off the following year, however, and he held the seat briefly until 1806.

To the horror of the National Dictionary of Biography, Paxton was the subject of scurrilous leaflets written by one of Jac o’ the North’s spiritual forbears in the 1807 election. There he was described as “an upstart nabob heedless of the interests of our native land”, a description which could be applied to a good many modern Tory and Labour MPs.

Paxton died in 1824, and the estate was sold on to a family which had made its fortune in the slave plantations of the West Indies, although that’s a bit of the garden’s history we are unlikely to be told about.

Architecture is a matter of taste, and Paxton’s house was relatively modest by the standards of the day. It was joined in the 19th century by a large number of other mansions of varying degrees of architectural merit dotted around Carmarthenshire, most of which are now long gone, ruined or in the advanced stages of decay.

Carmarthenshire proved to be not very fertile soil for the imported landed gentry, and Llanarthne was no exception.

Paxton’s house changed hands a couple of times before it was destroyed by fire in 1930. Only the servants’ wing survived, with the shell of the main house being bulldozed in the 1950s. The carefully restored servants’ quarters are, of course, out of bounds to the visiting public and now the domain of Dr Plummer.

The lakes were filled in just over a century after they were dug, and the county council became the new owner. There were no Meryl Gravells or Mark James’s around at the time, and so the estate was parcelled up into seven small farms which were then leased to families who wanted to get a foothold on the farming ladder.

PARADISE LOST AND REGAINED?

For just over sixty years, the Middleton estate reverted to being just a piece of rural Carmarthenshire, home to Welsh-speaking families who no doubt all had their own veg plots and modest gardens, only for the lot to be swept away in the New Labour era.

The life and work of the Welsh families who farmed on the site of the Garden will not featA Verr English Roseure in the “Paradise Regained” project which will instead celebrate colonial exploitation and the debt the world owes to merchant bankers.

Or as the Garden’s Head of Development, Rob Thomas, so eloquently put it, this “incredible” story spans “a period of 250 years of international trade from the times of barter and exchange to the establishment of international lines of credit and investment banking; the forging of the blueprint for our current capitalist system; and, in the hands of Sir William Paxton, the formation of modern investment banking.”

For any visitors wondering why the garden does not invest more in plants, the answer would seem to be that there is not enough money left after paying the salaries of all those spin doctors and heads of development.

It is no doubt purely a coincidence that the Garden’s trustees are headed up by an investment banker, Mr Rob Joliffe, who is currently Head of Emerging Markets for UBS, the Swiss banking giant, or that the funders include the Mercers’ Company, one of those arcane City of London old boys’ institutions.

Quite how any of this bears out Dr Plummer’s claim that the objective of the garden is to bring “the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits” is anyone’s guess.

Dec 302013
 

This post is a kind of New Year’s Resolution. Specifically, a promise to waste less time in 2014 on the ‘monkeys’ down Cardiff docks and to pay more attention to the ‘organ grinders’. For it is becoming increasingly clear that simia politicus cambrensis is encouraged to chatter and dance in order that he – and, indeed, she – may draw attention away from those who really exercise power in Wales.

It is surely unfair that those burdened with such responsibilities, those shaping the future of our country, should languish, unacclaimed, in the shadows. Seeing as Richard of Poppleton is a prominent ‘organ grinder’ it is wholly fitting therefore that he should enjoy a little of the spotlight; not least so that we might appreciate better the interesting work he does.

                                                     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Richard Poppleton is, according to the gov.uk website, “the Director of Wales at the Planning Inspectorate”. Though in this press release of February 2012, announcing his appointment, he is described as “Director for Wales” . . . while later in the same press release, it’s back to “Director of Wales”! So which is it?

Richard PoppletonThe first thing to understand is that there is a single Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales, and it is an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. An executive agency is a “machinery of government” device that lacks the freedom from ministerial control (UK government ministerial control) enjoyed by both non-ministerial government departments and non-departmental public bodies (quangoes). In other words, it’s an arm of a UK government department trying to pretend it’s something else. That the UK government should promote this deception is perfectly understandable. What is perhaps less easy to understand is why those wretches down Cardiff docks should so willingly participate.

The clues are everywhere. For example, I have referred to the press release of February 2012, announcing Poppleton’s promotion; let’s look at it a little more closely. First, the heading. The Planning Inspectorate and its bosses obviously understand that a bit of meaningless bilingualism can fool a lot of people into believing something is ‘Welsh’. Then, in the very first paragraph, we read, “Richard Poppleton has been appointed Director for Wales in the Planning Inspectorate”. Making it absolutely clear who he works for, and who he answers to.

Moving on to the third paragraph. I couldn’t help but notice the phrase ” . . . our plans and strategies for Wales . . . “, though the sentence ends with, ” . . . serve the particular needs of the Welsh Government.” Which might appear contradictory unless, as I suspect, it is the Planning Inspectorate that decides the ‘needs’ of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Why is any of this important? Because, the Planning Inspectorate is the agency forcing on our local councils the insane Local Development Plans I dealt with recently in this post. Plans premissed on the projection that Wales will see 323,009 new households between 2008 and 2033. Another way of putting it would be that this projection has the poKey Resultspulation of Wales increasing by some 22% by 2033. Yet elsewhere, in figures produced by Statistics for Wales, the population is predicted to increase by only 8% by 2037! An increase of somewhat less than 300,000.

They can’t both be right. Check the figures for yourself, see what a nonsense the one makes of the other. And here’s another odd thing . . . In a letter dated November 12, 2013 – the very same month of the StatsWales figures! – Carl Sargeant, Minister for Housing and Regeneration said, defending the 323,009 households projection, that the figure is ” . . . based on a Welsh specific methodology which is separate to the methodology used in England”. Which can only mean that not only do we have Statistics for Wales but we must have other agencies doing the same work, and coming up with totally different figures! How many such bodies are there? How much are we paying for this confusing duplication?

The truth is of course that the absurdly inflated figure Sargeant tries to defend is the work of the Planning Inspectorate. It is nothing more than a subterfuge to build new housing in the knowledge that the properties built, especially in more rural areas, will find English buyers. Exposing these ‘projections’ for what they are – a blatant strategy of colonisation. Which is why I suggest that anyone wishing to challenge these plans should not waste their time on the ‘monkeys’; insist on dealing with the ‘organ grinders’. In this case, the ‘organ grinder’ is Richard Poppleton.

Let me repeat what I said in an earlier post. The ‘Welsh’ Government is little more than a national version of Carmarthenshire county council, where the unelected dictate to the elected. This fact probably goes a long way to explaining why the ‘Welsh’ Government refuses to intervene in Carmarthenshire. The main difference being that the unelected in Sir Gar have a higher public profile than those running Wales! We must remedy this situation!

IN THE NEXT ISSUE! How the Housing Directorate plans to give housing associations a near-monopoly in the rented accommodation sector! How the Housing (Wales) Bill keeps mentioning ‘England’, and how being local counts for nothing! How the Planning Inspectorate recently made an almost unreported decision with massive implications regarding year-round occupation of holiday caravans! And more!!

Dec 192013
 

Woe! Woe! and thrice woe! Tales come from all quarters telling, variously, of Labourites turning on each other like ferrets in a sack; of Il Duce chewing the carpet in impotent rage at the behaviour of a Californian councillor; of a callow yoof in Jamesonia accumulating more ‘jobs’ than a retired government minister; and a prince of Denmark willing to exchange the bracing Baltic air of Copenhagen for the, um, intriguing aromas of Port Talbot-sur-Mer. To begin, with the aforementioned ‘ferrets’ . . .

News broke today of one bruvver in Caerffili referring to other bruvvers as ‘a joke’. The accuser was Councillor Nigel Dix, of Welsh-hating True Wales, who, in one of those hilarious cc e-mail episodes, described local AM Gwyn Price as a joke. Not content with that, he then Nigel Dixextended the description to Comrade Councillor Gez Kirby, who has himself featured on this blog.

Dix is clearly a bit of a preener, who likes to be photographed in what he probably imagines are flat caps and mufflers suitable for twenty-first century socialists. He also plays in a blues band (Rhymni delta blues) and owns a Fender Stratocaster. But the real humour here is that all this name-calling is taking place in Caerffili, one of the most dysfunctional councils in Wales which, by happy chance, also made the news today.

One question must be, will Dix’ indiscretion result in him doing something drastic. Well, if blues man Dix wants to end it all with a midnight tryst at a crossroads, then I’m sure I can borrow a car and play Satan . . . though I ain’t interested in his soul.

UPDATE 27.08.2015: Yes, I know, it’s a bit late . . . but anyway, I am indebted to GE for sending me a copy of the e-mails referred in the above report. Read them here. One thing that struck me was that the guy with whom Dix is having such fun slagging off other bruvvers is Andrew R. Whitcombe, who clearly works at Bridgend College. I trust someone had a word with Comrade Whitcombe about using his Coleg Penybont e-mail account to discuss Labour Party business. But then, this is Wales . . .

Moving west, we come to the City of my Dreams. I have oft-times dealt with the local Labour Party (sometimes I’ve even managed to do so without frightening the cat by laughing out loud). Anyone wanting to read these previous observations should just type ‘Swansea Labour Party’, ‘John Bayliss’, ‘Mitchell Theaker’, ‘DPearleen Sanghaavid Phillips’ (Il Duce), or ‘Pearleen Sangha’ into the Search box at the top of the sidebar.

Now I learn that Pearleen, a councillor for the Santa Cruz Uplands ward, has moved to Cardiff to work full-time for the party machine. I am further led to believe that this will involve working with Mick Antoniw, AM for Pontypridd and self-confessed trustee of The Bevan Foundation, in targeting a couple of Lib Dem seats ahead of the next Assembly elections in 2016. Council leader David Phillips is livid that one of his gang has left without, apparently, telling him. There are a number of issues here.

The fragrant Ms Sangha is from California and was elected to the council – after three recounts – in 2012 straight from Swansea university. She has been home at least twice this year, and regularly swans off to various Labour yoof gatherings. So she knows sod all about Swansea and cares less, yet now she has been recruited to work for the party Mick Antoniwnationally – in a country she doesn’t understand!. Small wonder fellow Uplands councillor John Boy Bayliss – now, at last, gainfully employed – is complaining bitterly about having to do more work; tedious stuff like listening to constituents talking about drains, litter, and next-door’s dog. (This is serious, for Bayliss, Sangha, Theaker and many others belong to Labour’s hedonist wing. They only joined because they heard Labour was a ‘party’.)

By an amazing coincidence, Anglo-Ukrainian Antoniw also washed up in Wales as a student. After studying law he became, ahem, a ‘personal injuries’ lawyer. Antoniw, Sangha and all the other carpetbaggers illustrate the massive problem facing ‘Welsh’ Labour – it’s becoming less and less Welsh! With few Welsh people other than self-haters joining the party nowadays it desperately embraces and promotes anyone who’s under the age of 50, free of halitosis and flatulence and able to read joined-up writing. Of course, this also means that the party is exploited by political adventurers, entryists and dilettantes, who see ‘Welsh’ Labour, with its ‘donkey’ vote, as an easy route to an undemanding political career.

Now we move further west, into Jamesonia (formerly known as Carmarthenshire), and the cautionary tale of young Calum Higgins. Said to be a clever boy, our Calum, meeting the criteria given abovCalum Higginse, which has resulted in him being deluged with work. Though the more I think about it, the more I suspect Calum’s intelligence may be over-rated. I say that because Carmarthenshire council is a house of cards that will very soon topple. Anyone too close to the ruling Labour-Independent coalition will cop some rubble. Consequently, any aspiring politician with an ounce of political nous would not be hitching his wagon to the falling stars on Jail Hill. Of course, there is the possibility that Calum is sincere, and believes in the Labour Party . . . which would only confirm my assessment.

Finally, we reach out – unworthy though we may be – to the ‘Welsh’ Labour pantheon, wherein dwell Ma and Pa Kinnock, reclining on their EU millions. Their daughter-in-law, Helle Thorning-Schimdt, is the Prime Minister of Denmark . . . yes, she of the infamous ‘selfie’ with Obama and Cameron at the Mandela funeral. It may be of significance that even though she has a double-barrelled name Kinnock is not one of those ‘barrels’.

Anyway, the son / husband is Stephen Kinnock, and he has expressed an interest in standing for the Aberavon Westminster seat, when Hywel Francis, son of miners’ leader, Dai, steps down in 2015. Though his wife thinks the ambition “unusual”. Kinnock Junior seems currently to be the Managing Director of GLTE, which forms part of xynteo, but now rather fancies a change of direction. But why? Well, the news I’m getting from my sources in the Danish parliament is that Stephen Kinnock wakes up regularly from a nightmare, the narrative of which runs thus: Him and the missus are at a Buck House garden party. Beti comes over, they are introduced, and – as she does – says, ‘And what do you do, Mr Thorning-Schmidt?’ At which point he runs off, screaming, into the shrubbery, pursued by corgies and SAS ‘waiters’. Stephen Kinnock

I jest, of course. But if the Labour Party picks for Aberavon a man who works in Switzerland, has a family in Denmark, who’s had trouble with tax authorities, and who may be untruthful about his own sexuality, then it will be further confirmation of the contempt with which it regards its ‘donkey’ voters. It will also reaffirm that ‘Welsh’ Labour is as unfussed about the hereditary principle as the Hapsburgs or the rulers of North Korea.

To conclude. Some people think I’m cruel towards the bruvvers and the sissters. But think about it . . . yes, I put my own spin on things, but no one can accuse me of making anything up. It all comes on a platter, gift-wrapped. The issue isn’t that there are ‘jokes’ in Welsh Labour, more that the whole stinking structure is a joke.

P.S. I’ve just heard that at tonight’s City Carol Service in the Collegiate and Parish Church of St. Mary’s there were bishops present, and peers, AMs and MPs, mayors from neighbouring towns, and many other worthies – but not a single member of the ruling Labour group on Swansea city council. Just rows of empty seats.

Maybe this reluctance to be seen in public accounts for Labour spending some £2,000 on a two-page Christmas spread in the Evening Post, showing photographs of all 49 Labour councillors. Giving those who voted Labour the chance to see what their out-of-town councillors look like. I just hope it’s the Labour Party and not the council paying for this extravagance.