Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust

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.

*

Feb 182015
 
Cash cow 1

CLICK TO ENLARGE

The ‘milking’ referred to is done by the Third Sector, that demi-monde wherein dwell ‘Welsh’ Labour’s kept women (and a few men), serving no purpose beyond diverting public money from better use and performing all manner of despicable acts for those who own them. Perhaps it was ever thus, but since the arrival of devolution, and the recognition by our continental cousins of our relative poverty, what had once been a cottage industry of home-grown Labour nepotism and corruption has expanded into a pseudo-economy.

A few years back I started looking into the Third Sector and its relationship with ‘Welsh’ Labour, and in that time certain features have become obvious. Chief among them, that we now have a whole sector of Welsh life dependent upon Labour Party patronage in the form of funding and preferment, which those belonging to this sector repay by promoting the Labour message and by attacking Labour’s political opponents. This client class has become the Japanese knotweed of Welsh life – invasive, destructive, of no use to anyone (other than Labour), and damaging to the wider environment. We should be rooting it out, but it won’t be done because ‘Welsh’ Labour, losing support among the native electorate, is becoming ever more dependent on this monster it has introduced.

One obvious manifestation of Labour losing support is its inability to recruit decent Welsh candidates. It was this problem that led to the recent fiasco in Swansea when the ‘local’ Labour Party was eventually taken over by people who were strangers to the city. Resulting in the embarrassment of Il Duce Phillips and the student councillors, with their sybaritic lifestyles and complete ignorance of the city they were supposed to be running. A self-inflicted wound caused by Labour offering free party membership to students in Swansea University. Yes, that’s how bad it has become for Labour. Something else illustrated by this episode is Labour’s worrying links with certain trade unions, the National Union of Students being one, but another worthy of mention is Unison.

*

Now when I were nobutalad – a long time ago I know – trade unions were taken seriously by working class men such as those among whom I grew up. They elected their union representatives, they knew them, and if there was any issue that needed to be discussed then they could have it out with them, at union meetings or even down the pub or club. It was the trade unions, more than anything else, including the Labour Party, that defended their interests. All that is gone. After countless mergers and a dramatic fall in union membership we are left with a few big unions run by professional union officials, mirroring the professional politicians, all equally divorced from real life.Dawn Bowden

As mentioned, one such union is Unison, and one of its full-time officials is Dawn Bowden of Bristol Cardiff, who is tipped to become Labour’s candidate for Caerffili or Islwyn (depending on whether there’s a gender fix) in next year’s elections to the Notional Assembly. Quite how long she’s lived in Wales is uncertain, but she’s loyal to the Labour Party and belongs to that union which is almost ‘Welsh’ Labour by Eaglestoneanother name, so that’s her elevation assured.

Her Twitter account says that she is married to @Carrageryr, so who might that be? Well, it’s another Labour Party star named Martin Eaglestone, perennial Labour loser in Arfon. (Eaglestone, Carrageryr, geddit?) Though in past elections he was living with his wife and five children in Y Felinheli. (I blame all these conferences they go to, and the drinking.) Eaglestone’s Linkedin profile describes him as, “Welsh Policy Officer at Labour Party – Welsh Labour”, whatever that means. He supports West Bromwich Albion while Bowden supports Brizzle City, so neither knows much about football.

I single out Unison because this seems to be the union of choice for many Labour politicians in Wales, even those, like Swansea’s student councillors, who’ve never done a day’s work in their lives. In many ways Unison operates (certainly in Wales) as an adjunct to the Labour Party rather than as a trade union in the traditional sense. Maybe Labour’s political opponents should have a new slogan – ‘Vote Labour, get Unison!’. Though the problem is also found in England, with other unions.

*

Returning to the Third Sector, in my delvings a number of things have become apparent, but one that I feel needs to be highlighted is the practice of publicly-funded bodies setting up wholly-owned subsidiaries, for reasons that are not entirely clear, or may even be of dubious probity.

In recent posts I have looked at Canoe Wales, and the extraordinary level of funding that body receives from Sport Wales, £378,000+ in the current financial year alone (see panel below). Yet Canoe Wales has two subsidiaries, C W Sales and Services Ltd and Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. The first of these subsidiaries runs the adult playground at Frongoch, near Bala, while the other is dormant. The representative of Canoe Wales that I spoke with assured me that Canoe Wales’s finances would soon start to improve, and I’m sure he’s right, for seeing as the running of the Frongoch Centre has passed to the subsidiary and Canoe Wales is so well funded it would be strange if Canoe Wales’s books didn’t begin to look healthier. The Canoe Wales representative also told me that his organisation had passed all the auditor’s checks. Which, again, I don’t doubt; but I guarantee that the Wales Audit Office does not look into subsidiaries, for the very simple reason that these do not – directly – receive any public funding.

consolidated accounts

Allowing publicly-funded bodies to form subsidiaries creates the temptation for an organisation to transfer ‘bad news’ to a subsidiary, safe in the knowledge that the WAO will not investigate the subsidiary. I’m not for one minute suggesting that this is what has recently happened with Canoe Wales, but C W Sales and Services Ltd is not in a healthy financial state. If C W Sales and Services Ltd did not exist then its indebtedness of £76,798 would be shown against Canoe Wales, and would be picked up by auditors.

That said, it could be that funders are aware of such arrangements. Staying with Canoe Wales, its accounts for year ending March 31 2013 state that “As at 1st April 2013, commercial trading activities and the operation of the White Water Centre at Canolfan Tryweryn were transferred to C W Sales and Services Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary.” Yet despite this burden being lifted Canoe Wales’ funding from Sport Sport Wales fundingWales leapt from £266,000 in 2012/13 to £378,000 in 2013/14 and 2014/15 (click to enlarge). How do we explain this unless Sport Wales is aware of, and approves the use of, a subsidiary that may be beyond the remit of the Wales Audit Office and will – as the clip above reveals – not be mentioned in future Canoe Wales accounts?

As I say, it’s a phenomenon I have observed regularly in my investigation of how public funding is dished out in Wales. Here’s another example, with a further twist. This example is Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust / Ymddiriedolaeth Adfywio Treftadaeth Sir Gaerfyrddin, according to its website, but Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gaerfyrddin on the websites of both the Charity Commission and Companies House. Confusing. Maybe deliberately so. Is this a laudable use of yr hen iaith or an attempt to hinder investigation into a body universally known as the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust?

Either way, the Trust has a subsidiary, deep in the red, called CHRT Ventures Ltd. Now for the ‘twist’ I referred to earlier. The chief executive of the Trust is Claire Deacon, and the Trust’s 2012 accounts say this:  “During the year, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeath Sir Gar (CHRT) employed the services of Ms Claire Deacon, CEO, a historic building consultant. The total expenses paid by CHRT for consultancy was £59,159 (2012: £41,873). At the year end, CHRT owed Ms Claire Deacon £9,436 (2012: £3,386). This balance is included in trade creditors”. How the hell can an employee suddenly declare herself a consultant to the body she works for and then demand more than she would have been paid in salary? The full story of Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gaerfyrddin, and more, can be found here

Here’s another example, this one from the fleece jacket sector. The issue of public funding and subsidiaries, with the added problem of Welsh public funding seeping across the border, even extends into academe, as this post explains. And how could anyone forget Naz Malik and Awema? Let us remember that the Malik family was staunch Labour, with father and son hoping to be Labour candidates. To help their cause Naz Malik would regularly sing for his supper by proclaiming against ‘racist (Welsh) nationalists’. And what the hell is happening at the YMCA? Then there’s housing associations. We are told by the ‘Welsh’ Government that 22 local authorities is far too many, too expensive, and so there must be ‘streamlining’ – so why is that same ‘Welsh’ Government funding dozens and dozens of housing associations that compete with each and duplicate each other’s work? The answer is that housing associations are stuffed with Labour supporters (and future candidates). Read about it here.

*

There are countless other examples of Third Sector bodies, publicly-funded agencies, etc., ‘diversifying’, or setting up subsidiaries and ‘trading arms’ into which ’embarrassments’ can be diverted, beyond the scope of auditors mandated only to check the recipient body itself. Though what happens if one of these subsidiaries actually makes a profit, will the profit be declared to the funding body?

This loophole is known to those disbursing the funding and is almost certainly familiar to those entrusted with ensuring that the funding can be properly accounted for. Which raises the question, why is this loophole not closed? The suspicion must be that it’s left Eaglestone Linkedinopen in order to help hide some of the public funding being wasted by the Third Sector. Because to expose this waste would damage both the Third Sector and the Labour Party, and they need each other, their fortunes and their futures are intertwined.

We have on our hands a sick man called the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party or, if we go by Eaglestone’s Linkedin profile, “Labour Party – Welsh Labour”. (Perhaps the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party is as much a fiction as the ‘Wales Green Party’.) This party is no longer able to find decent candidates from within the nation so it has to rely on recruiting officials imported by its trade union partners and those who have swarmed here to make careers for themselves out of celebrating and exaggerating Wales’ deprivation in order to get their sweaty paws on the money that has been given to alleviate that deprivation.

The Labour Party, with all its hangers-on and cronies, is suffocating Wales. Unpatriotic, anti-initiative, increasingly dependent for its survival on people who don’t know Wales and don’t care about Wales, it can only maintain its position because there is no other party electors find more attractive. Which is why I repeat that Plaid Cymru has fifteen months (the General Election of May 2015 and the Assembly elections of May 2016) to prove that it can mount a serious challenge to Labour; if it fails, yet again, then we must have a new nationalist party, a party that puts Wales and Welsh people first, rather than one that constantly exposes its weaknesses and lack of ambition by looking to do deals with anti-Welsh parties. Fifteen months.

Sep 022014
 

In the direct male line my great-grandfather was a David Jones of Meidrim, a small village encountered a few miles after heading north out of Sanclêr to start climbing the ridge after which you drop down into the valley of the Teifi. Young Dai went up to Swansea around 1880 and there met another recent arrival from the west, Madelaine Jones of Cei Newydd; they married and had nine children. It might have been more had Madelaine not been eleven years older than Dai. And of course, for me, growing up in Swansea, Carmarthenshire was just across the Llwchwr. Oft-times as a youth did I stand on the east bank of that mighty stream and gaze longingly over to the land of my ancestors. Well, no, I made that bit up.

I mention this to explain that I have these, and other, connections with Sir Gâr, so I feel entitled to comment on a picture emerging that tells of money being showered around to provide services that are either unneeded (known in Third Sector terminology as ‘Money for old rope’) or else for services that could be provided more efficiently by the public or the private sector (known as ‘Third-rate, Third Sector’).

Lest anyone is in any doubt about exactly what the Third Sector is, let me explain. It is called the ‘Third Sector’ because it is neither the private sector (business / private enterprise), nor is the public sector (government departments, local government, etc). It is, as the name suggests, a third way of doing things, a third option for delivering a service. There has always been a Third Sector of organisations, mainly charities, relying on donations, legacies or whatever to continue with their work. This is fine, and commendable; which of us would refuse to put our hand in our pocket for the NSPCC, RNLI, Barnardo’s, RSPCA, Oxfam, and a host of other bodies that do bloody good work.

Yet in recent decades the Third Sector has grown, and changed in other ways, due partly to government cut-backs on public spending and partly due to a policy of stripping responsibilities from local government. These imperatives have had a number of consequences. Mainly that money being thrown around by central or local government inevitably attracts shysters. While for the public, the result is that the services on which they had previously relied are now of inferior quality and often totally unreliable. There are two other factors involved in Third Sector funding that should worry anyone who sees the dangers in political patronage or wants a secular society. For many of the recipients of public – usually EU – funding have links to the Labour Party; and too many of those being funded to provide services to the vulnerable belong to fundamentalist religious outfits, such as the Towy Community Church; or else are real oddballs who shouldn’t be given a penny, and even without funding, should be warned off any involvement with those who need professional help. (I shall give an example of one these later.)

Apart from my ancestral connection, the reason I’m focusing on Sir Gâr is because it seems to be providing a perfect environment for everything that can go wrong with the Third Sector in Wales to go wrong. Helping to create that environment is a highly dysfunctional council ruled by a vindictive chief executive who, with the help of a few senior officers (plus highly-paid external lawyers) and a clutch of top councillors, has turned the county into a banana republic. As we know, a banana republic encourages all manner of skulduggery. I have written about the county in the recent past, but it’s always worth returning to Sir Gâr.

*

In my previous post I reported strange goings-on at Llandovery YMCA, after which I was directed to a couple of videos on YouTube. The first of those videos can be found below (or here on YouTube), it gives an idea of what the money is spent on in Sir Gâr. The funding in this video comes from the county’s Rural Development Plan.

The first interviewee is one Tom Duxbury, who teaches “traditional rural skills”. Duxbury is of course English. Next up are Gill Wright and Jane Ryall who run a ‘community company’ offering bunkhouse bed and breakfast. Both are, again, English. The next double act is Jill Tatman (of Llandovery YMCA, mentioned in my previous post) and Lee Mattocks, who have expanded the local YMCA into yet another ‘community enterprise’. I shouldn’t need to tell you that both are English.

In fact, Jill Tatman has done very well out of the public purse. She bought the Grade II listed building known as ‘Windermere House’ on Stone Street in Llandovery . . . and what do think happened then, children? – that’s right! it was refurbished for her using some of the £2.78m allocated to the Llandovery and Llangadog Townscape and Heritage Scheme. Nor must we forget that her little empire is housed in the old YMCA building. The YMCA had pootered along in Llandovery for many years, but then Tatman took over, and began using the good name of the YM to access lots of funding to provide her with a salary and a very, very generous pension pot (even though she’s already well past retirement age!). Her ‘partner in crime’ (figuratively speaking of course), was Mo Sykes, now missing as recent shenanigans at YMCA Wales are covered up investigated. This is one old bird who knows how to milk the system! I wonder what she did before she decided to bless us with her presence?

This next video (available here on YouTube), features Gill Wright, again, telling us about the wonders of the Llandovery Heritage Centre – Business Hub. Assisted this time by Emily Davies – who is Welsh! So Emily may be working for the funding programme. (Clock Wright’s face when Davies is speaking at 1:48: ‘Look, Hermione – I’m with a native!’) The building is a ‘community venture’, offering copying facilities and laminating machines, “meeting space” and other facilities the good folk of Llanymddyfri cannot do without. At 1:53 the video shows what perhaps we are expected to believe are two young entrepreneurs planning their next venture . . . though the one on the left looks suspiciously like Glyn Jones, a Rural Community Inclusion Development Officer, it may even be the back of Glyn’s head we see at 1:32. All in all the Heritage Centre – Business Hub is quite an impressive set-up, which has obviously cost a few quid . . . yet Wright suggests at 2:46 that the process “may have upset a few local people”; but that’s all behind her now as she looks for more funding, for yet bigger premises, in a town of less than three thousand people!

These first two videos share a few features worthy of comment. First – and believe me, for I know of what I speak – one of the keys to unlocking grant funding is to argue that you’re providing a service or facilities for the public at large, the correct button to push being ‘community’. Second, Wright and Tatman are both past retirement age. Without I hope sounding ageist – being a pensioner myself – shouldn’t this funding be better directed than by supplementing the pensions of a couple of memsahibs? Though I suppose this might explain the presence of younger ‘assistants’.

The third video – in which we see Glyn Jones playing himself – tells of the work being done by the Llandovery Job Club. (Available here on YouTube.) In addition to Glyn we shall meet a couple of other people we’ve met already. At 1:27 it’s Jill Tatman, and at 3:47 Lee Mattocks. Then at 4:40 we meet a new face in Dan Morin who, with his wife, “left London about a year ago”. At 5:24 we meet Mrs Alannah Morin who tells us they “wanted to leave London because we were tired of the rat race”. This is the sort of thing one hears from City brokers buying million pound properties on the Pembrokeshire coast . . . but one is unlikely to find such people in the local job club. So why did a black couple from London move to a small Welsh town with no job waiting for them? I can’t help thinking there’s a story here we aren’t being told.

It is obvious that what we have here is an over-generous and misdirected funding programme simply throwing money around willy-nilly. Money is being used to provide ‘facilities’ for communities that were blissfully unaware of their deprivation until the people you’ve seen in these videos sniffed out the oodles of funding on offer. Interestingly, the ‘facilities’ are run by English people, used by English people . . . with Welsh involvement limited to providing the funding.

Something I found significant was the use of the Welsh language to disguise what is really happening. Not a lot different to bilingual signage in Tesco Porthmadog to hide the fact that the staff employed in the store are overwhelmingly English. Or the Planning Inspectorate having a Welsh language version of its website. We see it everywhere: the cosmetic ‘victories’ of language campaigners bring us to the point where the Welsh language is used to deflect criticism from programmes that will destroy it. How weird is that?

What we’ve seen here is not unique to Sir Gâr, it’s happening all over Wales. Money is being squandered on unnecessary projects, given to amateurs whose only real talents are the ability to complete an application form and know what ‘buttons’ need to be pressed to access the funding. There are Welsh kids growing in some areas who think that only the English are allowed to run certain things. This is not by accident.

*

Staying in Sir Gâr, I’m now going to look at (takes deep breath) Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr. In translation, and general usage, Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust; but the official name, with both Companies House and the Charity Commission is the Welsh name. Which might make it difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the Welsh name to track CHRT Companies House front pagedown details. Perhaps another example of the Welsh language being used insincerely, to deflect criticism and deter investigation. (On the right you’ll find the front pages from both Companies House and the Charity Commission. Click to enlarge.)

For the sake of brevity I shall henceforth refer to CHRT, which is classified, by Companies House, as a private company limited by guarantee with no share capital and exempt from using ‘Ltd’. There are three curious features that (with the invaluable help of BD) I have explored and would now like to bring to your attention.

First, in addition to the company and the charity there is a third entity, CHRT Ventures Ltd, Company Number 06820763, Incorporated on February 16th 2009, which is also a private company limited by guarantee with no share capital. As for what it does, the Companies House website can only say, “Other information service activities not elsewhere classified”, which could mean just about anything, though it would appear to be a CHRT Charity Comm front pagetrading arm of the Trust, a regular enough arrangement, but it appears not to fulfil that role too well. For the most recent figures I can find, for the year ended March 31, 2013, show that CHRT Ventures Ltd had assets of £13,985 but liabilities of £37,311.

The next curiosity is Claire Deacon Linkedinthe salary arrangements of the CEO, Claire Deacon, whose Linkedin front page can be found on the left (click to enlarge). I say that because Ms Deacon has been employed by CRHT as a consultant while also employed as CEO. On page 29 of the most recent accounts (click here) we are told that, “During the year, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeath Sir Gar (CHRT) employed the services of Ms Claire Deacon, CEO, a historic building consultant. The total expenses paid by CHRT for consultancy was £59,159 (2012: £41,873). At the year end, CHRT owed Ms Claire Deacon £9,436 (2012: £3,386). This balance is included in trade creditors”. This probably explains why employees’ remunerations in 2012 amounted to £175,355, but fell to £152,117 in 2013 for the same number of staff. Yet Ms Deacon was paid considerably more in consultancy fees than the £23,238 ‘saving’ in salaries between the figures for 2012 and 2013.

Is this standard practice, that a CEO can boost his or her income by also acting as a consultant to the organisation that employs her? How is it done? Did Ms Deacon say, ‘If you want me to do this work, then you’ll jolly well have to employ me as a consultant – and that will cost you a lot more than my CEO’s salary’. But if a consultant was needed – and seeing as we are dealing here with public funding – was the opportunity advertised, put out to tender, or was it all stitched up in-house? I really would like to know how these things are done.

The third and final curiosity will be found if you look at the Charity Commission website image, where you’ll see that under ‘Where it Operates’, it says, ‘Throughout Wales’, which sounds a bit ambitious for a relatively small local charity in Sir Gâr. Or perhaps not. For if we return to the latest accounts, and go to page 5, you will find this under the heading, ‘YMCA, Merthyr Tydfil’ “This project has continued to develop with funds being secured for project development and the purchase of the building, a price having been agreed with the owner. The Trust is working closely with the Local Authority and other key funding partners including HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) and Welsh Assembly Government. It is proposed that the purchase will proceed once key triggers have been secured, these including confirmation of offers of funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and the local Merthyr Tydfil Townscape Heritage Initiative for the first phase of works and a business plan”. Note how everything seems to be planned out without funding confirmed. Is this a tactic to pressure the funders? Anyway, why is the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust buying the YMCA building in Merthyr?

The suggestion made in the report I just linked to is that the building will be used as a “teaching facility with some office space available”. (Yet more ‘community’ flim-flam.) A project that Ms Deacon estimates will cost £5m. Clearly, CHRT is branching out, in more ways than one. More millions of public funding will be spent to . . . well, to do what, exactly? Given what I’ve set out here, and hundreds of other examples I could have used from across Wales, we be can be reasonably certain that few benefits will accrue to the local people. The beneficiaries of al this funding will be Claire Deacon – who might even act as her own consultant on the project! – plus more shysters like those we met in Llanymddyfri.

And once again, there is a YMCA building involved. I have heard many strange things lately about YMCA Wales and its relationship with local branches, how the latter have been taken over, exploited, even wrecked. There is a post here, which I hope will be written by someone who understands the picture far better than I.

*

Wales is the poorest country in western Europe (possibly all of Europe). Because of our poverty we qualify for large amounts of funding to relieve that poverty and the associated deprivation. But instead of using the money for the purposes for which it has been given, the civil servants who run Wales on behalf of London, and their soul-mates at a more local level, have dreamt up cunning plans to kill a number of feathered creatures with but one projectile.

By diverting funding to the likes of the grant-grabbers dealt with here those disbursing the money can claim that services and facilities previously provided by your local authority and other agencies are still there, but now provided by the likes of Gill Wright and Jill Tatman, so nothing’s really changed. If your local library’s been closed down and you can’t access a computer, don’t worry, go along to the local ‘business hub’ and put up with the whinnying of those you’ll find there. But you’ll be expected to fOlive Trust WEFOorget that the library would also have had books, and employed locals. Need a nursery school? Don’t worry! Drop little Harry into the local Pentevangelic church. When you pick him up he’ll be folding Ukip leaflets and damning ‘sodomites’.

In my opening paragraph I promised to introduce you to a real oddball, so welcome to the Olive Trust (or ‘Creoso’, as the website puts it), based in Swansea but also, apparently, operating in Carmarthenshire, and with strong Labour connections. The woman running this scam is Denise Kingsley-Acton . . . did I hear someone ask if she’s English? (As a matter of fact she is.) I had a little spat with this woman towards the end of 2012, she claimed she’d reported me to the police (a bit like WalesEye), that she’d worked for MI5, all sorts of nonsense. The woman is clearly in need of help herself, but that didn’t stop the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) considering an application from her in 2010 for a cool one million pounds. (See right, click to enlarge.) Of its type, this is a gem, I urge you to read it. The money was to be used, predictably, “to regenerate a building for community use”.

So if you’re thinking of getting in on this racket yourself, then here’s the secret: find an old building, get a grant to buy it, then apply for other grants to turn it into a ‘community’ building. Nobody will worry if the scheme fails, for this is just an exercise in giving out money and ticking the right boxes on forms nobody will really check. Plus, failed schemes are black marks against those who gave out the funding – politicians and bureaucrats – so everyone has a vested interest in pretending that these projects all deliver. And of course, you and your little clique will rake it in.

If the assorted funding programmes continue in this way then, in a few years time, every village and small town in Wales will have three or four buildings ‘regenerated for community use’, or some other ‘facility’ that isn’t really needed. They’ll all be run by English people, for the benefit of other English people, and hundreds of millions of EU funding will have been used to subsidise the colonisation of Wales.