Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd

Jan 022017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

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

Nov 172015
 

REMEMBERING BUDDY HOLLY

Back in January I posted a piece, Let’s Be Honest About Housing Associations, that began in nostalgic-humorous mood before going on to make more serious points about the provision of rented accommodation. The fundamental point I tried to make was that up until about a century ago rented accommodation was provided by the private sector, employers, charities and other bodies, not by local authorities or any other social housing provider. I asked, in view of changes taking place in the housing market, whether we could now be moving back towards that situation, how it might be done, and what benefits it might offer.

In my January piece I made a number of points about the changing nature of housing provision in Wales and, especially, how the proportion of people living in the private rented sector (PRS) was growing, almost unnoticed and, certainly in Wales, unplanned. I used the table below to show the dwelling stock percentages in the four categories: local authority, registered social landlord (RSL), owner-occupier and PRS.

Houses by tenure

I am now able to follow up that January piece thanks to a regular source who has drawn my attention to a recently published report examining the advantages of giving a greater role to the PRS in the provision of social and rented housing. The report is produced by the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) and is entitled The Potential Role of the Private Rented Sector in Wales. I advise you to open the report in another window or browser in order to follow the points I shall pick up on later in this article. But before that, let’s take a fresh look at the RSL sector, using information not previously available to me.

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WAY OUT WEST

For much of this new information I am indebted to another contact who has looked into the workings of the RSL sector in Ceredigion, an investigation that has unearthed a number of disturbing issues, prompting him to submit important questions to the ‘Welsh’ Government. Unsurprisingly, the civil servants acting as the ‘Welsh’ Government refuse to answer his questions, so he has now taken the matter to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales.

Alas, the PSOW is Nick Bennett, former head of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella body for housing associations, so I have warned my contact not to expect any help from that quarter. (Bennett’s appointment was a pre-Sophie Howe illustration of how incestuous and corrupt public life is in modern Wales.)

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

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

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

Then there seem to be two funding streams for capital projects, i.e. new-build housing, the Social Housing Grant and the Housing Finance Grant. I knew about the first, and I submitted an FoI last year to the ‘Welsh’ Government asking how much had been dished out under the SHG. I used the answers to compile the table below (click to enlarge). It shows that the figure for the six years 2008 – 2013 is £692.5m. (The explanation for the declining amount paid out in SHG can be found below in other, newer funding streams.)

Social Housing Grant 1

But at that stage I knew little about the Housing Finance Grant. Now I know a little more.

Even though I’m a regular and consistent critic of housing associations one feature of their operations that I have always regarded as commendable is that they raise funding from banks and other commercial lenders. Which means they are not entirely reliant on the public purse. Well, that’s what I thought; the reality is very different, as I learnt from my enquiries into the Housing Finance Grant.

The system works thus: Yes, housing associations find commercial lenders prepared to give them large loans – but then the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me! – repay those loans over 30 years to the lenders, M&G Investments and Affordable Housing Finance, the latter being funding guaranteed by the UK Department for Communities and Local Government.

(And as the DCLG website puts it, “Borrowers will need to be Registered Providers (or equivalent in the devolved administrations) and classified to the private sector”. Which suggests that housing associations are not public bodies. Or maybe they are, in which case why is a Conservative government putting so much money into public bodies in order for them to build up valuable assets . . . unless they are being fattened up for full privatisation?)

Housing Finance Grant clip

The system of repaying lenders also applies to the ‘Dowry Gap’; housing associations take out loans, paid in lump sums, and the ‘Welsh’ Government repays those loans over 30 years. This explains why Tai Ceredigion has now completed its programme of upgrading its properties but will continue to receive the ‘Dowry Gap’ funding every year. The money is repaying Tai Ceredigion’s loan, which seems to be itemised in the latest financial statement at £23m.

It is even suggested that ‘Dowry Gap’ and WHQS funding is being used – improperly – for capital projects, but financial oversight of housing associations by the ‘Welsh’ Government is so lax that there’s no way of proving or disproving this claim.

All of which means that housing associations, despite the flim-flam about ‘new ways of doing things’ are old-fashioned Statist creations, entirely dependent on the public purse, which explains why they are favourites of the anti-business parties, Labour and Plaid Cymru.

Their only assets, their only other source of income, is of course their housing stock – either inherited from local authorities or built with public funding. So, again, at no cost to them. It’s a ‘new way of doing things’ only in the sense that it’s more opaque than straightforward dollops of public funding.

Seeing as housing associations are entirely dependent on the public purse it’s worth asking, again, why they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act? Maybe the duplicitous and very expensive way they’re funded provides the answer.

Another point, one that I have raised before – dealt with in my January post, and also here – is the scandalous amount of this public funding that our ‘Welsh’ housing associations spend over the border. In the case of Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd it was the insanity of giving its total maintenance contract to English firm Lovell which, from its Cheshire base, recruited its sub-contractors exclusively from north west England.

I’m sure Tai Ceredigion uses local firms to do its work, but I still question why a firm operating on Cardigan Bay should have external auditors based in Birmingham (Mazars LLP) and internal auditors in Hampshire (TIAA Ltd). Both may have offices in Cardiff, but neither is a Welsh company. There are genuine Welsh companies closer to and even in Ceredigion that could and should be doing this work that is paid for with Welsh public funding.

Tai Ceredigion auditors

‘Welsh’ Government funding should carry the stipulation that as much as possible of that funding remains in Wales. This can only be achieved if the funding reaches genuinely Welsh firms, not outside firms with an office in Wales funnelling profits back to HQ, or those seeking to capitalise on the public funding bonanza with a hastily set up ‘Welsh branch’ that is little more than a post-box and a telephone number.

Of course, it would be easy to argue that none of this really matters because all the funding comes, in one form or another, from London. But only part of the Housing Finance Grant comes directly from London, the rest is raised commercially, and the other funding streams – Social Housing Grant, Welsh Housing Quality Standard and ‘Dowry Gap’ funding – seem to be ‘Welsh’ Government initiatives.

Which is worrying, because it gives us a situation in many parts of Wales, perhaps especially in rural areas, where housing associations are on a treadmill of growth and expansion fuelled by this funding – yet there is often little or no local demand for more social housing.

Housing associations are perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the Third Sector, the shadow world that those buffoons down Cardiff docks want us to believe is an economy, but it’s all smoke and mirrors, all underpinned by public funding. And all unnecessary. As I shall now explain by delving a little more into the Public Policy Institute for Wales report I mentioned earlier.

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‘THE POTENTIAL OF THE PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR IN WALES’

Before diving into the report it might be worth just pausing to see what kind of an organisation the Institute is. It was formed in January last year to “provide the Welsh Government with authoritative independent analysis and advice.” If you look through the names to be found in ‘The Team’, ‘The Board of Governors’, and the ‘Executive Group’, you get the impression that the PPIW is very much a cross-border outfit, containing – on the Board of Governors – people who know Wales such as Gerry Holtham, along with people, such as Will Hutton, who may be very clever and a Newsnight regular but know little about our country. ‘The Team‘, presumably those running the PPIW day-to-day, is disappointingly top-heavy, to the point of capsizing, with apparatchiks and people from the Third Sector.

The Executive Group “is made up of representatives from the organisations that formed part of the consortium that collaborated in the development of the PPIW”. These are ‘our’ universities (including Liverpool but not Glyndŵr!) and Victoria Winkler of ‘Welsh’ Labour’s very own think-tank, the Bevan Foundation.

The report set out to answer three questions, found below.

PPIW report aims

Some Report Findings

The PPIW report confirms that the PRS is growing in every single local authority area, though predictably, Cardiff, with its vast student population and other young singles, outstrips all other areas. In fact, the report tells us that in Cardiff, “owner occupation has actually fallen compared to renting in both absolute and proportional terms”. Table 6 shows that 22.1% of Cardiff’s dwellings are privately rented. The next highest local authority area is Ceredigion with 17.5%, and then in third place comes Denbighshire with 16.5%.

PRS changes

The figures for both Cardiff and Ceredigion are influenced by the student presence while the ‘Rhyl factor’ explains the Denbighshire figure, correlated in Table 1, which tells us that Sir Dinbych lost 870 private households between 2001 and 2011 while the same period saw an increase of 1,468 in the PRS. Other areas saw a decline in the number of private households but nowhere was the fall as dramatic as in Denbighshire.

Staying with Table 6, in percentage and absolute terms Carmarthenshire saw the highest increase in private households due mainly to the saturation housing strategy devised by the Planning Inspectorate and eagerly implemented by those running the council. The same designed-to-attract-English-buyers process can also be observed at work in Powys. (N.B. A ‘household’ can be a person living alone or a family of 10.)

Table 9 tells us that rents in the PRS are always higher than the RSL sector though this varies from area to area. In Blaenau Gwent the average social rent is £61.68 per week, or 89% of the PRS, whereas in Wrecsam, Swansea and Cardiff the percentage drops to 67%, though the average PRS rent in Wrecsam is lower than the two southern cities.

Poor PRS

Of course there is a downside to this unplanned and largely unchecked growth in the PRS, especially in decaying coastal towns like Rhyl, and areas of our cities taken over by students. That downside is the breakdown of community life and an increase in various forms of criminality and anti-social behaviour.

It could even be argued that there is a case to be made for paying compensation to long-term residents of such neighbourhoods. Compensation to be paid by the ‘Welsh’ Government or the local authority, whoever was responsible for not guarding against such decline or refusing to implement the legislation that could have prevented it.

A Better Way

Happily, the report also makes clear that there are alternatives to endlessly pumping public money into secretive, unaccountable and amateurishly run housing associations, or otherwise allowing the growth of ghettoes of cross-border criminals and misfits housed by slum landlords. To avoid these outcomes the report draws our attention to institutional investment such as pension funds to provide rented and other property, coupled with more imaginative and varied housing options.

In the Appendix the report’s authors look at three examples in the south where the ‘Welsh’ Government is in partnership with the Principality Building Society in a venture called Tai Tirion (or Tirion Group Ltd, Co. No. 08891823) to build over a thousand new homes on brownfield sites in Cardiff, Newport and the Rhondda. Though that said, there is not a lot of progress being made. Not really surprising, seeing as the ‘Welsh’ Government is involved . . .

I say that not out of malice, it’s just the way things are. Institutional investors such as pension funds are viewed with suspicion by Statist ‘Welsh’ Labour. As the report puts it – refer to ‘three questions’ panel above – “the Minister confirmed that the emphasis of the project should be concentrated mainly on (i) and (ii)”.

PRS minister response

To remind you . . . Question iii reads, ‘If the PRS is to be a long term tenure of choice, whether it is likely to be possible to interest institutional money and professional management in the market (i.e. what are the barriers to large scale investment?).’

On reading that you can almost imagine a ‘Welsh’ Labour politician or apparatchik having an involuntary evacuation of the bowels . . . “‘institutional money’! . . . ‘professional management’! . . . people who might understand business! . . . what about our friends in the Third Sector, how are they to sustain their muesli-weaving, skinny latte lifestyles? . . . oh, no, we can’t have that!

So the ‘Welsh’ Government prefers to let the private rental sector grow in a reckless and uncontrolled manner through the activities of Buy to Let ‘investors’ and people who buy dilapidated hotels in Colwyn Bay to house Scouse junkies.

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CONCLUSION

It is surely obvious that if housing associations are the answer, then the question must have been, ‘What is the most expensive (to the public purse) and least efficient way of delivering rented social housing?’ In the hope of disguising this monumental error we are now encumbered with secretive, unaccountable money pits.

Which would be bad enough if they were at least spending the money on housing Welsh people, but due to the Englandandwales allocation system into which our housing associations are locked a Welsh family is all too likely to discover that the Family from Hell has been given the house next door . . . ‘Hell’ in this case will be Birmingham, or Stoke-on-Trent, or Sheffield, or . . .

Consequently, there is no justification for pouring any more money into housing associations. Especially given that the Conservative government in London is almost certainly planning to do away with them. Or does the ‘Welsh’ Government think this is a devolved matter? Maybe it is, but that won’t count for anything if Westminster forces change through by cutting the block grant. And further undermines the sector with selected benefit cuts.

So my advice to the ‘Welsh’ Government is this: realise that housing associations are an expensive failure. Then, get ahead of the curve by taking control of the social rented sector nationally and looking for the kind of investors mentioned in the Public Policy Institute for Wales report, pension funds and others looking for the kinds of large-scale investments that individual housing associations and single sites cannot provide.

To take advantage of this private funding, and to save the public purse a hell of a lot of money, you, the self-styled ‘Welsh Government’, need to put aside your congenital hostility to business and real money and, for a change, prioritise the best interests of the Welsh people. It’s what you were elected to do – remember?

END

Jan 072015
 
This post is a revised version of an article that recently appeared in Cambria magazine

When I was growing up in Swansea in the 1950s most of the people I knew lived in terraced houses owned by people we didn’t know. For our house, the rent was collected by a chain-smoking bottle blonde from Mumbles who would enter the payment in her rent book with the kind of yellow fingers that persuaded me to become the only 10-year-old in the area who smoked his Woodbine from the other end of a cigarette holder. (Well, I was too young to give up smoking.) Despite our rent-collector’s aesthetic shortcomings, her caBuddy Hollylling was considered a steady job, and quite respectable. There were a lot of them about. Another I recall was a man with a bicycle that had a small motor affixed to the back wheel, which I found fascinating. I can see him now, tackling hills with the tails of his long, drab mac flapping behind him.

Some of these rented properties would then be sub-let, or lodgers would be taken in to help pay for a ‘telly’, or a week in Tenby. One such sub-lettee was ‘Old Sam’, who lived in someone’s front room across the road from us. Sam had piles of pennies (he had piles of just about everything, come to that!) and I’d be sent across the road when the gas meter was running low. Then, some tme in 1958, my father decided to join the property-owning classes. This rise in the status of the Joneses was not without disruption; for example, our new home needed a bit of work, things like a kitchen and an indoor lavatory.

So while the builders were in I was farmed out to my maternal grandmother over on Pentregethin Road. And it was from there, walking through a building site to Penlan School one bitterly cold February morning, that I overheard a trio ahead of me talking; “‘Ave ew yerd, mush – Buddy Holly been killed”. There’d been a light snowfall and the wind had blown the snow against the piles of builders’ sand. It was so cold that the snow didn’t melt, yet the fall had been so light that I could almost make out the individual flakes. That’s how I heard of the death of my idol, though the rest of that day is lost.


Those of our acquaintance that didn’t live in privately rented properties tended to live on council estates, such as Penlan, through which I had walked that dreary February morning. Penlan belonged to a new generation of post-war council estates, supplementing those Swansea had constructed in the inter-war period – Lloyd George’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ – most noticeably the massive Townhill-Mayhill estate, collectively and colloquially referred to as, ‘The ‘Ill’. As in, ‘Whe’ by do ew live, luv?’ ‘Up on the cowinʽ ‘Ill!’. (I’m making myself quite homesick here.)

Despite the allocation system for council tenancies being, theoretically at least, needs based, it was a decided advantage if one was a Labour Party member, trade union official, or friend / relative of a local councillor. Of course, as a young lad the complexities of this allocation system were beyond my ken, though it must be said that many of my elders were also confused. Especially those who thought they had enough points to put them near the top of the waiting list, only to find that they had been queue-jumped by a woman no better than she ought to be whose only ‘points’ seemed to be . . . no, let’s not go there, or I shall be accused of picking on the Labour Party again.

Yet it’s worth remembering that prior to World War One there had been very little housing built by local authorities; in fact, I’m not sure there was any council housing built in Wales. Before the Great War housing had either been built by the big companies and mine owners or quarry owners for their workers, or else the need for rented property was met by speculative developers. (In the village where I now live most of the properties over 30 years old were built by the owners of the local quarry in the 19th century to be rented to their workers.) But the fact was that just about everybody had a home, even if it was a little room like Sam’s, piled high with pennies, newspapers and God knows what else in a permanent fog of stale urine. Well into the 1950s unmarried adults (and many young married couples) lived with their parents, the elderly invariably lived with their adult children, while single men and young women who left home to work ‘took lodgings’ or found a ‘bedsit’.

So we can safely say that council or social housing, despite our familiarity with it today, has been a feature of Welsh life for less than a century. With its hey-day probably already in the past, for today most Welsh local authorities have lost their housing stock to housing associations. Another big difference between 1915 and 2015 is of course that most people today are home owners, and many more aspire to be, which is another need being met by housing associations with ‘shared ownership’ schemes and other imaginative arrangements. All of which makes housing associations worthy of closer inspection.


Despite self-applied labels such as ‘social enterprises’ and ‘not-for-profit organisations’ most housing associations are registered as Industrial and Provident Societies; registered with, but not regulated by, the Financial Services Authority. And unlike companies limited by guarantee they have share capital. Then, and despite wanting us to believe they are public bodies, housing associations are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. (Your local council is of course covered by the Act.) All that being so, and it suggesting they are not public bodies, why have housing associations in Wales received billions of pounds in public funding since the arrival of devolution in 1999? And why is so much of this Welsh public funding seeping over the border in the form of maintenance contracts and sub-contracts for English companies?

If you think I’m exaggerating, just remember that thirty years ago the housing departments of our councils provided many tens of thousands of jobs, making this sector one of the biggest employers, especially in our rural areas. There were those employed in building and maintaining the hundreds of thousands of council properties, and there were also jobs in administration, allocating properties, collecting rents and dealing with all manner of queries. Thirty years ago local authorities were big players in the economic life of the country. ‘But surely’, you ask, ‘the council staff simply transferred to the new owner of the properties?’ Well, usually . . . some . . . and to begin with . . .

To explain what’s happening now I shall use an example I have studied on my own door-step – literally from my own door-step! In 2010 Gwynedd council’s housing stock was transferred to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (Gwynedd Community Housing), and to begin with, things seemed to carry on much as before. More recently, worrying changes have been apparent. The contract for maintaining the properties was awarded to Lovell, a major English company which has its ‘local’ branch office in Cheshire. Lovell in turn sub-contracted to smaller companies over the border. Let me explain how this works in practice.

In 2013 Lovell’s sub-contractors were working in the Tywyn area and my next-door neighbour waited months for his bathroom and kitchen to be re-tiled. The tilers travelled every day – when they bothered to turn up – from Wigan. Their day worked out at roughly four hours of travelling and five hours of work! And this lunacy, remember, is being perpetrated with Welsh public funding and at the expense of Welsh sub contractors!

More recently we have seen the controversy over CCG’s attempts to bring in English managers. Defended and disguised with arguments such as ‘unable to find suitable Welsh-speaking applicants’ and ‘seeking the best for the job’, when the truth is that it’s a move to better ‘integrate’ CCG with the Englandandwales social housing setup. Those it is hoped to recruit will have contacts in England that will ensure Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd secures more tenants from the lucrative – but damaging to the host community – ‘vulnerable’ sector. The real question is, where did this diktat originate? Because CCG’s chief executive, Ffrancon Williams, seems to be just a mouthpiece in this, and the acquiescing Board member nothing but a smokescreen. The decision was certainly taken elsewhere.

The table below (click to enlarge) shows the amounts of funding given to Welsh housing associations in just one six-year period and from just one funding stream, the Social Housing Grant. Couldn’t that seven hundred million pounds – and all the rest! – have been better used?

Social Housing full

There are just so many problems attaching to the current arrangements for social housing. The one I have just dealt with in Gwynedd is replicated across Wales, resulting in thousands of jobs being lost and billions of pounds of Welsh money flowing over the border – Welsh public money that is supposed to be used to boost the Welsh economy! In addition, Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system that means a large family of English social misfits (or worse) can qualify for social housing in Wales ahead of locals; as can criminals, drug addicts, paedophiles and other who qualify as ‘vulnerable’, and therefore generate more income for whoever houses them. With such rich pickings on offer no one should be surprised to learn that many housing associations are building properties in numbers that cannot be justified by local demand – especially in some rural towns – and are only being built at all to meet the lucrative demand from England. As an example of what I’m talking about let’s remember the paedophile gang housed by Gwalia in Cydweli, which generated a lot more income than if those properties had been used to house law-abiding locals.

STOP PRESS: Just before posting I learnt that police in Haverfordwest are warning interested parties (schools, etc.,) that convicted sex offenders are now being housed in the centre of the town.

I don’t wish to paint an overly depressing picture (recalling ‘The Day the Music Died’ has already had me reaching for the Kleenex!), but social housing in Wales is an indefensible system. To conclude this section, and expose the lunacy from another angle, consider this. Apart from hundreds of councillors worried about losing their allowances just about everyone else in Wales believes we need many fewer local authorities. That being so, why does our ‘Welsh’ Government encourage the proliferation of housing associations – actually funding them to compete with each other? Or to put it another way: why should an area deemed too small to have its own local authority have half a dozen or more housing associations on its patch fighting like ferrets in a sack over the social housing racket?


The day of council-owned social housing is clearly coming to an end, dealt its death-blow by Margaret Thatcher’s Housing Act of 1980 and its ‘Right-to-Buy’ provisions. I would like to believe that we are approaching the end of social housing altogether and heading towards a system in which all rented accommodation will be provided by private sector. Housing associations are obviously a half-way house towards such a system, and were probably designed to be just that. What I would like to see in the next few years is their full privatisation. The writing may be on the wall, and it’s in David Cameron’s own hand.

In January 2012 the UK Prime Minister announced new legislation (due in 2015) for the governing of co-operatives (including Industrial Provident Societies), and he said, “We know that breaking monopolies, encouraging choice, opening up new forms of enterprise is not just right for business but the best way of improving public services too”. What I’ve underlined is a strange term to use in relation to what purports to be nothing more than legislation to consolidate earlier Bills and iron out anomalies. ‘New forms of enterprise’ in the same sentence as ‘public services’ should also have raised a few eyebrows.

Then we have the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014. On the one hand this seeks to further integrate Wales with England but it also has a lot to say about the ‘Regulation of Private Rented Housing’, with little of it aimed at your average ‘Buy-to-Let’ investor. My reading of Part One of the Act (by far the largest of the nine Parts) is that it sets the ground rules for a major shift in the provision of social or rented housing. And why not?

Housing associations already borrow money from banks and other institutions, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to look for commercial investors and shareholders? They would have little trouble in attracting them given that they have solid assets in the form of their housing stock. Housing associations would be ideal investment vehicles for pension funds, and socially acceptable for the more ‘ethical’ investor. Fully privatised social housing, with the right legislation in place to guarantee secure tenancies, prioritising locals, fair rents, etc., would not only provide investment opportunities but such an arrangement would also relieve a great burden on the public purse.

And there is of course another great advantage to handing the provision of rented housing over to the private sector. There is unquestionably a housing shortage, not in Wales, but in England. Despite the platitudes and promises, there is no intention of ever meeting the needs of all those wanting to own their own home, because to do so would reduce the value of millions of other homes people have invested in. So the demand remains. So why not meet it by letting the private sector build decent homes for rent, dwellings with – as on the Continent – more cachet than social housing and its connotations of problem families, pit bulls and sink estates? Give people a decent home, solve the housing crisis, and create jobs in the process, something that could be done without causing revolution in the suburbs.


Those buffoons down Cardiff docks who persist in masquerading as the ‘Welsh’ Government need to decide whether they want to start living up to their billing, or whether they continue allowing Wales to be run by English civil servants taking orders from London and doing little more than feeding the parasites of the Third Sector. If they choose the former, then one of the most convincing ways of showing their newly-grown gonads would be to devise Welsh laws for Welsh needs, rather than being bullied into accepting English laws with ‘(Wales)’ inserted into the name. Social housing might be a good place to start.

The table below shows that the fastest growing hoising sector in Wales is the private rented sector. Much of this is accounted for by ‘Buy-to-let’ mortgages but, increasingly, major companies and corporations are moving into the sector. Again, why not? As I’ve said, the demand for home ownership will never be met because to do so would lead to a collapse in property values; so why not allow private and commercial landlords to provide more salubrious accommodation than is currently provided by housing associations?

Housing by tenure

As I hope to have persuaded you, the current, Twilight Zone model of publicly-funded quasi-private companies is an unsustainable nonsense resulting from Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right-to-Buy’ legislation. The irony being that it is currently sustained by ‘Welsh’ Labour and it’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector. This situation leaves us with two options. The first would see a new model of publicly-owned social housing, serving Welsh needs, employing Welsh people, and giving contracts to Welsh companies. The second option is to cut housing associations adrift (from public funding) and say, ‘Right you’re on your own now, behave like private companies, find shareholders and raise your own funding using your massive assets as collateral’.

The first option takes us back to that system we were once comfortable with (and so proud of); whereas the second option takes us back to private landlords (but without the bottle blondes with nicotine-stained fingers). Either option will be an improvement on the absurd system we know today; which sees far too many housing associations in Wales, and too many of them wanting to employ English staff, give contracts to English companies, and take in English tenants – and do it all using Welsh public funding!

After reading this you may wish to sign the petition advertised at the top of my sidebar.

Aug 262014
 

The more I learn about how Wales is administered the more I realise that it is not run in the interests of the Welsh. Whether it’s social housing, grant funding, top jobs, higher education, the more you dig the more it’s brought home to you that Wales is a colonial possession of England, organised along worryingly discriminatory lines. All of which makes devolution a charade, and exposes the ‘Welsh’ Government to be nothing but a sad bunch of clowns and puppets dancing to London’s tune. Those in other parties who dream of replacing Labour as ‘the Government’ would do no better.

Here are some examples to explain what I mean.

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‘IEUAN AIR’

The contract for the daily air service from Valley on Anglesey to Cardiff is up for re-negotiation. The service is usually – though perhaps unfairly – known as ‘Ieuan Air’, after the former Plaid Cymru leader and Deputy First Minister in the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition (2007 – 2011), who was AM for the island and a regular user of the service. The wider issue is covered here in his usual exemplary way by Owen Donovan on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr. You’ll see that Owen tells us, “The Ieuan Air 2marketing and ticket booking services are provided by Manx company, Citywing, while the air service itself is provided by Links Air, based on Humberside”, and this aspect is what I shall focus on.

First, Citywing. In fairness, Citywing offers a full Welsh language version of its website, though seeing as it operates just one route within or from Wales this might worry some, who might wonder if this company has any other business. As Citywing is registered in the Isle of Man it’s not easy to get information on the company, which seems to have been founded as recently as November 22, 2012, when MD David Buck staged a management buy-out of the company, previously known as Manx2. A name change was possibly necessitated by Manx2 being involved in a crash at Cork airport on February 10, 2011 in which five people died. It seems that Citywing merely sells seats on “flights operated under charter from Van Air Europe and Links Air“.

My knowledge of this business is minimal, but it seems that we are very much down at the bottom end of the market, a kind of sub-Ryanair operation flying to and from Blackpool, Gloucester and other less-in-demand destinations in 19-seater planes because stricter legislation may come into force if more passengers are carried. The planes involved may be owned by the Czech company Van Air Europe and leased to Links Air with Citywing flogging tickets. Who knows? There’s so much leasing and sub-leasing going on in this game I’m surprised Nathan Gill and his gang aren’t involved, especially as Links Air is based just across the Humber from Hull.

Linksair Ltd is run by Jonathan Gordon Roy Ibbotson and his wife. It is one of three companies still trading out of a large number of companies with which 51-year-old Ibbotson has been involved. Some have failed owing money, and of the three still extant one, Linksair Properties Ltd, was only formed in July, and the other, Hangar 9 Ltd has (apparently) nothing to do with aviation, being involved in property letting, with a few outstanding mortgages to its name, and may even be Roissy Aircraft Management Ltd (another of Ibbotson’s companies) after a name change. To confuse the picture further, Ibbotson has run two companies called Hangar 9 Ltd!

Ibbotson's companies

Ibbotson obviously has an ‘interesting’ business career, so interesting that I would be loath to hand him a penny of Welsh public funding; and was there no company in Wales that could pretend to be an airline and sell a few tickets? Whether there was or not is academic, for this Anglesey – Cardiff air service has outlived whatever usefulness it might once have had, and seeing as most of the passengers have their fares paid for out of public funds it was never a viable commercial proposition. So scrap it. And if the ‘Welsh’ Government is serious about internal communications, that fare-paying passengers will use, that will create jobs within Wales, then start backing the re-opening of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway link, as the first stage in a full west coast line.

In this first example we see millions of pounds of Welsh public funding being given to English companies for a service Wales doesn’t need. This money could obviously be better spent.

UPDATE 21.10.2015: LinksAir, the company operating the Anglesey – Cardiff service, has had its safety licence revoked by the Civil Aviation Authority. The ‘Welsh’ Government insists a new operator has already been found, said to be Danish company North Flying. The service receives a subsidy from the ‘Welsh’ Government of £1.2m a year, even though passenger numbers have dropped from 14,718 in 2008-09 to just 8,406 in 2012-13.

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CARTREFI CYMUNEDOL GWYNEDD & LOVELL

When the humour is on me I turn to a longer-term project of mine, a post examining the colonisation of rural Wales; how it’s being achieved, and what steps need to be taken to curb it. One thing that quickly became clear is how little was done at governmental level to replace the jobs lost over recent decades in agriculture (including creameries, abattoirs, etc), quarrying, forestry, utilities, nationalised industries and local government. These losses were disguised by propaganda arguing that tourism would provide jobs for everyone. This decline in the numbers of ‘real’ jobs needed by adult Welsh males resulted in the predictable reduction in the Welsh population . . . which has then been disguised by the English immigration encouraged by toLovell Reg officesurism.

Here I want to look specifically at local government, or rather, a successor body. In 2010 Gwynedd’s council housing stock was transferred to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, and now the housing maintenance that would previously have been done by the council’s own workforce and local sub-contractors is done by a major English company called Lovell. Gwynedd is covered from Lovell’s North West and North Wales regional offices in Altrincham, Cheshire and Birkenhead, Merseyside. The south is covered from the ‘Midlands, South Wales and Southern’ regional offices in Birmingham, Cardiff and Hampshire. Which means it’s reasonable to assume that other Welsh local authorities and housing associations have become partners with Lovell. How many I wonder? I should mention that Lovell is also in the business of building new properties.

Here we are, fifteen years into devolution, and yet this major company still carves up our homeland and attaches the dismembered parts to English regions in the traditional, contemptuous manner of English business and administration. Lovell then compounds the insult by handing out its contracts to other English companies; contracts that in many cases are too big for smaller Welsh companies to apply for. In fact, when you read more abLovellout it, it looks as if the ‘partnership’ system is designed to exclude smaller firms. And when you see a photo such as the one I’ve used here (taken from the Lovell website) you can’t help wondering if there might not be a cartel of large English companies at work deliberately excluding smaller, more local companies.

Anyone can see the advantage for Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd in giving out a single contract for maintaining all its properties and then letting Lovell get on with it, but this is a very short-sighted policy. I have seen Lovell and their sub-contractors at work in this village. Working four-hour days due to travelling times from their English bases – and therefore taking twice as long to do the job! Does this system make sense on any level other than the convenience of the suits at CCG: employment is lost, money leaves the area, and jobs take longer to complete than if local companies were employed!

A system so ludicrous, so indefensible, can only arouse suspicion that someone at Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, or higher up the food chain, is in receipt of certain ‘inducements’.

This example shows money raised by a ‘Welsh’ organisation – from CCG’s Welsh tenants and the ‘Welsh’ Government – given to English companies to put Welsh companies out of business and Welsh workers out of jobs. Can you imagine such a system operating anywhere else on earth!

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YMCA WALES

This is an ongoing story, so regard what I tell you here as a ‘taster’. But first, I suggest you go back to a couple of posts I put out last year; first, YMCA ‘Wales’, Another Trojan Horse At The Trough, and then, YMCA ‘Wales’ and the Green, Green Pastures.The latest news – as of Friday last – is that the ‘Welsh’ Government has called in Plod to investigate YMCA Wales. Any investigation will almost certainly centre on the organisation’s former chief executive, Mo Sykes, who seems to have left her post in unexplained circumstances last month.

When I learnt of Ms Sykes’ departure I put out a couple of tweets, and I’m pleased to say that I had some responses. Here’s one anonymous response, as I received it:

  • Mo Sykes selling assets and cashing investments to pay off YMCAW overdrafts and debts.
  • Sykes spearheading campaign to build and sell at Penrhyndeudraeth without proper discussion at board level. (See last year’s posts.)
  • Took control of Port Talbot YMCA without board approval and proceeded to empty it’s bank account to “repay” a non existent loan to the national body.
  • Local branches of YMCA not linked to the national body in any way other than name. Receive no finance or any other support from Mo Sykes or her cronies.
  • Local branches struggling to survive whilst Sykes takes her newborn child and nanny on ‘fact finding’ mission to USA.
  • Some Trustees pleaded with charity commission to step in when militant Mo would not recognise concerns of trustees and was acting without authority. (This was two years ago, so why didn’t the ‘Welsh’ Government intervene at this stage, rather than allowing things to further deteriorate?)
  • Chairman after chairman turns blind eye to numerous attempts by group of determined trustees for transparency.
  • Many trustees resign after being shouted down by CEO and chairman Peter Landers for refusing to sign off on annual accounts moments prior to AGM commencing. (Landers is elsewhere described as ” . . . head of Newport YMCA . . . a loud, scruffy man . . . counting the days to his retirement . . . “)
  • Many whistle-blowers are crushed and humiliated by Sykes for seeking the truth. One hounded from post within YMCA and then pursued and punished through a new employer.
  • Hopefully, now, the truth will out and local branches will get the support so desperately needed from Welsh Government.

Another response was equally revealing, and disturbing:

“For 20 years the Llandovery YMCA was functioning as a small charity with less than £10,000 annual income, mainly from camping trips, bible study, after school fees and renting out the meeting room. Then in 2011 it’s annual turnover suddenly rocketed to over £100,000 with an innovative food box programme. This was an emergency relief project to stem the little known Llanymddyfri famine. Over 200 relief boxes per month (food and nappies) were distributed, and according to their annual report, which was generously supplied by the Kings Church in Newport under a scheme headlined as ‘Jesus Cares’.

The new venture was kicked off in 2011 with a grant of £44,000 from Carmarthenshire County Council and Llandovery YMCA saw a jump from zero to two staff being employed, incurring a cost Sykes-Tatmanof £23,000 in salaries. In 2012 there was a further consolidation with a cash injection of £103,000 from the Big Lottery. Only a part of this was spent on refurbishment of the premises as a tidy £25,000 cash payment was made to a trustee, Ms Jill Adeline Tatman, who, incidentally, is also on the payroll. The number of staff by the end of 2013, was four, with, by now, £50,000 going out of the payroll, and an annual pension due of exactly £3,500 annually.

Then in 2013 it landed an additional £16,000 Rural Community Inclusion Grant thanks to the work of a projects officer, also employed by Carmarthenshire County Council. The cash really started creaming in and in 2014, Llandovery YMCA landed a further £250,000 grant from the People and Places Lottery Fund, for a “ground-breaking therapeutic and emotional support project”, but as far as I can see the only emotional support provided is to Jill Adeline Tatman laughing her way to the bank from her home, also, as it happens, done up with public funds.

Trustee, Jill Adeline Tatman, originally from Redhill, Surrey, educated at a privately run evangelical college in Derbyshire and, like Mo Sykes, is a former trustee of YMCA Wales. She’d purchased the grade II listed “Windermere House” in Stone Street, Llandovery. This property was part of the Llandovery and Llangadog Townscape and Heritage Scheme which was refurbished in 2011 with a portion of the £2.782millon townscape fund, £737k of which was grant funded from Carmarthenshire Country Council. Not only does she get public funds to line her purse, but got some cash to do up her own house.”

Tatman was a director of YMCA Wales from November 2004 to November 2005 and personal assistant to the CEO, which might explain why the missing Mo Sykes (originally from the Six Counties) is a Trustee of Llandovery YMCA. Though the Charity Commission website tells us she is also a Trustee of the Bargoed and District YMCA and the Onllwyn and District YMCA. Accounts are overdue for the latter, so if the Charity Commission is expecting them from Mo Sykes they may have quite a wait. Something is clearly very wrong with YMCA Wales, and has been for a considerable time, so I ask again, Why did it take the ‘Welsh’ Government so long to pull its finger out?

I’m getting shyster fatigue from writing about those who migrate to Wales in order to take advantage of the ‘How much do you want?’ grant culture, but here goes, again . . . Tatman, based in a small Welsh town, has recently been given £250,000 for: ” . . . a ground-breaking therapeutic and emotional support project . . . and also go towards developing new opportunities for the unemployed through education and training”. In a relatively prosperous little town of less than 3,000 people how many unemployed are there, and what qualifications does Ms Tatman have to help them? Or what help can she give that no one else is currently giving? And how many kids are there in Llandovery needing ” . . . therapeutic and emotional support scheme for young people through art”. Truth is, all she’s really done is secure salaries for herself and her cronies. Plus of course, pensions, which I’m told are very ‘imaginative’ in their structure and very rewarding in the benefits they bestow..

In conclusion, I should point out that even though YMCA Wales is based in Swansea, it’s up in the wilds of Llansamlet somewhere, not in the grand old YMCA building on the Kingsway, that edifice we’ve seen so often in recent years on our television screens. For as I’m sure you’ll remember, this lovely old building was once home to AWEMA and our old friend Naz Malik. Naz, I regret to say, is currently in the dock at Swansea Crown Court. You know, I sometimes think that the Third Sector in Wales should really apply for funding from the Arts and Entertainment pot, because some of what they serve up is better than any soap opera.

YMCA Wales is yet another example of a Third Sector funding scandal: immigrants of dubious probity subverting a respected organisation to serve their own interests by exploiting the poverty and deprivation that results from the Union with England. And this one could be big, it could make old Naz look small coal.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 4, 2014: YMCA Wales in administration.

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SWANSEA COUNCIL

It is with great relish and lashings of schadenfreude I report that civil war has broken out among the ruling Labour group on Swansea city council. Unfortunately, I cannot as yet tell you of any fatalities, but I live in hope. Here is a brief communique. It seems that the trenchcoat-wearing rodomontade (God I”ve longed to use that word!) who has until now directed this farce, one David Phillips, felt increasingly insecure and decided to sack a couple of cabinet members he felt did not worship him as he thought they ought. But now it appears they were not alone, and it may be Il Duce himself who is under threat! Some intriguing comments to the stoBenito Phillips, Il Duce Abertawery on the Evening Post website by ‘pjrpost’ allege wrongdoing by the council’s HR department and a cover-up by the Labour administration. This, again is a story with ‘legs’, so I urge you to keep up with it. Another kick in the plums for the Labour Party is always good news.

The reason I’m including it here is because – as regular readers will know – I’ve written about this Labour shower before, many times. (Just type ‘Swansea council’ into the search box at the top of the sidebar.) It is the worst council the city has ever known, not least because many Labour councillors, including the council leader, are strangers to Swansea; they neither know the city nor care about it. Their loyalty is to the Labour Party, and the Labour Party alone. This is the dog-in-the-manger politics we suffer nowadays that sees political parties wanting power not to exercise it on behalf of the people but to keep some other crew out of power. For serving the Labour Party in this way Swansea’s councillors are rewarded by being allowed to pursue their pet issues (using council money of course), be that obsession promoting gay rights, saving the planet, or funding the Cwmrhydyceirw Unicorn Sanctuary.

On another level, as I write this the Swans are doing rather well, having won their first two games, but of course the club’s income is somewhat limited by having such a small stadium, which also means that many fans are unlikely to ever see a live game. The stadium should have been extended when the Swans were in the Championship, certainly after the first season in the Premier League. The Liberty Stadium is owned by Swansea council, and you’ll understand why the stadium is not being expanded when I tell you that the council leader, the aforementioned David Phillips, is a Liverpool supporter; one of the council’s representatives on the stadium management committee, Nick Bradley, proudly boasts of his undying love for West Bromwich Albion; while the chief executive of Swansea council, ciggie-puffing Jack Straw (no, not that one), is a Nottingham Forest supporter. This is the sort of thing you can expect when a council is run by a rag-bag collection of drifters, political chancers, students who couldn’t find their way home and single-issue obsessives.

Though on the plus side it is rather encouraging; for it suggests that Labour can no longer find local candidates, and has to rely on English immigrants. This is Bangor and Aberystwyth writ large.

In this final example we see Wales’ second city being run by strangers loyal to a political party whose only ambition is to keep Wales subservient to England. A gang who then waste public money funding all manner of nonsense but neglect the real interests of a city they don’t understand and people with whom they cannot possibly identify.

UPDATE August 28 2014: Disillusioned party members cornered Il Duce this evening and forced his resignation without recourse to the indignity of lamp-posts. It only remains now to see what happens to the clique with which he surrounded himself; these include his wife, assorted losers, and odious, self-promoting members of Labour Yoof who need Sat Nav to find their way around the city they help run.

Many would have it that Phillips jumped before he was pushed, as – it is alleged – was the case when he left his job with HMRC (or whatever it was then called) down in Pembrokeshire.

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Here we have looked at some examples of colonialism and discrimination at work. The UK government gives the ‘Welsh’ Government billions of pounds, but then civil servants and others ensure that as much as possible of that money either makes its way back to England, is given to English people living in Wales, or else is spent on projects that do nothing to improve the wellbeing of Welsh people.

These examples show this evil and discriminatory system at work. A system that makes a mockery of devolution; for unless devolved powers are exercised in the interests of Welsh people then ‘devolution’ is more damaging to Welsh interests than the system we knew before.

May 082014
 

Regular followers of this blog may recall that back in 2012 (on the old Google blog, now, sadly, demised) I was able to give out some good news. Which was . . . that for properties to be built by Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd on a new development in Tywyn, “Prospective tenants must have lived and worked Tai Clwydin the area for at least five years”. I learnt this, first, from a piece in our local edition of the Cambrian News, in July (left, click to enlarge), and then it was confirmed in an e-mail I received from Tai Clwyd in September (below, ditto). These two pieces of information can only be read as saying, ‘these properties are reserved for local people’. Or, to be more specific – as Tai Clwyd was in its e-mail – a Section 106, local occupancy, restriction. (Though S106 can deal with other issues.)

Fast forward to 2014 and the word on the mean streets of Tywyn is that these properties are now to be allocated to “people from away” and “people on benefits”. In other words – welcome to Wales’ social housing allocation system: social housing either built in excess of local demand or, where there is local demand – as in Tywyn – locals being passed over in favour of people who have never been to Wales in their lives. A system I have explained more than once, and I shall do so again later in this piece.

In order to find out what has happened between the good news of 2012 and the sobering realities of colonial Wales in 2014 I decided to contact Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd . . . only to learn that it had recently merged with Cymdeithas Tai Eryri to form Grŵp Cynefin, which is “the only housing association to operate across all six north Wales counties plus north Powys”. My initial enquiries with Grŵp Cynefin (GC) drew a blank because it was denied there ever had been a S106 applying to Pendre Gardens, and therefore no guarantee could be given that locals would be offered any of the properties there. After e-mailing GC a copy of the September e-mail my query has now been passed to the Housing Manager.

In a follow-up phone call to GC I was told that it must be the fault of Cyngor Gwynedd that there was no S106. So I next checked the planning consent given by the council (because of course Tywyn is outside the Snowdonia National Park) and could find no mention of a S106. This full planning consent is dated July 23, 2012. So why did the Cambrian News run that piece telling everyone that these new dwellings were for locals only? And why was I told the same thing in September 2012 by Tai Clwyd, two months after that body had been granted the – S106-less – planning permission?

Grŵp Cynefin also referred me to Gwynedd’s Housing Options Team (GHOT), which seems to act as a link for the various social housing providers in the county while also serving as first contact for would-be tenants. The man I spoke with there was courteous and helpful, but could only point me in certain direTai Clwyd replyctions and suggest that an S106 would need to have been agreed between the council and the housing provider.

In another attempt to get answers I phoned the council’s planning department, where it took me a while to explain – or make the woman answering my call understand – that I wanted to know why something was not in an approval granted by the council. Having had my request accepted it could now be 15 days before I receive a response.

I suppose I could have waited until I got answers before writing this post, but my worry is that I’m not going to get the answers I’m after. If I had to bet on it, I’d say I’m in for a game of blame ping-pong. So I’m writing this post half-hoping it might get a better result than yet more phone calls and e-mails. Even so, the questions I would ask are these:

  1. Was it ever proposed to have a Section 106 local – 5-year residency – qualification attaching to the Pendre Gardens development?
  2. If it was, why was the proposal dropped, or the decision changed?
  3. Who authorised the change?
  4. For what reason(s) was the change made?
  5. If there was never any intention of attaching a S106 to Pendre Gardens why was everyone misled (if not lied to); why did no one from the council step in and give the correct information?

The main reason we’re in this mess is that to all intents and purposes Wales and England now operate a single, integrated social housing system. Just like one vast council, or housing association. Which means in practice that if there is a vacant property in Wales, and someone in England – anywhere in England! – has more ‘points’ than local applicants, then the English applicant could be allocated the property. Local connections count for very little. So if you are a law-abiding local, in regular employment, and have any kind of roof over your head, your chances of being allocated social housing are slim. My advice to you is start taking drugs, causing trouble and, best of all, make yourself homeless.

Of course, there will be those who argue that this is a two-way street, for Welsh people can move to England. Yeees . . . but given that England has 53 million people against our 3 million, it’s a two-way street with a bicycle travelling west to east and a 40-tonne juggernaut hurtling east to west. And I’m not just talking quantity, I’m also talking quality. For many of those being moved to Wales will be people that no self-respecting country would allow in. Here’s a selection. But bear in mind that this post I refer you to only deals with those who have made the news. The problem families, the pit bull fanciers, the casual criminals, the anti-social, the wife-beaters, the congenitally irresponsiblePendre Gardens sign, the ‘Ten-pints-and-I’m-Mike-Tyson, me’ types, the ‘breeders-for-benefit’ with their stupid, uncontrollable kids, the all-night party-holders, the fat, ugly women who think smoking ciggies keeps their weight down, these and others go unreported.

So I just cannot understand how this system that is so damaging to Wales and Welsh people has been accepted without resistance. I can only assume that housing associations are doing well out of it financially, and don’t really give a toss about the communities or the country in which they operate. Which might make sense; for Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (after taking over Gwynedd council’s housing stock) gave the maintenance contract for its properties to an English company that in turn employs sub-contractors from over the border who can only spend a short time actually working because of the distances involved travelling to and from work!

It cannot be right that someone who has never heard of Tywyn, or Tredegar, or Treaddur can qualify for social housing in these communities ahead of people who have lived there maybe all their lives. It cannot be right that Wales is used to help solve England’s housing problems. For as Gwynedd’s Common Housing Allocation Policy makes clear, “The scheme also complies with requirements of the legislation by providing priority or additional priority to: transferring tenants who will release accommodation in short supply . . . “ So if, say, Stoke-on-Trent council, or housing associations in that city, are experiencing pressure on their housing stock, then they can ask – maybe demand – that Welsh local authorities and housing associations give priority to those the Potteries would like to get rid of ‘transfer’ in order to make housing available. Some system, eh!

Change is needed. Social housing providers in Wales can no longer use the ‘Nuremburg Defence’ to implement an iniquitous system that so obviously works against Welsh interests. Social housing provision in Wales must be disentangled from that in England. A five-year residency qualification must be introduced for all social housing in Wales, with the only exceptions being genuine refugees and those who will be of benefit to Wales. Finally, those clowns down Cardiff docks need to realise that calling themselves the ‘Welsh Government’ must mean more than obeying civil servants and nodding through essentially English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ stuck in the title . . . like the Housing (Wales) Bill, and the Planning (Wales) Bill.

Apr 292014
 
Population density 2010

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Using the population density map to the right you’ll see that what I choose to call ‘rural Wales’ is those areas with fewer than one hundred persons per square kilometre, though I would make two adjustments. If the coastal strip – Rhyl, etc – is removed then the rest of Denbighshire qualifies as rural, and although Carmarthenshire falls into the <100 category it makes sense to link Llanelli – in the south east corner – with the Swansea Bay conurbation. This leaves us with some eighty per cent of Wales’ landmass, roughly a quarter of the population, no towns bigger than Bangor, Aberystwyth or Carmarthen, and of course, what remains of the Welsh language’s heartland, Y Fro Gymraeg.

There are three main players in rural Wales whose roles I want to examine in relation to the oft-bewailed ‘rural housing crisis’.

First, we have the local big-shots; landowners, businessmen and the like, for whom personal gain takes precedence over all other considerations. A good example would be Dai Lloyd Evans and his confreres who controlled Ceredigion council, buying up land before planning strategies were made public, and then selling it to developers or building on it themselves. Arguing that without these three- and four-bedroom houses local newly-weds would have nowhere to enjoy their connubial bliss . . . even though the youngsters for whom the gang feigned concern couldn’t afford these houses!

Also involved were estate agents and others looking for a profit. Such as local builders, most of whom were honest enough to admit that the houses they were building were, in the main, for English in-comers. But one builder, who received considerable coverage in the Wasting Mule, went over the top by arguing that if he wasn’t allowed to build houses for English colonists then there’d be no work for his Welsh-speaking workers; consequently, the language would die. An intriguing argument, asking us to believe that the Welsh language in Ceredigion depends for its survival on English colonisation!

Second, we have the equally unconvincing arguments forwarded by the Planning Inspectorate to justify yet more housing such as the Bodelwyddan New Town in Denbighshire. Namely, because Denbighshire has an ageing population – with the bulk of its elderly from England – a younger influx must be encouraged to balance things out. In other words, ‘You have a problem with English colonisation – so we advocate more of it’!

Elsewhere, the Planning Inspectorate promotes housebuilding as a self-justifying, stand-alone economic activity, rather than as something that would, in any normal society, be consequential upon economic prosperity and population growth. Explained as an ‘economic boost’ for rural Wales this is the policy I outlined in my post If You Build Them, They Will Come.

Finally, we are told that ‘Wales needs more houses’ to meet an indigenous demand, and to cater for ‘natural’ growth.

Third, we have social housing providers. Ostensibly meeting the needs of those who cannot afford to buy a home, yet we all know that far too many housing association properties are being allocated to ‘the vulnerable’ and ‘the needy’ from over the border; simpering euphemisms for substance abusers, ex-cons, paedophiles, problem families and the others who make up England’s white underclass.

Y Bwthyn, Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant

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Another problem is that since social housing passed from councils to housing associations jobs have been lost in areas that can ill afford to lose any. In Gwynedd the council’s housing stock went to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, which then gave the contract for maintaining its properties to an English company, Lovell, which in turn sub-contracted the work to other English companies. My disabled next-door-neighbour waited weeks for his bathroom to be tiled by a firm that either didn’t turn up at all or else turned up around 11am and was gone by 3pm – because they came from Wigan, 120 miles from Tywyn!

There are serious questions to be asked about why the ‘Welsh’ Government is funding – via the Social Housing Grant and other means – what are to all intents and purposes private companies. Private companies that are a) importing undesirables and b) losing Wales contracts and jobs. Organisations about which it is almost impossible to get information due to the fact they are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, and are not registered with Companies House due to being Industrial and Provident Societies. Conversely, if they are not private companies, but are what they claim to be, which is ‘not-for-profit’ organisations in receipt of public funding, then why are they not subject to FoI requests? Are we not entitled to know how our money is being spent?

I propose returning to the intriguing matter – and anomalous status – of housing associations later, with a full post. (Any information received will be treated with the usual sagacious discretion. Send to: editor@jacothenorth.net.)

Social Housing Grant

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What we see in the three examples I have used above is how deliberate lies become the terms of debate, the very vocabluary, when dealing with rural housing in Wales. It’s like some parallel universe where black is white and right is wrong. That said, there is one unavoidable truth upon which everyone agrees . . . before corrupting that truth to serve the same selfish or anti-Welsh interests. As you will read below.

Rural Wales has an oversupply of housing . . . by which I mean, more housing than will be needed by the indigenous population for at least a generation.

The true problem is that the indigenous Welsh are excluded from much of this housing. Either because they are unable to afford the prices asked for open market housing or else because social housing providers too often find ‘clients’ over the border who take precedence over locals.

But then something very clever happens. The inability of Welsh people to buy private dwellings, or access social housing, is used as the excuse to build yet more housing – from which the unchanged system still excludes them!

To remedy this institutionalised con trick we need to a) provide meaningful financial aid for Welsh (especially first-time) buyers and b) move towards a split market, where a percentage of properties in all areas is reserved for local buyers; while in the social housing sector ensure that no one qualifies for social housing unless they have been resident in Wales for at least five years.

Jan 142014
 

Following on from the previous post, here is my response to the Welsh Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government’s Housing (Wales) Bill. The deadline for responses is Friday, so if you want to make a point then do it now, and send it to CELGCommittee@wales.gov.uk.

In case the PDF version below should disappear (as they have a habit of doing) the document should be available here.

 

Sep 252013
 

I am indebted to Dennis Morris of Plaid Glyndwr (south Pembrokeshire and nationalist) for bringing to my attention a recent snippet about one of my favourite subjects – social housing.

It’s not easy to make sense of the report on the BBC website, for the headline talks of a ‘Post’ while the article (click to enlarge) gives no further information on any such new post. The article talks of both renting property and buying, but without giving any clue as to what the scheme is supposed to achieve. In fact, the article confuses more than anything else. It’s journalistic gibberish.

Even so, we must assume that Ceredigion council, with the help of the ‘Welsh’ Government, plans to introduce a scheme that will help local people rent or buy property in “their local community”. But we already have ‘affordable housing’ and social housing, so why do we need yet another scheme? One answer might be that locals seem to be at the back of the queue every time, as priority for social housing is given to people from over the border, the bigger their ‘problems’, or their families, the better.

Which explains why we keep revisiting this issue – the problem is not being solved. For example, here’s a link to a similar story from 2010, again concerning Ceredigion. When you have a problem that just about everyone can see for what it is, and when it is discussed endlessly, with repeated promises to remedy the problem, but nothing improves, then you have to ask what the hell is going on. Here’s my interpretation. First, there is a deliberate and concerted strategy at work to colonise Wales with English settlers. This includes those who cannot afford to buy a home . . . even those who may not want to move to Wales! But benefit-dependent families can’t be choosers, so they are being shipped in whether they like it or not.

The ONLY answer to this problem is to change the rules so that in the allocation of social housing being local – i.e. Welsh – outweighs any number of ‘problems’, or kids. Our politicians, especially the so-called ‘Welsh’ Government needs to get a handle on this issue. A start could be made by reining in the civil servants, such as those at the Housing Directorate, who are doing so much damage with the rules they set. Ostensibly working for Wales but in reality answering to London. Simply changing the points system would achieve more than any number of new posts, and it would be far cheaper. It would also save us the regularly regurgitated flim-flam. Moving north . . .

In 2010 Gwynedd’s stock of council housing was transferred, following a tenants’ vote, to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd. Although I’m no longer a tenant (having gratefully bought my house under the Right to Buy scheme) I take an interest in CCG. One of the first things I noticed was that the new outfit’s vehicles were registered in Essex (maybe a deal with Ford) and they sport ‘UK’ plates. How difficult would it have been to ask for ‘Cymru’ plates, this is Gwynedd, after all?

The new housing association of course inherited part of the Gwynedd workforce, but we see less and less of CCG’s own workers as jobs are increasingly contracted out. Initially, it seemed that these jobs were contracted out to Gwynedd firms. More recently, to firms in other parts of the north, and now to firms from outside of Wales altogether. I noticed this recently with vans in my village for two companies in particular: Lovell of Staffordshire and DNA Plastering & Tiling Ltd of Wigan. (I CCGcan find no website for DNA, which was only incorporated as a company in December 2011!) As might be expected, I contacted Cartefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, or rather, I initiated a Twitter exchange. (Click to enlarge.)

Now, in fairness, Lovell does have a ‘regional’ office . . . in Altrincham, for the ‘North West and North Wales’. In its defence, CCG argues that of the 144 Lovell workers on CCH contracts 124 live in North Wales. I have no way of checking that. But even if it’s true, how many of them are Welsh? Even if they’re all Welsh, Lovell remains an English company with profits – from work in Wales – going back over the border.

When it comes to DNA CCG throws in the towel with: “We monitor our contractors & subcontractors closely and set targets to ensure local people are employed whenever possible”. ‘WHENEVER POSSIBLE!!’ God Almighty! this is supposed to be a Welsh company; it takes money from Welsh people, yet it feels under no obligation to provide Welsh people with jobs! Nor does it feel it has any responsibility to the local economy of which it is part, and upon which its tenants rely!

More than likely, what has happened here is that the main contract was given to Lovell, who have then sub-contracted some of the work to DNA. But this is what happens when the main contract is awarded to an English company, which will use the sub-contractors it regularly employs. Though the body awarding the main contract can insist that the sub-contracts go to local firms . . . obviously CCG couldn’t be bothered. Better still, and to avoid any such problems – award the main contract to a Welsh company, or keep it in-house.

I live in a small, relatively isolated village, so I can only report what I have seen with my own eyes, the problem may be much more widespread. Something is clearly wrong at Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd. It is now surely time for local politicians to take an interest – for it is their constituents, and the local economy, losing out as a result of CCG awarding contracts to English firms (irrespective of whether they employ a few Welsh workers). At the very least I would expect our local politicians to query the tendering process at CCG. Establish whether it takes into account the benefit of keeping money in the area, and that this ensures ‘weighting’ that results in accepting higher tenders from local firms. Speaking of ‘weighting’, does the tendering process also take into account the environmental impact of workers from England travelling to work in western Wales?

I can’t help feeling that, one way or another, social housing providers are now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. A review of how social housing is delivered in Wales is long overdue.