Meryl Gravell

Jan 162017
 

INTRODUCTION

Regular readers will know that one of the ‘staples’ of this blog is the wasting of public funding by Third Sector organisations. Exposing this waste is not something I really enjoy but it’s so prevalent in Wales – and has become worse with devolution – that it just cannot be ignored.

In a very general sense it’s possible to divide most Third Sector organisations into two main groups.

The first is the local group set up to ‘regenerate’ a run-down area, with most of those involved being local people, and a surprisingly high percentage of them having connections with the Labour Party. I say ‘surprisingly high percentage’ because, while less than a third of Welsh voters may now support Labour, the party’s supporters seem to make up a clear majority in this category. Let’s call this the Community sector.

The second is not so easy to categorise. Perhaps the best way to put it is that this group is about things rather than people or a community, perhaps an old building, or a specific area of countryside. Those involved in bodies like this are unlikely to be local. Let’s call this the Conservation sector.

Despite this helpful distinction, there are of course overlaps. But it tends to be one way, with outsiders involved in, often leading, Community groups rather than finding many locals in Conservation projects.

I’ve given you this introduction because it might help with what follows. This post being about two stories breaking that involve one group from each category.

NSA AFAN

As the name suggests, NSA Afan is based in Port Talbot, and its website tells us, “The purpose of the organisation is to support regeneration to enable a better quality of life for people living in the most disadvantaged communities in the Swansea Bay Area.”  (I am grateful to the ever-alert ‘Stan’ of Neath Ferret fame for tipping me off about this story.)

The original media mention on the ninth of this month said that police are investigating the possible misuse of public funds, and tells us, ‘A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “Following initial investigations into allegations concerning possible misuse of public funds at NSA Afan, we have suspended funding while further investigations are undertaken.”‘

UPDATE 23.01.2017: Funding has now been stopped completely.

The second report, two days later, says, quoting a police source, “We can confirm that South Wales Police has arrested a 35-year-old woman from the Port Talbot area on suspicion of theft on August 11, 2016 following a complaint received from NSA Afan.’

Now in cases like this I make my way to the figures, and so here are the most recent accounts for NSA Afan, these being for year ending 31.03.2016. A quick perusal of the nitty-gritty will tell you that income is falling, dramatically, down from £2,005,262 in 2014 to £1,428,901 in 2015 and £923,210 in 2016.

Even so, you’ll be pleased to know that despite this drop in funding staff costs at NSA Afan for 2016 were still over £800,000. Which means that in 2016 income just about covered staff costs.

‘Ah, Jac, you cynical bastard’ I can hear in the background, ‘that still still leaves a hundred grand to help people, at the Dalton Road Community Employment Academy and the Glyncorrwg Con Club’. Maybe, maybe not.

My equivocation is due to the fact that if we go to the Companies House website, there we find more information on (to give it its full name) the New Sandfields Aberafan and Afan – Community Regeneration, Company Number 03674953. Click on the ‘Charges’ tab and you’ll see that there are nine outstanding Charges against NSA Afan, that is loans or mortgages. Put it all together, the falling income, the high staff costs, payments on loans and mortgages, and it becomes clear that NSA Afan is not in the best of financial health.

In fact, the independent auditors say as much in the Accounts for 2016 (page 21, para 3), where we are warned of ” . . . material uncertainties which may cast doubt about the Charities (sic) ability to continue as a going concern.”

The more generous among you may think that the theft currently being investigated by South Wales Police plays a major role in NSA Afan’s parlous state. Not so. For elsewhere in the Accounts (page 20, para 9) we are told that “£50,000 was refunded by the credit card company during the year, however the remainder of the theft is unlikely to be recovered”.

The “remainder” may be the £46,144 we find on page 28, under ‘Donations and Legacies’. If so, how do we reconcile this amount with the statement quoted in the previous paragraph? Or is the £46,144 part of the £50,000 refunded by “the credit card company”?

Despite the falling income NSA Afan is still expanding. Curious, really, considering it’s a Communities First project and that last October even the ‘Welsh’ Government was forced to admit that Communities First had been a very expensive failure. Among NSA Afan’s recent acquisitions was Youth of Bettws (YOBS). So I made some enquiries.

What I’d assumed to be just a youth club is in fact registered with Companies House, Number 06719083. Under the Charges tab we learn that YOBS has an outstanding loan of £267,350 with the Big Lottery Fund, a loan it took out on June 29th 2011 to buy the leasehold of a former school owned by Bridgend County Borough Council.

The same property is now listed as a Charge against FSA Afan, but the details have changed. On May 27th last year The Big Lottery Fund made a ‘grant’ to NSA Afan of £388,384. This was presumably done to take over the leasehold of the property inherited from Youth of Bettws aka Bettws Boys and Girls Club, but what was the extra £121,034 for?

A question worth asking seeing as the Land Registry document tells us (page 3) that “The value as at 15 August 2016 was stated to be under £100,000”. Maybe NSA Afan is using some of the money it got from The Big Lottery Fund for some other purpose? Apparently not; because the Charge document mentions only the Bettws Boys and Girls Club. (In case you’re wondering, this is a repayable grant, what you and I would call a loan.)

To recap: we have a property, Bettws Boys and Girls Club, owned by a Labour-run council and valued – or possibly the leasehold is valued – at “under £100,000”; but a Labour-controlled, Communities First body goes out on a limb for £388,384 to lease this property! Unless NSA Afan has massive plans for YOBS I do not understand what the hell is going on here. All I see is the regular pattern of public money being shuffled around between Labour-controlled bodies to create the illusion of employment and economic activity.

And what of the Big Lottery Fund? I’m sure most of you think of the BLF as a generous body gifting large sums of money to worthy causes, money we have given to this organisation through playing the National Lottery or its other games. Did you know that the Big Lottery Fund is a commercial lender?

Perhaps lending to groups that might have difficulty getting a loan from a regular financial institution – those it describes as “community and voluntary groups”? I wonder what the interest rates are? And if those groups receiving a loan default, does the BLF take possession?

To conclude. The Communities First scheme operated in the most disadvantaged areas of Wales, in other words, areas controlled by ‘Welsh’ Labour. This gave the party a golden opportunity to engage in cronyism. Which is exactly what it did, and this explains why the Communities First project was such a disaster.

Dealing specifically with NSA Afan, I don’t doubt that someone stole money, but this is not why it’s folding. It’s folding because it was badly run. Even when it was half-way up Shit Creek with income falling it was still taking on new liabilities!

If this refers to 2017 I don’t see much point

As for the alleged theft, how was an individual employed by a body reliant on the public purse able to steal over £50,000 through a credit card? Was there no credit limit on this card? I do hope that the prosecution of this individual is not allowed to distract from the bigger problems at NSA Afan, all of which can be traced back to ‘Welsh’ Labour and the cronyism and nepotism on which it relies.

This system is now so discredited that it places ‘Welsh’ Labour at something of a crossroads. The party can either clean up the Third Sector and perhaps alienate many of those who benefit from it, or else it can stick with this system of corruption and see its electoral support slip even further.

If NSA Afan is – was? – a Community type of Third Sector organisation, this next case is most definitely about a Conservation body . . .

CAMBRIAN HERITAGE REGENERATION TRUST

This outfit has starred more than once on this blog, but before looking at previous posts let’s get the background on the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd (CHRT). It was Incorporated with Companies House on February 28th 2003 as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar (Carmarthenshire Heritage and Regeneration Trust) and appears to have been a joint venture between the County Council and Coleg y Drindod.

Lord Dynevor came on board on April 9th 2003. A few other local worthies joined on the same day, including a Meryl Gravell, described as “Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council”. Another was Roger (now Sir Roger) Jones, then of the Welsh Development Agency, and a former BBC Wales Governor. While yet another director was William Powell Wilkins, who came up with the idea of the National Botanic Garden. Quite a crew.

Though for the purposes of this article I suppose the most important recruit was Claire Deacon, who became a Director on October 8th 2008. At the time, Ms Deacon, based in Marloes, Pembrokeshire, was working as a lecturer and also as a consultant (possibly to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park). Ms Deacon served as a director until June 9th 2010.

The reason for Ms Deacon resigning as a Director was to take over as CEO, soon after the Trust bought its main project, Llanelly House in Llanelli. Though she rejoined the Board on June 1st 2011 as Secretary.

LLANELLY HOUSE

The name of the body was officially changed, with Companies House, from Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gar to Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on February 25th 2015. (All the information here, and more, can be found under Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust Ltd on the Companies House website.)

In addition to the main company, there is also the charity of the same name, and down the years there have been a few of what I can best describe as subsidiary companies. The only one I think is worth bothering with is Plas Llanelly House Cyf, where we again find Ms Deacon as Secretary.

Previous posts told how the CHRT is branching out, first to Merthyr, with the purchase of the YMCA building in Pontmorlais, and then in the other direction, down to the ruins of Ystrad Fflur (Strata Florida Abbey) with the purchase of the farm buildings at Mynachlog Fawr. So you may wish to read Ystrad Fflur – The Heritage Industry Moves On and Conserving Heritage, Maintaining Colonialism, both by a guest writer.

The reason for CHRT branching out from Llanelly House was quite simple – the funding was running out, and there was no way that Llanelly House could ever pay its way – and Ms Deacon’s salary – unless a fairy godmother stepped in with oodles of loot.

The time had come to find another project, concoct another ludicrously optimistic business plan, rake in the grants, live high on the hog for a few years, get plenty of good publicity, improve the CV . . . until it becomes clear that this is yet another project that will never survive without the drip-feed of public funding. By which time people like Ms Deacon have usually moved on to the next project. And so it continues. This is the Conservation element of the Third Sector in Wales, and the beneficiaries are almost always, like Ms Deacon, from over the border.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this piece. The word on Stepney Street is that Ms Deacon recently parted company with the CHRT. And when you read the latest accounts you’ll understand why. The auditors state quite clearly (page 11, para 1) that the net deficit at 31.03.2016 of £114,038 “. . . may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

A number of entries in the Accounts caught my eye, and if I was involved in CHRT or Llanelly House I’d be asking questions about them. The first is to be found on page 18 in ‘Direct Costs of Charitable Activities’, where we are told that in the year that ended 31.03.2016 £262,482 was spent on “Legal and Professional Fees” (£168,146 the previous year). That figure seems very high, and I’d like to have it explained.

Another perplexing entry, on page 26, tells us that . . .

How does the CEO get taken on as a consultant? CEO Claire: ‘Oh, hello, Claire, this Claire here, would you like to work for a while as a consultant, for a much higher rate than your CEO salary?’ Consultant Claire: ‘Well, thank you, Claire, I’d love to‘. This is bizarre, but I’ve reported on it before, so it’s not new to me.

As if the figures for CHRT weren’t bad enough the Plas Llanelly House Cyf Accounts tell us that that venture is sixty-five grand down the Swanee. But perhaps worst of all is that – just as with NSA Afan – in addition to falling income and rising debt there are Charges against CHRT, held by Finance Wales, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. If the Trust can’t meet its obligations then presumably each of these Charges will become the responsibility of its guarantor, be that the ‘Welsh’ Government, Llanelli town council, or Carmarthenshire county council.

In case the escape plan in the forms of Merthyr YMCA and Ystrad Fflur don’t work out, Ms Deacon has now gone into business on her own account, with Marloes Conservation Ltd. This company was only Incorporated on December 1st (soon after the latest Accounts were published), which lends credence to the suggestion that she is no longer with CHRT. Perhaps she’s had a vision – Meryl Gravell leading the band into Abide With Me as the good ship Llanelly House heaves her last and slips into the abyss.

It will be interesting to see what work comes the way of Marloes Conservation Ltd. And where from.

Although very different in their fields of operation, and those involved, NSA Afan and CHRT have a lot in common.

To begin with, both have swallowed up large amounts of public funding. And now, with both projects in serious financial difficulties, it becomes clear that much of that public funding has been wasted. Which is not to say that some people haven’t benefited from NSA Afan’s courses, or that good work hasn’t been done at Llanelly House, but the issue is surely priorities.

With an economy in serious trouble, with EU funding bound to end soon, how do you feel about paying for classes on ‘The American Century’ in Port Talbot, and a new rococo balustrade for Llanelly House, when sick people have to spend hours on a trolley in our hospitals?

Obviously that money would be better spent on the hospitals, and on training doctors, nurses and other staff we need.

Another troubling issue with these and other projects is the ease with which they secure Lottery funding. In the case of NSA Afan it’s Big Lottery Fund, and with CHRT it’s Heritage Lottery Fund, but it’s still money we’ve given. It’s almost as if Lottery funders take their cue from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Is there a connection?

In a poor country like Wales, what funding we have must, in the first instance, be spent on what we need, and in the longer term there must be investment in making Wales wealthier, not in glossing over the deprivation with publicly-funded Labour cronyism, or by restoring Georgian mansions into which our ancestors would only have been allowed as servants.

It’s long past the time when the ‘Welsh’ Government and the civil servants it claims to control did what other governments across the globe do – prioritise, and stop wasting money we can’t afford to lose.

end ♦

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.

Sep 022016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

Ystrad Fflur, or to give it its ‘English’ name, Strata Florida, is a quiet, remote and beautiful place. The Cistercians chose it as a site to build a great abbey and monastery precisely because it was off the beaten track, with huge expanses of grazing for their sheep and cattle and plentiful water from Afon Fflur, a tributary of the Teifi.

There are ruined monastic sites with more to see, but Ystrad Fflur has enough to fire up the imagination, and you can spend an hour or two wandering around with the place pretty much to yourself, except for a couple of times a year when Cadw puts on events to bring in the crowds. The highlight this year is a “Spooky Halloween Day” when you can follow a secret trail to discover ingredients for a witch’s spell.

Quite what Rhys ap Gruffudd, the abbots and monks would have felt about this combination of commercialised Anglo-American popular culture and the occult is not difficult to imagine because the whole point of Ystrad Fflur was to be a beacon of Welsh Christianity and culture, and a counterweight to the increasingly intrusive Anglo-Normans with their policies of military control and colonial assimilation.

What keeps the hordes away is in part the almost complete lack of facilities (no gifte shoppes or tea rooms here), partly the remoteness of the place, and partly because to make sense of Ystrad Fflur and why these fairly modest piles of stone are so special, you need to know something about Welsh history and culture. There is a sense of deep and abiding Cymreictod about Ystrad Fflur, and to understand the place is to understand the dreams and hopes of this nation.

Enhancing the visitor experience

All of this may be about to change thanks to some heritage industry “charities” which want to ‘enhance the visitor experience’ with government grants and huge dollops of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in a scheme which would keep their bosses in clover for decades to come.

Brace yourselves for the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro serving heritage monks’ brew, herbal liqueurs made to ancient and “long-lost” secret recipes, sustainable medieval burgers and Brother Anselm’s Amusement Park for the kiddies.

The site is owned by the Church in Wales and managed by Cadw which sensibly closes the place for 5 months a year, but  visitors who want to save themselves a few quid and don’t mind the winter weather can nip over the fence and wander round for free.

strataflorida

The threat to Ystrad Fflur as we know it comes not from Cadw directly, although Cadw executives are almost certainly cheering it on, but from two charities called the Strata Florida Trust and the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, formerly known as Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr.

High Tea in the Trenches

For those of you reaching for your dictionaries, that splendid name translates as the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, and it was under the Welsh name that the trust carried out the restoration of the Georgian patrician residence known as Llanelly House.

There was always something a little odd about the use of that Welsh name to cover all the sensitive financial and legal stuff, while steadfastly refusing to drop that Anglicising ‘y’ from Llanelly.

If Ystrad Fflur was built to be a beacon of Welsh culture against the rising tide of Anglo-Norman influence, the ‘y’ in Llanelly signifies that here is a genteel oasis of English culture in a sea of rough Welsh working class awfulness. More Gilbert and Sullivan than Sosban Fach.

Running the show in Llanelli is CEO and Company Secretary Claire Deacon, originally from Southampton, who says that she is passionate about restoring old buildings. The £7 million restoration of the Georgian mansion in Llanelli was indeed a fine piece of work, funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh European Funding Office and ‘Welsh’ Government, with enthusiastic backing from Carmarthenshire County Council and the veteran Cllr Meryl Gravell.

Cllr Gravell, never a shrinking violet, likes to use Llanelly House as a backdrop for some of her many media appearances as evidence of how, in her own mind at least, she has transformed the town’s fortunes.

Other visitors come to enjoy a Palm Court High Tea, tapas evenings, murder mystery events, ‘Afternoon Tea with the Harmony Wellbeing Charity’, displays of military medals and Dad’s Army costumes, a Somme exhibition – and a special treat – a special showing of one (yes, 1) of those ceramic poppies previously displayed at the Tower of London.

What could be more patriotically British than a nice scone, a cup of Darjeeling and a lot of sanitised, misty-eyed reminiscence about British military achievements, minus any references to awkward characters such as Hedd Wyn or the criminal incompetence of the top brass?

Village People

Fresh from the triumph in Llanelli, Ymddiriedolaeth Atgyfnerthu Treftadaeth Sir Gâr cast around for more Carmarthenshire buildings to save, and discovered the old YMCA building in Merthyr Tydfil.

A quick glance at the map showed the trustees that there was just one small problem here – Merthyr is not in Carmarthenshire. So the name and the ‘operational footprint’ of the charity were eventually changed to the more English-friendly Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust.

Once again, the trust managed to trouser phone-number size grants from the Welsh Government and local council as well as £2.6million from the Lottery. The plan was to bring ‘café society’ and 877 sq. m of new offices and work space for “the modern creative industries and the traditional professions” (a description that covers all eventualities from software development to massage parlours) to the good people of Pontmorlais, but so far it appears to have just been used for ‘reminiscing days’ and free tours of an empty shell for school kids.

Just how little progress has been made in the years since the trust acquired the YMCA building can be see from this family snapshot:

Merthyr YMCA Facebook

In the red

The Llanelly House project overran significantly in terms of time and money, but is now finally up and running. In the trust’s accounts for 2014-15 the chairman notes, “It is essential that we develop the skills and vicissitude necessary to ensure that Llanelly House becomes a sustainable business so that it act (sic) as a model and example to our future projects”.

The latest annual report which, incidentally, would fail an English GCSE examination badly, goes on to note that visitor numbers, average spend and the commercial operations at Llanelly House did not meet expectations, something which “has lead (sic) to the shortfall”.

The extent of the shortfall becomes apparent when we read the independent auditors’ report which notes that the trust had a deficit of unrestricted funds of £59,910 at 31 March 2015, “ indicating the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the Charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Needless to say, the charity’s director trustees took a different view, saying that they should still be considered a ‘going concern’ because (a) they have reached an agreement with Llanelli Town Council to defer indefinitely the repayment of a working capital loan, although it is doubtful if Llanelli Council tax payers have been consulted, and (b) put in place a ‘turnaround strategy’ for the activities of their commercial operating subsidiary running Llanelly House, which is running at a loss.

In addition to Llanelli Town Council, another major creditor is Finance Wales, and the accounts show a total of £437,527 outstanding in working capital loans. The trust is also pinning its hopes on renegotiating terms with Finance Wales, and a growing stream of consultancy revenue provided by CHRT Ventures Ltd.

This last hope remains something of a mystery, but consultancy is clearly something the CHRT trustees are very keen on. Claire Deacon (CEO and Company Secretary, remember) was paid £56,787 in consultancy fees, and the charity also spent £2,000 on undefined (consultancy?) services from CHRT Ventures Ltd, as well as borrowing £14,720 from the same source. Not to mention other services and loans provided by another company in the same group, Plas Llanelly House Cyf. (There was even Llanelly House Trading Ltd., which bit the dust in December 2014. Jac.)

All very odd.

In common with so many other modern, forward-looking charities, Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT) is almost completely dependent on grants. Income for 2014-15 was £724,460, of which donations accounted for just £1,325.

Another change of operational footprint

Material uncertainty, targets not met, hope that the creditors will be forgiving, hopes of future consultancy income, lots of peculiar inter-company magic and rather less than bugger all in the bank. Combine that with the Chairman’s barely coded warnings that the charity has got to up its game, and you might think that the trustees would be wondering where their CEO (appointed back in 2011) is leading them.

With Llanelly House now finally up and tottering towards an uncertain future, and the prospect of another large project in Merthyr looming, you would think that the trustees’ enthusiasm for yet another ambitious scheme might have been exhausted, but in that same annual report for 2014-15 we read that the trust was ploughing ahead with the acquisition of Mynachlog Fawr (or Great Abbey Farm) at Ystrad Fflur.

A single donation of £200,000 was received in May 2014, and the trust took out an option to buy. The annual report notes that the lawyers were dealing with this while Ms Deacon “concentrates of (sic) further fundraising with our project partner, Professor David Austin”, about whom more in a moment.

Strangely, since the report was published, the farm was acquired not by CHRT but the Strata Florida Trust, chaired by Professor Austin, in July of this year.

Claire Deacon has come on board as Project Director for the Strata Florida Centre Project, reporting to the Strata Florida Trust, while Professor Austin will run a separate “Strata Florida Research Project” in parallel.

How CHRT fits in with all this is not at all clear, even though in its 2015 report CHRT was manifestly confident that it would be running the show and had received a £200,000 donation towards it.

The board of the Strata Florida Trust is made up of various academics, the great and good and a retired British Army Lieutenant-General, Jonathon Riley, whose interests include the history and “maintaining the military efficiency” of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Perhaps future visitors to Ystrad Fflur can look forward to floodlit military tattoos and, who knows, we may even get an assault course. (Continues after ‘The Life of Riley’.)


THE LIFE OF RILEY

At first sight it may look odd that a retired Lieutenant General from England whose interests are military history and warfare should become a trustee of a charity set up to determine the fate of a ruined abbey in Ceredigion founded to champion the cause of Welsh independence and Welsh culture, but it’s who rather than what you know that matters.

Jonathon Riley, who is among other things a Companion of the Order of the Bath, grew up in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Channel Islands. A product of English public schools and Sandhurst, he began his military career with the Queen’s Regiment before transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an experienced hand who could be trusted to keep the native recruits in their place.

Hobnobbing with the Windsors and the legion of upper middle class camp followers who surround them eventually resulted in marriage to upwardly mobile BBC Wales news reader, Sara Edwards.

Edwards’ extra curricular activities include being Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Duke of Edinburgh Awards and member of the council of University of Wales, Lampeter.

Having retired from the British Army, Riley was appointed to the plum establishment job of Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries. His rather sanitised Wikipedia entry says that he resigned from this job to undergo treatment for prostate cancer, but here is a snippet from The Independent from 2013:

“Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, a retired infantry officer, former NATO commander and distinguished military historian, was suspended as Master of the Armouries over an auditing inquiry in May, only to resign from the post six months later. It can now be revealed that he was suspended after senior staff were given irregularly large pay increases at a time when the museum’s budget was being slashed.”

Jonathon Riley

click to enlarge

Honourable retirement on health grounds after this unfortunate revelation of rampant cronyism was clearly enough to salvage Riley’s reputation, and he went on to be appointed to two committees in Cardiff Bay where he now advises the ‘Welsh’ Government on how to commemorate World War One.

The departed souls of Welsh cannon fodder must be looking down and wondering what their deaths achieved, because 100 years on here is an English military toff, the successor of all those other public school generals who rounded up the Welsh and sent them off to walk slowly towards German machine guns, making sure that the Somme and other slaughters are remembered as the necessary sacrifice of brave British patriots who laid down their lives for the King.

Riley and Edwards, who have a holiday home in Carmarthenshire not far from Big Ears’ retreat at Llwynwormwood, together illustrate nicely how in 21st century democratic Wales, you can get yourselves appointed to numerous influential jobs and committees without ever having to face the voters or even spending much time here.

Any civil servants or grant dispensers tapped by Professor Austin’s charity for dosh are unlikely to put up any resistance knowing that there is a hot line to old Big Ears.


Bearing in mind that under Ms Deacon CHRT expanded its “operational footprint” to cover the whole of Wales, she has chosen to live about as far as she can get from most of the country by basing herself in Marloes. While Llanelly House is a mere 57 miles distant, Ystrad Fflur is 83 miles away along narrow country lanes, and Merthyr is a cool 95 miles.

If she is concentrating on Mynachlog Fawr, Llanelly House and Merthyr are hardly likely to get much of a look-in.

Mynachlog Fawr comprises a Grade II* listed farmhouse, some listed mid-nineteenth century stone barns and various other more recent structures.

The farm itself came into existence after the dissolution of the abbey, and certainly was never a part of the Cistercians’ landscape. It was the childhood home of Charles Arch, a well known personality on the Welsh farming scene, and appears to have been acquired at some point in more recent years by Lampeter University.

Although the house and some of the outbuildings are listed and attractive to look at, they are in relatively good condition and hardly of national importance. There are plenty more farmhouses and barns like them all over Wales.

How the farm came to be acquired by Lampeter University, presumably with public money, and whether it was the university which sold the place to Professor Austin’s trust are questions readers may be able to help with.

So why was CHRT, whose purpose is to “regenerate the physical and other heritage of Wales”, so keen to acquire a not particularly special group of farm buildings not in need of rescue?

The answer would seem to be that heritage industry Eldorado: millions and millions of lovely grant money to fund pet projects for years if not decades to come.

This grand scheme has been Professor Austin’s pipe dream since 1999, and he envisages turning the farm into a centre with all sorts of activities. “At the moment these fall under five broad headings, although these will undoubtedly expand as we develop our plans and talk to potential partners”, writes the professor on the Strata Florida project website, where just about everything is copyrighted to the great man personally.

It will be sustainable; enhance the visitor experience; there will be summer schools and workshops; ecological tourism; it will foster the arts and traditional skills; it will help locals to “advance senses of their own identity and wellbeing”; it will create events and activities to enhance human well-being in recognition of the abbey’s great infirmary and holy wells; and much, much more besides.

If that all sounds a bit, well, woolly, we can get a glimpse of a rather more tangible project design here on the website of architects Acanthus Holden who were commissioned to come up with a plan that includes a visitor centre and “a small exclusive hotel”.

One of the benefits of all this, of course, is the carrot of new jobs in Pontrhydfendigaid and the surrounding area. Whether the owners and employees of existing hotels, such as the nearby Black Lion, cafés and other local businesses would be quite so enthusiastic about having to compete with an entirely grant funded and heavily subsidised newcomer is another matter, and locals may find that the professor’s vision will entail the demise of established local businesses.

In another review carried out by The Prince’s Trust, the recommendation was for self- catering accommodation as opposed to the Acanthus hotel.

Mynachlog Fawr architects

No doubt Ms Deacon, Professor Austin and their friends have already come up with a business plan to explain how all these aims can be achieved and become commercially viable in a remote rural location, far from the coast and next to a ruined abbey which is closed for five months of the year. In a climate which is not exactly Chiantishire.

Even more confusingly, Professor Austin’s vision for Mynachlog Fawr and the wider Ystrad Fflur site appears to vary depending on his audience. Is it to be a New Age hangout for city types wanting to commune with nature in a sustainable and ecological sort of way, or is it to be a “small, exclusive hotel” with a visitor centre attached? Or is it to be the front end of what sounds in this video like the ultimate archaeological wet dream: a vast and endless dig extending across a swathe of countryside to uncover whatever is left of what the prof claims may be the largest Cistercian monastery in Britain, “if not Europe”. Or even the universe.

Where this forest of trusts and companies leaves Llanelly House and the Merthyr YMCA is an interesting question. Is Claire Deacon still CEO and Company Secretary in Llanelli? It would seem so. How did Mynachlog Fawr come into the ownership of Lampeter University, as it then was, and why did it end up being acquired by the Strata Florida Trust rather than CHRT with its expanded operational footprint, and on what terms?

Answers on a postcard please.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to head up to Ystrad Fflur and enjoy it while you can before Professor Austin and Ms Deacon set about improving our experience and indulging their hobbies.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jac says: While this piece was being written I though I’d try to help by doing some background work.

The first and obvious question was – ‘Who owns Ystrad Fflur / Strata Florida? The answer (as you’ve read) is that the Abbey ruins are owned by the Church in Wales. In 2008 the Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy, was appointed ‘Guardian’. Here are the relevant documents from the Land Registry.

That role of ‘Guardian’ may have been subsequently transferred to the ‘Welsh’ Government, because in June 2010 “The Welsh Ministers” bought an adjoining parcel of land. No price is given, but unless Rhodri Morgan and his gang had a whip-round this land was purchased with public funding, and we are therefore entitled to know how much of our money was spent.

Ystrad Fflur for Cadw

What of the farm buildings, destined to become the Abbot’s Bar & Bistro – Get In The Habit!! On its website the Strata Florida Trust says, ” . . . the Trust has purchased the historic buildings which until recently formed the working core of Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey farm”. So naturally, I wondered how much had been paid.

I went to the Land Registry website, but found nothing under Mynachlog Fawr or Great Abbey Farm. Which I thought was a bit naughty, because if the Trust has bought the buildings then not filing the details with the Land Registry is simply a way of withholding information, and again, we are dealing here with the public purse.

(Though, confusingly, the website also says, ” . . . the Strata Florida Trust has acquired the buildings and some adjacent land”. So which is it – ‘purchased the historic buildings’ or ‘acquired the buildings and some adjacent land’?)

UPDATE 03.09.2016: I just unearthed this piece from the Cambrian News dated August 13 which can only be interpreted as announcing the purchase of Mynachlog Fawr. Which strengthens my belief that we are not being told the truth about who owns what, when it was bought, who paid for it, and how much was paid.

Poking around on the Land Registry website unearthed more recent land sales in the area. One involved land quite close to the Abbey and the farm, bought last year by David Thomas Arch and Eleri Arch. Here are the details. Mr and Mrs Arch were the owners of Mynachlog Fawr, so did they sell only the farm buildings, retain the land, and are they now adding to their land holdings?

We must know who owns what at Ystrad Fflur and how much it has cost the Welsh public purse

Over the years I have recounted many stories about the plundering of the Welsh public purse, this is another such tale. Yet another story of strangers to our land finding an old building or site, and instead of respecting a part of our history, appropriating it in order to promote themselves and boost their bank balances.

Claire Deacon of the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust already has two very expensive disasters to her name. Llanelly House may be impressive, but it’s now an economic millstone around the necks of the town and the county. Merthyr YMCA was never viable from the outset, yet the money keeps flowing. And now this woman – who managed, while running the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, to employ herself as a ‘consultant’! – wants more millions from the Welsh public purse to despoil and commercialise Ystrad Fflur.

Her partner in this lurid venture is Professor David Austin, an academic at Lampeter University, who has one eye on a very lucrative retirement and the other on an ‘Honour’. According to Austin Ystrad Fflur may be the biggest Cistercian monastery in the universe . . . in which case it’s too big a job for him and the Lampeter outpost of Trinity St Davids. I would prefer to see a team of French archaeologists with experience of Cistercian sites employed.

Then we have Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley. First, we have to ask what he brings to the party, for Ystrad Fflur is the site of a monastery not a castle? Whatever anyone may think Riley can contribute his profligacy with public funding whilst at the Royal Armouries should disqualify him from any other publicly-funded project, no matter who he knows or who he’s married to.

This squalid project being hatched in Ceredigion is only possible because Wales is a colony of England, with all that that implies. A primitive people unable to do anything for ourselves we must shower with money any shyster who turns up with a half-baked, self-serving bit of nonsense. Our chiefs like it that way because it saves them having to think of better ways of using the money.

There is one lesson to be drawn from the Ystrad Fflur project and one obvious recommendation.

The lesson – articulated on this blog more than once – is that Wales needs a genuinely national conservation body to replace the English National Trust, CADW, Landmark Trust, and all the Claire Deacons infesting our homeland.

The beauty of Ystrad Fflur lies in its remoteness and tranquility. To attract those who wouldn’t bother going had there not been a burger bar and a bouncy castle is to attract the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And the motivation for doing this is obvious.

So here’s the recommendation, for the ‘Welsh’ Government and all other funders:

Pull the plug on this lunatic scheme and leave Ystrad Fflur at peace.

*

Feb 292016
 

I’m off to Swansea this weekend, treating myself and the wife to a wee break. (Well, actually, the wife’s paying for the hotel.) I shall visit relatives and friends and go watch the Swans playing Norwich (son’s treating me!). So it will be at least a week until I put up my next post.

In the meantime, enjoy these tit-bits from hither and yon and have a good St. David’s Day. I might pop over to Wrecsam for the parade there, or maybe down to Aber’.

*

DAWN BOWDEN AM?

Some of you will know by now that Dawn Bowden has been selected as the Labour Party candidate for Merthyr and Rhymni in May’s Assembly elections. If you haven’t heard – and even if you have – you’re probably wondering who the hell she is.

Around this time last year I also got to wondering, because I was told that she’d Dawn Bowden 3been promised a place in the Assembly, and although the seats suggested were Islwyn and Caerffili, my source was adamant that her elevation would be stitched up with a women-only shortlist. This prompted me to make enquires, resulting in a mention for Ms Bowden in my post ‘Welsh’ Labour And A Milking System Unknown To Farmers. And lo! it came to pass . . .

On the right you’ll see two screen-captured Twitter profiles for Ms Bowden, the ‘Before’ image taken at around 19:30 on Saturday, the ‘After’ around 00:30 on Sunday. (Thanks to ‘S’ for tipping me off.) There are significant changes in the second profile.

First, the reference to loving the unions is gone. Second, she has changed out of the Brizzle City shirt – a dead giveaway for her origins. Third, she is no longer a socialist. (Rhodri Morgan’s ‘clear red water’ seems to be flowing the other way at the moment.) Fourth, she has removed the reference to @Carrageryr, aka Martin Eaglestone, her current beau and another Labour insider. Gone with the reference to Eaglestone is the mention of being step-mother to his children by an earlier wife in Gwynedd. (Or at least I assumed they were his.)

The new profile was obviously put up in a hurry; such a hurry that she couldn’t tell us the full title of her job with UNISON or even get the spelling right for the party she represents. Maybe the champagne had gone to her head. No doubt everything has been put right by now.

Dawn Bowden is obviously a Labour loyalist first and foremost, knowing little about Wales, and even less about Merthyr. Just another Labourite on the make who’s come through the system of Unions and Third Sector, the kind of woman who’s always banging on about ‘the people’ but rarely gets to meet them because she lives in a Labour cocoon where she only mixes with her own kind.

Her success in Merthyr came about because the sitting AM, Huw Lewis, surprised quite a few people last month by suddenly announcing he was standing down. I won’t go into the reasons for this decision, suffice to say that they are of a delicate and intimate nature, the kind of messy personal relationships of which Ms Bowden and Martin Eaglestone have experience.

The other two women on the Merthyr and Rhymni shortlist were Carol Estebanez, who is also from that magic land, ‘Away’, and also helps prop up a ‘Welsh’ Labour Party having serious problems finding Welsh candidates of any quality; and then there was Anna McMorrin, who worked as an advisor to the dickheads down Cardiff docks and who is / was having an affair with Alun Davies AM former Natural Resources Minister.

The decision to impose an all-women shortlist in order to guarantee Ms Bowden her promised seat did not go down well with the bruvvers in Merthyr. Misogynists almost to a man who see La Bowden as the beginning of the end, for not only do the long shadows of council merger creep ever closer, but in the distance can be heard the heavy tread of the Westminster executioner coming to take an axe to the Merthyr constituency.

There’s nothing here to surprise anyone who knows how the Labour Party operates in Wales, but I still have three questions:

1/ Is ‘Welsh’ Labour now an official branch of UNISON?

2/ How much of the donkey vote will turn out for this latest parachutist?

3/ Will the Merthyr bruvvers – and, indeed, the disgruntled local sissters – canvass for Dawn Bowden?

*

OXBRIDGE AND THE WELSH CRINGE

The aforementioned Huw Lewis is still the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Education Minister, and something (else) that causes him sleepless nights is the fact that so few of us aspire to Oxford and Cambridge universities. To listen to him and others who talk through their back heads the Welsh education system should be geared to getting as many as possible of our young people to Oxbridge.

So I was intrigued to see this item on the BBC website by Gareth Jones, a producer with BBC Wales, talking about the Oxbridge ‘success’ rate of his old school in Swansea, Olchfa Comprehensive. Though what I found most interesting, and disturbing, was that hardly any of those who went from Olchfa to Oxford and Cambridge returned to Wales.

Olchfa

And yet, this is how it must be in a colonial relationship. Wealth gravitates to the centre, where power and influence is also concentrated. The peripheries provide raw materials and manpower, holiday destinations and other benefits for the centre. This is how it was in Rome and every empire since.

Which means that Huw Lewis and all the other cringers, all those desperate to show ‘our English friends’ that we’re (almost) as good as them, want us to pay for our brightest and best to leave Wales and never return – and we are expected to be ever so grateful! This, remember, is ‘the Welsh Government’.

Here’s a better suggestion, Lewis . . . Why don’t you and your half-wit, forelock-tugging colleagues try to shake off your inferiority complex and start putting Welsh interests first. And to give you a clue where to start, subsidising a brain drain does not serve the Welsh national interest.

And if you aren’t serving the Welsh national interest then you really have no right to call yourselves ‘the Welsh Government’.

*

TOURISM PAYING ITS WAY

Regular readers will know that I have firm views on tourism in Wales. Basically, I believe that it is a colonialist activity from which few Welsh people benefit, and that it is also destroying Welsh identity. In fact, from a patriotic perspective, I see nothing to be said in favour of the tourism Wales suffers today.

This unregulated and destructive ‘industry’ is doing irreparable harm to our homeland. Just look at the photograph below showing hordes of tourists swarming up to the summit of Snowdon, having been brought up almost all the way by the vile little train. Shouldn’t we be treating our beauty spots and our iconic mountains with more respect? Perhaps we would, but of course we Welsh have no control over the tourism ravaging our country.

Snowdon tourists

In Italy they do things better. With tourism taxes in various locations that suffer from too many gawpers and clickers. The latest moves are to limit the numbers of visitors to the Cinque Terre area. And as the article I’ve linked to tells us, big cruise liners are now banned from the Venice lagoon.

Elsewhere, in Italy and other countries, tourists are expected to put money into the public purse, not just the pockets of those taking the tourists’ money, who may be foreign companies or individuals from outside the country. The article I used tells us that such economic pragmatism is not limited to Italy, for “Bhutan doesn’t limit its number of tourists, but it does force them – through package tours – to spend $250 a day in high season ($200 in low), which apparently funds education, healthcare and so on.”

Here in Wales, when the subject of a tourist tax was mentioned last year, a spokesman for the industry was quite receptive to the idea – “providing the cash raised was ploughed back into the sector”. Er, no.

Wales has a problem with tourism. We have too much of it causing too much damage and bringing too few benefits to Welsh people and Welsh communities. So let’s tax tourism, thereby reducing the unmanageable numbers, and invest the money raised in those areas suffering the worst.

One way of using this income would be to help young locals buy homes in areas where tourism, and the resultant irruption of good-lifers and retirees, has priced them out of the property market. But it would be insane to ‘invest’ the money raised from tourism to encourage more tourism!

Of course the argument usually employed against a tourism tax is the same one used against raising council tax on holiday homes, which is that such measures would reduce the numbers of tourists coming from England.

I have given this argument a great deal of thought. It has caused me many a sleepless night. But for the life of me, I don’t get it. Because from where I’m sitting, Welsh people and Welsh communities seeing financial and other benefits from fewer tourists is a win-win situation.

*

 IS ‘WELLNESS’ A SYNONYM FOR PRIVATE HEALTH CARE?

Those of you lucky enough to live in James-shire, the entertainment capital of Wales, may already be aware of the goodies coming your way in the very vague form of the Wellness village, or the Wellness centre, planned for Delta Lakes in Llanelli. I say ‘very vague’ because even if you are aware of it, I guarantee you don’t know who’s involved and what it’s all about.

Meryl

MERYL GRAVELL

There are so many interlinking and overlapping organisations involved with this project that I shall not attempt to list them, let alone guess at how they might be connected. Instead, I refer you to a piece that appeared on the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board website in December 2015, and this article from last week’s Llanelli Herald which quotes the one and only Meryl Gravell, Mark James’ plenipotentiary extraordinary to us mere mortals.

If I was cynical (and I thank God I’m not!) I might suggest that what’s happening is this: The leisure centre is being demolished and a new one built; but to get as much lolly as possible bells and whistles are being added in order to promote the project as a ‘Wellness Centre’ incorporating a health centre, a hotel and conference centre, facilities for various ‘therapies’, etc.

Which could result in some poor bugger struggling down there with a bad back, going through the wrong door and finding himself confronted by a Siberian shaman; or perhaps getting legless with a bunch of middle managers down for a conference.

And if I wanted to be really, really cynical I might wonder who is involved in this project that isn’t among the many bodies named. For even the most trusting soul might have his or her suspicions raised by this document on South Llanelli, adopted by Carmarthenshire County Council in December 2014, which has this to say of Delta Lakes (on page 25): “Other related uses (eg healthcare /service sector – social and/or private health care) may also be considered appropriate”.

“Private health care”! Can we hypothesise that the undisclosed ‘partners’ in this project might be private health care providers? Though let me say that I have no objection in principle to private health care. Who can possibly object as long as such companies build hospitals and other health facilities using money provided by investors, banks, and those subscribing to private health care schemes?

But this is Wales and, more importantly, Carmarthenshire, so there must be a possibility that a company providing private health care has been wooed to Delta Lakes with the promise of spanking new facilities funded with public money, sixty million pounds of it.

And this being Wales it will also be trumpeted as a great coup that BUPA or Spire has chosen to ‘invest’ in Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. The massive investment from the public purse that underpins and explains this ‘coup’ will of course be downplayed if not excised entirely from the hyperbolic narrative.

So I suggest that instead of trying to confuse the public, those behind this project explain it better, and give us the names of all the ‘partners’. If only to allay the suspicions many hold.

Because Carmarthenshire in recent years has seen too many projects pushed through in secret. Loans have been made (and lost), and planning permission has been granted, on a nod and a wink. Small wonder that some ask if backhanders might explain this curious methodology.

And seeing as this Delta Lakes project – whatever it is – has the enthusiastic support of Mark James and Meryl Gravell we’re also entitled to ask if the council’s favourite business adviser, Robin Cammish, is involved.

*

A LITTLE HOME IN THE WEST – RENTED FROM AN ‘INVESTOR’?

I like a man who can’t be fobbed of with flim-flam and bullshit, and one such man is regular correspondent Wynne Jones down in Cardigan. Not only is Wynne alert to flim-flam but he’s also very well organised, knowing what questions to ask and to whom they should be directed.

Not so long ago, after receiving information from Wynne, I wrote about Pembrokeshire Housing and its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes, first in Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy (December 14), and then with Mill Bay Homes, Tai Ceredigion, Answers Needed (January 03).

To briefly explain, Pembrokeshire Housing is a publicly-funded – £27m since 2008 in Social Housing Grant alone – housing association or Registered Social Landlord (RSL). Mill Bay Homes, a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing builds and sells properties on the open market, with the money made from this activity going to the parent company for it to invest in more units of social housing . . . or at least, that’s the theory.

But as Wynne found out in a recent reply from Helga Warren, Head of Housing Funding for the ‘Welsh’ Government, Pembrokeshire Housing has yet to see a penny of the money Mill Bay Homes has made from five private developments! Admitted in the extract below, taken from a larger document (click to enlarge).

Wynne Jones Helga Warren

 

 

 

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, Mill Bay Homes advertises its properties as ideal investments for Buy-to-let landlords. Some reading this might think it odd for the subsidiary of a publicly-funded RSL to be encouraging such activity, I certainly think there’s something not right here.

Especially when we realise that Mill Bay Homes also administers the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy – Cymru scheme, intended to help people, presumably young people, buy their first new home. Inevitably, Wynne and I wondered if ‘investors’ had been allowed to avail themselves of the Help to Buy scheme.

Ms Warren came to the rescue with this assurance: “Help to Buy is operated by Help to Buy (Wales) Ltd. They carry out extensive checks on behalf of Welsh Government as part of the affordability calculations for any potential buyer. As part of this assessment customers are advised that buy-to-let investments are strictly prohibited under the scheme. Scheme documentation clearly indicates that any fraudulent application for Help to Buy (Wales) assistance could be liable to criminal prosecution. Any fraudulent claims uncovered as part of our monitoring and governance arrangements, will always require immediate repayment of the shared equity loan assistance”.

Read it carefully. There is ‘advice’, there is ‘documentation’, but there seem to be no real checks. As things stand, someone from outside of Wales could buy a new property from Mill Bay Homes, taking advantage of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and use it as a holiday home – because nobody is checking. It is a system yelling to be abused.

But even this is only part of the much wider problem we have with housing associations, which in Wales have received, since 2008, close on £800m in Social Housing Grant alone. Then there’s Dowry Gap funding projected to cost £1.3bn and Welsh Quality Housing Standard funding of an estimated £1.7bn. Finally, there’s the Housing Finance Grant totalling £120m.

These are huge amounts of money in a poor country like Wales, so surely the ‘Welsh’ Government insists on every penny being accounted for . . . umm, no. The ‘Welsh’ Government dishes out the cash and seems to say something along the lines of, ‘If you get a chance, you might want to send in a report telling us how you’ve spent the money. No need for any nonsense like differentiating capital from revenue, or explaining where the money’s actually gone, all we need is good news to use as propaganda and to justify us giving you the money in the first place’.

There is no official oversight or monitoring. Housing associations regulate themselves. No one in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems to give a damn as to whether or not billions of pounds of public funding are being properly spent.

Keep up the good work, Wynne.

*

‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ SAYS CYNGOR CEREDIGION PwC 

Someone else with whom I’m in contact down west tells me of a curious partnership that has developed between Cyngor Ceredigion and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). It seems the council has retained bean-counters PwC to identify areas where cuts can be made – for a fee of 16% of identified savings.

And as in neighbouring Carmarthenshire, openness and telling the public what you’re doing in their name comes very low down on the list of priorities, with things being stitched up at private meetings.

Though this report from the ‘Nazis’ Cambrian News is able to tell us that by late January the council had already paid PwC £963,630. If my maths is up to it, this must mean savings already of over £6m. (And this must be delicate or even dangerous work, because it looks as if the reporters need to use pseudonyms.)

When you come to think about it, it’s a bloody strange system. This company is paid by cuts it identifies. So let’s say Ceredigion spends £100m a year on education, PwC could argue that, ‘The little buggers have all got iPads and smart phones nowadays – let them get their education from Google and Wikipedia‘, and make themselves a quick £16m! I could do that!

Then again, maybe there’s a simple explanation for it all.

Cuts have been forced on our local authorities by the Labour regime in Cardiff docks, and every time cuts are announced rural – i.e. non-Labour – councils take the hit, with Labour-voting councils being protected from the worst.

Now it just so happens that PwC is a major donor to the Labour Party. This article from the Guardian (12.11.2014) explains that Labour received £600,000 of advice from PwC on forming its tax policies – from a company that specialises in tax avoidance schemes. This article from the New Statesman (19.02.2015) tells us that, apart from trade unions, PwC is Labour’s biggest donor.

Ceredigion PwC

I was surprised to find no mention of Ceredigion on the PwC website

As we all know, few individuals and no companies give large sums of money to a political party without expecting something in return. I guarantee that PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is no exception.

Can’t you just imagine the phone call from London to Cardiff: ‘Listen now, Carwell, PwC have been very generous to the party, so we’d like you to put some business their way, some out-of-way place where nobody’ll ask too many question. Got that?

Though that still might not explain why a non-Labour authority would agree to go along with this lunacy, so maybe the responsibility lies within Ceredigion. Can you help?

                                             ———————————————————————

Of course, none of our local authorities would need to cut services if the ‘Welsh’ Government wasn’t so profligate with it’s meagre resources; especially with the funding it showers on housing associations and the Third Sector, money that the ‘Welsh Government loses all interest in once it’s been handed over.

*

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus / Happy St. David’s Day

 

Jan 202016
 

You will recall that up until the end of last year I had this widget at the top of my sidebar, asking for signatures to a petition urging the ‘Welsh’ Government to intervene when chief executives get too powerful and take control of local authorities. That petition was ‘discussed’ yesterday by the Petitions Committee.

But before considering the reaction it received from the Committee, it might be worth you reading the petition, the letter responding to the petition from Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services, and my response to his response to my petition.

Here are those documents in PDF format and merged into a single document, so scroll down. Essentially, Andrews says, ‘Nothing to do with us, it’s up to councillors to rein in over-powerful chief executives’. To which I respond, ‘But what if they don’t do it, what then?’

Chief Executive petition combined

I had hoped to download a copy of the video of the meeting, to paste into this post, but apparently this is not allowed. So I can only offer you this link to the ‘discussion’ of my petition.

From his general demeanour it’s pretty obvious that the chairman, William Powell, a Liberal Democrat AM for the Mid and West Wales region, believes that the petition addresses a serious problem and should be given the attention it deserves . . . the other two members of the Committee clearly disagree, and can’t wait to get on to the next petition on roundabouts, though their reactions were revealing.

Joyce Watson, a Labour AM for Mid and West Wales did all the talking, and, boy, was her delivery revealing. She was hesitant, her voice cracked a couple of times, and she swivelled uncomfortably on her chair. As for what she actually said, it was nothing but paraphrasing what Leighton Andrews had written in his letter, about everything being put to rights in the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which is open for comments until February 15th.

I shall of course submit my suggestions, but I’m not optimistic. My reading of Leighton Andrews’ letter is that in the new legislation curbing the power of dictatorial chief executives will still be entrusted to the very councillors who allowed the problem to arise in the first place.

Joyce Watson applied the stun gun to the discussion with, “There is no way we can take this any further forward, and I would recommend closing it”. At which point a little voice could be heard, off camera, squeaking, “I agree”.

This thin and distant voice belonged to the other member of the Committee, Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion. Ms Jones had kept her head down throughout Watson’s stuttering monologue, riveted to the correspondence before her as if it revealed that Saunders Lewis had been identified as the man on the Grassy Knoll.

Then again, maybe she was just keeping her head down.

To his credit, William Powell tried to breathe life into the dying debate, “It (the petition) does raise some very serious issues” he said, before going to remind everyone that these problems have arisen in “certain councils” in Wales.

Which councils, exactly? Well, let me be frank – and surprise no one – by saying that when I decided to submit this petition I was thinking primarily of Carmarthenshire, with Pembrokeshire in the reign of Bryn Parry Jones not far from my thoughts.

Making the dismissive attitude of Joyce Watson rather surprising, with her being the regional AM for both Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. But as I say, she had obviously been briefed by her Labour superiors.

Equally odd was Elin Jones’ reaction, seeing as her constituency shares a border with both counties. In her case the lack of concern might be explained by the fact that Plaid Cymru is now leading the coalition in Carmarthenshire, and so her party may not want to rock the boat ahead of the May Assembly elections.

Petitions Committee

A mistake. For I suspect that in the run-up to the May elections Labour will try to capitalise, in both Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (which Plaid holds) and Llanelli (where Labour has a majority of just 80), on Plaid’s refusal to rein in Mark James and Meryl Gravell. I can see it now on the hoardings, and plastered over the 198 Llanelli – Carmarthen omnibus: Plaid Cymru – the new broom that refused to sweep!’. It’s what I’d do.

Another factor worth considering from Plaid’s perspective is that very soon after the May elections Plaid Cymru hopes to again be Labour’s little helper in a coalition. Or could Plaid’s refusal to restore democracy to Carmarthenshire be attributable to something else?

I ask because in the age of devolution we have seen a shadowy clique remove Dafydd Wigley, the party’s most successful leader ever. Then in 2007 the party rejected a deal that would have seen a Plaid First Minister lead a ‘rainbow coalition’. And now, Plaid has been gifted the chance to make a name for itself by cleaning up the most corrupt and undemocratic council in Wales, but it does nothing.

It’s almost as if there is, deep within the party, a malign and self-destructive force at work. A successful force, for I predict that Plaid Cymru will lose votes and seats in May, and might even end up as the fourth party in Wales, behind Labour, Conservatives and Ukip.

In the meantime, I shall, as I’ve said, submit my comments to those working on the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, and I urge you all to do the same. It would appear that political parties are not much interested in preserving or restoring local democracy, and so the responsibility falls to concerned individuals like us to remind them that it matters.

 

Jan 142016
 

In my post of November 24th, Wales, Colony of England, I mentioned multi-millionaire businessman Clive Hughes and his tribulations with Carmarthenshire County Council, due to that authority’s hostility towards his project for a biomass combined heat and power plant near Kidwelly.

In my follow-up post on December 1st, Meryl Gravell & Robin Cammish, Only in Carmarthenshire, I named Robin Cammish as Clive Hughes’ ‘nemesis’, and looked into Cammish’s business background, also his relationship with former council leader, Meryl Gravell, which seemed to explain him being appointed to the board of the Scarlets rugby region and then Pro Rugby Wales. Though his time at the latter body was short, he was forced to resign just before Christmas.

Since writing those pieces I have met with Clive Hughes, spoken with other people, done a little research, and I now understand even better that it wasn’t the council per se that caused Mr Hughes’ problems. The biomass plan was doomed because Clive Hughes fell foul of certain powerful individuals in Carmarthenshire County Council.

Carms trio

To understand what I’m referring to you must know something of the circumstances surrounding the local rugby club / region moving from its traditional home of Stradey Park to the new stadium, Parc y Scarlets, right next to the Parc Pemberton retail park. (And if you want to know why Llanelli town centre looks like an apocalyptic, post-nuclear wasteland, just look at the huge retail parks the county council has encouraged at Pemberton and Trostre.)

Council chief executive Mark James and sometime council leader Meryl Gravell enthusiastically supported the move from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and used the clout and funding of the local authority to ensure it happened. To the extent that the Scarlets have been kept afloat financially ever since by very generous treatment from the council. (For further details on this generosity I suggest you go to the blogs named here and search under ‘Scarlets’, ‘Stradey Park’ or ‘Parc y Scarlets’, Y Cneifiwr and Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more.)

So how does all this link with Clive Hughes? In a nutshell, Clive Hughes, a Carmarthenshire man, born and raised in Bethlehem, had supported Llanelli RFC all his life, he was a vice-president of the club . . . but he vociferously opposed the move away from Stradey Park. He became something of a fly in the ointment, an obstacle to county hall’s grand vision for the county’s premier sporting organisation and its largest town. By taking that position he made powerful enemies.

(This also explains how I met with Clive Hughes on New Year’s Day at the Liberty Stadium, for the Ospreys v Dragons game – he has now transferred his loyalty across the Loughor river.)

BACKGROUND & SUMMARY

When ‘regionalisation’ was introduced by the Welsh Rugby Union, through its then chief executive David Moffett, his original plan was for four regions, putatively and unimaginatively named North, South, East and West. (See panel below.)

WRU regions

Courtesy of Wikipedia (click to enlarge)

Basing the West region at Stradey Park was an odd decision which may have been an attempt to win over unenthusiastic Turks, but this arrangement was quickly overtaken by Swansea council’s decision to build a new 21,000 all-seater stadium at Morfa, for rugby and soccer. This, added to the proposed region’s geography, the outdated facilities at Stradey, and rumblings from Neath, meant that the new Swansea stadium would inevitably become home for the West region.

The news of the new stadium in Swansea, and its implications, served to evaporate further what little enthusiasm there was for the WRU’s grand vision among the power-brokers both at Stradey Park and on Jail Hill. It was bad enough that the town was losing the one name that took it to a wider world, but without the compensation of being home to the new entity there was little to recommend the region to those west of the Loughor.

And so Llanelli RFC decided – as did Cardiff – to reject the suggested amalgamation and become one of the so-called ‘stand-alone’ regions . . . which of course were not regions at all, just re-branded clubs. To its eternal shame the Welsh Rugby Union accepted this deception. Newport did something similar by unconvincingly re-naming itself the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Having burnt their bridges with the proposed region the club and the council came up with the plan for a new stadium, partly to promote the ‘Llanelli-is-a-region’ message and partly to thwart any future attempts at merger. The people of Carmarthenshire have been paying the price ever since for this panicky rush into a project that was never economically viable and, ironically, only ever sees a full house when the Ospreys visit.

*

And so it came to pass that Parc y Scarlets held its first game on November 15, 2008, when Llanelli (the club, not the region) fittingly played Cardiff (ditto). Over three years after the opening of the Liberty Stadium.

Earlier that same year, in June, Carmarthenshire Planning Committee saw Clive Hughes’ planning application for a biomass-powered CHP plant at the old Coedbach coal washery near Kidwelly.

Everything seemed to be proceeding just fine, there were no objections from the Environment Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales. The planning officers of Carmarthenshire council recommended approval . . . but then, in March 2009, and in what WalesOnline described as an “extraordinary U-turn” planning officers changed their minds, using the flimsiest of excuses. On March 19 the planning committee refused planning permission by 9 votes to 8.

Everyone I have spoken to believes that planning officials and councillors were ‘leaned on’, and that the ‘leaning’ was done by . . . Meryl Gravell had certainly opposed the plan and we can be fairly sure that she orchestrated the local opposition through Robin Cammish and the Coedbach Action Team. (Enquiries are ongoing into who paid the legal costs for the CAT.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the wrecking of the biomass project was ‘pay-back’ for Clive Hughes opposing the move to Parc y Scarlets (and associated retail ventures).

In the ITV Wales report above, uploaded to YouTube in September 2008, the reporter even says that Cammish formed CAT. It also establishes a) the linkage between Cammish and Gravell and b) the antipathy existing between Hughes and Gravell, who declined to appear in person. (But then, it’s usually best for the organ-grinder to stand back when the monkey has the crowd’s attention.)

If I’m right – and I’m not alone in suspecting this – then ensuring that Clive Hughes’ Coedbach project failed was an exercise in pure vindictiveness. Those pursuing this vendetta were quite happy to see the area denied the jobs and other benefits the project would have brought so that they could experience the very personal pleasure of getting the better of a man who had dared challenge them.

Perhaps realising that the “rabble” might guess the truth about Coedbach Meryl Gravell tried to cover it up by putting forward her vision for the area, her alternative strategy for jobs.

SUMMARY

By challenging Carmarthenshire Council Clive Hughes guaranteed that there would be a price to pay. That price was the scuppering of his biomass plant at Coedbach.

To further pursue the vendetta against Clive Hughes hit-man Cammish also opposed Clive Hughes’ biomass plant planned for Swansea docks. Then, in the hope of pretending that he had become a campaigner against biomass rather than the tool of James and Gravell, we saw the farce of Cammish opposing a biomass scheme in Bristol! The judge at the judicial review into this project quite rightly told him it was no concern of a group based in west Wales. 

In return for his loyalty Cammish was said to have had “the run of County Hall”, and was putting himself about as an ‘advisor’ to the council – as the video below from 2011 clearly suggests he was (go to 22:06) – though Mark James was forced to publicly deny this relationship.

As a reward for services rendered Cammish was placed by the council on the board of the Scarlets in September 2013. Mutual back-scratching of the kind with which we are all too familiar.

If the first video suggested a link between Gravell and Cammish then the second video should leave no one in any doubt that the link blossomed into a strong working relationship.

*

At 3 minutes into the first video Meryl Gravell is quoted as saying that the economic future of the area lies with “leisure and tourism”. I have written about tourism many times, this post from October last year should give you an idea of where I stand.

Tourism is not an economic strategy, it is the absence of an economic strategy, or even the antithesis of an economic strategy. It is the ‘industry’ of last resort. It is what politicians pretend to believe in when they have run out of ideas on how to provide real jobs.

Which means that Meryl Gravell is offering the people of Carmarthenshire jobs that are low skill, low pay, and often seasonal – because she and others have no greater vision for the area than tourism, or else throwing grants at yet another retail development in Cross Hands promoted by a company so opaque as to be almost invisible, or maybe granting planning permission for untraceable shell companies to build unneeded homes on flood plains.

But then, when you conspire, for personal, vindictive reasons to deny genuine employment to the people you claim to represent, you must come up with an alternative, no matter how implausible. And nothing is more implausible, or insulting, than the suggestion that tourism is the economic salvation of Wales.

What a way to run a council! What a way to run a country!

Dec 012015
 

After posting my previous piece on colonialism, and using as an example the thwarted biomass plans of Welsh businessman Clive Hughes, I received some very interesting feedback naming Hughes’ nemesis as Robin Andrew Cammish. ‘Who him?’ you demand. Well, make yourself comfortable and settle back for a quite remarkable story.

Robin Cammish 1

First of all, read this Llanelli Star report from October 2012 in which Cammish explains how he got involved in the campaign against Clive Hughes’ proposed biomass power station at Coedbach, and how he became chairman of the group opposing the plan. Note that in the second paragraph it says, ” . . . the 58-year-old, who leads global purchasing and supply chain consultancy QP group”. So naturally, I checked up on the QP Group, and found that it had liabilities in excess of assets to the tune of £100,000 when it was struck off in June 2009. Which means that at the time the Llanelli Star piece was written, the QP Group had been defunct for over three years.

Or perhaps the Star meant QP Group (France) Ltd (based in Aldershot!). Or QP ES Group SA of Luxembourg. How about QP Group Sas, with an address in central Paris. Or maybe it’s QP Group Gmbh in Germany. There are even QP companies in the USA and Australia! So take your pick. In fact, Cammish has been involved with over thirty companies, some of which I shall explore below. (Note that the address given for him by Company Check is in Birmingham.)

QP companies

Maybe I’m being a little unfair to Cammish, it’s so easy to get confused when one has so many companies using the QP name (an abbreviation for quality and performance). Perhaps what he told the Star was that he ran Quality and Performance in Development Ltd (Co. No. 03391150), which seems to be the main vehicle for his business activities and currently enjoys a net worth of £944,053.

Though Quality and Performance in Development Ltd threw up another mystery. Cammish’s address is Llandyri House, between Kidwelly and Trimsaran, but the address given for his main company is Coomb Mansion, Llangynog, a truly ugly nineteenth-century ‘mansion’ that has served as an approved school and a Cheshire home for ex-servicemen. In addition to Robin Cammish the other directors of Quality and Performance in Development Ltd are his partner, Pauline Bowers, and a Craig Thomas Henry Warrington of Wokingham, in Berkshire.

Naturally, I got to wondering who owns Coomb Mansion, so here is the title document. Coomb Mansion was bought by Robin Cammish for £200,000, 06.11.2012. I wonder what plans he has for this grotesque pile? And will he get planning permission? Read on for the likely answer to the second of those questions. (You’ll note that Coomb Mansion is in Cammish’s name alone, whereas Llandyri House is in both his and Bowers’ names.)

Cammish and Warrington have collaborated elsewhere, with Summit House Close Estate Management Ltd, also in Berkshire, Co. No. 08959266, Incorporated 26.03.2014 and apparently sold on 09.10.2014. Incorporated on the same date and from the same address was Summit House Close Flat Management Ltd, Co. No. 08959172. Cammish and Warrington resigned 24.09.2014 when five new directors took over.

Though I find it strange that Warrington is named as a director for both companies but Cammish appears as QPB Ltd, Co. No. 06687464. Seeing as Warrington is a long-serving director of QPB, why is he listed separately; or should the question be, why isn’t Cammish listed under his name, rather than the company’s? QPB was Incorporated 02.09.2008 with a debt of £1.3m, presumably mortgages, paid off with the sale of the two Summit House companies.

We shall return to Robin Cammish’s many companies anon, but for the time being I want to explore how successfully this man has put himself about in his adopted community, how he has found favour with local power-brokers, and how favour and patronage has resulted in some remarkable appointments.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To recap . . . As the Llanelli Star told us, Cammish began to make himself known in Carmarthenshire when he got involved with the protest against Clive Hughes’ plan for a biomass plant in the Gwendraeth valley. Those protesting against this project called themselves the Coedbach Action Team.

Though there was also a company set up, Incorporated 01.08.2008, called Coedbach Action Team Ltd, Co. No. 06662006. The sole director until the company was struck off in December 2014 was Robin Cammish. This company never had any assets and existed only on paper . . . but for what purpose? Was it for legal reasons?

I strongly suggest that you scroll down in this judicial review document from September 2010 to paragraph 18, and paragraph 19, in which we read, “Mr Cammish says that the Claimant (Coedbach Action Team Ltd) does not have the resources to fund its own costs in this judicial review and to pay the costs of an opposing party if it is unsuccessful. That is at odds with a letter sent to the solicitors for the Interested Party (Developer) dated 21 July 2010 in which the Claimant’s solicitor asserted that it did have the funds to pay the costs of successful parties if the claim for judicial review failed.”

Which suggests to me that in order to secure the judicial review Cammish said he / the group had the money needed to meet any costs, but when push came to shove he / the group claimed to be skint. Draw your own conclusions.

In fact, I strongly suggest that you read the document to the end. Essentially, Cammish was told to piss off because a biomass plant at Avonmouth had nothing to do with, and would have no impact upon, a bunch of people living in Carmarthenshire. They seem to have escaped payment of costs due to having formed a private limited company, with Cammish as its sole director. But why were they fighting this project in Bristol anyway?

Kidwelly map

The biomass plant that made a star out of Cammish was planned for a location not far from Pembrey airport, and only a few miles from Ffos Las racetrack. Now keen watchers of Carmarthenshire County Council will be aware that this area is dear to the heart of Meryl Gravell, Mam to the Independent group on the council, former leader of the council, and right-hand woman to and mouthpiece for the man who runs Carmarthenshire, Mark James, the chief executive.

Which makes this the appropriate time to give some background information about this area and those entertaining grand ideas – who said ‘grandiose’? – for this part of Carmarthenshire.

UPDATE 15.12.2015: I have been directed to a film made for HTV in 2008 featuring both Clive Hughes and Robin Cammish.

Meryl Gravell – who does not appear – is quoted as saying that the area’s economic future lies with “leisure and tourism projects”, which as we know, will provide very few worthwhile jobs for locals, whereas Clive Hughes wants to create jobs for locals.

Cammish, who, it could be argued, has retired to the area, represents a type we find all over rural Wales nowadays. His rural idyll is more important than jobs for those who belong here.

It is alleged that during the filming of this programme Cammish claimed that Hughes owed £18m to his accountants. This was not broadcast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Her affection for this area means that Meryl Gravell will tolerate nothing jeopardising her grand vision, be the threat a biomass power station, an opencast coal operation or a vast solar energy complex – against all of which Robin Cammish has taken up the cudgels in recent years. Only developments approved of by Meryl Gravell are welcomed, or allowed.

One such enhancement in the pipeline is Robbie Savage’s luxury hotel at Ffos Las, though earlier this year he had to apply for a planning extension, which makes many locals sceptical that it will ever be built. Then there are the executive homes in open country to further improve the Gwendraeth’s cachet. Though quite how either project will benefit locals is matter for conjecture.

Llanelli news with James story Wednesday 19th November 2014 Meryl Gravell with her new bookFor Pembrey airport, there was – and may still be – a plan to turn it into some kind of international duty-free business hub. As it was worded on the airport website until quite recently, Pembrey was “one of the few Airports in the United Kingdom that has 5000 acres of adjoining land available for joint venture with very little planning and environmental constraint”. (Unkind souls might suggest that ‘very little planning and environmental constraint’ could apply to the whole county.)

What’s certain is that by 2011 Cammish had his feet under the table with Meryl Gravell, literally, as this film shows (at 23 minutes in), where we see Cammish discussing with Meryl how Pembrey airport could be improved, and made more profitable. A carefully rehearsed bit of play-acting it may be, but it nevertheless tells us that Cammish was by this stage ‘in’ with those who dispense patronage, funding and planning consent thereabouts.

As was proven a few years later when on 06.09.2013 he was appointed a director of the Scarlets, one of the three vanity projects accepted by the Welsh Rugby Union as ‘regions’. Most people will know that the Scarlets are effectively bankrupt and largely kept afloat by Carmarthenshire County Council writing off debts and doing the Scarlets countless other favours. The most recent figure I can find gives the Scarlets a net worth of £-4,164,241.

Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ Board is quite remarkable. For when we look at who has served as directors we see some great players of the past, Phil Bennett, Derek Quinnell and the late Ray Gravell, these supplemented by local worthies brought up at Stradey Park. By comparison, Cammish, the Englishman who has lived in the area for a few years, and may know nothing about rugby (certainly little about Llanelli), sticks out like a sore thumb. The only explanation is that he was appointed by the council . . . or rather, Meryl Gravell.

Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ board may have been surprising, but what came next was almost unbelievable. Just a year after being imposed on the Scarlets by Meryl, he was appointed chairman of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), since renamed Pro Rugby Wales, the body representing the Ospreys and the three vanity projects. An incredible promotion for an unknown after just one year at the Scarlets. What possible experience or understanding of Welsh rugby could he possess to qualify him for the RRW job?

UPDATE 23.12.2015: I’m hearing that Robin Cammish has today resigned as chairman of Pro Rugby Wales. Here is his e-mail of resignation.

Note that it was sent just a day after a meeting of Pro Rugby Wales at which it became clear he was being given the old heave-ho. Note in particular the reference to PRW wanting an “independent chairman”. So why wasn’t Cammish considered independent?

Whatever the answer to that, this is good news and it could mark the start of Cammish being exposed for the bullshitter he surely is. But it still leaves the concern that this man is dangerously close to the centre of power in Carmarthenshire. He must be removed.

Gentlemen,

As a follow up (sic) to the PRW Ltd board meeting on 22nd December 2015, I offer you my resignation as Chairman of Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, and I would propose to make that effective from 7 January 2016, which will enable to me complete some previously arranged meetings associated with the Welsh Rugby cost down and revenue up opportunity analysis.

I fully understand your desire to have an independent chairman of PRW Ltd , and during my short tenure as Chairman I have worked diligently and with complete integrity to ensure that I have acted objectively and impartially in all aspects of the PRW role when discharging my responsibilities and conducting myself on behalf of PRW and the Welsh regions.

It is ironic that having worked hard in the background to identify the collaborative opportunities across the 4 Welsh regions and the WRU, which if implemented, has the potential to deliver £+1million in cost down and revenue up in 2016-7, it is clear from our discussions on 22nd December that I do not have your full support as Chairman of PRW Ltd.

As I’m sure you will understand this position leaves me with no alternative but to offer you my resignation.

I am, and will remain, a very strong advocate and supporter of having 4 strong financially sustainable high performing Welsh regions, and as we discussed on the 22nd, previous management in the WRU created a set of relationships and behaviours which we described more associated with being at war. This is now changing to a much more collaborative environment, which has significant implications for the way that you lead and manage the regions affairs going forward.

Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year

Regards

ROBIN CAMMISH

Chairman Cadeirydd

Pro Rugby Wales

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What else has Cammish been up to since he first graced us with his presence? Well, for one thing, he joined forces with Julian Ruck, the Welsh-hater who was recently badly injured when hit by a car. They teamed up to run an e-literature festival in 2011 that flopped badly, some suggesting its failure was due to it being held at Ffos Las racecourse, rather than somewhere easier for visitors to reach by train and bus. But then, by 2011, Cammish was best buddies with Meryl Gravell, and Ffos Las is her baby, to be nourished with all manner of bookings. Or it could have been the combination of Ruck and Cammish that ensured local attendance was zero. Among those booked to perform at this disaster were the Three Welsh Tenors.

Read Ruck’s response to the Tenors when they asked to be paid. He came out with one anti-Welsh barb after another, ‘. . . bastions of Welsh language birdsong . . . my insistence on the reduction of Welsh language songs . . . Welsh hymns and nationalist rugby songs . . . one of them is a North Walian (sic) . . . go and sing for your money . . . rugby ditties . . . a tenner for each of you. A tenner for a tenor!’ What an odious little rucker he is, easy to understand why he’s banned from his local Spar store.

I wonder if Robin Cammish found this anti-Welsh diatribe funny, did they perhaps share a chortle or two? Whether he laughed or not, for a man trying to ingratiate himself with his new Welsh neighbours Cammish made a serious misjudgement by getting mixed up with the odious Jools. Though if you hurry you can buy some of his books through Amazon for . . . a penny! (Postage £2.80.) What am I saying! There’s no need to hurry at all, they’ll still be there in 2025.

Ruck on Amazon

When he’s not consorting with yet another Labour Welsh-hater Cammish gets himself into scrapes, either through indiscretion or else an overweening desire to promote himself. Here are a couple of examples of the latter.

The first comes from 2000 and an article entitled ‘Man on a Mission’, to be found on a site called Supply Management. It’s such a shameless puff that it could only have been written by Cammish himself. As he modestly puts it when talking of how his company has grown, “The site is the second that the consultancy has occupied. The first quickly became too small, not long after Cammish set up the company as a one-man band five years ago. He quickly found that he needed to take on more consultants and since then the firm has doubled in size every nine months or so. It now has offices in four other countries – the US, France, Germany and Australia – and employs more than 100 consultants. It’s long list of clients includes Viagra-producer Pfitzer, Cable and Wireless, Cathay Pacific, Caterpillar, BT, Carlsberg and Glaxo Wellcome.” He employs more than “100 consultants”!

I hate to sound pedantic, but the name of the massive pharmaceutical company is Pfizer, not Pfitzer as Cammish spells it. You think he’d know the name of the company that is one of his “doubling in size every nine months or so” empire’s major clients.

Here’s another OTT self-encomium from the QP Group UK website. This website is current because if you click on the History tab you’ll find, “In 2014, we partnered with Procurement Academy to provide a world-class blended learning Procurement offering to the market.” Very impressive, until you remember that the QP Group Ltd, of Llanydri House, Llanydri, Kidwelly, was struck off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-100,000. So why is the website still being updated as if QP Group UK was a going concern? Is this another example of the ‘confusion’ arising from having so many companies sharing the QP element in their names?

Read the two puffs together and just look at the companies he claims to have worked for or ‘advised’, they are some of the biggest companies in the world, which is no more than we should expect from Cammish. On the QP Group UK website go to Training > Overview and scroll down to the ‘Testimonials’. Do you believe those are genuine testimonials?

As for his indiscretions, these seem to be spawned by the same devil, Ego, that takes control when he attempts to write anything about himself. He has to exaggerate his own importance, his contacts, what he knows. After the famous dialogue with Meryl at Pembrey International it is rumoured that he was describing himself as an ‘advisor’ to the council, and Mark James had to put the record straight.

Then, before a London audience, he accused Clive Hughes of using bribery to promote his biomass project. What’s more, he claimed to have been told this by “the council”. Unfortunately all this was recorded, and while Cammish himself refused to say any more, Mark James, Carmarthenshire’s chief executive, was forced to issue a statement, part of which said, “I am perturbed to hear what Mr Cammish says. I am not aware that the council has made any such comments to Mr Cammish. As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council and I am therefore not in a position to control or question what he might say.”

I find it intriguing that Mark James says, “As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council”. ‘As you are aware!’ Does this refer to the previous such statement I suggested above? Even though Robin Cammish may not have been on the county payroll, there’s no question that he was close to Meryl Gravell and, according to one well-connected source, “had the run of County Hall”.

Ironically, it was Cammish who took legal action against Hughes, alleging that the Welsh businessman had suggested Cammish’s business record was less than spotless. (Surely not!) Cammish won, but I’m told Clive Hughes is refusing to pay.

Another avenue explored, perhaps with the encouragement of La Gravell, was the Kidwelly Heritage Trust, Charity Number 1153260, formed by Robin Cammish 15.08.2011. When I read what this lot planned to do – take over the Town Hall (owned by the County Council) and turn it into ‘community space’ – it was like deja vu all over again. This piece from the Llanelli Star (August, 2013) shows the Trust members standing a respectful distance behind Cammish while in the blurb the man himself mentions what has been done in Llandovery as one of his inspirations.

What happened in Llandovery was that a bunch of English drifters saw the chance to pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money (including salaries and pensions for themselves) to create ‘community space’ not for locals but for them and their friends to hang out drinking Fair Trade coffee, swapping tales of Kathmandu while listening to Joni Mitchell and planning the next organic Morris dancing festival. Scams like this are happening all over Wales. I wrote about the Llandovery racket in The Impoverishment of Wales 26.08.2014 (scroll down to ‘YMCA Wales’), and more fully in Ancestral Turf 02.09.2014.

I’m reasonably certain that this was the path Cammish intended to follow – he was certainly looking for funding – but then came the call from Parc y Scarlets, soon followed by promotion to Regional Rugby Wales. Cammish jacked in the Kidwelly Heritage Trust Ltd in April 2015. The company, No 07741052, struggles along with just two directors and £40 in the bank.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let us return now to Robin Cammish the businessman. As I said earlier, he has been involved with over thirty companies. Most of these have been liquidated, struck off, dissolved, often with big debts. None more so than the company I mentioned earlier, the one referred to in the screen capture, Hacer Consulting Ltd.

In my years of blogging – and indeed in the years before I started blogging – I have made many enquiries into assorted individuals’ business dealings, some of these individuals have been absolute rogues, but never have I come across a company like Hacer, that started life in 2003 with a net worth of £-762,000, then rose to the giddy heights of a net worth of £6,521,00 in 2005, before plunging to a net worth of £-18,651.00 in 2006. Hacer was struck-off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-18,643,595. (See panel below, click to enlarge.)

Hacer Consulting Ltd

As you might expect, I paid for and downloaded the accounts for Hacer, and for the period when the company’s fortunes deteriorated by £25m, leaving the company valued at £-18.6m. You’ll find the accounts here. It seems to have been a company with no assets, a company that just shuffled shares around. I would appreciate feedback. An incomplete list of the companies he has been involved with can be found here. Check them out for yourself.

The only companies listed with Company Check as active are: Earls Removals Ltd, Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, QPB Ltd and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Of these, the only company that is his, and worth anything, is Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Here are the abbreviated and unaudited accounts up to September 2014. They tell us that the ‘assets’ of Cammish’s sole viable company are made up of debts. In other words, debts that were either bought or inherited and will probably never be paid. But in the crazy world of UK business these count as ‘assets’ and can be used to misrepresent the financial health of a company

UPDATE 04.12.2015: QPB Ltd is being wound up. “First notification of strike-off action in London Gazette (Section 652)” on 12.11.2015. Which leaves Cammish with just two companies. The removals firm in Brum and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd, a company whose ‘assets’ are made up of debts unlikely to ever be paid.

Other than that, what have we learnt about Robert Cammish? I could be generous and dismiss him as a bullshitter, because he certainly is a bullshitter, but there might be more to him than that.

I don’t entirely agree with Clive Hughes that Cammish having so many failed companies to his (and his partner, Pauline Bowers’) name is in itself damning, but this pattern might suggest a ‘business’ that most people would find unpalatable.

The value of Cammish’s companies seem to consist largely of share issues and debts; nothing is produced and there is little to show in the way of assets. He advertises himself as someone who ‘advises’ other companies, he even lists blue chip multinationals like Cathay Pacific, SmithKline Beecham, you can believe that or not, but what does he really do?

When I asked someone more au fait with such matters to look into Cammish’s affairs his description of Cammish’s activities involved the use of a large, scavenging bird. Alternatively, a woman paid to disrobe in public.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Whatever the truth of that suggestion, I am perhaps more concerned with Cammish’s relationship with Carmarthenshire County Council. I think we have established that he came to the attention of then council leader Meryl Gravell through his opposition to Clive Hughes’ biomass project for Coedbach. Cammish then further endeared himself to Meryl by opposing other unwanted developments. Was there a quid pro quo?

What did Cammish get in return for acting as Meryl’s rottweiler when she pointed him at anything threatening to sully her vision for the Gwendraeth? I think we can assume that the appointment to the board of the Scarlets was one ‘biscuit’. Maybe Meryl even believed Cammish’s bullshit and thought he might be able to staunch the flow of money out the gates of Parc y Scarlets.

Then there’s Coomb Mansion. No sane person would have bought that Hammer House of Horror, and taken on the expense of maintenance and upkeep, without clear promises of planning permission, clearance for change of use, and who knows what else. It will be interesting to see what Cammish does with Coomb Mansion.

Then there’s the film I linked to, that excruciatingly staged ‘discussion’ between Meryl and Cammish at Pembrey International Airport. Cammish was claiming at that time to be an ‘advisor’ to the council, he is said to have “had the run of County Hall”, he was recorded in London saying that he had been told by the council that Clive Hughes was bribing people in order to facilitate his biomass project.

All this tells me that Carmarthenshire County Council, or certainly, Meryl Gravell, fell for Cammish’s shameless self-promotion and the fanciful stories of his glittering business record. Given that she is the chief executive’s representative on earth how much confidential council business has she involved Cammish in? How many council decisions has Cammish influenced? What is his relationship today with the Council?

And yet, there is something so quintessentially Carmarthenshire about this story. A smooth-talking stranger turns up, no one knows anything about him – so they accept what he tells them about himself! – and before you know it he’s got the key to County Hall, and those running the council are hanging on his every word! Sod background checks! Ignore probity! Bugger democracy!

There must come a point when even the size of Mark James’ redundancy package is no longer a deterrent to the ‘Welsh’ Government taking Carmarthenshire County Council into special measures. God knows they’ve done it with less cause in other areas.

Sep 222015
 

CARDIGAN CASTLE

Not a lot to report from the Gang of Five and I probably won’t do another post until I get something important to report. But if I am silent then you mustn’t think I’m ignoring Timms and the gels; no, siree, it’s because I’ve decided to approach the problem from a different angle.

Though one thing that does merit mention, something now obvious beyond any doubt, is the disturbing fact that those who have been sacked, forced out, or ‘encouraged to leave’, such as Director Cris Tomos, Eduction Officer Rhian Medi, and others, are all local and Welsh. Those taken on in this period, from Facilities Officer Sue Lewis to the caretaker and the gardener, are all English. The pattern in the employment policy of the Castle is now unmistakable – Welsh out, English in.

Of all the things going wrong at Castell Aberteifi this might be the ugliest and most reprehensible. And yet, local politicians will stay schtum, and the only criticism we’re likely to hear will be levelled against anyone complaining against this discrimination, as the Cambrian News cranks up the ‘outrage’ to direct its venom at the ‘racists’ asking for Welsh people to be treated fairly.

*

EQUINOX

On a lighter note, while visiting the website of Equinox, the Castle’s PR outfit, I was surprised to see a photo containing David Phillips, the man overthrown last year from his position of leader of Swansea council. The Equinox picture is of one of the company’s clients, the Swansea Bay City region project, though it’s at least a year old (see below), as Phillips was also given the heave-ho from the board of the city region outfit. (He’s the one in the centre, under the England flag.)

Equinox Phillips

Predictably, the board has among its members the leaders of the four local authorities involved, but strangely, in the case of Carmarthenshire, and only Carmarthenshire, we find a second representative. And who might that be? Meryl Gravell of course. Can anyone offer a suggestion as to why Carmarthenshire, but not Swansea (with its greater population) or any of the other councils, should have two representatives?

Ere his downfall I regularly chronicled Phillips’ deeds and utterances on this blog (just use the Search box atop the sidebar); indeed, I even gave him a nickname. In fact, I’m almost missing him, for he provided the citizenry of Swansea with hours of harmless fun. Such as going out in public, in daylight, in a red duffle coat? I repeat, a red duffle coat. Not even the Celtic scarf could save him from the fashion police.

In the duffle coat picture I’ve linked to, and on the extreme right, we can see acolyte and protégé Councillor John Charles Bayliss, one of the students Labour had to recruit to compensate for the party’s failure to find local candidates who could write their own name without biting off the tip of their tongue. After a few years of being a professional councillor Bayliss has at last found gainful employment, as an ‘account executive’ with PR outfit the Remarkable Group.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to councillors earning an honest crust away from the council chamber. Indeed, it can be viewed as a good thing, otherwise we’d be lumbered with councils made up of the retired, the unemployable and the permanently sick (as has often been the case with Labour groups). No, the problem arises over the kind of work they do, and whether they might have been employed in the hope they can swing decisions to the advantage of their employers’ clients.

Not that I am for one minute suggesting that this is why the Remarkable Group recruited Councillor Bayliss – heaven forfend! – but I cannot help noticing that among his new employer’s clients we find many companies raking in the loot from wind farms, solar complexes and other activities that usually face local opposition and often struggle to gain planning consent. And as it says on John Boy’s Linkedin profile, his employer provides, “communications support for clients across England and Wales navigating the complex planning application process”.

Bayliss Remarkable

Which is a load of old bollocks. Because the big companies that are Remarkable’s clients employ lawyers and planning experts who understand planning law better than most councillors; what they’re really looking for is an extra advantage from having ‘someone on the inside’. So, without downplaying his undoubted abilities, I think it’s reasonable to assume that John Charles Bayliss would never have landed the job with the Remarkable Group had he not been a member of the party controlling Swansea council. Moving on, but not far, in any sense . . .

*

GARETH LODWIG WARDELL

To save you scratching your head, or Googling, he was the Labour MP for the Swansea constituency of Gower from 1982 until 1997.

Wardell is the son of legendary Gwendraeth barber Jack Wardell, but he himself resisted the temptation to offer customers ‘Something for the weekend’ and took himself off to the London School of Economics before getting a gullible electorate to vote for him. Curiously, I could only find four photographs of Wardell online, and all are marked ‘Copyright Victor Patterson’, a Belfast photographer! So that’s why you’re not getting a mugshot. (Though you’re not missing much!) In fact, there’s little information of any kind about Wardell on the internet, unless you’re prepared to dig. Which I enjoy!

So what is he doing nowadays? Well, here’s an example. Swansea council’s planning committee recently considered an application for 14,970 solar panels in the Cockett Valley. The application had been made in the name of Renewable Developments (Wales) Ltd, run by one Huw Davies, a former fixer for the late Bryn Llewellyn, of Abergelli Farm, Felindre, on the outskirts of Swansea, who was a self-made multi-millionaire in haulage and small coal mines.

(Having mentioned Abergelli Farm, it’s probably worth adding that Davies is planning a 299Mw gas-fired power station there that will – it’s argued – complement the Swansea tidal lagoon. This is being promoted by Abergelli Power, which seems to be acting in concert with Millbrook Power, which is in turn a subsidiary of Watt Power Ltd of Edinburgh.)

As you might expect, the local residents objected to the solar scam scheme, partly because the Cockett Valley is a ‘green wedge’ in an increasingly built up area. Their councillor, Ann Cook, who sat on the planning committee, conscientiously represented the wishes of her constituents by objecting to the planning application. In fact, at the July 14th planning committee meeting most Labour councillors on the planning committee voted against the application.

But by the time the planning application was reconsidered on August 11th the situation had changed dramatically. The Labour councillors trooped into the meeting holding each other’s hands and all bar one voted for the solar rip-off, while Ann Cook, the local councillor, was allowed / instructed to feign sickness rather than turn up and risk losing her (and Labour’s) seat by voting in favour of something her ward was vehemently against.

At this second meeting applicant Huw Davies was allowed to address the committee. Sitting alongside him, glaring at the assembled councillors, was Gareth Wardell, even though he had no obvious connection with the application. He certainly doesn’t seem to be on the company’s books.

I’ve already mentioned the lack of photographs of Wardell, and then there’s his Wikipedia entry, which is skeletal. Though a little digging did put flesh on the bones. For example, I found this on a Bloomberg page, which lists Wardell as “Energy Advisor – Planning” to an outfit called the Camborne Energy Group Ltd. When I checked Camborne Energy on Company Check I was confronted with about a dozen companies of that name, at the same Cardiff address, and all marked “dissolved”. Though there is a company in Bridgend called Camborne Energy Investments (10) Ltd, described as “active”, but does no trading! Who starts up so many companies, to do nothing? And why?

Another company with which Wardell is, or was, linked is 3C Energy. Now this may or may not be an Irish company, it certainly had an address in Dublin. The panel below (click to enlarge) is taken from a cached version of the site because all links to 3C websites are broken. Note again, Wardell’s usefulness is made clear – his ability to get planning permission.

Wardell Advisor

As with Camborne Energy Investments Ltd, we find multiple identities for 3C Energy. The only one of which that appears to be trading, 3C Renewable Energy Investments Ltd, is based in Cardiff and has a net worth of £-86,195. At 11 Oaklands Road, Bridgend, the same address as one of the Camborne companies, we find 3C Energy Developments (1) Ltd. And you will not be surprised to learn that we find the same man mentioned as director of both, Jonathan David Townend. But since June 26th, we also find Wardell as a director. The companies Townend has been involved with deserve a post on their own, but who is he?

I have argued for many years that the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party is corrupt to its core. It’s members as venal and selfish as those of any party the bruvvers and sissters condemn. What you have just read is, perhaps, another example of that venality.

Without wishing to unduly excite his lawyers it’s pretty clear that Gareth Wardell advertises himself as a kind of gun for hire. A man who, for a price, will use his influence within the Labour Party to get planning permission for the rogues inhabiting the renewables sector, parasites feeding off the public purse who, in truth, have no more concern for the environment than I have for the well-being of the Labour Party.

What Wardell does may be legal, then again it may not. Perhaps it depends where the line is drawn between lobbying and exerting undue pressure in order to influence planning and other decisions for the material gain of those exerting the pressure. Where Wardell appears to be clever is in having few if any direct involvements with the projects for which he’s lobbying. Take the Cockett Valley solar farm, he seems to have no official or registered connection with the applicant, so why was he ‘phoning and in other ways applying pressure on Labour councillors, especially the ward councillor?

Wardell’s influence can obviously swing things in Swansea, but how far does that influence reach? Can he affect decisions made by the Notional Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government? Whatever the answers, this little tale, this potted biography, is an indictment of the planning system, the political system, and the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party.

*

TERRY MATTHEWS

When the unlamented David Phillips was overthrown in Swansea he also lost his role as chairman of the Swansea Bay City Region consortium, though at the time he seemed to think he could carry on with the city region role. Others clearly had different ideas. He was replaced by Sir Terry Matthews, usually described as ‘Wales’ richest man’ or ‘Wales’ most successful entrepreneur’. (‘Entrepreneur’, a word for which there is no Welsh equivalent, by the way.)

I’ve never been too sure who exactly appointed Matthews, was it the members of the consortium, or the ‘Welsh’ Government? Recent statements by Matthews only add to my confusion.

Speaking last week at a question and answer session held at Trinity St. David University’s Carmarthen campus Matthews declared that he is “in favour of Carmarthenshire branding itself as region of Cardiff to boost the area’s economy”! Carmarthenshire, remember, is to the west of Swansea, and at the nearest point is over 50 miles from Cardiff, the county council is a member of the Swansea Bay city region, yet Matthews is telling Carmarthenshire to link itself with Cardiff! Then, when asked by a student how Carmarthenshire could compete with big cities, Matthews’ response was “You can cheat”!

Terry Matthews

And Matthews has form when it comes to advising people to lie, and be “shifty”. Around the same time he told business leaders in Gwent to tell people they’re based in Cardiff. Here’s a response to that suggestion in the form of a letter published in the South Wales Guardian.

Matthews is supposed to be heading the Swansea Bay City Region project, yet seems more concerned with promoting Cardiff, which makes me even more suspicious of his appointment. For I have regularly argued that the Swansea Bay City Region was added as an afterthought in order to disguise the fact that the Cardiff City region was all that really mattered to the ‘Welsh’ Government. Which makes me suspect that it was the ‘Welsh’ Government that appointed Matthews, perhaps to ensure that the Swansea Bay City Region isn’t too successful, and doesn’t interfere with Cardiff’s ambitions. Certainly, that’s the only interpretation to draw from the man’s bizarre statements.

But, for a minute, let’s listen to Matthews, let’s take his advice ad absurdum. If what he advises for Carmarthenshire, Swansea and the Valleys is credible, then why doesn’t he suggest that Cardiff brand itself as part of Bristol, after all, Bristol is a much more attractive and famous city? Why stop there – why shouldn’t every city from Plymouth to Inverness pretend to be part of London? ‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, Cardiff’s on the up, getting a lot of positive publicity from major sporting events being held in the city, such as the 2017 Champions League final.

OK . . . let’s consider that for a minute. It is generally agreed that the greatest final of all time was in 1960, when the great Real Madrid team of Puskas, di Stefano, Ghento and the rest beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7 – 3 before 127,621 fans. That game was played at Hampden Park, Glasgow. How much did Glasgow really benefit from that in hard, economic terms? The same could be asked of more recent venues, cities such as Athens (1983), Seville (1986), Istanbul (2005), Lisbon (2014). Like Glasgow, all great cities, but I think someone’s over-egging it to suggest that a few hours of television exposure will have investors rushing, and ‘swarms’ of people wanting to settle in any city hosting a major sporting event.

Matthews gravell

Though if there is some truth in this, then Swansea is obviously getting more regular and wholly positive global exposure from the Swans playing in the Premier League. All Swans’ games are televised around the world, with massive audiences when they play one of the ‘big’ clubs. And what’s more, the name ‘Swansea’ is inescapable, it’s visible from the score to the players’ shirts. By comparison, when people view the 2017 Champions League final they’ll only be interested in the two teams, not that it’s taking place in Cardiff.

Clearly, a lot of nonsense is spouted by the Cardiff propaganda machine (otherwise known as the ‘Welsh media’) which tries to justify the disproportionate investment and expenditure in Cardiff. Yet this, as the letter-writer to the South Wales Guardian pointed out, is the real problem. It is a dangerous and anti-national strategy that risks alienating other parts of the country, and poses the very real danger that large parts, especially in the north, will identify even more strongly with coterminous areas of England.

Devolution should mean nation building, not favouring one city over all other parts of the country. It’s about time those clowns down Cardiff docks, and the civil servants who manipulate them, realised that the strategies pursued since 1999 are dividing not uniting us. (Though from the perspective of the civil servants, answering to London, maybe this is the strategy.) The areas that were poor in 1999 are relatively poorer today, compared with Cardiff, and almost all other parts of Europe.

Wales needs a strategy to bring us together; the south east, the north, the Green Desert, and of course the Swansea Bay area, where those involved in the city region project might start asking themselves whether Terry “region of Cardiff” Matthews is the right man for the job.

Aug 062015
 

A Guest Post by ‘Blodyn Tatws’

(Illustrations supplied by ‘Green Fingers’ Jac showing some of the gems you might encounter at the Garden)

The National Botanic Garden of Wales germinated as an idea in the 1990s and opened its gates to the public in May 2000. In common with so many of the other projects which saw the light of day under Tony “Things can only get better” Blair, it was sold to the public on an entirely unrealistic prospectus that it would become financially self-sustaining and shower economic benefits on Wales. It has never come close to achieving either of those objectives, and it never will.Common Flim-flam Flower

To what extent the Garden can claim to be a national garden for Wales is also debatable, and it bears all the hallmarks of those countless third sector charities and trusts whose primary purpose seems to be to find something to do for members of the British establishment now that the market for sahibs and memsahibs has dried up.

Faced with low visitor numbers and dependent on annual subsidies from the Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council, the Garden is now attempting a new throw of the dice to reverse its fortunes with a £6.7 million scheme based on a truly weird reading of Welsh history, which on closer inspection seems to have rather more to do with celebrating the history of merchant banking and the arcane world of the City of London.

UP THE GARDEN PATH

In June of this year, Carmarthenshire’s county councillors were treated to a 30 minute Powerpoint presentation by Dr Rosie Plummer, Director of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, as she took them on a whistle stop tour of claims, few of which were backed up by evidence and some of which simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Plummer is nothing if not enthusiastic, and after a few words in Welsh (Rosie is proud of the O Level she took when she moved here), the rest of the spiel sounded like a games mistress addressing the Roedean junior lacrosse team with a sideline in corporate bullshit-bingo doublespeak. Our Rosie is very fond of words such as terrific, fantastic, cutting-edge, collaborative, strategic, tremendous and massive. “We are strategic!” she exclaimed at one point in what she obviously considered to be a slam-dunk argument, and the councillors duly gave her warm applause.

In an oblique reference to an earlier row about the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language, Dr Plummer declared that the Garden was massively respectful of the Welsh language, but failed to explain why her marketing manager had effectively told a well-known local broadcaster to bugger off when she asked politely for a bilingual version of a newsletter, or why the Garden had taken to putting up English-only signs to advertise various events.

MORE DOSH, PLEASE

Rosie was clearly much too well brought up to mention to rank-and-file councillors that she would be heading back to County Hall shortly to ask the council’s top brass for some of the cash for the £6.7 million scheme, an extension of the garden’s £1.3 million interest-free loan and a commitment to renewing the council’s annual subsidy.

By the by, there is also an interesting arrangement with the council whereby if the local authority ever sells three farmhouses currently occupied for free by the Garden, the capital recOffshore Orchideipts will go to the Garden, rather than the council.

And so, a couple of weeks later the Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County Council sat down to consider Rosie’s request. To its credit, and for the first time in recorded history, the word “consider” did not mean “rubber-stamp”. The council decided that future funding of the Garden should be dependent on a less cavalier attitude to the Welsh language, and that Dr Plummer should consider offering all-year discounted entry tickets to the local peasantry rather than allowing them in once a year for free in January when there is nothing to see.

If that was not embarrassing enough, the council also opined that the Garden needed to become more financially self-sustaining by attracting families and improving its marketing.

WELSH NOT

For several weeks all went quiet, but the leopard was not about to change its spots, and at the end of July it emerged that Dr Plummer had refused to meet representatives of Cymdeithas yr Iaith unless they provided their own interpreter at their own cost, adding that she would be willing to participate in such a meeting only as long as this process did not restrict the free exchange of ideas.

Separately, Dr Plummer told Cymdeithas that they should stop sending her e-mails in Welsh as English was her preferred language. When it was pointed out to her that the garden was committed to providing a service in Welsh under its language policy, Dr Plummer replied that the policy had been entered into voluntarily.

When the BBC tried to interview her about this, they were told that Dr Plummer’s busy schedule meant she had no time.

Cymdeithas has now written to Carwyn Jones to remind him that his government’s agreement on continued funding of the Garden contains conditions about the use of the language, and asking him to take steps to make the Garden meet its commitments.

Being the National Botanic Garden of Wales does not extend to paying anything more than lip service to the Welsh language or culture, and in reality it is much more interested in marketing itself to visitors from England.

WEEDS AND STALE BARA BRITHLaburnum

Visitor numbers have been on the slide since Dr Plummer took over the running of the Gardens. The Garden is understandably reluctant to publish details, but according to a council report there were just 147,000 in the year to March 2015, despite 2014 being an unusually warm summer. That works out at about 400 per day. Back in 2009-10 income from admission fees was £445,000. In 2013-14, the most recent year for which published accounts are available, it was down to just £368,000. In 2013-14 the Garden received subsidies and grants from national and local government to the tune of £1,335,000, and without that and dipping into its reserves, the Garden would have to close its gates for good.

The closest Dr Plummer got to talking about visitor numbers in her pep talk to councillors was a picture of a little girl skipping for joy, but she was in no doubt that the Garden was vital to the local economy.

A more realistic picture of what visitors think of the Garden can be gained from Tripadvisor. Some enjoy their days out, and some are positively ecstatic, but then they would probably have given rave reviews to Basil and Sybil after a weekend at Fawlty Towers.

More worrying for the Botanic Garden is a thread which runs through most of the less positive reviews: this is a Garden which suffers from a distinct shortage of plants, with vast areas given over to grass, and a surprisingly shabby entrance area.

“It was all rather drab, and that was on a bright day,” said one visitor, while a couple of others noted their disappointment after a trip in March to see what the Garden’s promotional literature said would be 50 kinds of daffodil. Others complained of stale bara brith and weeds in the vegetable garden.

As amateur gardeners in Carmarthenshire know, unless you have a very favoured spot, most of us won’t see daffs in our gardens much before the end of March.

Mawrth a ladd, Ebrill a fling (March kills and April flays), says the old Welsh proverb. And they knew what they were talking about.

But Dr Plummer and her board have a big idea to transform the Garden’s fortunes.

A VISION

Dr Plummer’s presentation did include a reference to a £6.75 million project called “Middleton: Paradise Regained” (geddit, all you readers with English A Levels?) which has won initial funding from the National Lottery and a pledge of around £1.4 million from a businessman called Richard Broyd, the Mercers’ Company in the City of London and a couple of other charities.

The lottery grant was awarded in 2014, but the Garden is still about £5 million short of its target, and Dr Plummer warned that if the additional funds could not be found, there was a risk that the dosh could go to Kent.

If the project does get the go-ahead, it will join the once state-of-the-art bio sciences centre aPetuniat the site in Llanarthne, now unoccupied and looking for new tenants. It was built under the Welsh Government’s disastrous Technium scheme which was enthusiastically overseen by Cllr Meryl Gravell, the veteran former leader of the county council. Technium may have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre in an orgy of what in some cases amounted to large scale fraud, but Meryl is still with us and is enthusiastically backing her new friend Rosie.

Dr Plummer was pretty miffed about the first round of criticism of the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language in April, and issued a regal statement at the time to tick off the ungrateful locals:

“It is therefore enormously disappointing to be subject to such vigorous approaches that largely seem to overlook the very wide range of ways in which the garden actively contributes to bringing the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits”, she declared.

So how Welsh is the garden and its vision for the 21st century?

CARMARTHENSHIRE OLD SPICE

Rather than spending a bit of time and money on those planty things and weeding, the great and good who run the place have hit on the idea of putting a lot of the site under water and doing a bit of archaeology to recreate a vision of Regency England Wales which will somehow incorporate the massive glass and steel dome designed by Norman Foster when he was in his glass and steel dome phase (see the Berlin Reichstag).

This historical justification for this is set out in a gushing press release to celebrate the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims “to tell the story of more than 250 years of East India Company influence that shaped the landscape of this part of Wales”, it purrs.

According to Rob Thomas, the Garden’s Head of Development, this is an “incredible story of pirates, plague and plants for health”, set at a time “when nutmeg and mace were worth more than their weight in gold”.

As we shall see, this is indeed a truly incredible yarn.

The chair of the HLF’s Welsh committee added that the project would help people learn about the history of the site and “the little known links the East India Company had to the area”.

So little known that they had escaped the attention of everybody else, including the late Dr John Davies, whose magisterial History of Wales does not contain a single reference to the Company or its influence on Wales.

A HISTORY LESSON

As far as the Garden is concerned, the history of the site began in the first half of the 17th century when the estate was bought by a Mr Henry Middleton.

The Middletons, or Myddletons, were municipal bigwigs in Chester under the Tudors, possibly originally from Oswestry, and a couple of them spotted an opportunity to cash in on the burgeoning spice trade under Elizabeth I. The most famous of these was Sir Henry Middleton whoSassafras led a series of very lucrative and often violent expeditions to Asia. Sir Henry died childless after his final adventure, and his money was distributed among the large Middleton brood.

The Middletons’ association with the East India Company appears to have stopped at the death of Sir Henry, who as far as we know never went anywhere near Llanarthne. The Henry who bought the estate was probably a nephew.

The extent of the estate’s links with the East India Company up to the end of the 18th century was therefore that it was once owned by someone whose uncle made a lot of money out east.

Henry built a house on the site, and eventually the Middletons fizzled out. The Gwyns of Gwympa succeeded, but they lived beyond their means and the estate came up for sale in 1789 when it was acquired by William Paxton.

MONEY BAGS

Paxton was a Scot who rose up through the ranks of the East India Company to become Master of the Bengal Mint. In common with other Brit officers of the company, he amassed a huge fortune while running bits of India, and he ran a very lucrative sideline in helping other ex-pat plunderers to transfer their money back to Blighty.

Thus, it is claimed, Paxton laid the foundations of what was to become merchant banking, a branch of the banking industry which eventually morphed into investment banking, or as it is sometimes popularly known, casino banking.

Paxton’s main hobby was money, and there is nothing whatsoever to back up the Garden’s claim that the story of the estate is a tale intertwined with nutmegs, cloves and cinnamon.

East India Company men who made lots of money were known as ‘nabobs’ back home, and were about as popular with people at the time as investment bankers are today, although unlike their modern counterparts, they tended to wreck only the economies of other countries.

Nabobs generally liked to spend a few years out in India accumulating as much cash as they could before heading for home, where they would build mansions and buy their way into politics. Just like many modern Conservative Party donors, in fact.

This is exactly what Paxton did. Although he had never set foot in Wales before, he ended up buying the estate at Llanarthne in 1789, and shortly afterwards work began on a new neo-classical mansion.

The old Middleton Hall was turned into a farmhouse and then demolished, with much of the fabric being recycled for use in Paxton’s building projects. A study a few years back by the National Botanic Garden concluded that very little of the old house Cedar of Libornonremained to be uncovered apart from some foundations and bits of rubble, and yet uncovering what is left is one of the ideas behind the £6.7 million project.

Having built himself a house, Paxton turned his attention to the grounds, which he improved with a series of lakes and waterfalls.

His attempts to break into politics were less than successful, and he notoriously spent £15,000 (almost £500,000 in current values) on food and drink in the 1802 election trying, unsuccessfully, to become MP for Carmarthen. His investment paid off the following year, however, and he held the seat briefly until 1806.

To the horror of the National Dictionary of Biography, Paxton was the subject of scurrilous leaflets written by one of Jac o’ the North’s spiritual forbears in the 1807 election. There he was described as “an upstart nabob heedless of the interests of our native land”, a description which could be applied to a good many modern Tory and Labour MPs.

Paxton died in 1824, and the estate was sold on to a family which had made its fortune in the slave plantations of the West Indies, although that’s a bit of the garden’s history we are unlikely to be told about.

Architecture is a matter of taste, and Paxton’s house was relatively modest by the standards of the day. It was joined in the 19th century by a large number of other mansions of varying degrees of architectural merit dotted around Carmarthenshire, most of which are now long gone, ruined or in the advanced stages of decay.

Carmarthenshire proved to be not very fertile soil for the imported landed gentry, and Llanarthne was no exception.

Paxton’s house changed hands a couple of times before it was destroyed by fire in 1930. Only the servants’ wing survived, with the shell of the main house being bulldozed in the 1950s. The carefully restored servants’ quarters are, of course, out of bounds to the visiting public and now the domain of Dr Plummer.

The lakes were filled in just over a century after they were dug, and the county council became the new owner. There were no Meryl Gravells or Mark James’s around at the time, and so the estate was parcelled up into seven small farms which were then leased to families who wanted to get a foothold on the farming ladder.

PARADISE LOST AND REGAINED?

For just over sixty years, the Middleton estate reverted to being just a piece of rural Carmarthenshire, home to Welsh-speaking families who no doubt all had their own veg plots and modest gardens, only for the lot to be swept away in the New Labour era.

The life and work of the Welsh families who farmed on the site of the Garden will not featA Verr English Roseure in the “Paradise Regained” project which will instead celebrate colonial exploitation and the debt the world owes to merchant bankers.

Or as the Garden’s Head of Development, Rob Thomas, so eloquently put it, this “incredible” story spans “a period of 250 years of international trade from the times of barter and exchange to the establishment of international lines of credit and investment banking; the forging of the blueprint for our current capitalist system; and, in the hands of Sir William Paxton, the formation of modern investment banking.”

For any visitors wondering why the garden does not invest more in plants, the answer would seem to be that there is not enough money left after paying the salaries of all those spin doctors and heads of development.

It is no doubt purely a coincidence that the Garden’s trustees are headed up by an investment banker, Mr Rob Joliffe, who is currently Head of Emerging Markets for UBS, the Swiss banking giant, or that the funders include the Mercers’ Company, one of those arcane City of London old boys’ institutions.

Quite how any of this bears out Dr Plummer’s claim that the objective of the garden is to bring “the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits” is anyone’s guess.