Housing Associations

Sep 292015
 

BOORS: ENGLAND 25 – 28 WALES

Well done, boys. That was a truly epic game last Saturday night.

Though I must admit that I’ve been losing interest in rugby for a few years now. Maybe it’s because skills seem to have been sacrificed for bulk, ‘upper body strength’, ‘big hits’ and a litany of other cliches that don’t sound any better even if they’re spoken by Jiffy or Eddie Butler.

Or perhaps it’s the scrum, which nobody understands, and I mean nobody. Certainly not the referees, who seem to come to decisions using the tried and tested ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ system. Then there’s the rolling or driving maul, sixteen suspiciously muscular men grunting, grappling and pushing each other. Anyone finding that attractive might be in need of help.

Then there’s the way the game is organised in Wales, or rather, who organises it. Here of course I’m talking about the Welsh Rugby Union, one of the most blatantly Anglophile and Unionist bodies we’ve got (and that’s saying something!). Obvious from the feather duster badge with it’s ‘Ich Dien’ motto to the patrons, and from the refusal to use the Welsh language to the Prinz Wilhelm Cup. The last being a meaningless trophy for which Wales competes against a team that is still mainly Afrikaner, in other words, the descendants of those Boer republicans who took up arms more than once rather than be ruled by England and her royals. An insult to two nations.

And what of those who attend rugby internationals? We’ve all read of corporate ‘hospitality’ taking over, with the best seats taken up by men who couldn’t tell a flanker from a banker, and women who are there to be seen seen rather than to watch any irritating distractions on the field. Apart from these, we all know people who go to rugby internationals who wouldn’t cross the road to watch their local side. Just look at attendance figures for regional and club rugby (with Ponty’ and a few other commendable exceptions). How different to football.England fans

It may be even worse in England. The braying of Swing Low Sweet Chariot by thousands of inebriated middle-class Englishmen is one of the weirdest phenomena in sport. Or indeed in any context. I won’t try to analyse it. And what of the dressing up, as medieval knights (often slaying dragons), or 19th century colonial administrators, replete with pith helmets! Do they realise what prats they look, and what message they’re sending out about themselves, and their attitudes to others?

Perhaps they don’t care, for within the dark heart of an England rugby crowd you will find the most dangerous elements of the species; arrogant, intolerant and utterly convinced of their own superiority. Worse by far than the racists one finds at the fringes of England football crowds, because the Barbour-clad yob being carried home by his sweet chariot will too often have the power to indulge his prejudices in ways more far-reaching and pernicious than the outbursts of violence to which his working class compatriot is limited.

But I don’t want to come across as curmudgeonly at this time of officially-sanctioned national euphoria. So let me wish the boys the best of luck on Thursday against Fiji. Though if we should be knocked out, and if England should go through to the quarter-finals in our stead, don’t forget to switch your support to England. Believe me, it’s what the Welsh Rugby Union, and our political class, expects of you.

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CROOKS: SOCIAL HOUSING

Over the past sixty years rural and coastal areas of Wales have seen many tens of thousands of new homes built that were never intended for local buyers. This may once have been more obvious in areas such as the north coast, but it is now national. Even out-of-the-way villages in Powys such as Abbey Cwm Hir are no safer from ‘developers’ (what a curious use of the word!) than Abergele or Aberystwyth. To the point where, contrary to the nonsense we are fed about a ‘rural housing shortage’, rural Wales actually has a housing surplus when the housing stock is judged against any future indigenous demand.

Moreover, the situation we find in rural parts of Flintshire and Wrecsam (currently being re-branded and marketed as ‘West Cheshire’), Denbighshire, Conwy, Gwynedd, Ynys Môn, Ceredigion, Powys, Monmouthshire (sic), Pembrokeshire and large parts of Carmarthenshire, is that locals are often priced out of a housing market distorted by external forces. Which is then cleverly used by planners and aforementioned ‘developers’, estate agents and others, as an argument to build yet more new housing . . . from which most locals are again excluded. Which presents us with the dystopian choice in which house prices can only be brought into line with local purchasing power by a) either collapsing the market through building enough houses to satisfy all demand from over the border, or b) introducing legislation to reserve a percentage of the housing stock for local buyers.

But the housing problems of rural Wales are not confined to the private sector. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have written on the subject of housing associations many times before, and for a number of reasons.

1/ It annoys me to see public money being given to what are effectively private companies for them to spend on housing for which there is often no local need, and where local need does exist the mechanisms at play in the Englandandwales social housing sector ensure that many properties in Wales – paid for out of the Welsh public purse – are allocated to applicants from England having no connection with the places to which they’ve been deported.

2/ Despite being given inordinate amounts of public funding there is no obligation on housing associations to detail how the money has been spent.

3/ Nor is it possible to find other information, because housing associations are exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

4/ At a time when the ‘Welsh’ Government argues for fewer and more efficient local authorities it funds dozens and dozens of housing associations. Giving us the absurd situation where an area might have ten housing associations, in competition with each other, doing the job that would once have been done – and far cheaper – by the local authority housing department.

In the hope of explaining the problem of out-of-control and unaccountable housing associations let me use a couple of examples supplied by Wynne Jones of Cardigan. I’ve never met Wynne Jones I. Eng. A.C.I.W.E.M., but he got in touch a few months back and let me see letters that have passed between him and various representatives of the ‘Welsh’ Government, local councils, and housing associations on a number of issues.

One is a development in Cardigan that has already swallowed up a great deal of funding but now seems to have hit the rocks. This is / was a project to convert a building on the High Street into 16 flats, and for which the Tai Cantref housing association has already received £782,543 in Social Housing Grant from the ‘Welsh’ Government. I’ll repeat that for the hard of reading – £782,543! As you can see, the photograph was taken on May 1st (by Wynne Jones), but little has changed since then, as the main contractor has gone into receivership. (The photo is taken from a car park behind Cardigan High Street. Click to enlarge.)

Are there local tenants lined up for these flats? If so, then they’ve got a long wait. If not, then – as is so often the case – this becomes a speculative development using Welsh public funding to house people who, as yet, have no idea they’re going to be moved to Wales.

Another example of the freedom enjoyed by housing associations is shown in the case of Tai Ceredigion at the former Meugan Centre in the town. (See picture below by Wynne Jones.) Seeing as the land in question is – it is believed – owned by the county council Mr Jones first wrote to the council on April 11th asking if planning permission had been granted a) for the demolition of the Centre and b) to allow the site to be used as a builder’s yard. He wrote again on May 6th . . . and May 26th . . . June 25th . . . July 14th (twice) . . . August 17th . . . then, finally, on August 18th he received a reply which told him that the ‘developers’ (that word again!) had now been told to apply for retrospective planning permission to use the Meugan site as a depot, but on the other matter that, “A determination decision was made on the demolition of the Centre in 2014 – planning reference A140036 – deciding that prior approval was not required for the proposed works”. (My underline.)

When Mr Jones pointed out that the planning reference A140036 was not available online, he was told that he could view a hard copy at the council’s offices in Aberaeron. He went through the advised procedure and made an appointment for 9am on August 15th . . . which was not confirmed.  After another exchange of correspondence in which he again asked to view the document, and also requested the council’s reasons for withholding it, he was told, “The request is considered to be exempt under S21 of the Freedom of Information Act since what you have asked for is reasonably accessible by other means. The information you require is available for viewing at Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron.” This Kafkaesque response ignores the fact that Wynne Jones wants to see the document, and is prepared to turn up in Aberaeron at 9am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but the council is refusing to co-operate.

I suspect that this document may not exist, perhaps it has not yet been written. But whether planning reference A140036 exists or not, it’s quite clear that Cyngor Ceredigion is reluctant to let Wynne Jones see it for himself. What’s also clear is that Cyngor Ceredigion allows housing associations degrees of latitude that private citizens or other companies can only dream of.

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COWARDS: THE ‘WELSH’ MEDIA

One problem with ‘Welsh’ housing associations and the Englandandwales allocation system into which they’re currently locked is that Welsh communities get lumbered with some very unsavoury  people, partly because housing associations (and indeed private landlords) can make more money from housing those euphemistically described as ‘vulnerable’ (i.e. criminals) and those with ‘issues’ (ditto) than from housing law-abiding locals.

This allocation system – plus the workings of the Englandandwales criminal justice system – often explains why Welsh communities end up hosting criminals and dysfunctionals such as these.

A more recent case was this one. ‘Notorious convicted paedophile flees North Wales after he was outed online’ screams the Daily Post headline. Good. But the real story here, the one the DP should have looked into, was who relocated him to Nantlle? And who is responsible for dumping known and dangerous English criminals in Rhyl, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Kidwelly and countless other Welsh towns and villages? But to answer that question would expose another form of abuse, one in which Wales is taken advantage of by our mighty neighbour . . . so our ‘Welsh’ media backs off.

Yes, our wonderful ‘Welsh’ media; never asking the difficult questions but always ready to put the boot into Wales and things Welsh if the assault can be presented as a principled condemnation of ‘extremism’, ‘racism’, ‘narrow nationalism’ and anything else that doesn’t conform to the view that ‘Welshness’ is just a quaint and touristy regional oddity, little different to Englishness (except in a harmless and manageable sporting context) and always subservient to Britishness.

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SPOOKS: CAMBRIAN NEWS

As the Welsh weekly newspaper with the largest circulation, covering an area running from north Pembrokeshire all around Cardigan Bay to Pen Llŷn, and containing constituencies and local authorities where the Welsh voice is strong, it was inevitable that the Cambrian News would be a vital cog in this permanent propaganda offensive.

The role played by the Cambrian News was first brought home to me some twenty years ago when the ‘paper carried what purported to be a letter from a survivor of the Holocaust, now living in the USA, who had visited the National Eisteddfod and been appalled because the youngsters he saw on the stage there reminded him of the Hitler Youth. The letter was typical black propaganda, designed to traduce things Welsh and thereby put Welsh people on the defensive, make them question or be less ready to defend the things they hold dear.

I recognised this letter for what it was, and in the hope of exposing the fraud I wrote to the address given for the letter writer, making sure that my own address was there on the envelope as ‘sender’. The address given for the writer was in “Upper State New York”, no zip code and, as most of you will know, Americans use the term ‘Upstate New York. My letter was returned by the US Postal Service, along with two other letters from Wales sent to the same, non-existent address.

When you know what you’re looking at, or what you’re looking for, then you can go through a rag like the Cambrian News and pick out examples of this strategy quite easily, especially when our masters wish to make a specific point. Such a case came towards the end of 2013 when Cyngor Gwynedd debated raising the council tax on holiday homes. The mere suggestion prompted a letter to the CN arguing that raising council tax on holiday homes would be ‘racist’ (that favourite allegation!), before suggesting that such a measure might lead to a resumption of arson attacks!

The debate rumbled on, I got involved, ridiculing the suggestion that anyone would be incited to burn holiday homes if those properties paid more council tax, which in turn encouraged someone to suggest that I had made the suggestion of arson attacks but, cleverly, without actually saying I’d said it.

In the post I’ve linked to there are two letters worthy of note. The first is from a ‘Pat Beaumont of Shropshire’, and the second from a ‘Stephen Smith of Sunbeach Holiday Park, Llwyngwril’. Both are gems. They are full of non-sequiturs, scaremongering, misrepresentation, and getting people to believe that raising council tax on holiday homes is little different to burning them down. I believe Cambrian News Nazisboth letters are as genuine as the one from the Holocaust survivor in ‘Upper State New York’.

This bizarre defence of holiday homes is quite easy to explain, and has nothing to do with economics. From ‘a certain perspective’ holiday homes are viewed as a weapon in the armoury being used to ‘integrate’ Wales with England. In other words, they help anglicise Wales and thereby remove the threat of nationalism. Consequently holiday homes must be defended. Simple as that.

A more recent example of how the Cambrian News is used by others as a conduit and an outlet for anti-Welsh propaganda was the attack on the Plaid Cymru candidate in Ceredigion prior to this year’s General Election. I dealt with it here. To understand this extraordinarily vicious attack you must appreciate the wider political context.

Ceredigion was held by a Liberal Democrat MP, yet after five years in coalition with the Tories the Lib Dem vote was collapsing. Also, after five years in government, the Tories themselves were expected to lose votes and seats. In Scotland, the only question was whether the SNP would have a clean sweep of MPs. Everyone expected a hung parliament, with Labour running the UK in coalition with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and Greens. In fact, it was the English tabloids frightening their readers with the prospect of Alex Salmond in charge (despite him no longer being leader of the SNP) that won the election for the Conservatives. In that context, anything that the darker forces of the British State could use to damage the prospect of Labour-SNP-Plaid Cymru rule was worth a try. The Cambrian News played ball, as always.

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IDIOTS

Though sometimes the Cambrian News’ desperation to push its anti Welsh – and in our local edition, anti-Plaid Cymru and anti-Gwynedd – message is sometimes almost funny. Take this story from last week’s Meirionnydd edition. (No, of course I didn’t buy it.) Some Englishman named Paul Taylor living in Bryncrug, about two miles out of Tywyn, received what everyone has received recently, the electoral registration form, but claims he got confused because the form was ‘labelled’ in Welsh. (‘Labelled’? Does he mean ‘addressed’?)

Cambrian News voting

So here we have someone who receives what is obviously a communication from the council, one being delivered to every home in the county; if it had been written in Chinese its nature and purpose would have been obvious – yet he cannot see it for what it is, and when he consults his friend – who is “pretty proficient in Welsh” – these great brains conclude that the mysterious communication is addressed to a woman called Annwyl ddeiliad! (I know her intimately.) Eventually he is told what it means. Now seeing the dastardly plot for what it is – an attempt to deny a free-born Englishman his rights, the outraged Paul Taylor contacts the Cambrian News.

I have no way of knowing whether this man is just stupid, or whether he’s a fully-fledged bigot. But any responsible newspaper would at this point have spared him embarrassment by declining the ‘story’; and any reporter worthy of the name would have laughed out loud on hearing it. But this is the Cambrian News, the spooks’ mouthpiece, and so it does what it does and publishes this unadulterated bollocks, conveying the predictable messages that, ‘ . . . shouldn’t use Welsh on official communications . . . anti-democratic . . . discriminatory . . . anti-English . . . whatever next? . . . God Save the Queen!’

Here’s some advice for Paul Taylor, who clearly gets confused by anything that’s not ‘labelled’ in English. Next time you buy a bottle of Scotch don’t hand over your cash ’til you get a translation of Glenfiddich! And avoid French restaurants . . . Italian restaurants too. And if you win the Lottery, don’t start celebrating until them Champagne labels are translated. (Bloody Frogs!) Then, when you’ve sobered up, and are looking around for a motor, don’t write the cheque until them Eyties translate the Ferrari label into English. Same with flying to they there foreign places with funny names – Rio de Janeiro? come off it!

And this place where you’re living, called Bryncrug, it’s obviously part of this massive anti-English conspiracy of which you are so clearly a victim, so demand that it be ‘re-labelled’. In fact, get in touch with the Cambrian News, they’ll probably start a campaign on your behalf.

UPDATE 01.10.2015: There was a very good letter in today’s issue of the Cambrian News responding to the bigotry and intolerance displayed last week. Had I written this letter I would also have criticised the Cambrian News‘ editorial judgement in treating such ugly views as a worthwhile news item. But as I point out in the post, this is how the Cambrian News has operated for many years.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Housing full

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Housing by tenure

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

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

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

Jul 032014
 

It’s taken about eight months, but I finally got the information I requested on the Social Housing Grant (SHG). Though let me make it clear that I attach no blame to the Housing and Regeneration section of the ‘Welsh’ Government or the Housing Directorate (which, despite being in Wales is, I believe, an outpost of the UK / England Department for Communities and Local Government); for both have been very helpful. It seems that in the first instance I was asking for too much information, which exceeded the obligations placed on government departments by the Freedom of Information Act, with the delay extenuated by me seSocial Housing Grantnding e-mails to someone who’d left his job but whose e-mail account was still open and accepting incoming e-mails!

As you might have guessed, I’m talking about housing associations, and more especially, how much they receive from the ‘Welsh’ Government through the SHG (click on panel to enlarge). In other words, public funding, money that could – with different priorities – be spent on other things. Between 2008 and 2013 housing associations in Wales were given £692,541,022.51. (I can give you the figure to the exact penny because that’s how it was given to me.) However you look at it, 692 million is a lot of moolah. It could have built a few hospitals, 12 Newtown bypasses, covered most the M4 upgrading, re-opened the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway line, or funded a lot of other projects around the country. And remember, that’s just the money received from one funding scheme over six years. There is also the funding prior to 2008 to be considered, funding from other sources, plus the loans that housing associations are allowed to negotiate. Putting it all together makes it clear that social housing is big business, and accounts for a lot of money in a small country like Wales.

Before looking more closely at some of the individual recipients of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s largesse, maybe I should give some background and explain what kind of beast we are dealing with. Anyone over the age of forty-five will remember that social housing used to be the responsibility of the local council; in other words, council houses. Housing associations were usually small organisations supplementing the work of local councils in catering for specific groups, be they disabled ex-servicemen, Jewish widows or distressed gentlefolk. Then came the hammer-blow of Right to Buy legislation (Housing Act 1980) coupled with the inability of councils to use the funding raised to build replacement dwellings. Housing associations were then encouraged into a cannibalistic feeding frenzy that left us with fewer, but bigger organisations while – in Wales at least – they were also stopped from buying existing properties. This seemed to serve a number of purposes: keeping up the stock of social housing, providing work for private builders (as opposed to councils’ own workforces) and, in rural and coastal areas of Wales, ensuring that no cottages or houses that might prove attractive to English buyers became social housing. I believe that my suspicions about the purpose and activities of housing associations began around this time.

The housing associations we see today are either the result of one merger after another of the old units, or else shiny new organisations resulting from councils selling off their housing stocks. All tend to be ‘not for profit’ Industrial and Provident Societies registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, which makes it rather more difficult, and expensive, to get information on them than if they were registered with the Charity Commission or Companies House. (Though there are usually abbreviated accounts on their websites.) In addition, they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, even though councils’ housing departments are! Odd, really, that it’s so difficult to get information on bodies receiving so much public funding.

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The breakdown, by housing association, can be found below (in PNG format, click to enlarge); or here in Spreadsheet format, with links to each HA website available by clicking on the HA name in the left-hand column. I would suggest opening either file in another window to better follow what I’m going to say. Or just use it to check up on your local housing association. (Right click on the panel, then click on ‘Open link in new window’ or however your browser words it.)

Social Housing full

A quick scan reveals that Wales & West Housing Association got the largest amount in the period covered by the table, no less than £63 million. I had cause to mention Wales and West not long ago, when I learnt that it will Wales & West Housingborrow up to £25m from the UK government, through the Affordable Housing Guarantees, “to build 251 homes in Wales”. (Left, click to enlarge.) Why is the UK government loaning money to a Welsh housing association to build homes in Wales? It doesn’t make sense. The other big gainers are all familiar to me, though some of the smaller ones are eyebrow-raisers, and I always get suspicious when I see ‘Wales’ in the name of any organisation, for it often means an English outfit with a Welsh presence that may be nothing more than a post-box.

Having mentioned mergers earlier, Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd and Cymdeithas Tai Eryri have recently merged to form Grŵp Cynefin which, by happy chance, I wrote about quite recently. The episode in Tywyn tells us quite a lot about how housing associations really operate. In my experience they are devious, if not dishonest; promoting themselves as the answer to society’s ills while operating as ruthless and almost secretive commercial entities. Not only is it difficult to get informaTai Cantreftion about housing associations but what they do put out is often misleading, sometimes deliberately so. Take this sentence, highlighted on page 12 of the 2013 – 14 annual report of Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, which operates out of Castell Newydd Emlyn and covers an area from Machynlleth to just south of Fishguard, and inland as far as Llandovery. Note the use of the deliberately misleading term ‘people living locally’ in the hope that anyone reading it will think it means locals. It does not.

Go down to page 16 and you will read this: “To build new homes, Cantref need (sic) to generate more income and rely less on Social Housing Grant. A successful new initiative to Cantref this year was the introduction of our new student accommodation. We were successful with the submission of 65 units to be part of the Welsh Government’s Revenue Grant programme”. An interesting passage in a number of ways. For it identifies yet another income stream from the ‘Welsh’ Government, given as funding for what is clearly not social housing. Or to put it another way, the almost inevitable coming together of two ways in which Welsh public funding is used for the benefit of England, social housing and higher education.

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Soon after starting on this post I bought the latest issue of our weekly rag, the Cambrian News, where I came across this story, involving an outfit to which I just introduced you, Grŵp Cynefin. This time the project is in Harlech, a place close to my heart from having spent a couple of years there, in good company, in good pubs, Cambrian News, Harlech homeswearing flares and hair over my shoulders . . . I even made it to the Coleg once or twice. (I also met the missus there, but we don’t want to spoil a happy memory, do we.) Anyway, click to enlarge and read it for yourself.

Warms the cockles of your heart, no? What callous brute could possibly object to sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties? Well, me, for one, if there is no local demand for such housing. Because when I read that story I reminded myself that certain agencies in England would pay handsomely to relocate their clients to Wales. If that’s what will happen in Harlech then it will make this development little more than a housing association irresponsibly increasing the load on the Welsh NHS.

The problem here is obvious, it extends across the social housing sector. There is too much knee-jerk reaction on the part of politicos at all levels to requests for funding – with no thought to the bigger picture and the wider implications – when those making the requests exert emotional blackmail by pressing certain buttons. The biggest ‘button’ is social housing itself, beneath which can be found an array of secondary controls that include ‘sheltered housing for adults with learning difficulties’, ‘victims of domestic violence’, alien abductees, etc. (Go on, make up your own, I guarantee nobody will challenge it! It’s money for old rope.) All such requests for funding or planning should be answered by a simple question from our politicians: ‘Is there a demand from within the established local community for these properties?’ If no such demand exists, then funding, planning permission, and all other help should be refused.

Had this rule been followed, in tandem with a locals-only allocation policy, it would have saved lives and avoided many other tragedies, such as that which unfolded in Kidwelly not long ago, in properties owned by the Gwalia Group (£30 million raked in in the period covered). Gwalia housed Colin Batley and his paedophile gang; an appalling episode that reminds us of a darker side to social housing that the touchy-feely, politically correct, social conscience burdened hypocrites running our housing associations would rather not discuss; namely, providing accommodation for known criminals and undesirables from over the border, inflicting them on Welsh communities. Where does this leave the sanctimonious piffle about ‘being committed to serving our communities’? Yet more bollocks from housing associations.

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The social housing sector is an unsustainable drain on the Welsh public purse. It soaks up vast amounts of money, providing more dwellings than are needed in many (usually rural) areas and often not enough in other (usually urban) areas. It is made up of semi-secret organisations that are – despite the public funding – private companies in all but name. Too often contracts are given to firms from outside the area of the contract or even from outside Wales, which results a) in a loss of income and jobs to local economies, b) projects taking longer than needed to complete, due to workers having to travel long distances, c) lives put at risk as workers pile into vans for the mad rush home around the time children are leaving school. And all this being done while operating an allocations system that prioritises those who have never set foot in Wales over native-born Welsh. A monster encouraged for 15 years by a political party that is ideologically and emotionally hostile to commercial enterprise and initiative, instead funding its cronies to run housing associations and other third sector chimerae in the hope that the faffings of these charlatans might be mistaken for an economy at work. The truth is, a well-regulated private sector could meet most of Wales’ indigenous social housing Wales needs at a fraction of the cost of housing associations. Housing associations are a drain on the Welsh economy for no discernible return – get rid of them!