My previous post drew a number of comments and provided some interesting feedback via other media. It also inspired Councillor Neil McEvoy of Cardiff to make enquiries with housing associations in the south east. (Click panel to enlarge.) One who answered to the rattling cage was Hefina Rendle, Communications and Public Relations Manager at Tai Calon. (Some will remember that before joining Tai Calon in January 2012 Ms Rendle was a broadcast journalist with the BBC.)
I hadn’t previously heard of Tai Calon, it doesn’t appear among the housing associations I dealt with in my previous post, those listed as being in receipt of the Social Housing Grant (see table from previous post). Tai Calon was formed in July 2010 from Blaenau Gwent’s council housing stock, and cheerfully admits to receiving £19.67 million from the ‘Welsh’ Government, with more promised – until 2041! But if this money is not coming via the SHG, which funding stream is coughing up? Or perhaps the question should be – just how many funding streams are there for housing associations (and not just from the ‘Welsh’ Government)?
What I assume to be Tai Calon’s mission statement reads: “We have about 300 members of staff … from building trades to administrators and neighbourhood managers. We are committed to creating as many job and work opportunities as possible. We also aim to recruit locally as possibly. We try to use firms and suppliers from the area, keeping as much of the income we generate within Blaenau Gwent for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in the county”. “We aim to recruit locally as possibly”! Apart from the obvious error, Blaenau Gwent is the poorest area in the poorest country in Europe, it should be mandatory to recruit locals.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself now, so let me return to the McEvoy – Rendle dialogue. A few tweets passed between them, I chipped in, drew a Christmas cracker aporhism from Ms Rendle, and we didn’t really get anywhere. But seeing as Neil McEvoy had asked about the CEO’s salary, I made a bee-line for the ‘Meet the Executive Team‘ page on the Tai Calon website.
The Chief Executive is Jen Barfoot, who is of course English (this being the Third Sector in Wales). In fact, of the four listed on the Executive Board (click to enlarge), three are English . . . so much for the promise of local recruitment. It often seems that the Third Sector in Wales exists for no better reason than to provide sinecures for thousands of English people who can’t cut it in the world of real business. Because wherever you look, from housing associations to health boards, from higher education to Tony Payne, the custodian of Caerffili Castle – who so clearly identifies with those who built the castle rather than with the horrid and inferior “Welshmen” beyond its walls – all you find are English third-raters clinging to the pendulous mammaries of Welsh public funding.
Tai Calon’s Board is rather more representative of the community of Blaenau Gwent, but scrolling down past Fred Davies, and Shirley, who lives in the house in which she was born in Nantyglo, we come to yet more teat tuggers. First, Debbie Green, Group Chief Executive at the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, who “obtained a history degree from Cambridge and moved to Cardiff in 1988 to start her accountancy training with Deloittes and subsequently PWC. Since qualifying as a Chartered Accountant she has worked in finance roles connected with Lottery grant funding in the Arts Council of Wales, before moving to Chwarae Teg in 2001 as Director of Finance and Resources”. There, laid out for you, is the perfect Third Sector career path. But of more interest is the man we find at the bottom of the column, Steve Porter, co-opted onto the Board. Steve tells us he “enjoys living locally with his family in the South valleys”. Condescending crap that could only be written by another English immigrant with free Welsh milk all over his face.
The reason I find Steve Porter interesting is that he works for that behemoth in the world of Welsh social housing, the Wales and West Housing Association Ltd which, curiously, also receives funding from the English government. Between 2008 and 2013 Wales and West received a whopping £63 million in Social Housing Grant alone from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Alarming though that is, the real reason I homed in on smiling Steve is that his Tai Calon bio credits him with setting up ‘Cambria Maintenance Services Ltd’, described as a “subsidiary building company”. Subsidiary, that is, to Wales and West.
Nothing wrong with that if Cambria had been set up to maintain Wales and West’s housing stock, that’s no more than a local authority would have done. But if that was the case, why not just call it the Maintenance Department of Wales and West? Why does Cambria need to be a fully commercial operation, registered with Companies House (Company Number 07389484)?
My concerns about Cambria Maintenance Services Ltd are encapsulated in this passage from the JobsinWales.com website (my underlining): “The company, with divisions in Cardiff and Holywell, Flintshire, has established an excellent reputation for its quality of workmanship and service to its customers. Cambria is an independent company run on a commercial basis and being part of the WWH Group provides it with considerable security as it doesn’t need to repeatedly tender for works and risk losing contracts”. How can Cambria be both “independent” and “part of the WWH group”.
It suggests to me that Cambria is an “independent company” that has its ‘bread and butter’ work guaranteed by publicly funded social housing; but, as a private company, it’s also free to chase the ‘jam’ of outside commercial work. Which gives Cambria the best of both worlds and an unfair advantage over competitors that must survive, without featherbedding, in the normal business environment. Is this how housing associations are supposed to operate? And it may not be confined to Cambria. For in among Wales and West’s ‘Services and Initiatives’ there’s Castell Catering, and Connect 24 Alarms.
Which raises the question of why Steve Porter was co-opted on to the Board of Tai Calon. My guess would be that if Cambria isn’t already working in Blaenau Gwent then it very soon will be. As might Wales and West, and Steve Porter himself. For in the dog-eat-dog world of housing associations Tai Calon is a chihuahua, Wales and West a pit bull. You read it here first, folks.
Cambria Maintenance Services is another example of Wales’ shadowy, almost Soviet-style ‘economy’, which promotes the illusion of a system based on competition and profitability, but at no real risk for many of those participating because they are underwritten by the State.
The social housing sector – and the Third Sector generally – is a monster sucking up funding and damaging our wider economic prospects. It is yet another example of the Labour Party pandering to the effects of poverty rather than tackling its causes. For if Wales had a stronger economy there would be more people buying their own homes and we wouldn’t need to pour such obscene sums into housing associations and their offshoots.
With such easy money to be made, so few questions asked, and with their documented experience in ‘housing’, I’m surprised that Nathan Gill and his brothers-in-law haven’t got involved in the housing association racket. It can only be a matter of time . . .