Edwina Hart

Sep 132016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

Keeping tabs on the incestuous, grant-fuelled world of the Welsh heritage industry could be a full-time job in itself. It seems there is no end to the number of charitable trusts set up to take advantage of the funding available ostensibly to rescue this or that old ruin or building, with some familiar names cropping up here, there and everywhere, often with tenuous links to our country and its people.

A linguistic digression

Anyone who lives and works in more than one language and has given the matter some thought will tell you that, depending on which language they use, the world can sometimes look rather different. This is often true of conceptual words, for example.

Watching debates in county councils sometimes brings this into sharp focus. One side or the other will table a motion (cynnig = offer, proposal in Welsh). Opponents may then try to change or wreck it by tabling an amendment. In Welsh, that’s a gwelliant (=improvement).

By no means all amendments are a gwelliant.

In English the vast majority of conceptual words are derived from Latin or Greek. Heritage, perhaps appropriately in this context, comes down to us from Norman French and means something you have inherited.

You could inherit a property in Australia or downtown Manhattan without ever having set foot in either place, and your good fortune would be down to luck of the draw and the legal system.

In Welsh the word is treftadaeth, and if we break that word down, as children are encouraged to do at school, we get tref (place/homestead) + tad (father) + aeth, a suffix which very roughly means ‘something to do with’. In other words, places linked to your forebears, an idea not a million miles removed from hen wlad fy nhadau.

The difference between the legalistic connotations of the Norman French and the Welsh word, rooted in real people and places, goes to the heart of the debate which has been raging on the pages of this blog.

Ystrad Fflur

To its credit, the Ceredigion Herald picked up on the recent piece on this blog about plans to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ at Ystrad Fflur and help locals to ‘enhance senses of their own identity and wellbeing’, whatever that means, and it contacted Professor David Austin.

In response to questions, the professor huffed and puffed at some length about the wonderful nature of the site and was clearly reluctant to go into mundane details about what precisely was being planned and where the money was coming from.

When pressed, he gave answers which left a lot of wriggle room.

The Strata Florida Trust has acquired the farmhouse, he said, not mentioning the buildings which cluster around it (although the trust’s website says it has acquired those too).

strataflorida

The money had come from a private donation, and he was not prepared to say more on that subject.

The Acanthus Holden plan (the exclusive hotel with attached visitor centre) was to have been financed privately, but had now been ditched.

The only link to Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT, the Llanelly House body) was CHRT’s chief executive Claire Deacon, he claimed.

What happened to the £200,000 donation CHRT received to buy the buildings at Mynachlog Fawr therefore remains a mystery.

Plans, also shrouded in mystery, to develop the old farm, would be financed by a variety of means, he explained:

“There is other funding available to us, which is not Heritage Lottery Fund money, and we are in the process of finalising the arrangements for the allocation of that money to the Strata Florida Trust.”

That does not quite rule out HLF funding, and raises more questions than it answers.

Who is funding this, and why the secrecy? Is cash-strapped Ceredigion County Council involved, for example?

One of the contributors to comments on the original article about Ystrad Fflur suggested that there might be some form of local consultation. In his interview with the Herald, Professor Austin makes no mention of a consultation, and his website is also silent on the subject.

What we are about to get, it seems, is a fully fledged project for the commercial exploitation of Ystrad Fflur with no public consultation and  zero transparency about the details of the development.

Adfer Ban a Chwm

Adfer Ban a Chwm (ABC), or to give it its more prosaic English name, “Revitalise Hill and Valley”, is  another trust, this time registered to an address in trendy Islington, London where Tony and Gordon made their infamous Granita Pact.

Its annual report for the year to 31 March 2015 says that the charity’s objectives “are to preserve for the benefit of the people of Carmarthenshire, Powys, Wales and the Nation” what it terms “constructional heritage”, and in particular the pretty bits.

Presumably “the Nation” is not the same as Wales.

The website expands on this a little, saying that the trust aims to “address the issues of vernacular buildings in rural Wales and the need for affordable housing in the area”.

Adfer Ban a Chwm’s leading light is an architect, Roger Mears, pictured here at what would appear to be the Henley Regatta, old boy:

roger-mears

ABC (it should really be ABCh) was set up eight years ago and appears to have spent most of the period since applying for and receiving grants from, among others, the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Brecon Beacons Trust, the Community Foundation in Wales and the Quaker Housing Trust. More trusts and foundations than you can shake a stick at, in fact.

It is not at all clear what ABC has actually achieved in those eight years apart from a year of planning, researching and writing a report in 2014-15 and raking in grants.

More grant money came in in May 2016 enabling it to proceed with its Grass Roots Heritage Programme, “a one-year project (the first year of a three-year programme) which we hope will identify buildings that we can turn into affordable homes.”

So after all that time, all that report writing and all those (successful) grant applications, it would seem that not a single building has been restored and not a single affordable home created, although the trust hopes to be able to identify potential candidates by this time next year.

Over the next 12 months, therefore, they will carry out “mapping and community work” in and around Myddfai, Carmarthenshire:

“This information will be used to underpin the next stage of the ABC project, and be broadcast widely in a series of interactive community workshops, where the social history of the buildings will be elaborated by gathering local memories and stories, and where community and student volunteers will learn about how to record old buildings, what to look for and what these buildings have to tell us, how they might be repaired and conserved and turned into affordable homes.”

Helping ABC along the way by working with the trust’s executive director on partnerships has been our old friend, Claire Deacon, CEO of Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, saviour of Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA, project director at Mynachlog Fawr, lecturer and consultant, and former conservation officer with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

All in all, then, one of the most successful “Welsh” buildings preservation trusts: loads of grants harvested and no sign of any actual buildings. Perhaps Griff Rhys Jones will turn it into a documentary series.

Golden Grant

Staying in Carmarthenshire for a moment, let’s take a trip to Gelli Aur (or Golden Grove as some would have it), the former home of the Cawdors near Llandeilo.

The huge late Regency pile has been knocked about a bit and badly neglected since the last of the Cawdors moved out in the 1930s. Carmarthenshire County Council, which had a lease on the place, can take credit for the worst of the damage.

At one time the council and the ever-enthusiastic Meryl Gravell hoped to turn the place into a kind of business incubator for media start-ups. Their chosen partner disappeared with a lot of public money which was never seen again. Ever more exotic investors came and went, until finally the house and 100 acres were sold to a London art dealer, Richard Christopher Salmon.

Salmon has renovated a part of the house and made the roof of the main building weatherproof, but one of his first acts after taking over was to set up a trust.

The Golden Grove Trust, which has no known sources of income, was gifted with a debt of £1.45 million by Mr Salmon, a sum which apparently represents the purchase price of the near derelict house and dilapidated grounds. If that was what he actually paid for this massive liability, someone saw him coming.

The debt is due to be repaid – somehow – to Mr Salmon in just over a year from now.

gelli-aur

Filing accounts is clearly not one of Mr Salmon’s favourite activities. The Charity Commission website shows that the 2012-13 accounts were received 583 days late, while the report for 2013-14 was 218 days late. The annual report for 2014-15 is currently 78 days late.

Despite this and the fact that the trust was close to being struck off by the Charity Commission, the charity was last year awarded a grant of just under £1 million by Edwina Hart, Meryl’s old buddy, for the restoration of the park which occupies around 60 of the 100 acres of land and includes, or included (it is difficult to know which tense to use) a public park with a playground, lake, café and arboretum.

The Carmarthenshire Herald reported a couple of weeks ago that there were a growing number of complaints from the public that the park was closing on more and more days, and that public access signs had been removed.

With some difficulty the newspaper managed to track down Mr Salmon who thought, but did not seem very sure, that the closure might have something to do with adverse weather conditions, and concerns of the insurers on health and safety grounds.

Readers in Carmarthenshire may struggle to recall unusually bad weather in recent months, but there you are.

Mr Salmon was clearly not best pleased with critical blog posts and press reports published in 2015, and told the Herald that he could have shut the whole place up and kept it private.

But then Edwina wouldn’t have given him £1 million, would she?

Another one to watch.

This is a local fund run by local people

keep-it-local

“I used to work for Neil Kinnock, you know”

As we have seen, grants are available from all sorts of different bodies, but what the Americans would call the 800 lb gorilla in this jungle is without doubt the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The fund’s website lists 2,785 projects which have received funding in Wales. Amounts vary from a couple of hundred pounds, to mammoths such as Cardigan Castle (£6.5 million) and Llanelly House (£3.6 million).

The HLF divides the UK into regions and nations, and each of these has its own committee and permanent head. The head of HLF Wales is someone called Richard Bellamy, whose previous roles include working on the Channel Tunnel, the National Trust, English Nature and Cornwall Council. If he has a connection with Wales, he is keeping quiet about it.

The committee, which decides on applications in Wales, currently has eight members, and according to HLF’s website:

“The committees are made up of local people recruited through open advertisement. Committees are supported by grant-assessment teams based in the relevant region or country.”

In theory, then, anyone can apply. Who selects the successful candidates is not clear, but it clearly helps if you have worked for English Heritage or the National Trust and, ideally, come from somewhere in or near Cardiff.

Chairing the committee is the august personage of Baroness Kay Andrews of Southover OBE. Andrews, who grew up at Ystrad Mynach, was parliamentary clerk in the House of Commons before becoming policy adviser to Neil Kinnock, from where she went on to found and run her own charity, Education Extra.

On elevation to the peerage, Andrews clearly felt so strongly about her Welsh roots that she chose Southover in Sussex for her title, and it is from Sussex that she claims travel expenses when going to the House of Lords.

The HLF’s rule on appointing ‘local people’ to the Welsh Committee does not seem to be taken that seriously, but no doubt there was nobody ‘locally’ up to the job, just as there were no suitable Welsh candidates for the post of Head of HLF Wales.

But we should all be grateful, shouldn’t we?

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says . . . In these recent posts – and, indeed, in the one I’m working on now – we encounter groups and individuals who have hit on a method of subsidising their move to Wales and/or maintaining themselves once they’re here. Human nature being what it is, this is understandable; what is less easy to understand is why these people are being funded.

To explain how this scam system operates . . . let’s say you want to buy and renovate a somewhat dilapidated old house. And let’s say you pay £100,000 for that property knowing that it will cost another £100,000 to restore. That house will therefore cost you £200,000. But that’s a mug’s way of doing things. What those we’re discussing do is buy a property and get someone else to pay for the renovation. Sticking with the same figures, this means that for an outlay of just £100,000 they get a property worth £200,000.

To which you respond, ‘Ah, but Jac, you’ve been on the Malbec again, and it’s making you forget that these are important buildings, of great historical or cultural significance’. I suppress my usual riposte of ‘bollocks!’ to offer the following argument.

If these buildings are indeed of great historic or cultural significance then they should be in public ownership – WELSH public ownership. If they are not of great historic or cultural significance then no public money should be expended, whether directly or in grants to self-appointed ‘heritage trusts’. The worst of all possible options is to have a building or site of genuine national importance privately owned but maintained by public funds.

This is nothing less than submitting to a form of blackmail – ‘This place I own is very important (take my word for it), but if you don’t give me lots of money I’ll let it decay/fall down/ be turned into a burger joint’.

As I and others have argued, Wales needs a new body, answerable to us, the Welsh people, that protects what is important to us and our past with sympathy and respect. A new body to replace the English National Trust, Cadw, and all the strangers in our midst with their grant-grabbing ‘trusts’.

It so happens that the ‘Welsh’ Government is currently inviting observations on ‘Proposals for secondary legislation to support the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and draft guidance’. The same shower also claims to want ‘your views on this technical advice note which provides detailed planning advice on the historic environment in Wales’.

So tell them what you think they should do, the deadline is October 3rd.

Mar 212016
 

TO RECAP . . . 

You will recall that in the previous post dealing with the highly questionable disposal of publicly-owned land by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales we encountered two Guernsey-based companies, Imperial House Investments Ltd (Incorporated 30.11.2013) and South Wales Land Developments Ltd (Incorporated 01.02.2014) both of which had just two directors, Langley Davies and Jane Pocock.

It became clear that South Wales Land Developments was set up to serve as a vehicle for the real purchaser in the land deal with RIFW, Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas, originally of Merthyr, but now resident in Guernsey. So what might be the purpose of Imperial House Investments Ltd?

The obvious question, to me, was, ‘Is there a specific Imperial House that might answer the question?’ Yes, and unsurprisingly it’s to be found on Imperial Park in Newport, listed among the publicly-owned assets disposed of by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.

RIFW Land Sales

IMAGE COURTESY OF BBC WALES

As I shall explain below, Imperial House was bought by Langley Davies and South Wales Land Developments on behalf of Stan Thomas in the controversial ‘portfolio disposal’ of RIFW assets. But is there anything in the pipeline – as with the housing planned for the Lisvane land – that might affect its value in an upward direction? And come to that, does SWLD still own Imperial House?

The answer to the first question is that Imperial Park will be very close to the projected M4 relief road / ‘black route’ announced by Edwina Hart in July 2014, which is bound to increase its value. ‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘Imperial House Investments Ltd of Guernsey was created in November 2013, a full eight months before Redwina spoke’.

Which could suggest that Stan Thomas and Langley Davies are gifted with second sight . . . or there may be a more mundane explanation

The answer to the second question is where it gets interesting. For Imperial House – or at least, part of it – is now owned by yet another Guernsey-based company involved in these shenanigans.

Here are the details and the documentation.

Imperial House was bought on July 13th, 2012, from South Wales Land Developments Ltd by Imperial House Investments Ltd – a company that didn’t officially exist until November 2013 – for the sum stated on title number WA701104 as being £1,750,000. Here is a link to that document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, showing the land bought bordered in red.

Then, on October 26th, 2015, it appears that part of the Imperial House site – known as “Phase II” – was sold for £3,853,823 (title number CYM664986) to Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd of PO Box 25, Regency Court, Glategny Esplanade, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 3AP. Here’s a link to the title document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, with the Oxenwood purchase bordered in red. It’s worth comparing the two plans.

So what do we know about Oxenwood? Not a lot. I couldn’t turn up anything for Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd. (And what does YPL stand for anyway?) There is however an Oxenwood Real Estate LLP based in London which might or might not be connected. Though Imperial House doesn’t show in its portfolio.

While searching for Imperial House I did turn up an advert for offices for hire in Imperial Courtyard, which forms part of the Imperial House purchase. The agent is Lambert Smith Hampton, the company that advised RIFW on the sale of its assets.

Imperial Courtyard

PICTURE COURTESY OF https://propertylink.estatesgazette.com

The building is shown above, with Unit 6 being the ground floor. Is this still owned by Stan Thomas or was it part of the sale to Oxenwood Real Estate LLP, which might have been no more than Stan Thomas selling from one of his Guernsey companies to another?

(To save you taking your socks off, 4,134 sq ft x £15.00 = £62,010.)

Or is this a new build on the “c1a (circa one acre) development site” that was part of the Imperial House transaction? And if “Unit 6” is offered in this ad can we assume that there are at least five other units?

Another big question is – how much did SWLD pay the RIFW for Imperial House? Whatever the answer we can be sure that it will be a very good deal for Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas.

Reminding us that while the Lisvane site may be the ‘jewel in the crown’ there are a number of other lucrative elements to this portfolio sale by the RIFW that the media may have overlooked.

THE DELOITTE REPORT, INTRODUCTION

One thing that’s become clear as I’ve looked at the RIFW story is how the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party and its laughable ‘Welsh’ Government has procrastinated and dithered, how hard it has tried to stop the truth emerging while simultaneously trying to distance itself from the fall-out. Among the tactics employed has been to regularly trot out the line that the RIFW is an “arms-length” organisation.

The Deloitte report that we shall now consider might also be seen as another bit of procrastination, another effort to buy time in the hope that the critics would get tired and give up. The report was presented to the ‘Welsh’ Government on August 8th, 2013. Its findings are so conclusively damning that it should have resulted in immediate action, but those clowns down Cardiff docks continued to dither.

Before progressing with a detailed look into the Deloitte report I also recommend that you read Owen Donovan’s Oggy Bloggy Ogwr blog, where you will find an excellent analysis of this scandal stage by stage and learn how the Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government have handled it. Here’s a link to his most recent contribution, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap VI: The Debate and you can work back from there to read the earlier pieces.

Click on the title to open the full report, Welsh Government Peer Review – RIFW Asset Portfolio Disposal and keep it open in another window. I know I always say this, but this time I really mean it – please set aside an hour or so to read the report through. I should warn you that it is redacted, but not so heavily as to detract from the seriousness of its findings. (Though of course it did make me wonder, given what is left, how damning were the redacted parts.)

I shall now list what I consider to be the most important of Deloitte’s findings, page by page, but before that maybe I should explain who’s who, and what their roles were.

  • Chris Munday is the civil servant behind the creation of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales. There is surely a knighthood awaiting Mr Munday . . . or possibly a posting to the Gurnos community centre (personal injury insurance provided).
  • Lambert Smith Hampton is the commercial property consultancy that advised the RIFW on the sales, through its Cardiff office headed by Lee Mogridge, with input from Jeremy Green who is based in London.
  • Amber Infrastructure was the other RIFW adviser and is now considering taking action against LSH. (The second link contains the sentence, ” . . . they [the Public Accounts Committee] were concerned that one of the company’s [LSH’s] employees was working for both RIFW, which was selling the sites, and South Wales Land Developments, which was buying the site.” This is also referenced in this report from 2013 into the internal governance of the RIFW – page 29 iii – but the individual is not named.)
  • The public interest was supposed to be have been safeguarded by the five people appointed to the RIFW Board by the ‘Welsh’ Government. These were Richard Anning, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Englandandwales; Ceri Breeze, a ‘Welsh’ Government civil servant; Richard Harris, another apparatchik; Chris Holley, the former Lib Dem leader of Swansea council; and Jonathan Geen, of Acuity Legal, the Endgame Group, and, more recently, Bellerophon Scotland, plus of course, South Wales Land Developments Ltd and, ultimately, Stan Thomas.
THE DELOITTE REPORT (by page and column heading)

Page 12: Note that the original value put on Imperial House was £5.2m, yet SWLD was able to sell the property to Imperial House Investments Ltd for £1.75m, so I ask again, how much did SWLD pay for Imperial House? And remember, the £5.2m value was given before anyone knew of the M4 ‘black route’ coming right by Imperial House.

Imperial House

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Page 14 Observations: January 31st, 2011: “The Investment Manager’s Report and the Minutes of the Board Meeting at which this document was discussed make no mention of consideration of a portfolio disposal”. Suggesting that the original intention was to sell the lots individually, or perhaps in batches.

The reference in the lower box to Imperial House could be interpreted as someone trying to drive down the asking price.

Page 15: This theme of driving down the supposed value of Imperial House continues.

Page 17 Description: The reference in the lower box makes it clear that by March 28th, 2011, an offer has been received to buy all the properties in a “portfolio disposal”.

Page 21 Observations: It seems clear that Deloitte cannot understand why the Realisation Value of Imperial House has fallen since 2011, and no explanation is offered.

Page 24 Description: This tells us that in the early part of 2011 there were a number of companies interested in the RIFW land, it lists them. Legat Owen, for example, had a client interested in all the sites in the north. But the job lot had already been promised to Stan Thomas.

Page 25 Observations: Lambert Smith Hampton – the Investment Managers to the RIFW, entrusted with securing the best possible deal for these public assets – has not advertised the properties but has “informally canvassed” likely purchasers.

Also note something I commented on in my previous post. Jonathan Geen is dealing with Langley Davies of South Wales Land Developments, Stan Thomas’ front man, but SWLD didn’t officially exist!

Page 26 Observations: Read it all. “No advertising took place” says Deloitte. Though there are more vague references to “informal canvassing”, making it clear that the deal was already done and dusted.

Page 27 Description: Some time before April 21st, 2011 it was known that an offer had been made by Stan Thomas. May 10th, 2011, Langley Davies says that Stan Thomas (through GST of Guernsey) will be lending him the money to make the purchase “at 3% over interbank rate”. So Langley is the real purchaser, with Stan just lending him the money?

               Observations: On April 21st, 2011, Board member Jonathan Geen declares a “potential conflict” (of interests). AT WHICH POINT HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OLD HEAVE-HO FROM THE RIFW.

Page 28 Description: Here we learn that the “portfolio offer letter from GST Investments Ltd” was received on March 4th, 2011.

Also that, “LSH met Sir Stanley Thomas and Langley Davies to discuss the sale” on March 30th, 2011. Was no one else present?

Page 29 Description: Value of Imperial House downplayed, again.

Page 30 Description: At 20th April, 2011, we learn of the first written evidence of LSH recommending acceptance of the Stan Thomas offer. We also learn that Carwyn Jones and the “IM” were informed of this development.

We also see yet another mention of no due diligence carried out with regard to GST or SWLD.

Pages 32 & 33: With a few minor caveats the Board decides by the end of April 2011 to (officially) accept Stan Thomas’ offer.

Page 38 Description: Lambert Smith Hampton “writes to Martin Pollock of Barclays Wealth (acting for Stan Thomas) accepting an offer of £22.5m based on three staged payments” on June 15th 2011. Anyone who’s been paying attention will have noted that this purchase figure has changed a few times.

               Observations: Note Deloitte’s curious and rather worrying mention of the Board’s recorded vote.

Here’s some more information on the Board, “From January 2011, the Board comprised five voting members: two Welsh Government officials (one of whom served as Chair), a Welsh Local Government Association representative and two external members appointed following an advertised public appointments process. Although Welsh Ministers appointed the Board members, under the LLP model all of the Board members had a legal responsibility to act in the interests of RIFW, even if those interests were not entirely aligned with those of Welsh Ministers(?). LSH told the Committee that they felt the composition of the Board contained the right expertise for this venture.”

I’m quoting there from the January 2016 report by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (page 18). Which goes on to say, “The small size of the RIFW Board meant that its capacity to discharge its responsibilities was weakened when a conflict of interest regarding the portfolio sale to SWLD arose when one of the external members, Jonathan Geen, started to act as the legal advisor to SWLD on the sale transaction.”

Further documentation on the Public Accounts Committee investigation is available here.

Page 39 Description: It is noted on July 22nd 2011, Redrow offers “£2m unconditionally for the Bangor site”. This offer was made to Lambert Smith Hampton’s Manchester office. Why didn’t Redrow go to the Cardiff office handling the sale? Did they know something?

Whatever the answer, this offer seems to have slipped through the floorboards, though of course we should remember that the deal with Stan and Olly had already been stitched up by then.

Page 40 Description: Heads of Terms between RIFW and Newco Ltd (acting for Stan Thomas), July 15th, 2011,“describes the sale of 18 properties, but it also states that RIFW may not be in a position to dispose of Imperial House and Garth Park”.

                Observations: “Jonathan Geen is noted as the purchaser’s solicitor”.

Page 44 Description: Against the date November 15th, 2011, we read, “Purchaser is now TBC – a Guernsey Registered Holding Company wholly owned by St Lawrence Property Investments Ltd, registered in UK and funded by GST”. 

St Lawrence Property Investments can be found at Unit 6, Imperial Courtyard, the property for rent we looked at earlier. Its directors are Langley Davies and Jane Pocock, but as a new face we have a Karen Davies, who could be Langley’s wife or, given that she was born in the same month as him, his twin sister.

This company, Number 07545621, was Incorporated February 28th, 2011, and before moving to Newport its address, until August 17th, 2011, was 3 Assembly Square, Britannia Quay, Cardiff Bay. The same address as Acuity Legal, where Jonathan Geen is listed as “Partner – Real Estate”.

If St Lawrence Property Investments was registered at 3 Assembly Square, the address of Jonathan Geen’s company, Acuity Legal, and Incorporated on February 28th, then it’s reasonable to assume that Geen was representing Stan Thomas and Langley Davies some two months before he confessed to his “potential conflict” on April 21st. It may have been longer.

THOUGHTS

The ‘Welsh’ Government seems to think that the RIFW fiasco was all over with the Public Accounts Committee report in January. That was certainly the opinion of Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities . . . the very communities that have lost out by RIFW not realising anything like the potential of the assets it was entrusted with.

RIFW Lesley Griffith

We have since learnt that the ‘Welsh’ Government is getting tough, and earlier this month it was announced that there are plans to take legal action against Lambert Smith Hampton, which has also been referred to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

This is the very least the ‘Welsh’ Government could do, because the performance of LSH leaves only two possibilities:

1/ Those allocated by LSH to the RIFW contract were so utterly inept and unprofessional that they should never be given another job more complicated than a house sale.

2/ The company, or one or more of its employees, was in the pay of Langley and Stan, which is what is suggested by more than one source. If an employee of LSH was simultaneously working for the RIFW and the Langley and Stan show, then surely that person can be prosecuted?

It is therefore wholly correct that Carwyn and his posse should ride off into the sunset in pursuit of the LSH gang. But I don’t understand why Jonathan Geen has been allowed to leave town unmolested. I’m assuming he’s left Cardiff, for as I suggested just now, he seems to have moved to Scotland, where he is currently starring on the Bellerophon Scotland website, now calling himself ‘Jon’ Geen but using the same, Acuity, photograph. (Open out for full profile.)

Jonathan Geen was appointed to the RIFW Board in December 2010. The Terms and Conditions of his appointment can be found here (page 31). I’m linking again to the somewhat neglected report, published in April 2013, into the governance arrangements of the RIFW, written by Gilbert C. Lloyd FCA CPFA. You can read it for yourself, but I can save you the trouble by telling you that Mr Lloyd concludes that the RIFW is a bit of a shambles.

The penultimate Duty reads, “Acting in the best interests of the Fund”. Was it possible for Jonathan Geen to act in the best interests of the Fund while also serving Langley and Stan? His responsibility to the Fund should have meant maximising its profits, yet the gruesome twosome wanted to pay as little as possible for the land.

The final Duty says that the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Seven Principles of Public Life are adhered to. Read them and you may think that Jonathan Geen broke most of them while acting as a Board member of the RIFW, supposedly safeguarding the public interest.

So why was Jonathan Geen allowed to take the high road?

RIFW Jonathan Geen

PICTURE COURTESY OF ACUITY LEGAL

CONCLUSIONS

The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales was a cock-up from the outset. A perfect example of what goes wrong when civil servants and politicians with no knowledge of the real world try to deal with ‘businessmen’. Setting up the RIFW in the manner it was done was like tethering a goat and waiting for the predators to appear.

Another contributing factor was that, despite its grandiose ambitions, Cardiff remains a relatively small city, and those in particular sectors – such as property sales and development – will almost certainly know each other. Not only professionally, but also socially. Perhaps they’ll belong to the same Lodge or golf club.

While I consistently argue for contracts and jobs to be given to local companies, in the case of the RIFW land disposal, the contracts should have been dispersed to people unknown to each other. This must be borne in mind for all similar business in future and, indeed, more generally when awarding contracts.

For as I travel around Wales I notice signs on development sites telling me that the architect, or the surveyor, or the agent involved, is based in Cardiff, and almost certainly got the contract because he is close to the ‘Welsh’ Government, perhaps in more senses than one.

So let’s learn from the RIFW scandal and in future spread the contracts and the wealth they generate around the country.

All that said, the ultimate blame for the Welsh people being deprived of £200m or more does not lie with Langley Davies or Stan Thomas, Jonathan Geen or anyone at Lambert Smith Hampton, for these were simply being true to their natures. No, the blame lies squarely with the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government down Cardiff docks.

The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales was a disaster waiting to happen, and it was obvious as early as March 2011 that the disaster was playing out, that there were conflicts of interest, that companies showing interest in doing deals were being cold-shouldered in favour of a single buyer, who seemed to be known to all involved, and was at the very same time making a tidy profit out of selling Cardiff airport to the ‘Welsh’ Government!

And while this tragedy was unfolding those buffoons were hiding behind the ‘arms-length’ defence. Yet the RIFW was their creation and they could have stepped in at any time to protect public assets. And that’s exactly what they should have done. It was their duty.

The response of the wretched Lesley Griffiths sums up not only the ‘Let’s move on’ attitude of her administration, but also ‘Welsh’ Labour’s complete lack of ambition for Wales, which could be summed up with, ‘Ooo, we’ve got about 5% of what these assets should have realised – isn’t that wonderful’!

As I’ve said, these clowns will be asking for your vote again in May. Anyone who votes Labour does not – cannot – have the best interests of Wales at heart. Vote for anyone but Labour!

Let’s get the Labour monkey off Wales’ back!

Oct 102014
 

I am indebted to Gruff Meredith of Sovereign Wales for forwarding me a letter he received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. (Below right, click to enlarge.) A letter signed by Carl Sargeant, ‘Minister for Housing and Regeneration’, and addressed to William Powell, the Lib Dem chairman of the Assembly Petitions Committee. It relates to a petition submitted by Gruff asking the ‘Welsh’ Government to introduce a deposit loan scheme for local first-time buyers, which would of course necessitate local occupancy regulations.Sargeant letter

There is nothing revolutionary about local occupancy schemes, such schemes already operate in, among other areas, the Peak District and North York Moors National Parks in England. (Click on images below to enlarge.) The wider problem here is of course one I’ve dealt with many times before – the difficulty Welsh people experience in buying a home in rural and coastal areas suffering from coloniotourism and the resultant colonisation.

You’ll notice that I’ve highlighted two sections. The first refers to ” . . . an under-supply of properties across the UK”. But should this be the concern of a ‘Welsh’ Minister, whose role is restricted to Wales? It can only be of relevance if Wales is tied in to an Englandandwales planning and housing system with Wales being used to help meet England’s demand for housing. Which of course it is, as I have pointed out many times. For not only is the Planning Inspectorate an agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London but other civil servants based in Wales answer to this and other UK government departments. We can be ‘bet-your-house-on-it’ certain that the civil servant who wrote this letter for Sargeant to sign answers to London. Which of course, makes Sargeant an expensive irrelevance . . . as are the others down Cardiff docks, all of them mouthpieces for scriptwriters up in London and their stage managers in Wales.

Peak Districy local occupancyLocal occupancy North York Moors

 

 

 

But you mustn’t think that this ‘make-it-as-difficult-as-possible-for-the-Welsh’ system applies only to the open or private housing market, for it also extends to social housing. This was made clear to me just before Christmas 2010 in an e-mail from Nick Bennett, then chief executive of Community Housing Cymru, who wrote: “There are over two million people on waiting lists for social housing . . . “. Not in Wales, matey! Bennett is a former business associate of recently-resigned minister, Alun Davies, and is now Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. (Click here and scroll down for more information.) This explains why housing associations – sucking up Welsh public funding in order to provide work for English companies – either build more housing than is locally needed, or else allocate properties to English undesirables while locals are left on waiting lists. (Click here and scroll down to the section, ‘Cartrtefi Cymunedol Gwynedd’.)

The second passage I’ve highlighted in the letter signed by Sargeant reads: ” . . . however I would be very keen to hear his (Gruff Meredith’s) views on housing supply and barriers to development in Wales”. What ‘barriers to development’! There are none. Is this an attempt at humour, even sarcasm?

To sum up, local occupancy clauses could easily be introduced, as they have been in many parts of England, but the ‘Welsh’ Government refuses to do so, which means that the ‘Welsh’ Government is refusing to serve the best interests of the people it is elected to represent. Though when we remember that Wales is actually run, via civil servants, from London, then this refusal to help Welsh people have homes in their own country is easily explained by ‘London’ wishing to facilitate further English colonisation.

*

The overarching issue here, and on which I have regularly written, is that no matter what those mummers down Cardiff docks may like to think of themselves, and despite the image projected to a gullible public, they are powerless, because devolution is a sham, real power still rests with London, just as it did pre-1999. There are examples a-plenty.

Having mentioned Alun Davies, let’s take a look at this video (F/F to 2:04) of a presentation he made before losing his job as ‘Minister for Agriculture’. The background is that someone in London decided to transfer 15% of EU agricultural funding allocated to Wales from Pillar 1, which goes to Welsh farmers, to Pillar 2, which will be spent on the vague and all-encompassing description of “rural development projects”. Which in practice means it will be allocated to Greens, hippies and other pushy colonists to fund ludicrous ‘projects’ that will be little more than non-jobs for those involved. Basically, the Third Sector goes rural. As I say, the sap who had to deliver London’s decision was Alun Davies. Note in the video how he is flanked by two English civil servants, there to make sure he doesn’t fluff his lines or deviate from the script, reminiscent of a Stalin show trial. This is one of the saddest cameos from the era of phoney devolution.

Or how about the M4 relief road? It seems that a carefully-orchestrated clamour arose demanding a new £1bn motorway around Newport, but how was it to be funded? Answer: the London Government would allow its provincial repertory company to borrow the money. To translate . . . the Old Etonians in London told Carwyn Jones he could borrow a billion pounds from their chums in the City of London on condition he gives out construction contracts to major donors to the Conservative Party for a project that, when completed, will faciliate the easier flow of English goods into the richest corner of Wales. In fact, on a visit to London, and in a bout of uncharacteristic extemporaneity Jones had told his scriptwriters that if he wasn’t allowed to get Wales into debt . . . well, he wouldn’t go up to Scotland to line up with the Nazi-Loyalists and others. And lo, it came to pass . . .

M4-relief-road2

The one given credit for overseeing the process and approving the £1bn ‘black’ route is Edwina Hart who, in the current line-up, plays the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, a role for a mature and rounded character actor. Though odd, in a way, that a country with little in the way of economy, science or transport should need such a part at all. But there you are, this is showbiz not real politics. Hart is said to be reluctant to give live interviews, or to defend her decisions, but chwarae teg, that’s asking her to explain what she had no part in deciding. Making it perfectly understandable why she should choose to emulate the great Garbo. (In fact, the rest of the cast could do a lot worse than follow her example when off-stage.)

*

Having begun this piece with Carl Sargeant it’s only fair to bring down the curtain with something else he put his name to in January this year. (For those with the stomach for it, the full, three-page letter can be found here.) In this letter Sargeant, who plays the ‘heavy’ in London’s Welsh provincial repertory company, tries to explain the relationship between the ‘Welsh’ Government and the Planning Inspectorate. It is the biggest load of bollocks I’ve read, and believe me, I’ve read some bollocks in my time. Despite that, it also very revealing.

Sargeant Planning Inspectorate

Many times I have read it argued that there are two Planning Inspectorates, one serving England, one serving Wales, with the latter having its own office in Cardiff and answering to ‘Welsh Ministers’. This letter makes it clear there is but one Planning Inspectorate, though we are asked to believe that it has been “. . . empowered by Welsh Ministers to take a range of decisions on their behalf”. But how can those with no power themselves empower others? What this really says is that for the purposes of the Planning Inspectorate Wales is part of England. To disguise this, and allow the troupe of players known as the ‘Welsh Ministers’ to retain some credibility, it allows them the fig leaf of pretending it has been empowered to operate in Wales by them. I also love the second sentence in the extracted paragraph, an encomium for the Planning Inspectorate . . . “openness and impartiality” be buggered!

To disguise the ugly reality that Wales is a colony of England we have a bunch of mouthpieces masquerading as the ‘Welsh Government’. Though they have no control over planning or housing in case they interfere with the colonisation programme. Nor are they allowed to control our natural resources or our economy lest this power be used to serve Welsh interests. Though, and perhaps significantly, they are allowed freedom in those areas London is reasonably confident they will screw up – education, health – so that they can then be held up to ridicule and used to warn English voters of the dangers of the Labour Party in government.

This system cannot be improved, it can only be swept away. And the sooner the better.

Oct 312013
 

Intriguing rumours reach me from the Land of my Dreams. They concern manoeuvering to succeed Martin Caton, current MP for Gower, in 2015. Caton is a decent enough cove, I’m assured, if unassuming and happy to be naught but lobby Gower 2010fodder in the greater scheme of things.

To set the stage, for those unfamiliar with the area . . . As the name suggests, the Gower constituency covers the peninsula of the same name, but seeing as this area is thinly populated the electorate is to be found on the western and northern outskirts of the city, from Mumbles through Gorseinon to Clydach. (Reminding us of the old Lordship of Gower.) Though other communities in Cwmtawe that were formerly in Gower – e.g. Pontardawe, Ystalyfera, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen – have now been moved to the Neath constituency, making Gower less solidly Labour.

The whispers wafting up on the southern breeze tell me that two of those with aspirations to replace Caton are Fiona Gordon, who represents the largely transient population of Castle ward, and Andrea Lewis, a “self-employed female vocalist”, who represents Morriston ward. Ms Gordon is said to be ‘in with’ the pink gin English student set and their patron, council leader, David Phillips. But things may not be that straightforward.

For even though il Duce is the leader of the city council, and Gower is one of the three Swansea constituencies, the seat is represented down Cardiff docks by the redoubtable Edwina Hart. It’s her patch, and she will not take kindly to outside intervention, particularly as it is further rumoured that Redwina has her own favourite to replace the beleaguered Caton. Who might it be? The breeze whispers the name Christine Gwyther.

For those with short memories . . . Christine Gwyther was AM for Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire from 1999 to 2007. Alun Michael – briefly First Minister – made her Minister Alun Michaelof Agriculture. An odd choice, for as can be imagined, Gwyther’s vegetarianism did not go down well with farmers, and she was dismissed in 2000, soon after Rhodri Morgan replaced Michael.  She lost her seat to the Tories in the 2007 elections and failed to regain it in 2011. The poor woman suffered a further setback when, in 2012, she stood for the post of  Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys, losing narrowly to unknown Tory, Christopher Salmon.

Now if Redwina has decided to throw her weight behind Gwyther then it renders hopeless any ambitions or machinations from other quarters. Better men than Phillips have tangled with Hart and come off second best.

Of course all this might be just tittle-tattle, but it throws up intriguing possibilities. With Labour’s hold on Gower under serious threat from the popular Conservative candidate and current regional AM, Byron Davies, it presents ‘Welsh’ Labour with all sorts of problems. Though if I was a Labour supporter (now there’s a thought!), none of the likely lasses I’ve mentioned would exactly fill me with confidence. So, looking on the bright side . . . those of us with the best interests of Wales at heart should hope for some very bitter in-fighting that leaves ‘Welsh’ Labour even further weakened. And gives Gower a Conservative MP in 2015.

UPDATE 01.11.13: It now appears that Fiona Gordon may be out of the running, possibly promised one of the consolation prizes made possible by the funding released by Il Duce’s culling of the scrutiny committees.

It was remiss of me not to mention that Gordon is the daughter of Alana Davies, former Bridgend councillor who lost her Porthcawl East seat last year to an Independent, despite a swing to Labour elsewhere in the borough. Alana’s personal website is an excruciating example of its kind; ‘Here’s me with Gordon Brown . . . Hilary Benn . . . Carwyn Jones . . . Dennis Skinner’.

Fiona Gordon’s Linkedin profile tells us that she is ‘Pilot Project Co-ordinator’ at Bridgend County Borough Council. I think we can safely assume that this has something to do with education. By one of those curious coincidences one comes across every so often, Mumsie also earns a crust in education, and formerly held the Labour History groupportfolio for Children and Young People on Bridgend council. Perhaps she was in post when Fiona was appointed Pilot Project Co-ordinator. As I say, coincidence, nothing more.

Staying in Bridgend, a new name in the frame for Gower is said to be councillor, Christina Rees, who is also fourth on the list of Labour candidates for next year’s European elections. Fight it out girls!

UPDATE 03.11.13: Someone just referred me to this (click to enlarge). Is it true? If so, why is there nothing in the Welsh media? If it is true, why was it done almost secretively, with the news broken on the Labour History Group Twitter account? And as Andrea Parma asks – who is she? The only Liz Evans I can find is this one, vice chair of Woking constituency Labour Party – is that her? Very odd.

Jun 182013
 

Here’s a merry and eclectic miscellany of tit-bits and tales that have caught my attention over the past week or so. Or at least, it’s those I deemed worthy of comment.

NOT CRICKET, SURELY? (THOUGH PERHAPS STILL VERY ENGLISH)

A strange story from the Nicholas Insurance Pembrokeshire Cricket League (Division Six), not a source of news I’ve used before, nor one I ever thought I would use, but there you are. It seems that in a game last Saturday Crymych Seconds were batting against Lamphey Seconds when the Crymych batsmen walked off complaining they’d been abused by Lamphey players for speaking Welsh. An official complaint has been made to the League by the Crymych club.

Now obviously, Crymych is in north, or ‘Welsh’, Pembrokeshire, and Lamphey is south of the ‘Landsker’ (near Pembroke town); but even so, in this day and age who objects to people speaking Welsh to each other? And what would have happened if Lamphey had been playing a touring side from, say, Pakistan? Would they have subjected the Pakistani batsmen to the same treatment? If they had, I guarantee that it would have made more ripples than this story, now being quickly and quietly brushed under the carpet.

IEUAN WYN JONES STANDS DOWN . . .

. . . about twenty years too late. All Plaid Cymru needs now is a leader . . . and policies . . . and politicians someone other than a political anorak might recognise . . . and a sense of purpose . . . and a commitment to the Welsh people (rather than to ‘Wales’) . . . and a clear-out of the dead-wood . . . and an acceptance that Wales cannot save the planet by being covered in wind turbines . . . and an abandonment of (lower) sixth form socialism by joining the real world . . .

SWANSEA, MY SWANSEA

Clay OuterThe Llansamlet by-election campaign is up and running. Hitting the straps early is Robert – ‘call me “Bob”‘ – Clay, public school educated Trotskyite, former MP, political adventurer, friend of George ‘Indefatigability’ Galloway and now refugee. I was sent a copy of what I assume will be his main election leaflet, which I am pleased to share with you here. (Click to enlarge.) There are a number of observations worth making.

1/ Despite it being a large, and very wordy, example of its kind, Comrade Bob could find no room for a single word of Welsh other than the ‘Llafur’ in the party logo.

Clay Inside2/ He admits that he and his Austrian wife – elected to the council last year – are political migrants, having come to Wales after hearing Rhodri Morgan talk of “clear red water”. So there you are, if anyone was still in doubt, you now know who to blame for carpetbaggers, Third Sector grant-grabbers and other undesirables coming over the border.

3/ He identifies a number of specific problems within the ward that he will tackle: listed as Rhyd-y-Felin, Lon Enfys, Trewen Road, Parc yr Helig . . . none of which he knows, nor can pronounce, for he only moved to Llansamlet last August. Though one issue he does not mention is the one he’s built his local reputation on – the fight against another Traveller site in Llansamlet. Why is he so reticent?

Staying in Swansea, but moving on to other carpetbagger Labour councillors who’ve been in Swansea no longer than the Clays, no one seems to know whether Pearleen Sangha is still in California. Her Twitter account @PearleenSangha has fallen silent, no tweet since June 13. Has she been ordered by the party to stay schtum, in the same way her equally embarrassing colleague, John Boy Bayliss, @JohnCBayliss, was ordered by the party to close his Twitter account? The third member of the student-councillor trio has also been making a fool of himself, again.Theaker 1

Gin drinker Mitchell Theaker, @mitchelltheaker, got in the habit of signing off council cabinet e-mails as ‘Mitchy’. (Yes, he’s in the cabinet, representing children and young people. I suspect he identifies better with the former.) Anyway, the suspicion is that the party took a dim view of this lack of protocol, coming Theaker 2on top of other little, um, annoyances. Does “signing off” mean he doesn’t write them? What exactly does he do for his £36,000 a year?

And come to think of it, ‘Mitchy’ has also gone very quiet on Twitter. Nothing since this gem last Saturday. (Left.) Maybe he hasn’t sobered up yet! Or perhaps some avuncular figure among the bruvvers has taken young Theaker Theakeraside and, in an arm-around- the-shoulder sort of way, whispered to him, Shut up! you embarrassing little sod!

UPDATE JULY 1, 2013: It appears that young ‘Mitchy’ is unable or unwilling to take advice. His latest indiscretion seems to have been tweeting nonsense while supposedly attending a cabinet meeting. (Right. Click to enlarge.)

STARSTRUCK LABOUR

The Welsh Labour Government is splashing out £50m to “attract world class scientists and their teams to Wales“. The first of these ‘stars’ has now pitched up at Cardiff University; he is Prof. Yves Barde, from Switzerland. Now you know me, I have the utmost faith in the judgement of our Welsh Government, but I can’t help wondering . . .

1/ How many jobs for Welsh people will this massive expenditure create?

2/ Haven’t we been down the road of publicity-grabbing, ‘prestige projects’ before, and don’t they invariably fail?

3/ Isn’t this scheme just disguised extra funding for Cardiff university? For how many of these academic ‘stars’ will other universities see?

4/ No disrespect to the Prof, but the high point of his career seems to have been in 1989, “with the discovery of a gene which creates a protein – brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – which is involved in number of brain processes including memory”. Mightn’t he, and others who’ll follow, be rather like southern hemisphere rugby players, coming here towards the end of their careers to boost their retirement pots?

LABOUR SEEING THE LIGHT, AT LAST?

I was struck by something said by Edwina Hart (and it’s not often I can say that!). Watch the BBC clip I’ve linked to and see if you get the same impression – that Labour now admits pouring money into the Third Sector was a waste of EU funding. She rejects in future having “hundreds and hundreds of partners” with “pet projects”, she tallks of more involvement from the private sector, and gives other signals that a corner may have been turned.

I’d like to think I’ve helped in my small way to bring about this change of direction. What I’m certain of is that the EU funders have made it crystal clear to Edwina Hart and others in Cardiff that they’ve screwed up twice, and they’d better get it right with the third and final dollop of Structural Funds.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Edwina and the rest have to explain to their grant-grabbing hangers-on that the days of wine and roses are over, forever. That the EU funding will in future be used for alleviating Welsh poverty, not for subsidising the unemployable of the loony left to capitalise on that poverty.

Apr 162013
 

About a month ago I wrote a piece on the failure of yet another “helping people back into employment” initiative set up by the Welsh Government. This £36m scheme called Genesis was launched in 2010, and although declared officially deceased it seems to be taking a long time a-dying. With its death-throes still attracting morbid curiosity and asinine comment. Made painfully clear by the article in today’s Mule. (Click to enlarge.)

According to Deputy MGenesisinister for Skills and Employment Jeff Cuthbert: “While Genesis helped many people to develop their confidence and self-esteem to find work now or in the future, we cannot ignore the fact that the programme was continuing to underperform”. Listen, Cuthbert, do you know what really helps people with their confidence and self-esteem? A job. A decent bloody job. Not wasting time on some poxy ‘course’ designed solely to provide funding for Labour’s Estuary English-speaking cronies.

Cuthbert continued: “One of the key aims of the programme was to support hard-to-reach groups into employment and performance figures showed that this objective was simply not being met for the project as a whole and did not compare favourably with other programmes delivering to similar groups of participants”. Other progrGenesis Wales p1ammes delivering to similar groups of participants. Think about that, readers. Might the fundamental problem with Genesis have been that it was trying to duplicate the work already being done by other agencies? Because in answer to an FoI request I submitted the Welsh Government confessed that it was funding no less than thirty “helping people back into employment” schemes across Wales. (See right, click to enlarge.)

We were then reminded that despite yet another Third Sector funding fiasco Jeff Cuthbert has at least retained his sense of humour, for he said: ” . . . we will ensure that we integrate the best practice from Genesis into the development of future programmes”. Best practice be buggered! You’re pulling the plug on it becuse it was a total and utter bloody failure! What I find even more worrying is the reference to “future programmes”. For this suggests you’ve learnt nothing, and will continue to pour money into the funding black hole (sucks in everything, gives nothing back) that is the Third Sector.

What the Genesis fiasco has exposed, yet again, is that Labour’s antipathy to business and the employment that a healthy economy provides is one of the major reasons for Wales’ relative poverty. This is what “clear red water” really means – an anti-business Labour Government in Cardiff. Labour prefers to keep Wales poor so it can capitalise on the poverty for its own political ends and further use it to provide a cottage industry for its cronies and supporters.

For me, the big question now has to be, ‘For how much longer will the EU keep pouring money into the black hole of the Third Sector?’ The first two rounds of Structural Funds were wasted, and that’s why we now qualify for a third round. To avoid yet more wasted funding, shouldn’t the EU examine the possibility of allocating the money to Wales but have it disbursed by some agency independent of the Welsh Government? Why should ‘Welsh’ Labour be given so many chances to screw up?

UPDATE 17.04.2013:I recently came into possession of this document (Mutuals) telling us that the Welsh Management is keen to push Co-operative and mutual ventures. I have no insurmountable objections to these kind of undertakings, but I do have a few observations.

First, this seems to be further proof of ‘Welsh’ Labour’s irrational hostility to a real economy; you know, business, private enterprise, capitalism. The giveaway for me is in the use of the term, “the co-operative and mutual economy”. Second, shouldn’t co-operatives be spontaneous, grass-roots creations? Redundant workers saying, ‘Let’s have a buy-out and run the business as a co-operative’. But not in Wales. Here we see again ‘Welsh’ Labour’s top-down, Statist approach to everything – ‘You will have Co-operatives! Is that understood?’ A mentality not a lot different to Stalin imposing collective farms.

If the logo at the bottom of the page is anything to go by then it seems that the poor EU is also paying for this latest departure from reality. How much longer are our continental cousins going to fund Labour’s delusion that prosperity can be created without a healthy commercial economy?

Feb 212013
 

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Because what follows gets a bit complicated. That said, I believe there is now enough evidence to question the legitimacy of the decision taken by Swansea council on February 7th to allow RWE to erect wind turbines on Mynydd y Gwair, common land owned by the Duke of Beaufort on the city’s northern outskirts. My previous posts this month on Swansea council are, in chronological order, here and here.

Perhaps the first thing to make clear is that the long-serving local councillor, Ioan Richard, was not allowed to vote on February 7th because he had previously shown his opposition to the project. In other words, he’d been open and honest about his position. The same may not be the case for a number of those who voted to grant planning permission.

My attention has been drawn to the fact that RWE’s Renewables Developer for Mynydd y Gwair, Gwenllian Elias, tweets as @gwenll_elias, and among her 59 followers are Councillor Mitchell Theaker (@mitchelltheaker) and Councillor Pearleen Sangha (@PearleenSangha). She reciprocates Sangha 2by following them. (Another Swansea councillor Ms Elias follows is Nick Bradley (@CllrNickBradley) the council’s number one West Bromwich Albion fan.) On the night of (possibly the day after) the Mynydd y Gwair vote, Pearleen Sangha tweeted her joy at the outcome of the council meeting . . . and her tweet was almost immediately retweeted by Gwenllian Elias of RWE! Great minds, eh!

Now this may be harmless enough, perhaps nothing more than contact limited to Twitter. Alternatively, it could suggest that Elias, Sangha and Theaker were known to each other before the vote was taken. In which case it puts a totally different complexion on the matter. For if they knew each other before the vote then, seeing as both Sangha and Theaker voted for the bird and bat mincers, they were as ‘compromised’ as Councillor Richard in that their minds were also made up long before the discussion of the matter, and the vote, on February 7th. If that was the case then they should not have been allowed to vote.

Now let us turn to Llansamlet’s very own advocate of permanent revolution, Councillor Uta Clay, who has come in for a bit of a hammering of late, partly for stoutly defending the Duke of Beaufort’s financial interests, and partly for making silly remarks during the February 7th debate. This letter is just one of a number I am told have appeared in the Evening Post. As the letter suggests, how could this woman, who has only been in Swansea for five minutes, be so silly and insulting as to slur ordinary Welsh protesters as belonging to the “privileged few”. A category to which an English nobleman apparently does not belong! (Is this making sense?)

You also have to ask why, after the local party had the good sense to deselect her, and suspend her and her husband, some unnamed authority representing ‘London’ stepped in to insist the Clays’ suspensions be lifted and she be reinstated as candidate for the May 2012 council elections. What happened to devolution? What happened to ‘Welsh’ Labour?

Someone else who’s only been in Swansea for five minutes is New Zealander Andrew Hore, ‘Elite Performance Director’ at the Ospreys. (Not to be confused with the Andrew Hore who did the dirty on Bradley Davies last autumn) Hore was allowed to speak at the February 7th meeting in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair money machine. RWE sponsors the Ospreys, and a number of councillors are season ticket holders at the Ospreys; others have received ‘hospitality’. Which looks a bit . . . er . . . iffy? Here is a (PDF) link to an interesting exchange between Edwina Hart, a local AM, and Patrick Arran, Head of Legal, Democratic Services and Procurement at Swansea council, in which Ms Hart questions why Hore was allowed to speak at the council meeting. A good question.

Then, today, a letter appeared in the Wasting Mule from a Swansea councillor – one who actually knows the city, and can pronounce Mynydd y Gwair! What Councillor Tyler-Lloyd is (perhaps unwittingly) alluding to is a system now becoming dominant in Welsh political and public life. It begins with civil servants in London or Cardiff issuing diktats. When this is done in London it’s invariably done on the instructions of  politicians; when it’s done in Cardiff it’s too often done on orders from London and presented to the self-styled Welsh Government as a fait accompli. (Well, what do you expect? If Welsh Labour won’t stand up to ‘London’ on matters of internal party discipline do you really think they’re going to challenge Sir Humphrey in Whitehall?) These diktats then become Gospel for senior officers in local government who use them – and the threat of the expense involved in challenging them – to silence debate and stifle opposition. R.I.P. Welsh local democracy.

As it takes hold we see this process leading to situations such as that which has been played out in a London courtroom this week, as Fuehrer James of Carmarthenshire County Council sues – with public money – a blogger who dared criticise his regime. Or the cabinet of Labour-controlled Caerffili council meeting behind closed doors to give whopping pay rises to senior officers . . . at the insistence of the chief executive – i.e. the major beneficiary!

The wider and more worrying picture though is of a Wales in which we have the chimera of devolution while the reality sees us Welsh becoming increasingly marginalised and silenced across the land. In the rural areas the picture is stark, and villages and small towns are taken over by English colonists, but even in the city of Swansea we see it happening.

For one interpretation of that vote on the 7th of this month would be thart it was a victory for those who view our homeland as a resource to exploit, or else the political equivalent of a sandpit, somewhere to start one’s political career. On the one hand we had an English lord whose family has been robbing us for centuries, a German company here to milk the absurd subsidies paid for so-called ‘renewable energy’, a bunch of ex-student politicians that include a GLTB fanatic, a Californian, a West Brom supporter, another with an interest in cadets, then there’s a New Zealander working for the local rugby team (most of whose supporters still don’t understand what his bloody job is), and assorted other drifters, misfits and parasites who know fuck all about the city I love.

All these were allowed to speak, despite many if not all having already made up their minds on the issue or, worse, having a vested financial or other interest in seeing wind turbines on lovely Mynydd y Gwair. Yet, the councillor in whose ward Mynydd y Gwair is to be found, who had no financial or other interest, who had been open and honest in his opposition, and who represented the views of the overwhelming majority of his constituents – that is, those directly affected by the industrialisation of Mynydd y Gwair – was thrown out of the council chamber.

Where does this leave democracy, local or otherwise? And given that virtually all those on the one side of this debate were foreign, and almost all those on the other side were Welsh, what does it tell us about our country today? And our place in it?

UPDATE 23.02.2013: Interesting comments to the post from Jeff Jones and James Dunkley. Both question whether Councillor Ioan Richard was given the correct legal advice by the council officer(s). (Jeff Jones is the former leader of Bridgend Council who now works as a local government consultant.) They aren’t the only ones asking these questions. If Cllr Richard was wrongly told to leave the chamber then it must call into question either the competence or the impartiality of the person who gave that advice. (Patrick Arran. See the link in the post to his exchange with Edwina Hart AM.)       

Gwenllian Elias, the RWE Npower project officer for Mynydd y Gwair’s CV reads: 2007, left Cardiff University with BSc in Geography and Planning. September 2007 to September 2008 Planner with Newport City Council. September 2008 to August 2009 Planner with City and County of Swansea Council. August 2009 to April 2010 Planning Liason Officer with the Environment Agency. April 2010 to present Renewables Developer with RWE Npower Renewables Ltd. Looks like a planned career course: gain the background knowledge and contacts in the public sector before heading into the private sector and the serious money. And all done in less than three years.

The behaviour of certain councillors at the February 7th meeting, the near certainty of them being predetermined to vote in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair development, plus their established links with RWE’s project officer, has been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman for Wales.

Jan 282013
 

I notice that a new response is being employed against those of us who can, loosely, be termed, the more patriotic element within the nation. This response boils down to quoting President Clinton – “It’s the economy, stupid!”. Which tries to suggest that those wanting to preserve and strengthen Welsh identity are ignorant of economic realities. More misleadingly, it even suggests: ‘You can either have a vibrant Welsh identity, more people speaking Welsh, etc . . . in an economic backwater, or you can have a prosperous Wales with the inevitable corollary of it becoming less Welsh – but you can’t have a Wales that is both prosperous and Welsh’.

The thing about this argument is that while those using it today quote a recent President of the USA we Welsh have been hearing this ‘anglicise yourselves to progress’ argument for centuries. As far back as 1283, or the Laws in Wales Acts (1535, 1542). A more recent example would be the Blue Books of 1847. These, produced by the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, concluded that we Welsh had no hope of joining the human race until the Welsh language was killed off. A few decades later Wales saw the British Labour Party hijack and emasculate the indigenous movements for workers’ rights and social justice on the march to the sunlit uplands. Because for the posturing ‘revolutionaries’ of Labour the future was not only bright and proletarian, it was also utterly English. To the point where ‘hanging on’ to the language or anything else distinctively Welsh was either pitied as being a waste of time or else frowned upon as a sign of reaction, perhaps coded support for the murdered Romanovs!

Yet here we are in 2013 and we’re hearing almost the same insulting argument about the incompatibility of Welshness and prosperity! Why? In my opinion, it boils down to attitudes – to the Union, and to the relationship between Wales and England. What I mean here is that the stronger one’s support for the Union then, almost inevitably, the higher will be one’s regard for England and things English. The other side of this coin is a tendency to undervalue things Welsh. Even though this is denied, or disguised, behind the ‘Union of equals’ rationale. A more extreme position states that all things Welsh, including people, are inherently inferior to their English equivalents or counterparts.

Countering this we have the nationalist position that regards prosperity as being perfectly compatible with Welsh identity. I mean, do Finns have to forsake their cultural heritage and become Swedish in order for Finland to prosper! When we use an example like that we can see how absurd the ‘anglicise to prosper’ position becomes. It stands exposed, either as outright bigotry, or else a defence of England’s exploitation of Wales within an unequal Union. For if we did live in a political and economic union of equals, then our rural areas would now have healthy economies, rather than suffering economic decline and loss of population disguised only by English colonisation; the workforces of our declining urban areas would have enjoyed retraining in the industries of the twenty-first century rather than being ignored, or sacrificed to Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector.

Of course, the nationalist vision for Wales can only be fully realised in an independent Wales, which makes it easy to dismiss as ‘romantic’ or ‘unrealistic’. (Though there is a certain irony to be enjoyed in hearing this criticism from ‘socialists’ who have been promising us ‘jam tomorrow’ for over a century.) And yet, the more I think about this, the more I realise there is an obvious intermediate position for nationalists; one that both addresses the ‘bread and butter issues’ beloved of our critics, while also defending Welsh identity, without which independence is impossible. And this approach has the advantage of not even relying on an economic upturn to improve the situation of our people.

This position seeks to do the best for Welsh people within the present constitutional and economic parameters. And on the very issue our detractors say we ignore – the economy. Let us demand that Welsh natural resources be used in the Welsh national interest – no matter what disadvantageous agreements were made by Peter Hain and others. Let us insist on a charge being levied for all energy produced in Wales for England, demand a percentage of the massive docking fees paid at Milford Haven and other Welsh ports, insist on supermarkets sourcing Welsh produce, ensure that contracts within Wales go to Welsh firms, levy a tourist tax . . . And let us help individuals by insisting that Welsh people have first claim on all jobs in Wales, irrespective of deals struck between English employers and English trade unions. If Cwmscwt needs a new postman then the Royal Mail will recruit a local, rather than transferring in Joe Bloggs from Brummagem. Welsh people must also enjoy priority in the allocation of social housing, with no obligation on any provider to meet an external demand. In private housing, build only what we need.

Serve Welsh interests and we help maintain Welsh identity. Do this and we do more to ensure independence at some future date than any amount of faffing about down Cardiff docks can ever achieve. In fact, defending and strengthening Welsh identity through argument, protest, even confrontation, must be the priority from now on. Partly because Welsh national identity is the only thing that gives meaning to ‘Wales’, and partly because it’s the only game in town, seeing as electoral politics is a dead-end in the one-party State that is Wales.

The opposition ranged against us may appear united and strong, but that could be nothing more than an impression. Consider this. How many times have we heard it said that nothing can be done about English colonisation because to do so would contravene EU law on the free movement of labour and goods? I’ve lost count. It was used by Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science in response to my petition to the Assembly asking for Welsh jobs to go to Welsh people. She wrote, to the Petitions Committee, “The free movement of workers within the European Union, and internationally, is a non-devolved matter”. (See full letter here.)

I’ve been giving this statement, and the general argument on which it is premised, some thought. The first doubt to enter my head was, ‘Surely, this legislation relates to the free movement of workers between EU Member States, not within them?’ The kind of thing that is now vexing English xenophobes as they look for ways to avert the impending ‘invasion’ of Vlachs and Bulgars. Note also that Edwina Hart refers to “workers”. She was of course answering my petition, but the same ‘EU legislation’ is used to justify, or excuse, the movement of non-workers, indigents and retired people, from England to Wales. So could it be that the EU has no legislation in place at all relating to movement of people within a Member State? If so, then this whole ‘EU’ argument could be what we lawyers call ‘a load of old bollocks’.

But let’s not upset ourselves any more with thoughts of politicians, bureaucrats and other shysters, whether at EU, UK or Welsh level. None of them are worth it; and wasting time and hope on non-existent political solutions has done enough damage already. In the absence of a nationalist party the priority must be the defence of Welsh national identity by other means. Make our people more prosperous by demanding those things that are ours by right. Succeed in this and not only will we achieve improvements for our people in the here and now, but we shall also be laying the foundations for an independent Wales.

The alternatives? Well, if you’re really, really optimistic you could wait until the 2020 Assembly elections and hope that Plaid Cymru forms a coalition with Labour. By which time there will be even less of Wales left to save. Certainly the real Wales. The Wales of the Welsh. The choice is yours.