Castle Leisure Ltd

Sep 302017
 

This is a bumper issue to keep you going as the nights draw in and I get on with a couple of jobs that must be done ere winter tightens its icy grip. The post consists of a number of items enabling you to take it in in easy, bite-sized chunks. (‘Bite-sized chunks’!)

Enjoy!

NORTH WALES HOUSING LTD

News reaches me of another housing association heading for the rocks, this time it’s North Wales Housing Ltd. A body all too representative of ‘Welsh’ housing associations, especially with the retirement properties built by its wholly owned “commercial subsidiary” Domus Cambria. (Though it’s nice to see a bit of Latin being used.)

Looked at more critically, Domus Cambria helps explain what’s wrong with housing in Wales. The Welsh NHS is stretched to breaking point by the demands made on it by, among others, English retirees, yet in Conwy, where almost two-thirds of the pensioners were born in England (2011 census), the council is still giving planning permission for retirement flats that are marketed over the border!

Domus Cambria recently sold the last of its leasehold flats on Llandudno’s West Shore . . . after years of trying. Which explains why it is finally showing a slight profit, though as with Mill Bay Homes in Pembrokeshire, this ray of financial sunshine may be due to cash transferred from the parent body rather than any business acumen attaching to those running the subsidiary.

The ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Opinion and Financial Viability Judgement for 2015 on North Wales Housing was none too encouraging, and explains what a drag Domus Cambria has been for a small RSL with just over 2,000 rental properties.

“Selling homes has proved challenging, but has been managed within the Group’s existing financial resources. Originally, homes were planned to be sold by May 2012. To date, 10 are provisionally under offer but remain unsold. The response from the Group to address the slow sales has drifted along with no real impetus. The mitigations put in place were reasonable but demonstrate the difficulties of the Board deciding to press ahead with this product in highly challenging market conditions.

Despite Domus Cambria’s difficulties, the leadership and some elements of the Board continue to press to undertake more business of this nature – even though phase 1 has fallen short of expectations.” (Something of an understatement considering sales were 5 years behind schedule.)

The Regulatory Opinion for 2016 is marginally better, but the beguiling song of the Shit Creek sirens can still be heard.

Given the problems with Domus Cambria it’s difficult to understand why North Wales Housing has taken on another sideline in Rakes and Ladders an “in house grounds maintenance team”. Especially as the name is hardly original, for I found another Rakes and Ladders in Bridgend, one in Gloucestershire, yet another in Vancouver, and I’m sure there must be more. Confusion guaranteed.

North Wales Housing has also been trustee since 2007 for The Olinda Trust, a registered charity, which ran the Plas Parciau home for dementia sufferers in Old Colwyn. The accounts up to 31 August 2016 paint a bleak picture, showing a deficit of £264,568, which explains the charity ceasing to trade in October 2016.

North Wales Housing Ltd is, like almost all housing associations, an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA website suggests that since 16 September 2016 NWH has also been in the consumer credit business.

click to enlarge

This would have been around the time that The Olinda Trust succumbed to the sirens’ call.

I get the impression of a bunch of incompetents running a housing association too small to survive diversifying desperately in the hope that anyone witnessing this activity will be fooled into thinking those behind it know what they’re doing. They don’t.

Even though North Wales Housing is an IPS, force of habit took me to the Companies House website where, sure enough, I found an entry for ‘North Wales Housing Association Ltd’.

Linked with it is Erw Villas Management Company Ltd, the kind of organisation we encountered when we looked into the Cardiff Bay property dealings of Mark Vincent James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. An organisation that allows tenants a say in the running of the block of flats in which they live . . . unless of course Mark Vincent James and his associates get involved.

Erw Villas Management Company Ltd was originally registered to an address in Catford, East London. It was struck off in May 2008 but restored 31 January 2011. On 2 February 2011 the address was changed to that of North Wales Housing in Llandudno Junction. On the same day all the old directors resigned and North Wales Housing was named as secretary and director.

Though in the Annual Return of 12 August 2015, and even though Paul William Diggory, the North Wales Housing CEO at the time, is named as director, the two original directors – Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin – are still the only shareholders.

Diggory was succeeded as director by Owen Ingram, who has in turn been replaced by Helena Kirk, the current CEO of North Wales Housing.

No Annual Return for 2016 is available with Companies House, so I assume it has not been submitted.

So what is the connection between North Wales Housing, Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin, and Erw Villas on Conway Old Road in Penmaenmawr? Answers on a postcard, please. (And make sure there’s a stamp on it this time! cos I’m not bloody paying again.)

The more I looked into North Wales Housing the more clear it became how thoroughly English it is. Take a look at the Board; start with the chair, Tom Murtha, who retired in 2012 from Midland Heart and now seems to have a number of part-time jobs, including NWH. There may be two or three Welsh people on the Board of 12.

Or how about the management team, headed by Helena Kirk, who arrived in Wales last October?

Even the job of designing the website was given to a company in England, Hallnet Ltd of Warrington, Cheshire. Is there no company in Wales that could have designed a website? Is this the Mersey Dee Alliance in practice, or is it just taking the piss?

Because it always makes me smile when I hear someone respond to complaints about Welsh organisations stuffed with English staff with, ‘Ah, yes, but you’ve got to get the best people for the job – no matter where they come from’.

North Wales Housing is on the brink of oblivion, brought there by bad management, so to suggest that the current shower, and its predecessors, are and were the best for the job is an insult to the Welsh nation. And that’s without considering the longer term consequences.

Domus Cambria sought, selfishly and irresponsibly, to increase the burden on local services by attracting to the Costa Geriatrica yet more elderly people – and all because the parent body was struggling financially!

‘Ah, but that don’t affect us down by ‘ere, look’. Yes it does, you thick-as-shit Labour-voting cretin! To prop up a failing NHS and social services burdened by the activities of Domus Cambria and others your Labour government down Cardiff docks will rob money from other budgets, and that affects us all, in every part of the country.

There is no reason to keep North Wales Housing afloat any longer, so let it be taken over by another RSL, one that is larger, more efficient, more responsible, and more Welsh.

TRIVALLIS

‘Not more f###ing Latin!’ you scream. Well, yes, and from that hotbed of classical learning, Rhondda Cynon Taf. (Three valleys, geddit?)

Trivallis is another Registered Social Landlord aka housing association that I’m told is in trouble. Hardly surprising when we read in the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Judgement of June 2017“The Group has a number of unregistered subsidiary companies – Trivallis Ltd, Meadow Prospect, GrEW, Homeforce, Porthcwlis, Porthcwlis Homes and Bellerophon Project 1 LLP.”

In my experience, whenever a third sector body / housing association creates a ‘trading arm’ or a ‘subsidiary’ things go wrong, as we’ve just seen with North Wales Housing. That’s because these are set up by people who are used to being bailed out by the public purse and have little or no understanding of the realities of business.

Too often they are disasters waiting to happen.

The subsidiaries I’ve just just listed – some of which are dormant, having never got off the ground – are all being brought in-house, obviously heeding the recent recommendation of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on “diversification”. (Though I was unable to find anything at all for GrEW.)

In case you haven’t noticed, go to the Trivallis website again and look in the top right corner, where you’d expect to find the ‘Cymraeg’ option, or the flag. It’s not there, is it? The website is entirely in English, and that’s because of the strong ‘Welsh’ Labour influence at Trivallis.

Scroll down to the bottom of the home page and you’ll read ‘Powered by VerseOne Technologies Ltd’. Click on the link and you’ll see that the Trivallis website was designed by a Manchester company, with an office in Edinburgh.

Such commitment to Wales! But so typical of ‘Welsh’ Labour, and too many of its housing associations.

‘HOUSE!’ (but nothing to do with housing)

Back in July Llais y Sais ran a story on bookies’ fixed odds betting terminals. In it, Carolyn Harris is horrified to learn that £8m a year is lost on FOBTs in the Swansea Bay region. And so she should be, for Carolyn Harris chairs the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group.

Fast forward to last week and the same local media treated us to news that the cavernous Castle Bingo club in Morriston has been refurbished. And there to re-open it was – Carolyn Harris. ‘But bingo’s diff’rent, innit, not like them cowin’ FOBTs’. 

I hope those aren’t “dyke shoes”!

Maybe not, except that it’s not all ‘legs eleven’ and ‘two fat ladies’ in Morriston, for the club provides its customers with other ways to lose their money enjoy themselves on what look suspiciously like FOBTs, or approximations thereof.

Described as “electronic entertainment” in the annual accounts

So why was Carolyn Harris there, officially re-launching Morriston’s answer to Las Vegas? The justification seems to have been that Castle Bingo was giving Harris a cheque for GambleAware.

As I wrote this I got to wondering about Castle Bingo, and so I checked on the Companies House website. The company was Incorporated in December 1995. You’ll see that there were two directors; Mrs Diane Elizabeth Stockford of Pontprennau, Cardiff and Mr Jeffrey Charles Harris of Sketty, Swansea.

Harris was also a director of Crown Buckley Ltd, the Brains subsidiary; Cadwalader (Ice Cream) Ltd, which went into administration in October 2015; and Cadwalader (Criccieth) Ltd. Harris is also a director of Meeron Ltd., another company in the gambling business.

Stockford became Brierley, and moved to Rudry, while Harris moved to St Nicholas. Brierley resigned as director in September 2012 and was replaced by Lisa Mary Morgan as both secretary and director. All the while Castle Bingo was providing accounts as a dormant company, explained by the fact that both Stockford and Harris were also directors of Castle Leisure Ltd.

Parent company Castle Leisure Ltd began life in 1911 as The Central Cinema, Cardiff, Ltd. Somewhere along the way, and certainly before May 1988, the company became known as Castle Leisure Ltd.

Here’s the latest list of shareholders for the 235,533 shares. In the year ended 25 December 2016 Castle Leisure Ltd had an operating profit of £4,164,319 on a turnover of £30,591,231. The company has 661 employees at its 8 clubs in Wales and 3 in England.

Of course it would be easy to be snobbish, or judgemental, but after all is said and done, this is an established Welsh company, one that has branched out into England and provides hundreds of jobs giving a lot of people what they want.

That said, there are obvious benefits for all concerned: Castle Bingo operates in Carolyn Harris’ constituency; Castle Bingo gives Harris publicity and a little cheque in the hope that she steers MPs away from their business model; a mutually beneficial association which Labour-backing Trinity Mirror is happy to report having for years enjoyed ‘promotions’ and ‘partnerships’ with Castle Bingo.

Finally: A disturbing report reaches me of unseemly, drunken cavorting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week involving – it is alleged – Carolyn Harris and rugby-playing Tonia Antoniazzi, the Labour MP for neighbouring Gower.

I don’t want to believe this scurrilous allegation so I would welcome any further information. Especially photographic evidence proving that such an incident did not take place.

CADW

It’s not often that I get the chance to talk of good news and Cadw in the same report, so I’m going to make the most of this.

A good source informs me of a victory won by the natives of Cydweli, who can now enter their local castle for free. Of course they have to provide proof that they are local, and then sing the first three verses of God Save the Queen. (Joke . . . possibly.)

Castell Cydweli

I’m told that the people of Caerffili enjoy the same concession, while in Conwy it’s just a 20% discount on the entrance fee. But why isn’t there a national scheme to allow all Welsh people into all Cadw premises for free? For God’s sake, it’s not as if Cadw built them, or owns them!

And how difficult would such a scheme be to administer? I mean, everybody nowadays has a passport, a driving licence, a bus pass or something that identifies them. Even if it’s only discharge papers from the Sea Scouts (which I still cherish).

The vast majority of those who visit Cadw sites are tourists, with more money than our people, so let them subsidise our visits. To do so would achieve the impossible – make tourism benefit Welsh people.

A national scheme such as I’m proposing could also introduce more of our people to their country’s history, but of course we’d need someone other than Cadw to interpret that history.

‘SPECIAL TRAIN FOR ATKINS’*

There are many people in Wales who take great pride in devolution, and especially in the thought of Welsh laws being made to serve Wales and her people. Obviously, I’m not one of these because without independence or at the very least a Welsh legal system there can be no Welsh laws.

Without independence or a separate jurisdiction what we are served up too often is simply English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ added to the name. We are given the chimera of legislative power but the real purpose is to keep us in line with England.

Where a genuine ‘Welsh’ initiative is allowed, it’s either an expensive gesture such as free prescriptions, or else it’s the ‘Welsh Government’ succumbing to English pressure groups. The perfect example of the latter would be the proposal to open Wales up to canoeists, ramblers and the rest, dressed up as ‘Sustainable Management’.

But I want to focus on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. I have written about it before and pointed out that it gives homeless people priority for housing, and who would argue with that? Well, I would, because we are locked into an Englandandwales system that means a family of scruffs making themselves homeless anywhere in England qualify for accommodation in Wales ahead of locals.

Another curiosity of this legislation is that homeless ex-service personnel are also mentioned in the Act as being priority cases. Curious because homeless ex-service personnel do not qualify as priority cases in the equivalent English legislation. The reference can be found at 70 (1) (i).

So why are men and women who have served the English Crown, and suffered for it, not given priority treatment in England? And isn’t it all too predictable that England’s homeless, disabled ex-service personnel, and those suffering from PTSD, those with drug and alcohol problems, will be ‘directed’ to Wales?

Though perhaps the real question is, who inserted this sentence into the Bill? Was it the ‘Welsh’ Government, once again playing gesture politics? Or was it slipped in by a civil servant based in Wales but obeying his or her masters in London?

I’ve got no problem with looking after some poor sod who’s lost both his legs on a foreign adventure about which we were lied to from start to finish, but the way it’s being done looks suspiciously like Wales being dumped on, again.

  • I’ve taken the heading for this section from Kipling’s Tommy. It seemed somehow appropriate.

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