Community Housing Cymru

Jan 232017
 

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know about the takeover of Cantref, a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, a company with strong links to the Labour Party. For those catching up, I advise starting with the post Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged? To give some chronological marker, the takeover was officially registered with the Financial Conduct Authority 19 September 2016.

Even before the takeover I was receiving information from a person or persons I must assume were ‘in the know’. This information came by a number of routes, and was of varying degrees of confidentiality; what came as comments to this blog I can use in full, but information received by more discreet routes will require more circumspect treatment.

Let’s start with a comment from July 2015. Two points from it are worth noting. First, I believe the “something else going on” is a reference to the increasing suspicion that Cantref was about to be sold down the river. Second, the reference to “David Hedges of Cyngor Da” (Good Counsel/Advice) was a little confusing at the time because Hedges is a consultant and Cyngor Da is his company, yet he’s described as one of Cantref’s directors.

I shall return to our Dai, son of Glamorgan cricketer the late Bernard Hedges, later.

As we now know, Cantref was indeed sold down the river, taken over by Wales and West Housing of Cardiff, ‘Welsh’ Labour’s favourite housing association. (Though the ‘Association’ bit was dropped from the name in 2012, now it’s just Wales and West Housing.)

As the takeover was going through I was being told about Wales and West “surveyors” evaluating Cantref’s stock and joking about taking down opposition party – mainly Plaid Cymru – placards and posters from WWH properties in the Cardiff West constituency during last year’s Assembly election campaign. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Wales and West Housing is ‘Welsh’ Labour by another name.

Something else I was hearing through other channels – though I confess I paid little attention at the time – was that Wales and West is linked somehow with the Mid Wales Housing Association. Now MWH inherited much of its stock, either directly or indirectly, from the Development Board for Rural Wales, that agency set up to ‘repopulate’ the five counties of central Wales. Part of the DBRW strategy included building homes for ‘key workers’, which in practice meant housing the complete workforces of relocating English companies or factories.

As I say, I should have paid more attention to this Mid Wales Housing reference if only because something interesting had emerged a few years earlier.

The nub of the story I’m referring to can be found in this news item from 2012 which tells that the Development Board for Rural Wales borrowed money at 14% interest over 50 years to build those ‘key worker’ houses, and when the DBRW (together with the Land Authority for Wales) was merged with the Welsh Development Agency in October 1998 that debt was transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Which if you think about it was odd . . . if not impossible.

Because the devolution referendum was held on September 18th 1997 and the first Assembly elections on May 6th 1999. Which means that when this transfer was effected in 1998 there was a devolutionary void. The transfer was therefore accomplished by Westminster, and this saw our incoming AMs confronted with a fait accompli. (Makes you wonder what else might have been dumped on our Assembly before it came into existence.)

In addition to the news story there was an interesting discussion on the blog of Montgomeryshire Tory MP Glyn Davies. Davies was the last chief executive of the DBRW.

Now we hear of deals being struck between Mid Wales Housing, Wales and West Housing and an unnamed English housing association to bring in tenants to Llandrindod. The ‘Paul Diggery’ referred to is Paul Diggory, currently chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales, and before that, for over 15 years, chief executive of North Wales Housing.

The ‘Ann Hinchy’ mentioned is Anne Hinchey, chief executive of Wales and West Housing, wife of Graham Hinchey, Labour councillor for the Heath ward in Cardiff.

Naturally, I tried to make enquiries about WWH developments in Llandrindod. Turning to Google I came up with this . . . but the link is broken. I was unable to find anything for Llandrindod on the Wales and West website, either.

So what ‘Jonny English’ seems to be saying is that Wales and West Housing, with its HQ in Cardiff, its new western office (the former Cantref office) in Castell Newydd Emlyn, it’s northern base on Deeside, is now trying to get a footprint in the middle by linking up with Mid Wales Housing and some English housing association.

Entirely predictable, because when we look at who’s running MWH we see the usual English mediocrities staring back at us from the Executive Group page. Without whom we’d still be living in caves.

I’m sure ‘Jonny English’ will read this, as will others with information, so please let me have more details, most importantly, the name of the English housing association involved in this scheme. I’d also appreciate clarification on the relationship between WWH, MWH and the English outfit (the one from England).

Let us return now to David Hedges. After being at Cantref when the transfer to Wales and West was arranged, the word on the street is that he’s now ensconced at Pembrokeshire Housing! What can it mean?

Again, for newcomers, or those with short memories, Pembrokeshire Housing is a body I have written about many, many times. Not just the parent body but also its bonny offspring Mill Bay Homes. I suggest you start here with Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing and then Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2.

The set-up is as follows. (And here I have to be careful cos writing about this lot has resulted in Jac getting solicitor’s letters.) Pembrokeshire Housing appears to be a normal housing association, grabbing its whack from the Welsh public purse to build social housing, much of which is allocated to persons and families having no previous connection with the area, or indeed with Wales.

Back around 2011 someone came up with the wheeze of using the dormant Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd to build properties and sell them on the open market. The name was soon changed to Mill Bay Homes. Now, after £7m+ has been transferred from parent to subsidiary, and houses built for retirees, investors, and friends of the MBH management, it seems that questions are – belatedly – being asked about this highly unusual arrangement.

This might explain the recent ‘retirement’ of Peter Maggs, Pembrokeshire Housing’s chief executive, and the arrival of David Hedges as – so ‘Dai the Post’ tells us – interim housing director.

Even allowing for the fact that within the social housing racket field in Wales there are bound to be connections and linkages, there seem to be far too many between Cantref, Pembrokeshire Housing, Wales and West and Campbell Tickell, of whom more in a moment.

As I said at the outset, David Hedges appeared in Cantref just before it was handed over to Wales and West Housing, like some harbinger of doom. Now we hear that he’s involved with Pembrokeshire Housing, and we’re also told that Wales and West is again manoeuvring into position to pounce. Interestingly, if we consult David Hedges’ Linkedin profile we see that he has worked for Wales and West. (If you can’t access the Linkedin profile click here for a downloaded version.)

UPDATE 26.01.2017: An anonymous source tells me that Dai Hedges is more of a fire-fighter than an assassin, sent in when things are going pear-shaped. Which may be true, but won’t be much consolation to those at Pembrokeshire Housing.

I’m reasonably certain that Jonny English is somewhere in the north, while Dai the Post is probably in the south west, so it’s interesting that both mention Campbell Tickell; which gives me the opportunity to explain for late arrivals where this management consultancy fits into the big picture.

Campbell Tickell is the company of Greg Campbell and James Tickell, both Labour Party supporters. And as his Linkedin profile tells us, Campbell has even worked for the party. Also note the reference to Common Purpose, that shadowy, some say sinister, Labour-leaning, globalist organisation for professionals in public life.

In addition to being rather suspect in its motivation and workings Common Purpose has a distinctly contemptuous attitude towards Wales. Check out this list of CP’s programmes for 2017. Scotland and Northern Ireland are covered, as are the regions of England (even individual cities in Scotland and England), but Wales might as well not exist. Search for ‘Wales’ on the Common Purpose website and you’ll turn up this little story about Chinese students on a flying visit to the Assembly in December 2015, nothing more.

Here we have a network that results in English appointees to many Welsh jobs. On the ground, it operates thus. ‘Welsh’ Labour helps its very own housing association to expand within Wales to the point where – already the largest – Wales and West Housing becomes dominant. (What’s the next stage?) To avoid accusations of cronyism it passes the recruitment process to Campbell Tickell, a Labour-supporting Common Purpose recruitment agency.

This procedure is not confined to housing associations, it can be found across public life in Wales, to the extent that I sometimes wonder if devolution is nothing but a scam to create a few thousand jobs for our neighbours in the £50,000+ salary bracket. Worth asking because devolution is achieving sod all for us Welsh.

This system satisfies two vaguely linked agendas.

On the one hand, it helps the Labour Party compensate for its declining electoral support by spreading the party’s influence, via Wales and West Housing and other agencies, into areas where many would rather Glasgow kiss a rough stone wall than vote Labour. Areas such as Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Powys.

But the system also serves the agenda of civil servants in Cardiff and elsewhere, who answer to mandarins in London, and whose overarching ambition is to keep a check on – even roll back – devolution. One of the best ways of achieving this to ensure that as few Welsh people as possible fill positions of authority. This creates the impression that we Welsh can do nothing for ourselves and also comes in useful when ‘consultations’ are undertaken to determine future policy direction.

All of which brings us back to my post earlier this month Housing Associations: Secret or Public?, in which I explained why Labour politicians and civil servants wish to maintain the secretive status of our public funds-guzzling housing associations. I suggest you read it.

And if you have a beef with a housing association then there’s no point in appealing to Nick Bennett, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. Bennett was CEO of Community Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations, from July 2006 until July 2014. Bennett is also close to ‘Welsh’ Labour, having been in business with a former Labour minister.

HE’S NOT AND HE IS (if you want to watch the video click here)

To take the explanation a stage further, we have a system of social housing, increasingly controlled at national level and managed at local level by people who know nothing about Wales and without any concern for – or even contemptuous of – Welsh identity, using vast sums of Welsh public funding, and regularly housing people with no connection to Wales. Because of course social housing in Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system. I have that on impeccable authority.

Back in early December 2010 I wrote a reader’s letter to the Wasting Mule seeking answers from Nick Bennett to a number of points. Instead of publishing it the Letters Editor passed my questions on to Bennett who then e-mailed me directly, saying: “Strong local connection cannot be the only acceptable qualification for social housing in Wales. Social housing is a scarce resource for homeless people and those on low incomes who can’t access housing in the private sector. There are over 2 million people on waiting lists for social housing”.

Wales is the most corrupt country in Europe because it suits so many to have it that way. This corruption helps the Labour Party in Wales maintain power and influence despite declining support at the ballot box. Facilitated by Common Purpose and other bodies, this corruption discredits devolution and thereby strengthens England’s hold on Wales to the point where assimilation will have been achieved before most of us realise it.

If I was working for Pembrokeshire Housing I’d be getting worried now, because the vultures are circling – they may already have landed! And yet, just like Cantref, you brought it on yourselves, in your case with the insane decision to fund a private house builder subsidiary. And what will happen to Mill Bay Homes when Wales and West Housing takes over?

To understand how this system of colonialist corruption operates you have to recognise and understand the linkages, how they influence and contaminate public life in Wales. Social housing is the perfect example because it brings together so many threads. And it explains why the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants who ‘advise’ it want to save housing associations from public scrutiny.

But don’t think for one minute that the corruption is confined to our housing associations. Corruption is endemic in Welsh public life – because it’s encouraged.

♦ end ♦

Jan 082017
 

I’ve argued many times that Wales is in a bad way, a condition I described in a recent blog as “a basket case country with a begging bowl ‘economy'”. We’re at the bottom of every table measuring the state of the nation – PISA results are woeful, GVA figure are terrible and the number of economically inactive people is worrying.

Devolution has achieved nothing; in my more cynical moments I think it’s just a distraction, or a placebo.

All that seems to matter is that the money keeps rolling in to prop up the edifice and keep the politicians and their legions of cronies in jobs; with Labour trying to soothe away every damning statistic or latest piece of bad news with yet more platitudinous bollocks. Despite having had almost 18 years to improve things, the truth is that ‘Welsh’ Labour has made things worse.

The only conclusion to draw is that the party is either incapable or unwilling to improve things for our people. (Or maybe that devolution is designed to fail.) Which makes you wonder why so many Welsh people have stuck with Labour for so long. But now, after a hundred years of failure, I sense that more and more people realise that these clowns will never deliver a democratic, prosperous and confident Wales.

Despite Labour’s countless shortcomings there always seemed to be little point in looking to Plaid Cymru for meaningful change. (Regular readers will know my views on that score.) Though that said, one new face among Plaid politicians has caught my eye, I’m referring now to South Wales Central AM Neil McEvoy.

Let me make clear that I have never met Neil McEvoy, but it’s obvious from a distance that he’s cut from a different cloth to most Plaid politicians. He comes from neither the cultural nationalist wing nor from the Left-Green wing. He seems to be a man with both feet firmly planted in his own community, not looking to save the planet or pander to Guardianistas. This rootedness makes it almost inevitable that he confronts Labour head-on, and exposes the corruption at the heart of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

In addition, he seems to be that rarity among Plaid politicians, a street fighter, a species of which Labour has always had plenty, but dear parchus Plaid always found rather, well . . . not neis.

I find this refreshing, because as I’ve always argued, there are too many in Plaid Cymru who allow outdated and discredited ideology to dominate their thinking, and then they pile one mistake on another by lining up with their Guardianista friends in seeing the Tories as the enemy. But the biggest party in Wales, and therefore the real enemy of Wales, is Labour.

As I said just now, McEvoy fights Labour on their own turf. And it’s working. In the May 2016 Assembly elections voters in the working class estates in the west of Cardiff turned out to get him within 1,000 votes of unseating Mark Drakeford, Labour Health Minister at the time. That means that the former seat of Rhodri Morgan, head of the Morgan dynasty, is now a key marginal for the next election.

Understandably, this has sent Labour into something of a panic, and it’s not solely attributable to the votes McEvoy’s taken from them. For example, since being elected AM he’s called for an official Welsh register of lobbyists. When Carwyn Jones said lobbyists had no access to Labour Ministers McEvoy produced photographic evidence of Labour Ministers meeting with lobbyists. Backtracking followed, and Jones had to confirm that lobbyists do have access, just not formal access. In other words, and like so much else with ‘Welsh’ Labour, it’s all done in the shadows.

I’m also glad to report that McEvoy has been asking questions about David Goldstone and his influence on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s property deals. Questions that other politicians should have been asking a long, long time ago. He exposed the scarcely believable loss of £1m on just 2 shops sold by the ‘Welsh’ Government, without a valuation, in Pontypridd. (My 9-year-old grandson could have got a better deal than that! Come to think of it, so could his kid brother.)

UPDATE, 13.01.2017: We were paying for Goldstone’s trips to Cardiff, and his stays at the Hilton Hotel.

Now I hear he’s chasing up something unearthed by the Public Accounts Committee, on which he sits. It seems Cardiff Aviation at St Athan doesn’t pay rent; one suggestion being that someone, somewhere, possibly belonging to a certain political party, gave the OK for Cardiff Aviation to enjoy the St Athan facilities rent free. Then there’s an issue with planes being unable to land in fog, which it seems lost Cardiff the EasyJet link. And if that’s not enough to get the bruvvers worked up, allegations of institutionalised corruption have been made against Cardiff’s Labour-controlled council.

Despite that litany of nasal intrusions what may have really marked the South Wales Central Member’s card with ‘Welsh’ Labour is his objection to the billions likely to be made on the Cardiff Local Development Plan. Labour campaigned on the promise to protect Cardiff’s green fields. As soon as they were elected they announced plans to build on most of them. Contrived population projections from the English Planning Inspectorate (dealt with more than once on this blog) being used as the justification.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the land has already been sold off at knock-down, agricultural prices. Read my posts Pies, Planes and Property Development and Pies, Planes and Property Development 2.

Make no mistake, there is something very shady about the Cardiff LDP, and challenging it will make you a target. Though I don’t think anyone expected Labour to be so desperate as to try to tarnish McEvoy a racist for his objections (a default position for Labour politicos), with even the First Minister getting involved. Bizarre in the extreme given Neil McEvoy’s multi-ethnic family background.

So deeply under Labour’s thick hide has Neil McEvoy managed to wriggle that I have it on very good authority (a former Labour councillor) that up to a third of Labour group meetings in Cardiff are dedicated to plotting his downfall. I was unable to confirm if voodoo dolls and pins are involved.

So no one should be surprised that he’s now being investigated by Wales’ Public Services Ombudsman in a desperate attempt to find him guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute – after trying to stop a bedroom tax eviction! How could anyone be charged with bringing a Labour council into disrepute!

The ‘charge’ seems to be that he was overheard saying that he can’t wait for Cardiff Council to be re-structured after May’s election. ‘Welsh’ Labour’s hope is to get the Local Government Panel to ban him from council elections – for talking about a policy of restructuring! The PSO, Nick Bennett, is hardly politically neutral himself (see my previous article here).

The article linked to reminds us that in an earlier existence Bennett was the business partner of an up and coming Labour politician who went on to become a Minister. Combine this with his lobbying for the tobacco industry and his role in huge wage increases for executives at Community Housing Cymru – the umbrella group for our housing associations (of which he was then CEO) – and it all tends to tarnish his credentials as an impartial arbiter of behaviour in political and public life.

Nick Bennett is an insider, he’s part of the ‘machine’, and in a working democracy he would never have been appointed Public Services Ombudsman.

But things go beyond run-of-the-mill political corruption when we remember that twice in the last 12 months Neil McEvoy has been burgled. In 2016 he came home from a public meeting about a landfill site to find the house ransacked by intruders, but while they took a great deal of trouble to break in they ignored the money, jewellery and pocket-sized iPads. Preferring to rifle through his paperwork, stealing some documents.

And McEvoy’s ‘Welcome to 2017, you bastard!’ was an office burglary, with valuable items once again ignored, but papers rummaged through and locked drawers broken open. This is simply too much of a coincidence not to be coordinated.

When the two burglaries are linked to the persistent allegations of the stalking of his sister, with the boys in blue refusing to interview independent witnesses, to the mass theft of placards during his election campaign (some removed by a Labour-controlled housing association!), we begin to get an understanding of the breadth, the depth, and the bitterness of the campaign against him.

I cannot think of any Plaid politician who has got under the skin of Labour in the way Neil McEvoy has – too many haven’t even tried. No Plaid politician before has ever stood up in the Assembly and named just some of the Labour cronies earning huge salaries in the public and third sectors. And no other Plaid politician has had the guts to take on the corrupt land deals that the Labour Party waived through.

One bad apple may spoil the barrel, but one good apple doesn’t save the cider either. Plaid is still too cosy with the liberal, statist, anti-Brexit, ‘Isn’t Trump ghastly’ elite, so embittered since they learnt what ordinary people really think of them and their ideas. But whether you support Plaid Cymru or not, if you believe in honesty and democracy, then you should support Neil McEvoy.

If devolution is ever going to be more than a chimera then at the very least we need more AMs prepared to take on the corrupt establishment and stand up to the vested interests. If that establishment can be so rattled by one ballsy Plaid politician then it makes you realise what effect a few more could have.

But from where I’m sitting too many in Plaid’s hierarchy seem to be ‘uncomfortable’ with Neil McEvoy. Because there have always been people in Plaid Cymru reluctant to make a ‘fuss’, terrified of actually succeeding, some have even worked to undermine the party when success threatened.

By comparison, the Labour Party in Wales has always been ruthless in maintaining its hold on power in order to support its networks of cronyism and corruption. Labour has been so dominant for so long that people seemed resigned to these abuses, but times are changing, and with Labour losing electoral support – getting just a third of the vote in last May’s Assembly election – there’s a growing perception that a century of political control – and the power of patronage that goes with it – may be coming to an end.

Which is wonderful news for Wales, but this fin-de-siècle moment is not with us yet. The system is decayed and rotten, like a dangerous tree, but while we are trying to push it over there are still many people reliant on it for sustenance, and they’ll fight dirty to keep it standing. But it will fall, that’s now certain; so it’s up to us to make sure that when it comes down it topples on the right people.

Let it be clearly understood – in case any lawyers read this – that I am not for one minute suggesting that the Labour and Unionist Party was implicated in the break-ins suffered by Neil McEvoy. No, sir. It could well be that these offences were committed by an insomniac with an insatiable urge to read political documents by torchlight. If so, then that person clearly needs help.

If there is no help available then I shall set up the Welsh Insomniac Burglars Aid Society and whack in a grant application for a couple of mill to tackle this horrendous problem; then it’ll be a new motor . . . a few months of wine-tasting in Argentina, maybe go watch Boca . . . apartment down Mumbles . . . conferences in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Rio . . . Why not? That’s how Labour’s Third Sector operates.

I’d have to use a false name of course, and pretend to be an English Labourite luvvie who’s just arrived in Wales.

end ♦

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 052016
 

IN THE BEGINNING . . . 

Once upon a time there was an obscure little charity in Barry called the John Rowley Trust, formed in 1986, which ran a hostel for homeless young people.

But then, in May 1999, came the first elections to the National Assembly for Wales. Someone said, ‘Ah, a new source of funding – time to get organised!’ What’s more, because Plaid Cymru did so well in those first elections, they thought they saw the future, and said, ‘Let’s give our revamped organisation a Welsh name’.

And so, at an Extra-ordinary meeting of the John Rowley Trust on July 12, 1999, Llamau Ltd was born, and a few new directors appointed. (Though there was obviously some confusion about the name chosen because the document submitted to Companies House says that the new name is ‘Llaman’.)

Though Llamau’s commitment to the Welsh language is questionable, seeing as there is no Welsh version of the website, nor indeed any Welsh at all to be found on it. Clearly the ‘commitment’ extends no further than the name.

ENTER FRANCES BEECHER

In October 2000 Frances Beecher was appointed CEO, and boy! did things then take off. Ms Beecher is also a Fellow and a Trustee of the Labour-supporting Institute for Welsh Affairs, where her bio (scroll down) tells us that, “Frances steered the organisation (Llamau) through an extensive development programme from 28 staff to approx. 350 staff.”

Ms Beecher was next appointed to the board of Llamau Ltd, as secretary, on February 10, 2005. There is also the charity Llamau. As is normal practice the directors of the company also serve as trustees of the charity, with two exceptions. Frances Beecher, as an employee and a director, is not a trustee. And even though Stuart Duffin is listed on the Llamau website as Vice Chair (under Trustees) he does not appear on the Charity Commission page as a trustee, nor on the Companies House website as a director. Which I find odd.

The ‘Governing document’ is the Memorandum and Articles of Association which sets out what the company is allowed to do and how it operates, a copy must be filed with Companies House. You can see that a number of changes are mentioned, but we only need to concern ourselves with the most recent.

llamau-governing-document

Let’s start with the last but one amendment. This is dated St David’s Day 2012 and was agreed at a General Meeting of the company held on February 25. It says, “3 The Company’s objects are – To promote the welfare and well being of people in need in the South Wales area, etc., etc.” Which is what we should expect.

But if we go to the amendment of roughly a year later, following another General Meeting, this one held on January 26, 2013, we read, “That the Memorandum of Association of the Company be altered by deleting paragraph 3 in its entirety and inserting the following – 3 The Company’s objects are to promote the welfare and well being of people in need in the United Kingdom, etc., etc”. 

So in the space of less than a year this hitherto insignificant outfit, once an unknown charity in Barry, has taken on a UK-wide role. Given what it does, and that Llamau operates only in Wales, the fact that it benefits people from across the United Kingdom suggests only one thing – that people from outside of Wales benefit from Llamau’s services by moving to Wales.

But even “across the United Kingdom” is misleading because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own judicial systems, so it should read ‘England and Wales’.

ALSO INVOLVED . . . 

The Chair of the Trustees at Llamau the charity, and of course a director of the company Llamau Ltd, is Angela Mary Gascoigne; a busy woman with an interesting background.

From 24.09.1998 until 27.09.2001 she was a director at Community Housing Cymru. There then seems to be a gap – or at least I’ve found nothing – until some time in 2008 when she turns up as managing director of the Somer Housing Group in Somerset, which has since changed its name to the Curo Group (Albion) Ltd.

llamau-angela-gascoigne

The name change may have come about in response to a less than favourable report on Ms Gascoigne’s running of the Somer Housing Group.

Obviously cue to exit stage left, so in November 2011 we find Ms Gascoigne joining the ‘Wales’ Probation Service, which has since split, in 2014, into the Wales Community Rehabilitation Company and the National Probation Service which, as the Justice website tells us, ” . . . is a statutory criminal justice service that supervises high-risk offenders released into the community in England and Wales”. So it’s an Englandandwales body.

UPDATE 12.11.2016: Here’s an example of the kind ‘high-risk offender released into the community’ . . . to kill an innocent teenager. The family of the murdered youth is now planning legal action against the Wales Community Rehabilitation Company.

llamau-national-probation-service

It would appear that Angela Mary Gascoigne was still connected with the National Probation Service for Englandandwales when she joined Clean Slate Training & Employment Ltd of Bath as a non-executive director on July 1, 2013. Its website tells us, “Clean Slate Training & Employment was set up in 2006 as a social enterprise creating and supporting paid work opportunities for people facing barriers to the labour market”. Ms Gascoigne left Clean Slate on July 4, 2016.

While a director with Clean Slate Angela Gascoigne also took up a directorship, on November 11, 2013, with Sedgemoor Housing Management Services Ltd, of Bridgewater, Somerset. She was appointed secretary on January 2, 2014. This company might be the trading arm – it’s certainly a subsidiary – of SHAL Housing, an Industrial and Provident Society. She is still director and secretary of SHMS Ltd.

From reading both websites and picking up information from elsewhere it’s clear that SHMS Ltd and SHAL Housing have links with London and help relocate people from the Great Wen to the west of England.

Finally, Ms Gascoigne joined Victim Support Cymru on January 14, 2014, and is still there. Though what she does is a mystery, seeing as Victim Support Cymru is listed as a dormant company by Companies House. In fact, the last accounts filed for Victim Support Wales (as it then was) were for year ended 31.03.2006.

From this website it’s clear that Victim Support is yet another Englandandwales body. The Javed Khan referred to was chief executive of Victim Support before moving on to Barnardo’s. Prior to the change shown in the panel, dated October 30, 2013, the Trustees of Victim Support Cymru were, with the approval of “the National Charity”, free to appoint “a Chairman, Treasurer and other honorary officers from among their number”.

llamau-victim-support-memorandum

Can we conclude that this change in October 2013 to the way Victim Support is run explains Angela Mary Gascoigne’s appointment in January 2014, was it made by ‘The National Charity’ in London? But why bother? The company has been dormant for 10 years, there is no charity called Victim Support Cymru, and it doesn’t seem to exist in any other form either. Victim Support Cymru seems to be as imaginary as the ‘Wales Probation Service’.

NUMBER CRUNCHING

Time to lift the lid on Llamau’s finances. Here are the most recent accounts available on the Companies House website, for year ending 31.03.2015. The accounts for 2016 should be available soon.

Before going to the figures, let’s look at some other information found in the accounts. Turning to page 6 (numbered at top of page), the use of ‘principal’ in the first paragraph may be significant.

Page 9 is interesting with its reference to the “Young Persons Resettlement Broker Project for North and Southern Wales”. (Why not just say ‘Wales’?) More information can be found on the website under Llamau’s Resettlement Project.

The ‘Brokers’ are, for the north, Dr Kathy Hampson, and the south, Tracey Kinsey. Dr Hampson’s Linkedin profile tells us that the project is really run by the Youth Justice Board, yet another Englandandwales outfit. I can find little information on Tracey Kinsey beyond the fact that at some time previously she was Family Mediation Manager for Llamau. Though her real claim to fame may be as the Chair of the Chepstow-Corneilles Twinning Committee.

The first paragraph on page 10, particularly the bracketed section referring to “company law”, again calls into question the status of the ethereal Irishman, Stuart Duffin.

Turning to the figures, Ms Gascoigne is forced to admit that Llamau is living a hand-to-mouth existence, with no reserves whatsoever. Hardly surprising with total resources expended in 2015 of £10,997,104 (an increase of £1,217,973 on 2014) against income of £10,837,897 (an increase of just £886,155 on 2014).

llamau-salaries

The largest component of the expenditure, is staff salaries. Staff costs (wages, pensions and social security payments) total £7,585,065. And that doesn’t take into account staff training (£111,703), travel and subsistence (£178,418), etc., etc. But then, we must remember that CEO Frances Beecher “steered the organisation through an extensive development programme from 28 staff to approx. 350 staff”. That don’t come cheap.

UPDATE 06.11.206: When writing this I neglected to consult the Transparent Wales website. Having now done so I find in the funding for Llamau a number of payments of the type ‘Current grants to private sector’, and these total £1,116,420. Private sector!

THE TROJAN HORSE THAT IS THE THIRD SECTOR

To recap, with the advent of devolution someone saw the opportunity to turn a small Barry charity into a major player in the Third Sector, and this is what happened.

But then, just short of four years ago, Llamau spread its wings to become a ‘UK’ – in reality, Englandandwales – organisation. This seems to have happened soon after lead player Angela Mary Gascoigne, a woman with feet on both sides of the Severn, got involved with the Probation Service and other elements of the judicial system.

Giving us an organisation based in Wales, largely funded from within Wales, but run in the main by people from outside Wales and serving England’s interests by rehousing young tearaways and those released from the ‘secure estate’. Making Llamau little more than an agency of the Englandandwales judicial system.

To achieve this position, agencies that previously had a modicum of Welshness and independence, such as the Probation Service and Women’s Aid have been absorbed into an Englandandwales framework.

Another example is of course Victim Support, where successive amendments to the Memorandum have exposed the increasing hold of the ‘national body’ over its Welsh outpost. As I’ve pointed out, Victim Support Cymru is registered with Companies House as a dormant company. It still has a skeletal presence with the Charities Commission that tells us it operates ‘Throughout Wales’, though when it comes to the ‘Area of benefit’ box it says:

llamau-victim-support-cymru

Don’t be surprised, for it’s how the Third Sector operates. The era of devolution and easy money has attracted all manner of shysters across the border with no commitment to Wales, they’ve come either to take over existing Welsh organisations or else to set up new ones in order to tackle ‘ishoos’ of which we were blissfully unaware ere the arrival of said shysters.

What were once separate Welsh bodies, serving Wales, are now locked into Englandandwales frameworks. This explains how undesirables and all manner of criminals appear out of the blue to occupy – and very often wreck – Welsh social housing.

I could set up an outfit tomorrow claiming to help distressed caber tossers and start milking the system. And if anyone said, ‘But, Jac, there are no distressed caber tossers in Wales’ I’d just pop up to Scotland and find some. Because that’s how the Third Sector in Wales operates – demand money to tackle fictitious ‘problems’ or else import problems that aren’t ours.

DEVOCOLONIALISM

Last month I coined the term devocolonialism to explain this system we now live under. This post gives me an opportunity to expand on what I said in that tweet.

devocolonialism-tweet

We have an Assembly down in Cardiff docks, and within it a group of Labour Party deadbeats desperately hoping to be mistaken for a government. They are a joke, they and the whole apparatus of devolution is a sham, proven by the fact that no one outside of Wales – and certainly not ‘Welsh’ Labour MPs – takes devolution seriously, so why should you?

The Assembly’s powers have been restricted by Government of Wales Acts ensuring that the Assembly can never operate in the best interests of the Welsh people. All we get is ‘Welsh’ Laws that are English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ added, and civil servants answering to London acting as ‘advisers’ to this self-deluding ‘government’.

Yet all the time, while it’s hoped we are focused on those slobbering grotesques in Cardiff, behind our backs, in a hundred and one ways that our thoroughly useless media will never report, Welsh identity is being crushed, and we become strangers in our own country as Wales merges into England.

Devolution is nothing but a comfort blanket against the encroaching darkness of assimilation. And if devolution is the comfort blanket then the comforter itself, designed to make you forget your fears and nod off, is the belief that a few more Plaid Cymru AMs can improve things.

Take my word for it, there is no political solution to the problems confronting the Welsh nation.

~ ♦ ~ end ~ ♦ ~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~

‘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.

~~~~~~~~~~

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

Jul 202014
 
No insult intended to any reptiles reading this.

NO INSULT INTENDED TO ANY SNAKES OR REPTILES READING THIS ARTICLE.

Wales is a small country, and once you start delving into the darker recesses of public life you uncover organisations of which you’ve never heard, you discover avenues of questionable funding, and you see names cropping up over and over again. This interconnectedness is not healthy; especially when so many of the shadowy groups and individuals influencing political decisions in Wales have minimal knowledge of our country and serve agendas that are dismissive of or hostile towards the best interests of the Welsh nation.

Everywhere you look in the public life of Wales you find English-run organisations of limited or negligible benefit to Welsh people yet enjoying wholly disproportionate political influence and seemingly unlimited funding. In fact, the more I study how Wales is run, the clearer it becomes how badly the interests of the indigenous Welsh are served. Seventeen years on, those who voted devolution into existence are a forgotten and neglected people.

Here are some examples that should help explain what I’m condemning.

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In my previous post I dealt with the bright young things of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. Though as questions remained unanswered about the structure of the group I sent an e-mail to the parent body, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (an object lesson in short, snappy names, these people). The reply, from Diana Clark, Executive Officer, began, ‘Dear Roy, I hope you are keeping well’. I don’t know the woman, so the unwarranted familiarity was mildly offensive. Recovering my composure I perused the information Ms Clark supplied. On WTSWW managementthe left you will see the management team, though I have no idea why this can’t be made available on the website. Maybe some of these names will register with readers. The chief executive seems to be yet another fairly recent arrival in our country, who also serves on PONT . . .

I know, you’ve never heard of PONT, and neither had I. The acronym stands for Pori, Natur a Threftadaeth (Grazing, Nature and Heritage), here’s a link to their website. It appears to be yet another publicly-funded environmentalist group with a fig leaf Welsh presence to disguise its real intention, which seems to be curbing ‘over-grazing’, perhaps a euphemism for farming (though Georges Monbiot’s name is not on the website). I assume PONT is still in existence, for I see ‘Copyright 2014’ at the foot of the page, but no Annual Report after 2010. If PONT is still in existence, and still receiving funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government (as shown on other Annual Reports), there should be a more recent Annual Report available.

Maybe PONT had a hand in persuading Alun Davies, recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food in the ‘Welsh’ Government to reduce funding to our farmers and transfer it to “rural development projects” back in January. In other words, to Greens, hippies and other invaders who don’t give a toss about us Welsh. Note how the department name even avoids using the words ‘agriculture’ or ‘farming’. More on Alun Davies later.

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Returning to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the over-familiar Ms Clark also provided me with the company structure of her organisation (click on panel to enlarge). All fairly straightforward, and easy enough to understand, even for those who don’t like flowcharts. I was however drawn to the mention of Autumn Peaks down towards the bottom, and described as a ‘dormant trading company’, so I did a little investigating.WTSWW structure

The first thing I discovered was that the name given is incorrect. According to Companies House the correct name is Autumn Peak Ltd., based at ‘The Nature Centre, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend’, and that it is still active with the next Returns due on November 8th this year. (The company number is 03262690.) Yet it is described in the 2013 WTSWW Accounts thus: “It (the WTSWW charity) also wholly owns a dormant subsidiary, Autumn Peaks Ltd which also operates two charities as inactive companies, Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd and Wildlife Trust West Wales Ltd”.

Turning to DueDil I learned that the very forward Ms Clark became Autumn Peak’s Company Secretary on February 11th, 2008. The only other directors being Dr. Ruth Watkins and Mr Peter Gerald Hunter. There have been thirteen directors since the company was formed in 1996, by the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd, all of them now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, apart from the aforementioned Ms Clark who, at 55, is a mere slip of a gel, which may account for her flibbertigibbet attitude in dealing with business correspondence.

Of more interest were the figures provided on Autumn Peak by DueDil, which suggest that as a ‘trading company’ it was not a great success. By December 2000 it was well up Shit Creek with total liabilities of £170,000. How did a nature reserve run up debts like this? Did this ruinous adventure pave the way for the merger in April, 2002 with Wildlife Trust, West Wales Ltd? Was public funding used to resolve the situation?

DueDil WTSWW

In the flowchart you will see another company mentioned, this one still active, DWT Ltd. It was not straightforward to track down because, again, the company name is given wrongly; it is in fact DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, company number 02702793. Registered at the same Bridgend address as Autumn Peak Ltd, and incorporated on April 4th, 1992, over four years before the ill-fated Autumn Peak.

This subsidiary is described thus in the 2013 Accounts: “The Charity (the WTSWW) owns the whole of the issued ordinary share capital of DWT (Enterprises) Ltd, a company registered in Wales (Company No: 2702793). This subsidiary is used for non-primary purpose trading activities – namely the provision of holiday accommodation on nature reserves,
catering for visitors and the retailing of bought-in goods to visitors”. The company secretary is Gillian Clark.

The chart for DWT (Enterprises) Ltd suggests that it took on the debts of Autumn Peak and has limped along ever since. While not as far up Shit Creek as Autumn Peak managed to get it has definitely turned into that side stream with liabilities in excess of assets for the past four years.

DueDil WTSWW 2

The third company listed in the flowchart is ‘WTSWW Ltd’, a name that, again, will get you nowhere unless you have the full name, which is of course, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales Ltd. The company number is 04398959, and it’s a private company limited by guarantee and listed as a non-trading company in the business of “Botanical and zoological gardens and nature reserves activities”.

The chart for WTSWW Ltd looks pretty healthy; cash in the bank of £910,936 and net worth of over £2.5m. Though this may be a little misleading as Companies House makes reference to nine outstanding mortgages, which almost certainly accounts for the bulk of the assets. The company secretary is, again, Ms Diana Gillian Clark. In fact she is listed as company secretary for five companies; in addition to the three mentioned here, we can add The Wildlife Trust (West Wales) Ltd and The Glamorgan Wildlife Trust Ltd. She took on all five posts in January and February 2008.

DueDil WTSWW 3

The WTSWW is also a registered charity, number 1091562. And it’s there you can find the most recent set of accounts. The accounts confirm, under ‘Tangible Fixed Assets’ just under £1.5m in ‘Freehold Nature Reserves’ Among a multiplicity of other fascinating facts contained therein my eye was drawn again to the name DWT (Enterprises) Ltd (the still active trading arm), where I learnt that this company returned a trading loss of £5,035 yet spent £137,205 on staff costs! I shall repeat that for the hard of reading: This company spent over 137 grand employing staff who obviously possess as much commercial nous as your average Labour politician or, for that matter, Third Sector scrounger. In total – salaries, wages, social security and pension costs – the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales spent £546,899 on staff. So where did it come from . . . cos it sure as hell didn’t come from the ‘trading arms’!

Donations and Gifts amounted to £106,685; Legacies came to £266,444; Fundraising brought in 72,197; and Grants £970,712. Of the latter figure (p25) the greater part comes, by one route or another, from the ‘Welsh’ Government. One grant I would like more information on is the one listed simply as ‘S106’ for exactly £100,000. Update 21.07.14: It seems that S106 refers to a community infrastructure levy paid by developers to local authorities. So which local authority gave the WTSWW £100,000? This levy is supposed to be used for community benefits – how does that apply in this case? There may be a good reason why the Trust is so vague about the details. (Diolch i AK.)

The way the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales operates could be described thus. It persuades old dears not to leave all their money to cats homes; it begs from anyone else with money, including the ‘Welsh’ Government; but the WTSWW raises very little itself of the cash it spends on buying up parcels of Wales in order to provide further employment and recreation for its friends. Now this might be acceptable if the work done was beneficial to the Welsh people, but it’s not. Though if the ‘Welsh’ Government does deem this work to be important then, rather than throwing money at people who clearly couldn’t run a whelk stall, why don’t they do it themselves and provide employment for the people they claim to represent?

If the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales was a private company it would have gone bankrupt long ago. But it’s not a private company, and it has a great advantage over private companies in an unending supply of funding from external sources. Which means that these hectoring and manipulative poseurs can be nonchalant with how they spend that money, which leads to trading arms that run up massive debts, or subsidising the beach bums of the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and other holiday camps for the English middle class.

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Many of you will have missed the news that Nick Bennett is the new Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. ‘Who the hell is he?’ I hear you shout. Well, for some years prior to taking on his new job he was, from July 2006, chief executive of Nick BennettCommunity Housing Cymru, the umbrella organisation for housing associations. Reading of Mr Bennett’s new appointment made me remember my only contact with him.

It came in a rather strange way, just before Christmas 2010. I had sent a letter for publication to the Wasting Mule. In it I asked Nick Bennett why Welsh housing associations were taking in criminals and other undesirables from England. The letter was not published but instead I received a remarkable e-mail from Pat English, the Mule‘s Letters Editor, which began: “Mr Jones, here are the detailed answers to your points, from Nick Bennett …”

In over forty years of writing to newspapers and other publications I have never received a response in that manner. In his lengthy reply that followed Pat English’s intro one phrase Bennett used confirmed for me that Welsh housing associations are linked to and co-operating with their English counterparts. For in among the denials and unconvincing excuses was this revelatory gem: “There are over two million people on waiting lists for social housing . . . “ ‘Over two million’ – in Wales! For this, remember, was written by the chief executive of Community Housing Cymru.

So what else do we know about Nick Bennett? Well, from November 2000 to October 2002 he was a special adviser (spad) to Mike German, one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Notional Assembly. Then (on his Linkedin front page) there is a gap until April 2004, when he becomes a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications Ltd, company numbeJohn Lastr 05076125. The other directors were Professor John Last and a Mr Alun Davies. The professor, originally from Liverpool, and a retired academic, is still a busy man, serving on the St. Asaph Diocesan Board of Finance and the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust. The panel (right) is taken from the Glyndŵr University website, for Professor Last is a former governor. A perfect exemplar for those who populate the upper reaches of ‘Welsh’ public life. The other director is of course, Alun Davies AM, the recently sacked Minister for Environment and Food.

Bute 2Let’s look at recent Welsh political history to see if it can offer any clues to Nick Bennett’s career. From 2000 to 2003 there was a Labour-Lib Dem coalition down Cardiff docks, in which his boss Mike German was Deputy First Minister. This would have allowed spad Bennett to put himself about, to ‘network’ and ‘touch base’ with those who mattered, especially in the Labour Party. This probably accounts for him going into business with Alun Davies. From 2003 to 2007 Labour had an overall majority, so we can be certain that his friendship with rising star Davies didn’t do him any harm when he applied for the job of Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. Coming up to date, Bennett was appointed to the post of Public Services Ombudsman in March 2014, when Alun Davies, his former business partner, was still a popular and influential minister in the ‘Welsh’ Government. Naught but coincidences, of course.

Having mentioned Bennett’s earlier business venture with Alun Davies, Bute Communications, it seems only right and fair to mention another; one that looks suspiciously like another ‘trading arm’ of a publicly-funded Third Sector body. It is called – for it still exists – ‘Community Housing Cymru – Policy and Research Ltd’. The graph suggests another great example of Third Sector ‘enterprise’. Current liabilities exactly match current assets, with net assets (i.e. book value) of £1, and a turnover of considerably less than your average whelk stall.

Community Housing Cymru 1

And now Nick Bennett is the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales. Within his jurisdiction will be all his old friends in the housing associations, who can be guaranteed to generate many complaints. Those bodies that he assured me do not import criminals, ‘problem families’ and other riff-raff from England (though he was unwilling to put it in writing in the Wasting Mule). His years spent smooching politicos will probably ensure that no one with good political connections will ever feel the wrath of his office. Welcome to the nest of vipers that is public life in Wales!

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This is a truly amazing system, one I have written about over many years. A sphere of Welsh life run by, and for the sole benefit of, those with little business acumen and weak links to Wales (but often strong connections to the Labour Party).

Politicians – Labour, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat – see nothing wrong in showering these incompetents with billions of pounds of public funding to do what could be done cheaper, more efficiently, and with more accountability, by either the private or the public sector. As an example of the amounts involved, since 1999 over one billion pounds has been given, from a single funding stream (Social Housing Grant), to housing associations.

Whereas in healthily functioning democracies commercial interests spend money lobbying politicians and trying to influence legislation for their own financial gain, this being Wales – where private enterprise and commercial activity is regarded with the greatest suspicion – the government actually funds Left wing and Green pressure groups to produce ideas to be turned into legislation that then results in further support and funding for those very same groups!

When the inevitable corruption, incompetence and financial disasters occur, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s natural reaction is to hush it up and / or pour in more money. Made easier by the absence of a national media capable of anything more demanding than regurgitating press releases, and self-justifying Third Sector reports, as ‘News’.

This is the road to national destitution, and explains why Wales is getting poorer, year on year, compared to just about every other part of Europe. Also less democratic. This system must be dismantled if Wales and the Welsh people are to prosper.

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.