Carmarthenshire

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Oct 292015
 
A GUEST POST ON THE POLITICAL CLASS OF CARMARTHENSHIRE, NOW BEING USED BY WOULD-BE TYRANTS EVERYWHERE TO PROVE THAT DEMOCRACY IS A CRUEL DECEPTION

 

Jeremy Corbyn may have won the Labour leadership contest, and Labour may have seen an unexpectedly large influx of new members, but how much has really changed at local branch level?

Nothing at all if we examine “Welsh” Labour. Take Labour in Carmarthenshire, for example.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Immediately after the general election the knives came out for party veteran Kevin Madge, who was also leader of the County Council. The contest was widely regarded as a tussle between the party’s Amman Valley and Llanelli factions, but it later emerged that at least one of Madge’s assassins was much closer to home.

Kevin Madge has spent his entire career of almost 40 years as a full-time Labour councillor, and for most of the last ten years he enjoyed a generous “senior salary” as a member and then leader of the council’s Executive Board, or cabinet, in bed with Meryl Gravell and her Independent rag-bag army of reactionary grannies, rich retired farmers, opportunists and assorted hangers-on.

The rambling, incoherent Madge was never the brightest lamp post in the street, although decades spent wrangling in smoke-filled Labour committee back-rooms clearly taught him a few survival skills.

Meryl and her acolytes sized up their man, clasped him to their ample bosoms, and a long love affair was born in which Madge was nothing more than an impotent mascot pinned to the bonnet of the municipal limousine chauffeured by Chief Executive Mark James, with Lady Gravell ensconced on the plush leather back seat.

Madge Gravell

The result was a scandal-prone, seedy dictatorship which turned Carmarthenshire into an Eldorado for companies sheltering in tax havens, assorted fraudsters, funny handshake merchants, con-artists and big business rip-off merchants, while ordinary voters were left to scrape a living on the minimum wage.

Top council jobs were and still are the preserve of outsiders, swathes of rural communities had the guts ripped out of them as they lost their schools, shops and pubs, the young and talented left in droves for the brighter lights of the big cities, and the Welsh language suffered a catastrophic decline. CBEs, OBEs and MBEs showered down on the elite and their supporters.

Kevin Madge didn’t see it like that, of course, but what eventually did for him was a growing realisation that the party was on a one-way street to electoral disaster as Madge found himself championing a string of extremely unpopular policies, including massive hikes in charges for using council-owned sports pitches, bowling greens and other facilities.

Voters could no longer see the difference between Madge’s party and the crypto-Tories he had snuggled up to for so long.

Having lost the top job, Kevin Madge disappeared from public view for a couple of weeks before returning to the council chamber to blub his way through an interminable valedictory ramble listing his supposed achievements. He now sits on the backbenches nursing his grudges and sharpening his knives.

Madge’s replacement as Labour leader on Carmarthenshire County Council is the very lugubrious Jeff Edmunds whose main activity when not being a councillor is as pastor of a spiritualist church. His expertise in contacting the dead may yet come in very handy.

But the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on. Jeremy Corbyn is now party leader, and in Carmarthenshire the party is reorganising itself. It’s all change, or rather the deckchairs are being rearranged.

A recipe for success

Kevin Madge has just been appointed chair of a new “super branch” encompassing the Amman and Gwendraeth valleys, presumably because someone believes that he is a vote winner.

When he stood for election in the 2007 Assembly election, Kevin Madge saw Labour’s share of the vote decline from 31% to 24%. In 2012 when Labour was bouncing back in local government elections from the catastrophe of the Brown years everywhere else, Labour lost ground in Kevin Madge’s stomping ground in the Amman Valley. In 2015 Carmarthen East and Dinefwr was one of Labour’s top target seats, and the election was contested by Kevin Madge’s young protégé, Calum Higgins. Whereas Labour saw modest advances in most parts of Wales, Madge and Higgins saw Plaid Cymru returned with a significantly increased majority as Labour voters stayed away or switched to Ukip.

Prior to the influx of new members brought about by the recent Labour leadership campaign, Labour’s constituency branches were in dire shape – in Carmarthenshire as in other parts of Wales. Party activists were reduced to a gnarled rump of grizzled veterans with a very sparse sprinkling of younger blood.

Why anyone under the age of 60 would have wanted to join “Welsh” Labour before May 2015 is a question worth asking. The party was about as attractive to average 20-somethings as joining a bowls club, playing bingo or going to a 1950s night at the local working men’s club.

There are strange and rather sad young people who do all those things, but they are few and far between.

The answer is, of course, that unlike bowls clubs and the like, “Welsh” Labour runs a system of patronage which offers all sorts of goodies for anyone who is prepared to go to committee meetings and put up with the smell of wee and the company of poisonous old power junkies.

Open all hours

Let’s meet Shahid Hussain over in Kevin Madge’s heartland in Cwmaman.

Kevin shahid

Shahid is in his early thirties and a budding entrepreneur who runs a garage and a couple of shops. Back in 2012 he stood for election to the County Council. “I’m sexy and I know it”, he told his Twitter followers, who were treated to his views on women, “yids”, rugby (“gay porn”) and older people. Referring to his Plaid opponent, Shahid predicted he would so kick his ass that he might “pop a hip or something”.

Shahid was very proud of the coverage he had been getting in the local rag, but he quickly achieved press coverage which few Welsh politicians, even the heavyweights, could ever dream of. He even made it big on the other side of the Atlantic.

Labour reacted by telling Shahid to delete his Twitter account and tut-tutting. Kevin Madge blamed it all on the “dangerous” Twitter rather than the unpleasant idiot using it, and days later he was back out campaigning for his boy.

Fortunately for the people of Cwmaman, it was Shahid’s ass that was kicked, but all was not lost because he remained a member of Cwmaman Town Council.

The unfortunate Twitter episode was quickly forgotten, and this year Shahid rose to become mayor, from which lofty position he has continued to make waves.

At a public meeting chaired by Shahid to discuss relocating the town’s post office, he opposed a proposal to move it to the community centre.

Kevin Madge shifted uncomfortably and suggested to his boy that he perhaps ought to declare an interest here, as Shahid was known to be seeking the post office franchise for his garage.

“What is this fucking shit?” shouted Shahid, outraged at the implication that there might be anything wrong with using public office to further his business interests.

Not long after that, matters came to a head again when Shahid opposed a planning application for a convenience store run by a partner of Tesco, forgetting to mention that he had submitted his own plans for a convenience store nearby.

At a stormy meeting on 23 October, the town council approved a vote of no confidence in its mayor, by 11 votes to 1. The only councillor to have confidence in the mayor was, erm, Shahid himself. The next stop is expected to be a formal complaint to the Ombudsman.

If this does bring his career in Labour to an end, Shahid can at least be confident of a warm welcome from Ukip.

Shahid is one of Labour’s young guns, but perhaps we should not be too harsh because the older generation of Labour councillors has not always set a good example.

UPDATE 30.10.2015: Despite a near-unanimous vote of no confidence (11 to one, with one abstention), Shahid Hussain is refusing to resign as mayor of Cwmaman, according to a report in the Carmarthenshire Herald today. The matter will now be referred to the Ombudsman for Public Services with all the attendant lengthy delays and legal costs that that will entail.

Dead donkeys

Step forward the reptilian Keri Thomas, Labour’s veteran councillor for Tyisha, Llanelli.

Keri Thomas has been known to drink more than the occasional glass of shandy, and in 2011 he fell seriously ill before receiving a liver transplant.

He took a year off on full pay from the council with the Chief Executive’s blessing. Despite being too ill to campaign, he was nevertheless selected to stand in the 2012 election once again, and was successfully returned, proving the old adage that you could put a red rosette on a dead donkey and it would still romp home in most of Labour’s strongholds.

Thomas recovered sufficiently to take up work again after the 2012 election, and he was soon lashing out at Llanelli’s Polish community for their drinking habits. Unfortunately, a little more than a year later the occasional tipple was starting to take its toll again, and for most of the last two years he has rarely been seen in County Hall except for meetings of the planning committee of which he was a member until recently.

Keri Thomas remains a councillor and, incredibly, a member of one of the scrutiny committees.

Readers of this blog were recently shocked by John Bayliss’s 27% attendance record in Swansea, but Keri Thomas is on course for the worst attendance of any councillor in Wales. According to the council’s own statistics, he has notched up an attendance record of 0% since they began publishing performance data in August.

Staying in Llanelli for a moment, let’s meet Dafen Dolly, or Tegwen Devichand as she is more formally known. Tegwen has led a colourful life, and despite very humble beginnings has managed to become quite a wealthy woman and the grande dame of Llanelli Labour politics.

Dafen Dolly

One of her protégées was Theressa Bowen, a local woman and party activist, and thanks to Tegwen, Theressa became a Labour county councillor for the first time in 2012. Unfortunately a very bitter falling out ensued, with Tegwen accusing Theressa of stealing a stash of valuable jewellery from her home.

Nothing came of the accusation, and no charges were brought, but Theressa promptly upped and left Labour to join Meryl’s Independents. Meryl and Tegwen are not exactly best friends, and Meryl welcomed Theressa with open arms, not least because the defection put Labour and the Independents on level pegging in the County Council. Meryl even let Theressa stay in her exclusive Spanish villa.

The simmering dispute between Tegwen and Theressa boiled over again earlier this year in a very public row in which the two women accused each other of assault, and both complained to the poor old Ombudsman.

The rise, fall, and rise of Ryan

Our trip started in Cwmaman before reaching Llanelli. All aboard for the next stop in Kidwelly where a by-election has been called for 19 November following the death of the previous Labour incumbent.

This is the first Carmarthenshire by-election to be held under the new Corbynista Labour Party, and with all those new members, you would think the party would have been able to come up with an attractive candidate.

Fair play, they did at least try. One new member who had signed up so that he could vote for Jeremy was surprised to receive an e-mail asking if he would like to stand in Kidwelly, even though he lives as far away from Kidwelly as you can get in Carmarthenshire, and has never set foot in the town.

Which brings us to the cautionary tale of Ryan Thomas.

Ryan became a member of Kidwelly Town Council at the tender age of 24, and by 2014 he was deputy mayor and a rising star. A bit like Shahid, in fact.

Ryan and Nia

Unfortunately things went pear-shaped for him at last year’s mayor-making ceremony when he became tired and emotional, made some very rude comments about the mayor’s wife to a young man who turned out to be her son and then groped a 19-year old woman.

The police became involved, charges were eventually laid, and Ryan was committed to trial.

In the meantime, Ryan was suspended by the Labour Party and he resigned from the council.

British justice ground its way slowly, as usual, and many months passed until the morning of the trial itself when Ryan suddenly realised that it had all been a terrible mistake. He made a formal apology which was accepted by the young woman who had waited in vain for so long, and charges were dropped. The judge dismissed the case and entered a verdict of not guilty.

For those readers who sometimes wonder about the subtleties of the legal system, this neatly illustrates the difference between “not guilty” and “innocent”.

That was in August, and there was jubilation in the public gallery as Ryan walked free. He now finds himself selected to stand as the Labour candidate for his town in November.

(Jac says: ‘What an indictment this is of the English judicial system. The horny little sod confessed, eventually, to indecent assault – but was then found ‘not guilty’! When I come to power anyone suspected of being a Labour Party member will – after receiving a good kicking – be sent off for two years of re-education, where this blog will be compulsory reading. Oh yes.’)

CLARIFICATION (see comments) 05.11.2015: In court Ryan Thomas said, “I accept that I was intoxicated and that my conduct may have been inappropriate as a result” . . . “I wish to apologise for any offence caused.” So let us accept that he was found not guilty of groping. And I may have got the charge wrong, though different reports use different terms, including ‘groping’. The fact remains that he apologised for having done something, so what did he apologise for?

A new boy

To find a truly fresh-faced new hopeful on the Labour scene in Carmarthenshire, we will have to return to Llanelli where Lee Waters, until recently director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs, has thrown his hat into the ring to replace Keith Davies as Assembly Member for Llanelli next year. Party-loving Keith is retiring, presumably to spend more time with his Chardonnay.

As director of the IWA, which likes to describe itself as an independent think tank, and a former ITV chief political correspondent, Lee Waters has been able to observe the inner workings of the Labour Party at close quarters, and he will be even more aware than most of the party’s dismal record since 1999, so his decision to throw in his lot with the freak show in Carmarthenshire is hard to see as anything other than a career move.

Neither Waters nor any of the other exhibits we have examined could be described as part of the Corbynite new wave, so where does this leave all those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new converts and idealists?

The idea that Kevin Madge, Dolly Dafen or any of the other grizzled old guard and their young clients are about to release their grip on the party and hand the reins to a group of newcomers is about as realistic as Jeremy’s chances of entering 10 Downing Street.

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.

Feb 052014
 

There was a piece in today’s WalesOnline by Graham Henry telling us that Wales needs a few hundred thousand more dwellings than are currently planned. I don’t know who fed him the story, but I suspect the Wales-based statisticians of the Knowledge and Analytical Services, who answer to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in London. I say that because anyone doing serious journalism on housing projections and Local Development Plans would be bound to mention the Planning Inspectorate. Not mentioning this executive agency of the DCLG is rather like discussing the current upheavals in Welsh rugby and ignoring the role of the Welsh Rugby Union.

What is perhaps worse is that this omission allowed the article to be read as if Welsh local authorities are solely responsible for deciding how many new homes will be built. They are not. That power rests with the Planning Inspectorate, which does not hesitate to regularly insist that councils increase the number of new homes to be planned for. Councils accept these diktats because they simply cannot afford to challenge them, with the Planning Inspectorate backed financially by the UK government.Household projections Carmarthenshire

As the WalesOnline article focused on Carmarthenshire let’s look at the county’s Local Development Plan (of October 2013). Go to section 5.4.7 and we learn that the council anticipates an increase in population from 175,063 in 2008 to 192,740 in 2021, and a projected increase in households in the same period (5.4.8) of 15,197. (The 2011 census gave Carmarthenshire’s population at 181,227.) That the number of new households is not much smaller than the projected population increase is due partly to new families forming, partly to in-migration but mainly to projected smaller household size. In fact, before I started investigating housing and planning in Wales I hadn’t appreciated the importance of the household size figure. Yet it’s difficult to make sense of LDPs and other demands for housing without understanding the relationship between population growth and household size. Put simply, a household means a dwelling. If the projected population increase for an area was 20,000, and average household size was four persons, then a council would need to plan for the building of roughly half the homes needed if the household size was only two persons. Smaller households = more dwellings.

The table above right (click to enlarge) is taken from a June 2011 document, Population and Housing – Revised Topic Paper 2, used to inform the Carmarthenshire LDP. It tells us that the statisticians predict massive increases in the following types of households: single people, couples, and single parents with children. The figures come from, Household Projections for Wales (2006-based), which sees household size in the county drop from 2.25 in 2006 to 2.04 in 2021. Though seeing as this Topic Paper was produced in 2011 it’s strange that it used the 2006 figures rather than those for 2008, which predict a slightly higher average in 2021. It should be pointed out here that the Office for National Statistics has “sourced out” household projections to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. This being the department to which the Knowledge and Analytical Services (KAS) answers.

Living at homeSo how reliable are these household size projections? Not very. The 2011 census tells us there were in Carmarthenshire 78,800 households of one or more persons. If we divide this into the population figure of 181,227 it gives us a household average size of 2.30. Obviously this is not exact, but even so, it is higher than the KAS estimate for 2011 0f 2.17. Other information suggests that, far from falling, household size may actually be rising. For example, this recent report tells us that an increasing number of young adults are living at home with a parent or parents, and that this trend was observable before the economic downturn. (See panel, left.) Then, the UK government plans to cut housing benefit for under 25s rather than reduce universal pensioner benefits. Both measures are bound to increase household size. And, as a consequence, reduce the need for new housing.

No one reading this must think that I’m talking only of private, open market, dwellings, for these projections also apply to social housing, which is covered in the Housing (Wales) Bill (see recent posts). This legislation, handed down by the Department for Communities and Local Government in London, will ‘harmonise’ the provision of social housing in Wales and England. In other weopposebedroomtaxwords, anyone qualifying for social housing in England will automatically qualify for social housing in Wales. Which, when added to the UK government’s welfare reforms (such as the ‘bedroom tax’), might explain the Carmarthenshire household projections in the table above . . . if Carmarthenshire is being prepared for an influx of single mothers and others from the Great Wen.

Before concluding I must return to private housing in order to bring to your attention the remarkable transformation that occurs between statisticians’ projections and housebuilders’ planning applications. As we have seen, statisticians argue for ever smaller household size, due to more and more people living alone and an increasing number of childless – usually retired – couples. One team of academics employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government (or someone) told us that, “Of the projected net increase of 269,000 households between 2006 and 2026, 66 per cent are one-person households and 21 per cent one-parent families. ‘Couple’ households contribute 16 per cent of the total increase in households”. (Numerate readers will have noted that these three categories alone add up to 103 per cent!) Which should result in the vast majority of properties built being one- and two-bedroom dwellings – but they’re not. The latest figures available, July – September 2013, tell us that 62.6% of completed dwellings in Wales were three- and four-bedroom houses!

Clearly, a deception is being practised. On the one hand, the UK government and its Wales-based statisticians predict – against increasing evidence – smaller households in order to bump up the number of new properties needed. But then, the Planning Inspectorate, working with housebuilders and others, takes the ‘new dwellings needed’ figures, transforms them into much larger dwellings, and forces Local Development Plans on our councils. We are being made to build social housing to meet an English demand, and also private housing, from Carmarthenshire to Denbighshire, to accommodate a wealthier English influx. All part of a wider strategy of colonisation.

The Local Development Plans for Carmarthenshire and other local authorities were rushed through before the underpinning ‘statistics’ could be invalidated by: a) the consequences of the economic crisis that began in 2008 and b) the 2011 census. Almost as if the Planning Inspectorate and the statisticians knew they had only a short ‘window’ in which to force their plans on our local authorities. Now that we have more reliable statistics the Local Development Plans thus far adopted are invalidated. They must be revised. From now on we must plan for Welsh need and Welsh need only.

Mar 212013
 

CARDIFF: The council of our capital city is advertising for an ‘adviser’ to the council leader . . . though not in Wales, for the advertisement appeared in the Sunday Times. Which I assume means that knowledge of Cardiff, or Wales, is not required. As this article makes clear, the news has provoked a debate to which a number of people have made interesting contributions.

Local Government consultant Jeff Jones wants to see full-blown political appointees as in the USA. Which is where we’ve been heading since New Labour came to power in 1997 and took on what were clearly political appointees as ‘special advisers’ to the Prime Minister and other senior cabinet members. Though this was never a satisfactory arrangement, partly due to these appointees’ ambivalent relationship with the civil service and, towards the end of Blair’s tenure of No 10, advisers for Blair and Brown being engaged in almost open warfare. Plaid Cymru’s Neil McAvoy also sees this danger and makes the same point while generally endorsing Jeff Jones’ argument.

One problem here is the ambiguity surrounding the exact status of this ‘Head of Cabinet Office’ post. Given that Cardiff is controlled by Labour we can safely assume that whoever is appointed will be a Labour Party member or supporter. Yet we shall be asked to believe that the post is politically neutral. Another worry for me is that the post was advertised as offering an opportunity to ‘shape policy’. Now, with Caerffili and Carmarthenshire fresh in our minds, do we really want more unelected people exercising control over our local authorities?

The answer to this and many other problems in local government is to give us eight new authorities with no more than thirty full-time councillors per authority. Attract a better quality of councillor prepared to make the council a job and a mission rather than using it as an excuse to earn beer money from handing out contracts and planning consents to friends, family, and those belonging to the same organisation.

CARMARTHENSHIRE: Today’s Wasting Mule carried an incredible letter from Siân Caiach, former Plaid Cymru luminary, more recently Plaid’s nemesis in Llanelli. (Standing as an independent in 2011 she gained 2,004 votes, while Plaid Cymru lost to Labour by Sian Caiachjust 80.) That aside, what she says in her letter is so damning of both Carmarthenshire County Council, and the Welsh Government, that answers must be forthcoming to explain the lie upon lie that almost destroyed one of the area’s traditional industries. No, more than that, part of its culture. And the culture of a wider area. How many of us used to enjoy a packet of cockles on a Saturday night as the sellers made their way from pub to pub, jostling with the ladies trying to make us feel better about ourselves (and to banish or sublimate our carnal thoughts of them) by buying War Cry

It is difficult to imagine the pond life running Carmarthenshire – whether that be the Nazi-Soviet pact nominally in charge, or he who breaks butterflies on wheels – being so utterly and bastardly irresponsible as to do what is alleged by Siân Caiach, just so they could build yet more houses in the county, for yet more English colonists. But if that is the case, then we can almost guarantee that the English Planning Inspectorate is lurking somewhere in the shadows.

CYMRU: In my post of February 18th I told you I had submitted two Freedom of Information requests. One asking how many publicly-funded bodies we have in Wales ‘helping people back into employment’, and the other asking how much we are paying for Tŷ Hywel, formerly Crickhowell House, so central to the scam that was the regeneration of Cardiff docks. The reply to the first of those FoIs was dealt with here a few days ago. I now have some answers to the second FoI, and boy! do they make interesting reading!

First, let’s recap. Crickhowell House is an office block in Cardiff Bay, built in the late 1980s by Associated British Ports. (Head honcho, Lord Crickhowell, formerly Nicholas Edwards MP for Pembrokeshire and Secretary of State for Wales from 1979 to 1987.) The building cost some £11m to build and no one wanted to buy or lease it until 1993, when the Tory-controlled Welsh Office under David Hunt helped out his old friend, Lord Crickhowell, by taking out a 20-year lease on the building for the use of the Welsh Combined Health Services Authority. Crickhowell House was far too big and the WCHSA never used much more than a third of it. You will probably remember that from 1999 to 2006 Crickhowell House was used as the Assembly building. The lease was said to be worth just over £2m a year plus maintenance and other costs. So this Tory old pals act takes us from 1993 to 2013.

Next, when the deal was done with Associated British Ports to lease for 150 years, and for just £1, the land on which the Senedd today stands, it was rumoured that Ron Davies secretly agreed to extend the lease on Crickhowell House for a further 5 years. So that would have been another £10m+. It was even being suggested there was an option to extend the lease further. So in order to get at the facts I submitted my FoI. The answers to which may be read here.

The facts are that Tŷ Hywel is leased until 2032 at an annual cost of £2.3m + VAT. Yet the total figure given, in response to my question, “What will be the total expenditure, since 1993, of leasing,improving and maintaining Tŷ Hywel?” the answer given is £40,654,093 (from 1999), which can’t be right, can it? By my calculations, at £2.3m a year the lease from 1999 to 2032 comes to £75.9m. Add in the six years from 1993 to 1999 and it’s closer to £90m! And that’s without VAT, maintenance and all the other costs! I’d like you to give some thought to these figures, see if they, literally, add up.

CommissionThe reply contained the names of two bodies that I just had to check, because they were new to me. The first was the Assembly Commission, described as “the corporate body of the National Assembly for Wales”. And Crick Properties, who now own Tŷ Hywel. The Assembly Commission is made up of the Presiding Officer and four other AMs with various portfolios. Today’s Commission members are shown in the panel (click to enlarge) though it would have been Dafydd Elis Thomas who led the Commission when it decided to extend the lease on Tŷ Hywel in 2007. Crick Properties turned up little on Google, apart from this intriguing snippet on Slugger O’Toole. But given the name, it must be reasonable to assume a connection with Lord Crickhowell.

Another thought struck me as I digested the astronomic figures for Tŷ Hywel. We like to pride ourselves in Wales on the fact that we rejected Private Finance Initiatives. But remember this; in addition to £2.3m + VAT per annum lease, the Assembly Commission is also responsible for upkeep and renovation of the building. So if Tŷ Hywel, a building that will end up costing us well over £100m – yet is said to have sold in 2009 for £31m – is not a PFI, then what is? And bear in mind that the sale price in 2009 was greatly inflated by the fact that the Assembly Commission had agreed – in 2007 – a lease extension to 2032. Which means that had they refused to extend the lease, then the Assembly Commission might have been able to buy the building for considerably less than £31m.

So there you are, mes enfants; three stories which, in their own way, paint a depressing picture of public life in Wales today. Lies being told, public money being squandered, the interests of the people ignored and democracy treated with contempt. Why do we bother playing this game we can’t win? And if we could win it, would the victory be worth it?

Dec 142012
 

Two current stories provide further evidence of the mess local government is in in Wales.

The first is the ongoing saga of the totalitarian regime on Goal Hill in Carmarthen. For some time now the dictatorial chief executive, Mark James, and his underlings, Meryl Gravell, Leader of the Independent councillors (in many cases, Tory), and Labour group leader, Kevin Madge, have run the county without reference to the majority of those elected by the county’s voters. Carmarthenshire is now a democracy in name only. So bad have things become that the county’s largest town is talking of secession.

This slide into darkness has resulted in a totalitarian approach from county hall towards anyone daring to criticise the troika, while the council funds James’ personal libel proceedings and outsources services to – and also funds – a bunch of religious extremists. Thankfully, the fightback is underway. One of the local ‘papers having joined the Resistance this week.

The other example comes from Caerffili, where a small group of councillors secretly agreed with the chief executive, Anthony O’Sullivan, that his salary, and the salaries of other senior officers, should be greatly increased . . . soon after telling the lower orders that there was no cash to give them an increase. As I write this it seems the plebs are considering strike action.

As in Carmarthenshire, we see censorship in Caerffili, according to Unison Cymru branch secretary, Gary Enright (where’s Larkin?): “Unison members have expressed concerns, however, that since we have started to publicly speak out and campaign about the pay rise the chief officers have received, access to news websites, including Wales Online, appear to have been blocked by the council’s IT systems”.

Throw in the Welsh Government sending up Commissioners to run Ynys Môn after losing patience with its dysfunctional council, and it becomes clear that local government in Wales has a number of problems. Brought home to me again last year, during the Assembly elections. The chief returning officer for the north, Mohammed Mehmet, decided unilaterally to hold the north Wales count the day after the election. So results for the rest of Wales were already known before the counting even started in the north. Mehmet is chief executive of Denbighshire council. So, for me, one of those problems is that of over-powerful chief executives, none of whom seem to be Welsh.

It would be nice to think that the Welsh Government is giving these despots enough rope to hang themselves, but that’s unlikely. Even so, everyone knows that at some time in the not-too-distant future the Welsh Government is going to have to grapple with local government re-organisation to give us far fewer councils than the 22 we know today. This offers opportunities for reform that must be grasped – or do we simply want the likes of those above wielding untrammelled power over even larger fiefdoms!

Of course not. So for a start, not only should we have fewer councils, we should have far fewer councillors. (The cabinet system has rendered most councillors redundant anyway.) It is painfully obvious that we can’t find enough people of even the limited ability required by the 60-Member talking-shop in Cardiff docks, so why do we delude ourselves that we can find a few thousand councillors who can simultaneously chew gum and tie their shoelaces without choking or getting their finger trapped? (Possibly both.)

So let’s have a small number of professional councillors in each of the new councils, paid a decent wage with a car thrown in. For bear in mind that New York city council, serving the five boroughs, 8 million people, and countless racial and ethnic groups, has just 51 council members. So how the hell can anyone justify 73 councillors in Powys, with a population of 133,000? Also, abolish the cabinet system. Make all meetings open to the public. Let members of the public record and film all meetings. After all, councillors work for the public.

Let’s not stop there, let’s be really reactionary, and remind chief executives and other top managers that that’s all they are – managers. They answer to the councillors we elect. In other words, they work for us, the people living in the area covered by their employer. It would help, I’m sure, if the new authorities employed Welsh people for the top posts; because these would not only know the area better they would also empathise more with those they served, and be much less likely to act as gauleiters or colonial governors. Perhaps in the fullness of time the required legislation can be passed.

In the meantime, we are stuck in this world turned upside down in which an individual who should be serving the council is in fact running it! While most of those we elect are rendered impotent, and might as well not bother going to council meetings because everything is stitched up in advance between the unelected de facto leader and whoever, nominally, heads the cabinet. This is not democracy. Only a party used to doing things in such a manner could accept it as democracy, and allow it to persist.