Pembrokeshire Herald

Aug 022017
 

CARMARTHENSHIRE, KIDWELLY

A few years ago we learnt of the shocking case of the Satanist paedophiles relocated from London to Kidwelly and housed by Grwp Gwalia of Swansea (since merged with Seren to create Pobl). Their trial even made London prints such as the Daily Mail and Guardian.

In addition to being a sick and dangerous pervert, the leader of the gang, Colin Batley, was also an English patriot, with the Cross of St George flying from the flagpole on his front lawn. He was also described as a swaggering bully, often accompanied by his two rottweilers.

In the Daily Mail piece, one ‘local’ is quoted: “Nobody understands how so many of them could come down and all end up living in one place in the town”. Anyone who knows anything about social housing in Wales could have explained it to him.

As if to prove that lightning does strike twice, and yea! thrice . . . two more individuals with an unhealthy interest in children have recently been unearthed in Kidwelly.

The first was 71-year-old retired probation officer, Michael Nathan Cohen, who moved with his wife from Manchester some ten years ago. Though this WalesOnline report from early July prefers to describe him, both in the headline and the first line of the report, as a “Kidwelly man”.

Around the same time we heard about the case of 61-year-old retired civil servant Vincent Barbary – who has since been moved to Abertillery!

You’ll note that both men had pornographic images on their computers, and both were caught when police went to their houses, presumably acting on information received. Where did that information come from?

It would appear to be pure coincidence that these people from different backgrounds and locations – London, Manchester, Leicester – ended up in the same town of some 3,500 people. Though it does make you wonder if there might be some other factor at work.

CARMARTHENSHIRE, FALSE ALLEGATIONS

We now move down the road a bit from Kidwelly to Burry Port, to look at a very troubling case. This Llanelli Herald report from May 2015 will give you the background.

In a nutshell, some seven years ago Carina Burn, a 19-year-old autistic woman with communication difficulties, was locked away in a secure unit for six months because a carer alleged that she was being sexually abused – even prostituted! – by her parents Robin and Julia.

Two weeks after she was taken from her parents six police officers in plain clothes descended on the family home; it was searched, the computers were seized, and the parents arrested. Read more details here in this Daily Express account of the story.

Those responsible for inflicting this trauma were employed by Perthyn, a care company based in Swansea, which does work for a number of local authorities in both Wales and England.

Carina is now back with her parents and £30,000 in compensation has been paid; £26,000 from Carmarthenshire County Council, £1,000 from Dyfed Powys Police, and £3,000 from Dr Rowan Wilson, a man with no experience in the field who was called in by CCC to defend the original decision.

Carina Burn, Courtesy of the Daily Express

There is a strong suspicion that the case began when the parents decided to end the arrangement with Perthyn due to their fears that money being given for their daughter’s lunch was being pocketed. The very day that Perthyn was told the arrangement was ending the carers persuaded Mrs Burn to let them take her daughter swimming one last time. Carina did not come home.

Naturally, the parents want a full investigation into this case so I’d better not name the carer involved, the one who claimed that Carina was making the allegations, nor her supervisor, though I have both names. I am, however, prepared to name Trevor Stainsby, the local area manager for Perthyn, because what happened to him was quite remarkable.

Once the police dropped the case against the parents, and the focus shifted to Carmarthenshire County Council, who had employed Perthyn, Stainsby was recruited by the Council! Was this because Vinny, the Cardiff Bay property whizz, recognised Trev’s potential, or because he hoped to buy his silence? All might be revealed in the inquiry the ‘Welsh’ Government can no longer dodge.

The pressure might increase when the ITV Wales interview done with Robin and Julia Burn today is televised. Unless of course ITV was there on a fact-finding mission for someone else. These things happen.

CEREDIGION

In January 2016 I wrote The ‘Care’ Racket in Wales in which I looked at organisations operating under that generic label in the Wild West. It might be worth you reading that minor masterpiece of the blogger’s art before you push on with this update. But if you’re too bloody lazy! . . .

At various times the south west was blessed with (takes deep breath) The Ceredigion Care Society, The Dyfed Care Society, The Carmarthen Care Society, The Pembrokeshire Care Society.

All shared the same espoused objective: “1. The relief of poverty, the relief of sickness and the advancement of education and training amongst: A) Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty in the community, or any penal establishment or institution B) The families and descendants of such persons described in A) above C) Persons in need, hardship or distress.

In other words, they helped ex-cons. As I said in that original ” . . . of whom there must be hundreds every year returning to the mean streets and gang life of Ystrad Meurig, Marloes and Ponterwyd.” My way of saying that we can with some certainty conclude that most of those helped came from outside of Dyfed, and outside of Wales.

The Ceredigion Care Society has now changed its name to Cymdeithas Gofal / The Care Society, it has moved to a new address at 21 Terrace Road Aberystwyth, it serves Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys (though only Ceredigion funds CG), and it no longer claims to be helping ex-cons.

For “Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty in the community, or any penal establishment or institution” has now been replaced with what you see below.

Which is not to say that Cymdeithas Gofal doesn’t still help those who’ve been in trouble with the law, because one focus is on young tearaways leaving secure units. For “It is recognised that wherever possible the best place for a child is within her/his own family.” This explains young criminals turning up out of the blue at the Young Persons Project in Cardigan, often with their problem family in tow.

The latest accounts available are to year ending 31.03.2016. You’ll see that the numbers housed is quite commendable . . . especially in a rural county of some 70,000 people with no real social problems.

And keeping with the housing side of the business, we see that Cymdeithas Gofal has its own Estates and Lettings department. So let’s say you’ve got a few bedsits in Aber’, you can get in touch with CG and – bingo! – they’ll find you tenants and look after your property for you!

Couple that side of the business with the fact that one of the company’s income streams is administering the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Bond Scheme (£42,707 y/e 31.03.2016), and you have to wonder whether, in a town like Aberystwyth, with so many properties for rent, so many Houses of Multiple Occupation, providing a regular supply of tenants for local landlords isn’t the real purpose of Cymdeithas Gofal. That’s certainly a purpose it fulfils.

From Cymdeithas Gofal website ‘Estates and Lettings’ section

The services Cymdeithas Gofal provides, and the public funding it swallows up, are certainly not justified by the needs of the population indigenous to the area it covers. Looks to me like a nice little racket. Which might not bother me if I wasn’t paying for it. So are you.

PEMBROKESHIRE CARE SOCIETY

Now I bet the heading confused you. You’re asking, ‘Hang on, if Cymdeithas Gofal covers the south west and Powys, how can there also be a Pembrokeshire Care Society?’ Well, let Jac explain.

As with Cymdeithas Gofal, the Pembrokeshire Care Society is both a company registered with Companies House and a charity registered with the Charity Commission. This Pembrokeshire outfit is also in on the bond scheme, and wouldn’t you know it! – it also has its own lettings agency in Pathway Lettings.

What’s more, it’s doing pretty well, because the accounts for y/e 31.03.2016 tell us that the Pembrokeshire Care Society was sitting on reserves of £756,542, and that hoard was made up almost entirely of “cash at bank and in hand” most of it “unrestricted funds”, which means it was not given for a specific purpose and so can be used for just about anything.

Will funders, such as the ‘Welsh’ Government, now be asking for any of their funding to be returned? For it’s clearly not needed.

The bigger question is why public funding is being given to organisations like Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care to bring people into the area, often undesirables, for no better reason than to provide tenants for local landlords, while also running lettings agencies of their own on the side?

PEMBROKESHIRE, TRAGEDY

Seren Bernard was 14 when her body was found, near Milford Haven, in April 2012. This is one of the few facts we can be sure of in this case. Another is that she was living with foster parents and under the care of Pembrokeshire County Council.

A serious case review undertaken in 2013 concluded that Seren’s death “might not have been preventable”. Though at that review Seren’s mother, Sarah Pollock, insisted that the agencies involved had “willingly and knowingly exposed Seren to harm”.

At the inquest in June 2015, despite highlighting a number of cock-ups on the part of the Pembrokeshire authorities, the coroner had little alternative but to return a verdict of suicide. As a comment to the Western Telegraph from ‘Deryn Bawddwr’ put it, “The teflon coated PCC get away with it again”.

Then, last month, came the kerfuffle in Monkton, over the paedophile that locals believed had moved (or been moved) to the area. After the riotous night the protesters met outside the council offices in Pembroke Dock on July 13th, as reported here by the Pembrokeshire Telegraph.

(It may be worth pointing out that the council, the police, and just about every arm of officialdom, is staying schtum on the details of the Monkton affair. Refusing to even say who owns the property in question.)

Among those in the gathering outside the council offices was Seren Bernard’s mother. She spoke with Herald TV, watch her (4:32). Here’s a written account of what she said.

The allegation is that Seren Bernard was drugged and raped by a group of men, they may have been local, they may have come down from Swansea. What’s more, the solicitor acting for Mrs Pollock has names said to be the men responsible, names giver by Seren herself. The police also have these names.

Sarah Pollock, mother of Seren Bernard, courtesy of Western Telegraph

Now if this is true then it could explain Seren’s suicide, and her strange, uncharacteristic behaviour in the period leading up to her suicide, behaviour which Pembrokeshire council and its agencies were so keen to stress in seeking to exonerate themselves. It may also explain why Sarah Pollock was never given the full report of the serious case review in 2013.

As a man with grand-daughters I find this case harrowing. It seems clear to me that the truth is being withheld, and the reason for that may lie in the names on the list of alleged rapists. Are there prominent men named, and is that why justice is being denied (as in the never-ending ‘North Wales child abuse’ saga)?

I would love to see that list, and make my own enquiries.

CONCLUSION

We clearly have a dysfunctional system of ‘care’ in Wales, exposed by what we see happening in the south west.

On the one hand, we have ‘care’ agencies such as Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care receiving millions of pounds in public funding yet they seem to do little more than deliver up tenants – complete with bonds! – to local landlords, private and social. Also bringing in young tearaways plus paedophiles and other criminals.

On the other hand, we have the true care system, that which betrayed both Carina Burn and Seren Bernard. Not only that, but once the mistakes were exposed the machinery of cover-up swung into action. We saw it in Carmarthenshire with the council recruiting Trevor Stainsby of Perthyn, and in Pembrokeshire with the council preferring to blame a ‘suicidal’ child rather than wonder what drove her to suicide.

Now here’s a revolutionary suggestion. Why not ditch the landlords’ friends, Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care, and give the money to real care bodies, so that they can train staff and avoid another disaster such as befell the Burn family. Also use it to ensure that if there’s another Seren Bernard, that she’s helped rather than abandoned.

The system as it stands is indefensible, but it is being robustly defended: by the ‘Welsh’ Government – because it can’t admit that it’s pouring money down so many drains; by local authorities and their agencies – that can’t afford to admit the mistakes they’ve made; and by others making too much money out of this insane, corrupt system of public funding

For more money withdraw the blank cheque the ‘Welsh’ Government gives to housing associations, organisations deeply involved in the racket. Housing associations that in rural areas are building more homes than are needed locally and also building properties for sale on the open market – even advertising for ‘investors’!

♦ end ♦

Jun 142016
 

This is just a brief update to my previous post. I have to be careful what I write because I’m being watched. No, honestly, this is not paranoia, certain people will be reading this very carefully.

Therefore I hope you will understand that I have to be cautious, avoiding the injudicious phrase, the unintended calumny, otherwise certain persons down west will again be scuttling to £260-an-hour Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal.

A BIG FAT I.O.U.

To recap . . . Mill Bay Homes is a ‘subsidiary’ of Pembrokeshire Housing, it’s raison d’être is to build and sell houses, then hand the profits from the sale of those properties back to the parent company so that it can build more social units for rent.

It may be worth mentioning – by way of background information – that before a name change in the first quarter of 2012 Mill Bay Homes was known as Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, a company set up in 1998 that never traded.

MBH Why Buy With Us

FROM THE MILL BAY HOMES WEBSITE (click to enlarge)

So that’s the theory, the justification for Mill Bay Homes. But how’s it working out in practice? Let’s look at what information is available, add a few things that have been said, and then let us draw some conclusions, which we are fully entitled to do, as members of the generous Welsh public that has poured tens of millions of pounds into Pembrokeshire Housing.

When it comes to available information, we encounter a major obstacle in that it’s probably easier to get hold of Vladimir Putin’s personal e-mails than it is to see accounts for Mill Bay Homes. The problem being that because it’s not a regular company there’s nothing filed with Companies House. Because it’s not a charity it’s ditto with the Charity Commission. And while MBH claims to have filed accounts with the Financial Conduct Authority, the FCA says it has received nothing since the report for y/e 31.03.2013.

Though when my collaborator Wynne Jones wrote to the ‘Welsh’ Government, using an FoI request to ask for those accounts he was told, by Ceri Breeze, Head of Housing Policy, that the accounts were already in the public domain – with the Financial Conduct Authority! Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that information is being deliberately withheld on Mill Bay Homes, and that fibs are being told in order to throw people off the scent.

Anyway, let’s see what we can glean from the Pembrokeshire Housing accounts. In particular, the extracts below taken from the figures for the year ending on March 31st 2015. Figures that I suspect are connected.

PH Combined figures 2015

You will see that between 31.03.2013 and 31.03.2015 Pembrokeshire Housing’s cash reserves fell dramatically, from £12,551,763 to £2,782,838. A reduction of £9,768,926, or 78%.

During the years ending 31.03.2014 and 31.03.2015 £6,135,000 was ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes. The most recent figures available for Mill Bay Homes, those for y/e 31.03.2013, show a ‘loan’ of £245,000, which we can be fairly sure came from the parent company. If we add them it gives us a total of £6,360,000.

MBH Loans received 2013

Without wishing to over-egg it I suggest we must also add other costs not stipulated. For example, Pembrokeshire Housing staff must have been working on the Mill Bay Homes ‘project’, and they must have used Pembrokeshire Housing offices and equipment, plus consumables, before Mill Bay Homes was up and running.

So I think we can reasonably assume that Mill Bay Homes owes Pembrokeshire Housing closer to seven million pounds than six. How is this to be repaid? Fortunately, last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald ran an article on my recent, ahem, difficulties and in this article group supremo Peter Maggs was quoted as saying, “The target is (for MBH) to deliver £1m of surplus for each of the next five years”. Which will – if achieved – return just five of the six million plus that’s owed.

(Note that the Pembrokeshire Herald couldn’t get my name right – “Roytston”, they called me, bloody “Roytston”!!! Is that defamation? Maybe I need a good solicitor – I wonder if Ms Singlehurst-Ward would take the case?)

‘A MILLION A YEAR FOR FIVE YEARS’, SAYS YER MAN

I have no opportunity to buy the otherwise excellent Pembrokeshire Herald except when I’m visiting the county, so I haven’t seen the ‘paper myself. But someone was kind enough to send me a photograph of the article, here, and another kind act saw the piece sent as text.

Seeing as we are talking of Mill Bay Homes repaying Pembrokeshire Housing a cool million a year it might be instructive to know if any of the outstanding six million plus has yet been repaid. The figures for y/e 31.03.2016 are obviously not yet available, but the previous year’s figures tell us that the princely sum of £36,070 was received. Which leaves . . . roughly the same figure we started with. And that’s without taking interest into account.

Another way of looking at it would be that at the rate of £36,070 a year it would take Mill Bay Homes 176 years to repay what it owes.

PH Income from subsidiary 2015

This might make some of you think that Peter Maggs’ claim is a little overblown, but it could be worse than that. Here are a number of things to consider:

  • I’m told that Mill Bay Homes is working to a 17% profit margin while the building industry usually works to a 25% margin on new builds.
  • Before anything can be returned to Pembrokeshire Housing Mill Bay Homes will have to deduct its costs. In addition, it will need to buy the next development site and go through the planning process and other procedures, then pay to build that next development.
  • So how much from each house sale will Pembrokeshire Housing actually see? Let’s assume that the average sale price of a Mill Bay property is £130,000. At 17% and deducting the costs just mentioned Pembrokeshire Housing might see a return of £50,000 per property.
  • Of course, these calculations are necessarily speculative due to the absence of any publicly available accounts or other information for Mill Bay Homes.
  • If the purpose of lending money to Mill Bay Homes is to generate income to build social housing why didn’t Pembrokeshire Housing instead of lending the money to get part of it returned use all of it to build social housing?

INTERPRETATIONS

One worry I have is that achieving Peter Maggs’ target will result in unfair competition for local building firms without the benefit of Mill Bay Homes’ inexhaustible source of funding, a source that relieves it of the need to return a profit. Is this the plan?

‘Welsh’ Labour we know is anti-business, also a ‘statist’ party that wants to control everything. So is this its way of surreptitiously making house building a state-controlled industry? If not, how else do we explain a publicly-funded housing association being allowed to set up a subsidiary that is, effectively, a no-risk private house builder?

One possibility is that we are discussing a trailblazer for a new type of business entirely. This is not idle speculation on my part, the idea has been knocking around for a while. I’m talking now of fully privatised housing associations. And it’s already started, as this article from the Guardian last August tells us.

The advantages are obvious. Housing associations have solid assets in the form of bricks and mortar, so they’ll have little trouble finding investors and securing loans. As long as the right legal safeguards are in place for all types of tenants, and the right incentives for investors, why not relieve the public purse of a massive burden by privatising social housing in Wales? These could be lucrative, profit-making businesses.

Proven by Pembrokeshire Housing itself. In 2013 it had cash reserves of £12,551,763, yet it’s one of the smaller housing associations, this is partly due to the fact that Pembrokeshire County Council retains its own council housing stock. If such a small outfit can build up such cash reserves then what is the picture with the big boys?

Though that said, some people – more cynical than I, you understand – might suggest that Mill Bay Homes was set up for the express purpose of soaking up this embarrassment of cash. For the nest-egg might otherwise have had to be returned, or might have resulted in reduced funding. Because I’m sure most people would believe that a relatively small, rural housing association with over £12m stashed under the mattress should not be receiving a penny from the public purse.

One thing’s for sure, housing associations as we know them in Wales are discredited. For a start, there are just too many of them, receiving inordinate amounts of funding, with too much of that money going on inflated salaries and administrative costs, and with very little effective oversight by the ‘Welsh’ Government. Housing associations are out of control, like some over-indulged adolescent forever finding new ways to get money out of his parents.

RCT Homes salary

In addition, and perhaps especially in rural areas, housing associations waste money on new properties for which there is no local demand, then they import tenants, many of whom have ‘issues’, because of course they can charge more for housing problem families, petty criminals, drug addicts and other undesirables than they could ever charge hard-working, law-abiding locals.

Unless I receive important new information on Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes this may be my final post on the subject. I think I’ve said everything I need to say at present.

If those who claim to be managing Wales still see nothing wrong with the parent – subsidiary arrangement I’ve described, and if they believe that the current plethora of publicly-funded and competing housing associations is the cheapest and most effective way of delivering rented accommodation, then Wales is in a bigger mess than I had ever imagined.

UPDATE 17.06.2016: Surprise! Surprise! After all the attention Mill Bay Homes has been getting of late the Annual Return and Accounts for y/e 31.03.2014 and y/e 31.03.2015 are finally available on the Financial Conduct Authority website. They were added just a few days ago.

As I’m tied up for the next few days I won’t have time to give these accounts the attention they deserve, but perhaps my analytical readers would like to peruse them and give us their interpretations. Here are the accounts for 2014 and here for 2015.

Quickly skimming through them I was struck by the fact that in the 2015 report, in answer to question 1.19, Mill Bay Homes claims to be a Community Benefit Society because it benefits, “People seeking housing accommodation” (as opposed to any other form of accommodation). If Mill Bay Homes is accepted as a Community Benefit Society then I suggest the FCA gets ready for a rush of applications to join the club – from Wimpey, Persimmon, Redrow and all the rest.

But of course MBH would defend its claim to be a Community Benefit Society by the answer it gives to 1.21, which asks how surpluses or profits are used. The answer reads, “Surplus was transferred to the parent Registered Social Landlord to invest in affordable housing”. Why not just say ‘the parent company’, why stress that it’s a RSL? And why “affordable housing” not ‘social housing’? MBH claims to build and sell ‘affordable housing’.

Though these considerations bring us back to the underlying idiocy of this model. Pembrokeshire Housing, a provider of social housing, has £10m in spare cash. Rather than use that money for the purpose it was given the money is loaned to Mill Bay Homes to build and sell houses. Then perhaps £1m of profit is returned to PH for social housing. Why not use the original £10m for its intended purpose of social housing?

Could it be that Pembrokeshire Housing had more money than it needed, or knew how to use, and rather than admit to that embarrassment, it came up with the absurdity that is Mill Bay Homes?

UPDATE 21.07.2016: In an e-mail of July 18th Simon Fowler of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Housing Directorate, had this to say: “We have had sight of a confirmation from the FCA that Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes submitted all their regulatory returns by the given deadline. It went on to confirm that due to an error at the FCA, the returns were not published. We are satisfied that PHA and MBH have not acted inappropriately – either deliberately or mistakenly – when submitting the returns required by law.”

Today, my co-investigator, Wynne Jones, received an e-mail from Nazmul Ahmed at the FCA, he had this to say of the Mill Bay Homes returns: “I have spoken to my colleague and we can provide the dates we received the annual return and accounts – 2013/14- 2 June 2016, 2014/15- 2 June 2016′. 

The timing is significant. I published posts on Mill Bay Homes on the following dates, April 25th, May 20th and May 23rd. These were taken down under threat of legal action conveyed in a letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Solicitors of May 31st. I can imagine Ms S-W saying to MBH, ‘OK, I’ll try and put the frighteners on him, but you’ve got to get your house in order, don’t give him ammunition’.

But where does this leave Simon Fowler? I think the kindest thing I can say of Mr Fowler and his colleagues is that they make it up as they go along. What I and others have learnt in recent months suggests there is no oversight of housing associations by the ‘Welsh’ Government, little regulation, and that they are free to do as they like – with hundreds of millions of pounds of our money.

       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ END ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NEXT: The promised article in which I explain why I’m voting Leave in the EU referendum

 

Jul 262015
 
CARDIGAN CASTLE

I don’t want anyone to think I’m picking on the women running and wrecking the Cardigan Castle project (nor would I want anyone to think I plan on ignoring them!) but I couldn’t write this post without a mention of developments since my previous post. Here’s a selection.

Someone informed me that at one meeting Jonathan ‘Joff’ Timms opined that Rhys ap Gruffydd and his sons were “nothing but savages”. Which again raises the question: Who the hell is Jonathan Timms and who invited a man living in Kent, England, to get involved?

Another informant sent me a copy of a letter sent to the Carmarthen Journal about three or four years ago, which served to revive an earlier suspicion that the Castle project may be disguising an even more self-serving undertaking involving property grabbing, and that this explains the two trusts. (I would appreciate a good photograph of the Green Street properties.) Elin Jones’ remarks are worth noting.

I am indebted to a third informant for this link which suggests that the Facilities Officer vacancy – the post now filled by Sue “ENGLISH” Lewis – was advertised from December 23rd 2014 to midday on January 2nd 2015. In other words, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. How the hell were they allowed to get away with this?

Rumours persist that non-Gang of Four trustees are ready to jump ship, leaving mesdames Tucker, Lewis, Davies and Jones even more exposed. Moves are also afoot to call an Emergency General Meeting.

Pembrokeshire Herald

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Equinox, the Cardiff PR firm working for the Gang of Four, has requested an urgent meeting with local critics. This panic move may have been instigated by the project’s funders becoming worried by the amount of shit now hitting the fan.

Gareth Gregory, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s man on the case, is known to be in the pockets of the Gang of Four. Or should that be ‘handbags’? Or would that be sexist? Who cares?

Here’s the ‘Rhys ap Gruffydd’ Proclamation read out at 7pm on Saturday outside the Castle main entrance, which I understand will also be read out at the Meifod Eisteddfod.

Elsewhere, the Pembrokeshire Herald and its Carmarthenshire sister-paper ran full-page pieces using much of the information I’d supplied on my blog. I only have a photo of the article as I couldn’t get a copy of the newspaper to scan for you, but I was sent a transcript, which you can read here.

Saturday night saw the Bellowhead concert at the Castle. To judge by the photograph I was sent the audience was in the age group 55 – telegram from Beti.

However successful the Gang of Four may want us to believe the Bellowhead concert was I can’t help thinking that a performance of Wagner would have been more appropriate given the situation they’re in, for Götterdämmerung is surely approaching. I’d just love to see the lot of them in horned helmets, wielding spears and shrieking, as a local mob storms the castle. Well, laff!

STOP PRESS: I am now told that during the interval, and at her insistence, Vicky Moller, Plaid Cymru list candidate in Mid and West Wales, was led to the mic by compère, Brychan Llyr (Dic Jones’ son, of Jess fame). She gave a rousing speech, saying that without the diligence and hard work of Cris Tomos (now given the elbow) the renovation would not have been possible. Brychan expressed similar sentiments. Then the control freak Gang of Four tried to prevent Brychan from introducing Bellowhead, but after much heated discussion he did, before leaving the castle grounds.

Finally, the Aberporth connection has been strengthened with information about the bizarre, oversized ‘bardic’ chair to be found at the Castle. Here’s a photo I took on my visit a couple of weeks ago of my wife sitting in it. (No, she hasn’t got a round, flat, black head,) This chair is said to have cost £12,000 but no one seems to recall any tendering process. The artist responsible is a Paul Clarke of . . . Aberporth! He has done work in Aberporth, paid for by the community council, on which body we of course find Jann Tucker. I suggest you read the comments by ‘Rhodri’ to my previous post. He also suggests that the escutcheons and armorials employed are not authentic, having little or nothing to do with Rhys ap Gruffydd, The Lord Rhys.

THIS WEEK’S COMPETITION: Find someone living in Aberporth – or just having a holiday home there – who has not gained financially from the largesse of Lady Tucker of Cardigan Castle.

*

ORGAN ‘HARVESTING’

Not a subject I’d normally write about but friends of mine in Llanelli got to thinking about the ‘Welsh’ Government’s proposal to assume that if you don’t expressly say No then you agree to have your organs whipped out and re-used ASAP after your encounter with the Grim Reaper. The leaflet they were reading gave a phone number, and this took them to a call centre in Bristol, and a helpful young Bristolian. This, remember, was for enquiries into a ‘Welsh’ Government initiative.

The big question they asked was, ‘If I agree to donate my organs, or don’t opt out of any new scheme of assumed donation, will my organs stay in Wales (cos they’ll only get homesick otherwise)?’ ‘Er, no, they can end up anywhere in Englandandwales’. ‘Hang on, you’re saying there’ll be an opt-out system in Wales running parallel with an opt-in system in England?’ ‘Um, yes’. ‘Which will mean that the vast majority of the organs taken from Welsh stiffs will end up giving new life to our English neighbours?’ ‘Yup, that’s about the size of it’.

At this point my friends thought they’d be clever and demand the Welsh language service, as the leaflet said they could. ‘I’ll get someone to ring you back’, said the HYB. After half an hour or so the call came, again from Bristol. The Welshman they spoke with said he enjoyed working in Bristol because he and the other Welsh speakers get paid more than their English colleagues because they also answer calls in English. (Which must do wonders for workplace harmony and Welsh-English relationships!)

Welsh Organ

So there you are, if you agree to donate your organs, or don’t opt out of presumed consent, your kidneys could end up keeping alive a frothing-at-the-mouth Kipper, your liver in some Daily Mail journo. This is the kind of insane situation that can only arise when certain powers are devolved within an overarching Englandandwales framework. This is the sham devolution we have in Wales, and in this instance it appears that Wales is being used by England for organ harvesting – with the co-operation of the ‘Welsh’ Government!

*

OVERSEAS AID PROGRAMME

I bet that heading surprised you! It certainly surprised me when I discovered that the poorest part of Europe, a country that has received billions in EU aid, is sending money to Africa. Let me explain.

On June 18th I posted ‘Welsh Poverty and “Welsh” Labour’s Third Sector Money Pit‘ and in that post I looked at the careers of husband and wife team Travers Merrill and Rose Mutale Nyoni Merrill. Travers was at the helm when the good ship Rhondda Life hit the rocks, while Rose’s Third Sector racket is BAWSO. Together they also run a private endeavour called ABESU, which, to quote the company’s website, is “a UK charity working in partnership with the ABESU Women’s Housing Co-operative in Zambia to self-build houses and establish sustainable livelihoods”. Nothing surprising there, seeing as Mrs Merrill is from Zambia.

Curiosity drove me to flick through the ABESU accounts, where I found that in the year ended March 31st 2014 ABESU had received £2,000 from the ‘Welsh’ Government. Not a great amount, but why is our puppet regime down Cardiff docks giving anything to an organisation that doesn’t even operate in Wales? As is my wont, I submitted an FoI on June 22nd. On July 1st I received an acknowledgement that promised an answer by July 16th. When that hadn’t arrived by July 23rd I wrote again, and my answer came the following day. You can read that letter by clicking here.

I asked the ‘Welsh’ Government to:

1. Confirm or deny that the Welsh Government gave Abesu £2,000.

2. If confirmed, please explain the reason for the Welsh Government giving £2,000 to Abesu, and from which funding ‘pot’ the money came.

3. Confirm or deny that the Welsh Government gives funding to other organisations that do not operate in Wales.

4. If confirmed, please supply a list of such organisations together with the amounts given, and from which ‘pots’ the funding is secured.

The response I got, from ‘the Office of the First Minister and Cabinet Office’ (‘Cabinet Office’ FFS!) said:

“I can confirm that a grant of £2000 was given to Abesu. This was by way of a grant from the Wales Africa Community Links project which was run by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and funded by the Welsh Government’s Wales for Africa programme.

I can confirm the Welsh Government does provide funding to other organisations that do not operate in Wales. However, with regard to the list of organisations and the amounts given, I have estimated that it will cost more than the appropriate limit established in the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 to consider your request and because of this the regulations allow me to refuse to deal with it.”

The letter went on to explain why I would not have a full response, ‘over the £600 limit’, etc. A couple of sentences in this explanation caught my eye, and you may also find them interesting. They said: “The Welsh Government’s finance system contains over 14,500 companies and organisations whose address is outside of Wales. During financial year 2014/15 there was (sic) 2,331 transactions made against these companies”. Suggesting that far too much of the money spent by the ‘Welsh’ Government is leaving Wales.

Wales for Africa

Anyway, returning to the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Wales for Africa programme. With the best will in the world, it’s difficult not to see this as yet another excuse to give money to Labour’s cronies in the Third Sector. This time by sending them on African jollies to “enhance their leadership skills” and have their photographs taken with ever-so-grateful Africans. For more information just follow the link I’ve supplied, and use the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the page.

This kind of lunacy is almost bound to happen in the system of sham devolution we know in Wales. We have a bunch of pseudo socialists (many just pseuds) behaving as if they’re running a real government. And of course, the civil servants who really run Wales, and their masters in London, are more than happy to let these self-deluding buffoons waste our money.

Message to Carwyn and the gang: Stop playing stupid games; you are not a real government, Wales is poor, so we do not have money to spare for Polly and Dominic to go showboating in Africa.

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HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS

When it comes to events and functions, weddings and conferences Cardigan Castle may not be seeing many paying customers, but one organisation that has been there a couple of times is Cantref, the housing association and white trash importer. A comment to my post The Colonisation of Wales: Help Needed tells us that things got a bit out of hand at Cantref’s AGM when, for some reason, the tenants were bused in for a hog roast and all the booze they could drink! Read the comment for yourself.

Cantref

This munificence is surprising given that Cantref may be entering Shit Creek. (Regularly laying out a few grand on hog roasts and piss-ups don’t help!) For the comment tells us that some of the commitments Cantref has taken on, such as the student accommodation in Aberystwyth, may not be turning out as planned. Hardly surprising when we see Aberystwyth Uni slipping down the league table faster than Cardiff City. Boom! boom! (Couldn’t resist it!)

‘Insider’ also tells us that, “There is something else going on but the sleepy local rags haven’t got a clue yet . . . more news on that later as it’s too dangerous to mention that yet – no wonder three top directors left all of a sudden before year end accounts, local housing consultant David Hedges of Cyngor Da being one of them”. David Hedges is the son of the former Glamorgan cricketer Bernard Hedges, who died in February 2014. (Many is the time I saw Bernard Hedges play at St. Helen’s.) His website, particularly the bullet point ”Cyngor Da’s approach’ is unmitigated Third Sector bollocks-speak. And although the stars favoured him with a Swansea birth Dai seems to have headed into the sunset and relocated to Cardigan.

David Hedges Cyngor Da

Naturally I tried to make enquiries into Cantref’s financial health, but unless you’re prepared to pay through the nose for them there’s no way of getting the figures. The problem is the status of housing associations. If they were charities then it would be a simple matter to visit the Charity Commission website and get the latest accounts gratis. If they were companies then it would be easy to get a financial picture from any number of sites, and pay for specific documents. These would also be available – and usually cheaper – on the Companies House website.

But because housing associations are Industrial and Provident Societies, registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act 1965 it means they are registered with, but not regulated by, the Financial Services Authority, which then means you have to apply for any document you want and the cost becomes prohibitive.

No doubt defenders of housing associations will tell us that there is usually an annual report available on their websites. Rubbish, just look at the Cantref Annual Report, it’s just flim-flam and photographs, no better than propaganda, and nothing like the audited accounts available for charities and private companies. And if that wasn’t bad enough, housing associations are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, unlike your local council’s housing department . . . assuming your local council’s housing stock hasn’t been taken over by a secretive and acquisitive housing association.

I don’t believe that housing associations should be regarded as anything other than the private companies they are. Put quite simply, housing associations do not meet the criterion used by the FSA for Industrial & Provident Societies: “An industrial and provident society is an organisation conducting an industry, business or trade, either as a co-operative or for the benefit of the community.

It is now anomalous that they are treated the same as community organisations and private members clubs. They are – in all but name – private companies, consequently there should be no more funding from the public purse.

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LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTEST

Another subject you may be surprised to find me writing about. And while I can’t deny deriving a great deal of pleasure from seeing the bruvvers and sissters poking each other in the eyes this is, I assure you, an attempt to make a more profound observation.

Last Wednesday I watched a debate on Newsnight between three Labour MPs, Mary Creagh, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott. It seems that Creagh and Thornberry nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership, but had no intention of voting for him, and were now worried that this ‘oppositional’ candidate might win! Abbott was there, presumably, to speak up for Corbyn.

We were also treated to a film of an increasingly wild-eyed and delusional Tony Blair telling his party’s members that if their heart said Corbyn then they should get a transplant! His former ‘advisor’, John McTernan, called those MPs who nominated Corbyn “morons”. It’s worth reminding ourselves that the most recent entry on McTernan’s CV is Chief of Staff to Jim Murphy, leader of ‘Scottish’ Labour in May. The political equivalent of being Custer’s chief scout at the Little Big Horn.

Anyway, the issue seems to be that the great majority of Labour MPs think Corbyn is too Left wing, but at the time of the Newsnight broadcast polls had him as the most popular choice, certainly with trade unionists and ordinary branch members. Which has left Creagh, Thornberry, Margaret Beckett (who’s admitted to being a ‘moron’!) and others suffering from Dr Frankenstein syndrome. It was one of the most enjoyable Newsnights I’ve seen for some time.

To justify rejecting Corbyn Creagh and Thornberry used the argument that Labour would be unelectable with Corbyn in charge, and unless the party wins the next election then Labour will be unable to help the people. Persuasive . . . until they expanded on that and you realised that for them winning elections is an end in itself, and this, they believe, can only be achieved through Labour being indistinguishable from the Conservatives.

The name Emily Thornberry rang a bell with me, but I had to check before I realised that she it was who had insulted the flag of England and those who proudly wave it. She was condemned as a snob for that episode, and watching her on Newsnight I could see why. It was an almost unique experience: she spoke well, her arguments were well marshalled, and yet . . . rarely have I heard anyone be simultaneously eloquent and repulsive.

She is clearly arrogant, to the extent that she kept cutting across Kirsty Wark! (Isn’t that a hanging offence?) But it was her patronising and condescending attitude towards Diane Abbott that really clinched it. She was, and in a way one rarely sees outside of the theatre or television, looking down her nose at the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Thornberry Abbott

The Labour Party has a massive problem on its hands with this election, for it has exposed the chasm between the unworldly professional politicians in the Westminster bubble and those ordinary party members who oppose starving the poor, who believe in pursuing tax dodgers, and who are clearly unhappy with a Labour Party that is little more than the Conservative Party by another name.

Lubbly jubbly! Vote Corbyn! A las barricadas!

Jul 122015
 

I have just returned from a short break in Pembrokeshire. On the way down my wife and I stopped in Cardigan, and once there we were inevitably drawn to the castle. Now I may not have walked around with a calculator in my hand but I certainly came away wondering where twelve million pounds has been spent. While that may have been a mystery, what became very clear from my tour was that the history of the castle, and indeed the area’s history and culture, is relegated to a few posters, maps, models and videos that could not have cost much, and which will not be allowed to get in the way of the building’s prime focus from now on – as an upmarket conference / functions / weddings venue.

While in the castle I took the opportunity to enjoy the views, and among the sights to be seen from Rhys ap Gruffudd’s old pile were a couple of James Lynch’s establishments. He, you will recall, is a son-in-law to a long-standing trustee of the castle project, a local entrepreneur who appeared in the previous post. Here’s the view across the river to his holiday accommodation in a converted warehouse, and here’s the view of his pizza joint on the quay. Lynch also busies himself with glamping, weddings and associated businesses. As invariably happens when big city businessmen descend on ‘sleepy’ corners of Wales to re-invent tourism Jimbo has brought to Aberteifi high-skill, twenty-first century jobs, and the top-whack salaries that go with those jobs. (Sarcasm? Moi!)

But enough of James Lynch, as he awaits his opportunity in the wings. Let us focus instead on the leading players, those currently strutting the boards and hogging the limelight. Into this category come two women who are receiving much attention in the local media, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies. All explained, on facing pages, in the most recent issue the Pembrokeshire Herald. (Click to enlarge on all images.)

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First, page four gave us further details on the ‘suspension’ of director Cris Tomos. Reminding us how bizarre this whole saga is becoming by relating that he was ‘suspended’ from his post on the day that marked the climax of Gŵyl Fawr Aberteifi. The Herald continued:Castle director suspended Herald

“Although the introduction to the official (GFA) programme contained a couple of references welcoming the opening of the castle (home of the Eisteddfod), the event was staged in the town’s 1960s redbrick leisure centre, while the castle hosted a sports awards bash.”

The Eisteddfod programme contained scores of adverts and messages of support from all sorts of companies, businesses and local organisations, down to the local milkman – but nothing at all from the castle. So, instead of the first chairing of a bard in the castle since 1176, the ceremony took place in a council sports hall.”

If any proof was needed of how those running Cardigan castle had turned their backs on the building’s history and its significance in Welsh cultural history, then this episode provides the proof. For here we see the home of the eisteddfod tradition shunning completely the local eisteddfod!

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The bulk of the facing page was taken up with Sue Lewis defending herself against recent criticism of the way she runs things . . . or I think that’s what she was doing. It all got a bit confusing, so judge for yourself. She seems to be suggesting that someone is trying to “discredit” her – by using her own words against her. She went on to threaten legal action, but the Herald had heard nothing from any legal representative before going to press. But if they had, who would have been paying, Mrs Lewis or the Cardigan Castle Trust, in other words, the public purse?Sue Lewis Herald

Mrs Lewis is looking more and more discredited, her position increasingly untenable for a number of reasons (dealt with below). But one worth adding here is the remarkable workings of serendipity attaching to her appointment as Facilities Manager.

Sue Lewis was made redundant from her post as editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser just before Christmas. At that time she was a trustee, and one of a small group of trustees that removed three Welsh-speaking members of staff, including Rhian Medi, daughter of the late Archdruid, Dic Jones. Rhian Medi was the Education Officer. As a trustee, Sue Lewis sat on the panel that, we were led to believe, would appoint replacements. Not quite. It was decided that the Castle could manage without an Education Officer but definitely needed a Facilities Officer, and who better to fill that post than the recently redundant Sue Lewis herself! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all sit in on the selection process and give ourselves jobs!

Another woman whose position has become untenable through her own prejudice-betraying utterances is Sandra Davies, the trustee treasurer. She refers to local group Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd as “bigots” and orders (an at the time unsuspended) Cris Tomos to have nothing to do with them.Cris Tomos speaks

How many times have we heard anyone who speaks up in defence of Wales and Welsh identity condemned as a ‘bigot’, a ‘racist’, or a ‘narrow-minded nationalist’, done so that their views can be disregarded and debate stifled? By comparison, the true racists, those who want to destroy Welsh identity and replace it with an intolerant Englishness, are allowed to portray themselves as generous and liberal! What an indictment of modern Wales, of our media, our political class, that this colonialist distortion has achieved such dominance, and that a woman holding a position of authority with an iconic Welsh building can so freely and proudly exhibit this vile attitude.

Sandra Davies must go, and she must go immediately. If she is not removed then the suspicions attaching to the motives and intentions of the funders and others involved will be finally confirmed.

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From whichever perspective one chooses to look at Cardigan Castle it can only be perceived as a disaster.

To begin with, the public was told that among the project’s objectives was that it should attract ‘ . . .  visitors who are seeking leisure learning activities related to the Welsh language, culture, crafts, environment and horticulture and “using the Welsh language, and the cultural traditions of the Eisteddfodau, as a tool for tourism development and regeneration”’. This has not happened except in the most cursory and superficial manner.

Leaflet

Then there’s the commercial angle. In her ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails quoted in the Herald Sue Lewis justifies removing the Welsh dimension from the Castle project by arguing that herein lies the route to commercial success. (For ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails see panel above, ‘Cardigan Castle is “under siege”‘.) One well-placed source tells me that the Castle has seen just two conferences, one organised by the county council, the other by Tai Cantref, a local housing association with a lucrative sideline in the importation of riff-raff. The permanent wedding marquee has yet to hear a best man’s embarrassing jokes, or witness the tears of a bride’s mother, while the complex has seen not one paying guest.

Even the cafe, overlooking the High Street, the river, and the interior of the complex, was a loser as people had to pay to go into the castle before they could buy a drink or a meal! This has now been remedied by a new door allowing people to enter directly from the street . . . with bouncers dressed as medieval knights in Cross of St. George outfits ensuring nobody sneaks into the castle after their cappuccino. (OK, I made up the bit aCastle Green Housebout the bouncers, but who was responsible for the original design!)

Then, from so many quarters, I hear horror stories about the main contractor, Andrew Scott of Port Talbot. These involve shoddy workmanship, jobs not finished on time, cost over-runs and sheer incompetence. Into the last category falls the story of the lift ordered for Castle Green House that was the wrong size because someone had not taken the correct measurement! Did this really happen? While a comment to my previous post alleges that very expensive kitchen equipment and furnishings came from a certain supplier due to that firm enjoying a family connection to a trustee, even though the very same equipment could have been sourced far cheaper in Cardigan. Though another suggestion is that a member of the Leekes clan owns an expensive holiday home at Llangrannog, and is a neighbour and friend to a person or persons connected with the Castle.

Another criticism is the lack of joined-up thinking (if that’s what it is). Last month the ‘Welsh’ Government announced a £300,000 grant for Coleg Ceredigion to develop a Welsh language centre at its Cardigan campus. We’re entitled to know why the ‘Welsh’ Government is funding another project on a separate site when it should be in the castle and covered by that project’s £12m budget. Some suggest a devious game being played by the Heritage Lottery fund, who had no intention of allowing Cardigan Castle to be ‘too Welsh’. If so, then perhaps the other big funder, the ‘Welsh’ Government, is simply falling into line.

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This post, and the previous one, are not arguments against commercialisation based on some simplistic notion that sites like Cardigan Castle do not need to generate income. I know from experience that funders demand business plans, and all manner of credible projections to convince them that a project will remain viable after the initial funding has run out. But I can’t believe that any funder, or bank, or investor, would be happy with the shambles in Aberteifi.

First, we have the clear departure from the original and expressed intention that the project would promote and nurture the Welsh language and the culture associated with that language. This has not happened. Sue Lewis’ amazing ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails, and Sandra Davies’ rant against Welsh “bigots” make this abundantly clear. All we have now is lip service being paid to the Castle’s history, its role in Welsh culture, and the sensibilities of the people who have always lived in the vicinity.

This rejection of all things Welsh was justified – by Sue Lewis – as being commercially sensible. Mrs Lewis’ judgement is not being vindicated. And I can’t help but wonder what experience a journalist like Sue Lewis has that qualifies her to be the Facilities Officer for a twelve million pounds project. But then, she does appear to have been self-appointed.

And what of the trustees . . . or rather, who are the current trustees? And why is there such a high turnover among them? Does anyone have a complete and up-to-date list of the trustees? Certainly the Charity Commission doesn’t, but the law says it should.

As things stand, this project is approaching meltdown. It has alienated most locals and failed to justify that behaviour with commercial success. Staff have been sacked for no good reason (unless being Welsh qualifies). And the whole shooting-match now appears to be under the control of two women who are always right, and for whom measured responses are anathema. With friends like these Cardigan Castle needs no enemies.

The regeneration of Cardigan Castle started off with a fund of local goodwill upon which to draw; that fund has been all but exhausted by a combination of incompetence and lack of oversight, with the second of those allowing – if not encouraging – the takeover of the project by a prejudiced, self-serving group. The Castle and what it stands for is now resented and regarded with suspicion by the local Welsh, as it was when the Castle was in English hands, imposing English ways on the Welsh population.

Given my ideological outlook I don’t often quote Karl Marx, but I can’t resist this: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’. Cardigan Castle is most definitely a farce. A very expensive farce.