Trivallis

Nov 072017
 

TO RECAP . . .

I have written many times about social housing in Wales, and of the many problems created by the more irresponsible housing associations. Here are just a few of the problems:

  • Unlike in Scotland, social housing providers in Wales are tied into an Englandandwales system. This results in our housing associations having to give priority treatment to people with no Welsh connections.
  • Many of those being housed by these routes will be ‘problem families’, or young tearaways, they might be drug and alcohol abusers, or they’ll be recently released from prison. These issues will inevitably place a burden on our health service and other facilities while also affecting the quality of life in many Welsh communities.
  • Wales has an ageing population. In a decade or so Wales will be the ‘oldest’ country in western Europe. This also places a strain on our NHS and other services which results in money being taken from education and other budgets. Yet many housing associations, particularly in the north, are using public funding to build housing for the elderly and the infirm brought in from outside of Wales.
  • Despite the recommendations of the Notional Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee social housing providers are still diversifying through unaccountable subsidiaries. This results, for example, in the insane situation in Pembrokeshire where The Pembrokeshire Housing Association is passing public money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes for MBH to build houses for sale on the open market!
  • Many Welsh housing associations lease or rent properties from companies based in tax havens. I explored this connection in Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. Yet no one in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems to care that Welsh social housing tenants could be living in properties owned by the Mafia, or ISIS.
  • Housing associations form secretive and costly links with Third Sector and other bodies. Some of these links are of questionable legality, of dubious benefit to Wales, but always costly to the Welsh public purse.
  • And that, perhaps, is the biggest worry of all. That no one with responsibility for overseeing social housing bodies, no one who funds them with hundreds of millions of pounds of public money, seems to care how they operate. It’s left to self-evaluation and self-appraisal – box-ticking exercises which of course never find any problems. So everybody’s happy!

NEWS FROM THE NORTH

A taste for what follows may be obtained from the post Bits & Pieces of September 30th. Now here’s the latest:

Paul Diggory, the Chester-based former boss of ailing North Wales Housing, is now promoting himself – something he’s very good at – as a ‘housing and social enterprise freelance‘, which fits in nicely with his role as chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales.

Diggory gives us one of the two qualifications needed to run a Welsh housing association: either be English like him and the CEOs recently appointed to Valleys to Coast, Bron Afon and Hendre; or else have good links with the Labour Party, which accounts for the appointments of both Trivallis’ new £150,000 a year CEO and the new Board chair, Tracy Myhills, previously CEO at the Welsh Ambulance Trust. (How’d you like that on your CV!)

It should go without saying that if you’re English and a member or supporter of the Labour Party then you get to take your pick of which housing association you’d like to run. Being English but supporting some other party would be acceptable, but if you’re non-Labour Welsh, forget it.

This is how a one-party state operates.

Staying in the north for a minute . . . Not so long ago Labour’s most favoured housing association, Wales & West, built a big new office building in Ewloe, Flintshire, very close to the border.

Courtesy of Google, click to enlarge

Many thought at the time that a Cardiff-based housing association might be over-extending itself with this office block, but no, for since then W&W has not only swallowed up Cantref of Castell Newydd Emlyn, and branched out into Ceredigion, but is also hovering, vulture-like, over ailing HAs across the land.

One housing association viewed as sickly and about to fall is Pennaf. The Pennaf Group is based in Llanelwy (St Asaph) and includes the Clwyd Alyn housing association and Offa, a lettings and management service. A northern source tells me that a couple of factors may be contributing to make Pennaf look a tasty dish.

First, CEO Graham Worthington – also based in Chester! – has just announced his retirement; plus, it seems that Pennaf has been tardy in bringing its 4,500 properties up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard, something it should have done by 2012.

The reason for Pennaf finding itself in this parlous position is I’m told due to spending too much time and money building care and residential homes – i.e. using Welsh public funding to bring in more retirees, so as to put extra strain on the NHS and social services that will result in education and other budgets being raided.

Only in Wales!

WALES & WEST WAY OUT WEST AND WAY OUT OF LINE

I’ve just mentioned that Wales & West snaffled up Cantref of Castell Newydd Emlyn, which operated mainly in Ceredigion, but W&W is also branching out in other ways.

When the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government handed Cantref over to Wales and West part of the dowry was valuable land at Plas Morolwg in Aberystwyth, overlooking the marina and with nice views out to sea. That site is now earmarked for 60 extra care flats. It’s doubtful if Ceredigion needs this development, certainly, it’s suggested that if it goes ahead it will jeopardise Mid Wales Housing’s Cylch Caron project in Tregaron.

But things are never that simple in Ceredigion.

Ceredigion council’s leader, Ellen ap Gwynn of Plaid Cymru, is under intense pressure over the closure of the Bodlondeb care home in Aberystwyth. Motivated by nothing more than a deep and heartfelt concern for the old biddies therein Labour and Lib Dems have taken to protesting against the closure, even recruiting that one-boy rent-a-mob and self-promoting little shite, Owen Jones.

It is further suggested that certain council officials such as strategy officers and planners who – how can I put this? – whose first spoonful might not have been puréed laverbread, are bending over backwards to help an anti-Welsh organisation like Wales & West.

An unholy alliance of Plaid Cymru and Welsh-haters.

Let’s now turn our attention to Lampeter, where Wales and West is very active, and plans yet more expansion. What follows is information for which I offer thanks to someone obviously well-informed about council business.

To begin with, there are widespread concerns in Lampeter that Wales & West is failing to evict its drug-dealing tenants in Bryn Road and North Road. But things are almost certainly going to get worse, for W&W is said to be in the process of buying the old Ffynnonbedr school building in order to build yet more flats in an area of low need. So Lampeter can expect more drug addicts to arrive. Lucky Lampeter!

UPDATE 08.11.2017: A pre-planning consultation notice appeared on the door of the old Ffynnonbedr school today. The architect Geraint John of Cardiff is making the planning statement/application in the name of Hacer Developments of Swansea.

This document – at 5.5 and 5.6 – makes great play of an agreement between Ceredigion council and Cantref in the early part of 2016 and seems to suggest that Cantref is the client. But of course Cantref was taken over by Wales & West over a year ago, but I can find no mention of Wales & West. Understandable given the drug dealers and others W&W has already brought into the town.

As if that wasn’t worrying enough for the good people of Lambed, I hear from a former weekend soldier that the old Territorial Army building – also on Bryn Road – is up for sale, and word is that W&W want to buy this as well. But I bet you’d guessed that already!

I’ve mentioned that Wales & West refuses to evict its lucrative drug-dealing tenants in Lampeter, and for this it has been congratulated by fellow Labour Party members in Shelter Cymru. Mutual back-scratching among Labour-run Third Sector bodies is so prevalent and blatant that they even try to make a virtue of it.

click to enlarge

Elsewhere the tale of evictions is different. For back in Aberystwyth, mainly local 16- and 17-year-olds are being evicted from Wales & West’s Tŷ Curig hostel  . . . to make way for new ‘guests’. Most of these replacements will arrive burdened with ‘issues’, but it is these very ‘issues’ that will allow W&W to charge a hefty fee for housing them – leaving the rest of us to pick up the bill.

Before leaving Wales & West for a moment I should also point out that the new office building wasn’t restricted to Ewloe, for there’s also the new HQ in Cardiff. This too may be in anticipation of expansion, with one of the potential victims rumoured to be Cardiff Community Housing Association, where CEO Kevin Protheroe is about to retire.

WHY DO I SAY ‘ANTI-WELSH’?

I try to be careful in using the right word, and that’s why I have no hesitation in describing Wales & West Housing – and others I’ll soon mention – as anti-Welsh.

Non-Welsh or un-Welsh might imply someone or something having nothing to do with Wales; it might suggest ignorance of Wales’ distinctiveness, possibly ambivalence; but by using anti-Welsh I mean awareness of the Welsh language, and other things that make Wales different, but deliberately seeking to denigrate and undermine them. This certainly applies to Wales & West, which is why I describe W&W as anti-Welsh.

Let’s start with the W&W website – it’s in English only. As is the website of another Labour-run housing association I’ve mentioned, Trivallis (formerly RCT Homes). This is no accident, for when it comes to the Welsh language most Labour Party members and supporters agree with Neil Kinnock rather than with Carwyn Jones.

Other HAs – Bro Myrddin, for example – rely on Google Translate. The CEO at Bro Myrddin is Hilary Jones, said to be an ‘ally’ of W&W, who is rumoured to be taking an interest in Hafan Cymru, reported to be in serious trouble due to its over-reliance on the Supporting People programme and EU funding.

But the point is that all Registered Social Landlords are legally required to give equal status to both languages, and also to have a Welsh language scheme in place. But the Regulation Managers employed to enforce these requirements obviously aren’t up to the job (or maybe they too missed out on the puréed laverbread).

Or does the fault lie with those above them? I ask because this recent advertisement for a Regulation Manager bizarrely and confusingly talks of “capability to work in both English and Welsh” but then says that Welsh is “not necessary“!

click to enlarge

This seems to be a case of going through the motions: ‘Look, we’ve got to say this about the Welsh language . . . but in practice it doesn’t really mean anything‘.

A concrete example of Wales and West’s contempt for the Welsh language came recently with its advertisement for a Development Officer in Newcastle Emlyn, with the advertisement in English only and no requirement to speak Welsh in an area where Welsh is widely spoken. Welsh is certainly the majority language among the native Welsh.

This advertisement is not an oversight, nor is the absence of a Welsh website. This is flaunting power. This is a bunch of Labour bigots, with the ‘Welsh’ Government behind them saying, ‘Fuck you, and your language!

How will this attitude contribute to Carwyn Jones’ one million Welsh speakers by 2050?

IMAGE CONFLICTING WITH REALITY

We are encouraged to think of housing associations as streamlined, twenty-first century replacements for the old local authority housing departments, but doing a much better job. In fact, they have so little in common that any comparison is invalid.

To begin with, councils operate within defined geographical areas, whereas housing associations are spread all over the country competing with each other and duplicating each other’s work. Competition and duplication that places a wholly unnecessary burden on the public purse.

This has obviously been realised, and the problem is being addressed by encouraging those housing associations that are most ‘reliable’ from a Labour Party perspective – which also happen to be the least Welsh in staff and attitudes – to expand and take over the others. Which has two main results.

One, it increases Labour Party influence in areas of Wales where the party has no MPs or AMs. Two, it encourages instinctively anti-Welsh organisations to expand into areas where the Welsh language is strong. Good for the Labour Party but a disaster for the Welsh language and for Wales

Another difference is that local authority housing departments would never have struck deals with outside agencies to import someone else’s criminals, paedophiles, drug addicts, problem families, etc. The reason being that councils had that link with their patch, that commitment to their people, and of course councillors needed to be re-elected. With housing associations such considerations and restraints are absent.

For housing associations are distant bodies, answerable to nobody, and can do what they damn well like. And because there’s little profit to be made from housing decent, law-abiding locals, but lots of money available if they inflict problems on small Welsh towns like Lampeter, that’s the model they follow.

A good source of income for many ‘Welsh’ housing associations

And while there are healthy profits for Wales & West and others from importing undesirables, once here they place an inevitable burden on local health and other services, and police resources, while causing misery and disruption to Welsh communities. In a different category, but having a similar effect on the Welsh public purse, are the retirees being brought into Wales, and this is no longer confined to the Costa Geriatrica.

All of which results in the Welsh public purse, which funds W&W and the rest of them, losing out again, and again, and again. And we are the public purse, you and I. It is we who lose out in having to endure inferior facilities and strained resources.

But the model followed by Wales & West is profitable. And the profits made, coupled with ‘Welsh’ Labour backing, allow W&W to undermine and then swallow up their smaller and weaker brethren, which will include responsible social housing providers sticking to what should be the role of housing associations – providing rented housing for local people.

And some day in the not-too-distant future, when towns like Lampeter and Aberystwyth are awash with drug addicts and criminals from God knows where, and there are only a few housing associations left standing, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party will control them all.

Allowing ‘Welsh’ Labour, through its housing associations and other Third Sector bodies, to exert a control over Wales denied it by the ballot box. We shall have arrived at the one-party state.

Endgame.

♦ end ♦

Sep 302017
 

This is a bumper issue to keep you going as the nights draw in and I get on with a couple of jobs that must be done ere winter tightens its icy grip. The post consists of a number of items enabling you to take it in in easy, bite-sized chunks. (‘Bite-sized chunks’!)

Enjoy!

NORTH WALES HOUSING LTD

News reaches me of another housing association heading for the rocks, this time it’s North Wales Housing Ltd. A body all too representative of ‘Welsh’ housing associations, especially with the retirement properties built by its wholly owned “commercial subsidiary” Domus Cambria. (Though it’s nice to see a bit of Latin being used.)

Looked at more critically, Domus Cambria helps explain what’s wrong with housing in Wales. The Welsh NHS is stretched to breaking point by the demands made on it by, among others, English retirees, yet in Conwy, where almost two-thirds of the pensioners were born in England (2011 census), the council is still giving planning permission for retirement flats that are marketed over the border!

Domus Cambria recently sold the last of its leasehold flats on Llandudno’s West Shore . . . after years of trying. Which explains why it is finally showing a slight profit, though as with Mill Bay Homes in Pembrokeshire, this ray of financial sunshine may be due to cash transferred from the parent body rather than any business acumen attaching to those running the subsidiary.

The ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Opinion and Financial Viability Judgement for 2015 on North Wales Housing was none too encouraging, and explains what a drag Domus Cambria has been for a small RSL with just over 2,000 rental properties.

“Selling homes has proved challenging, but has been managed within the Group’s existing financial resources. Originally, homes were planned to be sold by May 2012. To date, 10 are provisionally under offer but remain unsold. The response from the Group to address the slow sales has drifted along with no real impetus. The mitigations put in place were reasonable but demonstrate the difficulties of the Board deciding to press ahead with this product in highly challenging market conditions.

Despite Domus Cambria’s difficulties, the leadership and some elements of the Board continue to press to undertake more business of this nature – even though phase 1 has fallen short of expectations.” (Something of an understatement considering sales were 5 years behind schedule.)

The Regulatory Opinion for 2016 is marginally better, but the beguiling song of the Shit Creek sirens can still be heard.

Given the problems with Domus Cambria it’s difficult to understand why North Wales Housing has taken on another sideline in Rakes and Ladders an “in house grounds maintenance team”. Especially as the name is hardly original, for I found another Rakes and Ladders in Bridgend, one in Gloucestershire, yet another in Vancouver, and I’m sure there must be more. Confusion guaranteed.

North Wales Housing has also been trustee since 2007 for The Olinda Trust, a registered charity, which ran the Plas Parciau home for dementia sufferers in Old Colwyn. The accounts up to 31 August 2016 paint a bleak picture, showing a deficit of £264,568, which explains the charity ceasing to trade in October 2016.

North Wales Housing Ltd is, like almost all housing associations, an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA website suggests that since 16 September 2016 NWH has also been in the consumer credit business.

click to enlarge

This would have been around the time that The Olinda Trust succumbed to the sirens’ call.

I get the impression of a bunch of incompetents running a housing association too small to survive diversifying desperately in the hope that anyone witnessing this activity will be fooled into thinking those behind it know what they’re doing. They don’t.

Even though North Wales Housing is an IPS, force of habit took me to the Companies House website where, sure enough, I found an entry for ‘North Wales Housing Association Ltd’.

Linked with it is Erw Villas Management Company Ltd, the kind of organisation we encountered when we looked into the Cardiff Bay property dealings of Mark Vincent James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. An organisation that allows tenants a say in the running of the block of flats in which they live . . . unless of course Mark Vincent James and his associates get involved.

Erw Villas Management Company Ltd was originally registered to an address in Catford, East London. It was struck off in May 2008 but restored 31 January 2011. On 2 February 2011 the address was changed to that of North Wales Housing in Llandudno Junction. On the same day all the old directors resigned and North Wales Housing was named as secretary and director.

Though in the Annual Return of 12 August 2015, and even though Paul William Diggory, the North Wales Housing CEO at the time, is named as director, the two original directors – Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin – are still the only shareholders.

Diggory was succeeded as director by Owen Ingram, who has in turn been replaced by Helena Kirk, the current CEO of North Wales Housing.

No Annual Return for 2016 is available with Companies House, so I assume it has not been submitted.

So what is the connection between North Wales Housing, Raymond Marquis and Jonathan Colin, and Erw Villas on Conway Old Road in Penmaenmawr? Answers on a postcard, please. (And make sure there’s a stamp on it this time! cos I’m not bloody paying again.)

The more I looked into North Wales Housing the more clear it became how thoroughly English it is. Take a look at the Board; start with the chair, Tom Murtha, who retired in 2012 from Midland Heart and now seems to have a number of part-time jobs, including NWH. There may be two or three Welsh people on the Board of 12.

Or how about the management team, headed by Helena Kirk, who arrived in Wales last October?

Even the job of designing the website was given to a company in England, Hallnet Ltd of Warrington, Cheshire. Is there no company in Wales that could have designed a website? Is this the Mersey Dee Alliance in practice, or is it just taking the piss?

Because it always makes me smile when I hear someone respond to complaints about Welsh organisations stuffed with English staff with, ‘Ah, yes, but you’ve got to get the best people for the job – no matter where they come from’.

North Wales Housing is on the brink of oblivion, brought there by bad management, so to suggest that the current shower, and its predecessors, are and were the best for the job is an insult to the Welsh nation. And that’s without considering the longer term consequences.

Domus Cambria sought, selfishly and irresponsibly, to increase the burden on local services by attracting to the Costa Geriatrica yet more elderly people – and all because the parent body was struggling financially!

‘Ah, but that don’t affect us down by ‘ere, look’. Yes it does, you thick-as-shit Labour-voting cretin! To prop up a failing NHS and social services burdened by the activities of Domus Cambria and others your Labour government down Cardiff docks will rob money from other budgets, and that affects us all, in every part of the country.

There is no reason to keep North Wales Housing afloat any longer, so let it be taken over by another RSL, one that is larger, more efficient, more responsible, and more Welsh.

TRIVALLIS

‘Not more f###ing Latin!’ you scream. Well, yes, and from that hotbed of classical learning, Rhondda Cynon Taf. (Three valleys, geddit?)

Trivallis is another Registered Social Landlord aka housing association that I’m told is in trouble. Hardly surprising when we read in the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Regulatory Judgement of June 2017“The Group has a number of unregistered subsidiary companies – Trivallis Ltd, Meadow Prospect, GrEW, Homeforce, Porthcwlis, Porthcwlis Homes and Bellerophon Project 1 LLP.”

In my experience, whenever a third sector body / housing association creates a ‘trading arm’ or a ‘subsidiary’ things go wrong, as we’ve just seen with North Wales Housing. That’s because these are set up by people who are used to being bailed out by the public purse and have little or no understanding of the realities of business.

Too often they are disasters waiting to happen.

The subsidiaries I’ve just just listed – some of which are dormant, having never got off the ground – are all being brought in-house, obviously heeding the recent recommendation of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee on “diversification”. (Though I was unable to find anything at all for GrEW.)

In case you haven’t noticed, go to the Trivallis website again and look in the top right corner, where you’d expect to find the ‘Cymraeg’ option, or the flag. It’s not there, is it? The website is entirely in English, and that’s because of the strong ‘Welsh’ Labour influence at Trivallis.

Scroll down to the bottom of the home page and you’ll read ‘Powered by VerseOne Technologies Ltd’. Click on the link and you’ll see that the Trivallis website was designed by a Manchester company, with an office in Edinburgh.

Such commitment to Wales! But so typical of ‘Welsh’ Labour, and too many of its housing associations.

‘HOUSE!’ (but nothing to do with housing)

Back in July Llais y Sais ran a story on bookies’ fixed odds betting terminals. In it, Carolyn Harris is horrified to learn that £8m a year is lost on FOBTs in the Swansea Bay region. And so she should be, for Carolyn Harris chairs the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Parliamentary Group.

Fast forward to last week and the same local media treated us to news that the cavernous Castle Bingo club in Morriston has been refurbished. And there to re-open it was – Carolyn Harris. ‘But bingo’s diff’rent, innit, not like them cowin’ FOBTs’. 

I hope those aren’t “dyke shoes”!

Maybe not, except that it’s not all ‘legs eleven’ and ‘two fat ladies’ in Morriston, for the club provides its customers with other ways to lose their money enjoy themselves on what look suspiciously like FOBTs, or approximations thereof.

Described as “electronic entertainment” in the annual accounts

So why was Carolyn Harris there, officially re-launching Morriston’s answer to Las Vegas? The justification seems to have been that Castle Bingo was giving Harris a cheque for GambleAware.

As I wrote this I got to wondering about Castle Bingo, and so I checked on the Companies House website. The company was Incorporated in December 1995. You’ll see that there were two directors; Mrs Diane Elizabeth Stockford of Pontprennau, Cardiff and Mr Jeffrey Charles Harris of Sketty, Swansea.

Harris was also a director of Crown Buckley Ltd, the Brains subsidiary; Cadwalader (Ice Cream) Ltd, which went into administration in October 2015; and Cadwalader (Criccieth) Ltd. Harris is also a director of Meeron Ltd., another company in the gambling business.

Stockford became Brierley, and moved to Rudry, while Harris moved to St Nicholas. Brierley resigned as director in September 2012 and was replaced by Lisa Mary Morgan as both secretary and director. All the while Castle Bingo was providing accounts as a dormant company, explained by the fact that both Stockford and Harris were also directors of Castle Leisure Ltd.

Parent company Castle Leisure Ltd began life in 1911 as The Central Cinema, Cardiff, Ltd. Somewhere along the way, and certainly before May 1988, the company became known as Castle Leisure Ltd.

Here’s the latest list of shareholders for the 235,533 shares. In the year ended 25 December 2016 Castle Leisure Ltd had an operating profit of £4,164,319 on a turnover of £30,591,231. The company has 661 employees at its 8 clubs in Wales and 3 in England.

Of course it would be easy to be snobbish, or judgemental, but after all is said and done, this is an established Welsh company, one that has branched out into England and provides hundreds of jobs giving a lot of people what they want.

That said, there are obvious benefits for all concerned: Castle Bingo operates in Carolyn Harris’ constituency; Castle Bingo gives Harris publicity and a little cheque in the hope that she steers MPs away from their business model; a mutually beneficial association which Labour-backing Trinity Mirror is happy to report having for years enjoyed ‘promotions’ and ‘partnerships’ with Castle Bingo.

Finally: A disturbing report reaches me of unseemly, drunken cavorting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week involving – it is alleged – Carolyn Harris and rugby-playing Tonia Antoniazzi, the Labour MP for neighbouring Gower.

I don’t want to believe this scurrilous allegation so I would welcome any further information. Especially photographic evidence proving that such an incident did not take place.

CADW

It’s not often that I get the chance to talk of good news and Cadw in the same report, so I’m going to make the most of this.

A good source informs me of a victory won by the natives of Cydweli, who can now enter their local castle for free. Of course they have to provide proof that they are local, and then sing the first three verses of God Save the Queen. (Joke . . . possibly.)

Castell Cydweli

I’m told that the people of Caerffili enjoy the same concession, while in Conwy it’s just a 20% discount on the entrance fee. But why isn’t there a national scheme to allow all Welsh people into all Cadw premises for free? For God’s sake, it’s not as if Cadw built them, or owns them!

And how difficult would such a scheme be to administer? I mean, everybody nowadays has a passport, a driving licence, a bus pass or something that identifies them. Even if it’s only discharge papers from the Sea Scouts (which I still cherish).

The vast majority of those who visit Cadw sites are tourists, with more money than our people, so let them subsidise our visits. To do so would achieve the impossible – make tourism benefit Welsh people.

A national scheme such as I’m proposing could also introduce more of our people to their country’s history, but of course we’d need someone other than Cadw to interpret that history.

‘SPECIAL TRAIN FOR ATKINS’*

There are many people in Wales who take great pride in devolution, and especially in the thought of Welsh laws being made to serve Wales and her people. Obviously, I’m not one of these because without independence or at the very least a Welsh legal system there can be no Welsh laws.

Without independence or a separate jurisdiction what we are served up too often is simply English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ added to the name. We are given the chimera of legislative power but the real purpose is to keep us in line with England.

Where a genuine ‘Welsh’ initiative is allowed, it’s either an expensive gesture such as free prescriptions, or else it’s the ‘Welsh Government’ succumbing to English pressure groups. The perfect example of the latter would be the proposal to open Wales up to canoeists, ramblers and the rest, dressed up as ‘Sustainable Management’.

But I want to focus on the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. I have written about it before and pointed out that it gives homeless people priority for housing, and who would argue with that? Well, I would, because we are locked into an Englandandwales system that means a family of scruffs making themselves homeless anywhere in England qualify for accommodation in Wales ahead of locals.

Another curiosity of this legislation is that homeless ex-service personnel are also mentioned in the Act as being priority cases. Curious because homeless ex-service personnel do not qualify as priority cases in the equivalent English legislation. The reference can be found at 70 (1) (i).

So why are men and women who have served the English Crown, and suffered for it, not given priority treatment in England? And isn’t it all too predictable that England’s homeless, disabled ex-service personnel, and those suffering from PTSD, those with drug and alcohol problems, will be ‘directed’ to Wales?

Though perhaps the real question is, who inserted this sentence into the Bill? Was it the ‘Welsh’ Government, once again playing gesture politics? Or was it slipped in by a civil servant based in Wales but obeying his or her masters in London?

I’ve got no problem with looking after some poor sod who’s lost both his legs on a foreign adventure about which we were lied to from start to finish, but the way it’s being done looks suspiciously like Wales being dumped on, again.

  • I’ve taken the heading for this section from Kipling’s Tommy. It seemed somehow appropriate.

♦ end ♦

Jan 022017
 

It’s difficult to know where to start with this rather complex story. Maybe we should go back to 2008 and the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, presented as an attempt to improve the standard of social housing. The WHQS was in fact nothing more than the Decent Homes Standard that operated in England. Another example of ‘Welsh’ legislation being just renamed and repackaged English legislation. Though in this instance, there was one very important difference, to be found in this National Assembly document, which says . . .

If the ‘Welsh’ Government can fund housing associations and also fund councils that retain their housing stock, then surely it can find the money for ALMOs? To argue otherwise doesn’t make sense. Limiting the choice to those options might make sense though to those in the social housing sector who saw WHQS as a weapon that could be used to get local authorities to hand over their housing stock. But do housing associations really exert such influence?

Well, consider this. The umbrella body for housing associations in Wales is Community Housing Cymru (CHC). From July 2006 until July 2014 the group chief executive of CHC was Nick Bennett. Prior to that he’d been a Spad for a few years until October 2002 and in between he’d been a director of Cwmni Cyfathrebu Bute Communications. Another director of this long-defunct company was Alun Davies, who had not long before switched his political allegiance from Plaid Cymru to Labour, and would be elected as a regional AM in 2007.

So Nick Bennett was in business with a rising star in the Labour Party – who’d already stood for the party in Ceredigion in the 2005 UK election – and this would have done him no harm when he applied for the post of group chief executive of Community Housing Cymru in 2006. Bennett’s strong links with ‘Welsh’ Labour also explain why he got the job of Public Service Ombudsman for Wales in July 2014.

In addition, many housing associations, particularly in the south, are stuffed with Labour Party members and supporters, and the party goes out of its way to help these associations. A recent example would be the takeover of Cantref by Wales and West. I’ve written about this disgraceful episode a few times, my posts can be traced back from Cantref: ‘Welsh’ Labour Takeover Challenged?

Cantref is a housing association based in Newcastle Emlyn, operating in a bilingual area with bilingual staff. It hit a rocky patch and a scavenger soon appeared in the form of Wales and West Housing, whose chief executive is Anne Hinchey, wife of Cardiff Labour councillor Graham Hinchey. Business is now conducted in English only and ‘Welsh’ Labour has an important beachhead in an area where it has very little electoral support.

The latest example of the influence housing associations exert over the Labour Party and its ‘Welsh’ Government comes with the news that, “In September (2016), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced housing associations should be considered part of the public, not private, sector. But the Welsh Government promised to take “whatever steps are necessary” to reverse the change, following concerns.”

The key to understanding what’s going on here is, firstly, that these “concerns” come from housing associations and their umbrella organisation Community Housing Cymru. I am not aware of anyone – other than CHC’s fifth column inside the ‘Welsh’ Government – who believes that housing associations becoming public bodies is a bad thing.

The reason given for opposing the ONS initiative is, “Community Housing Cymru (CHC) said it could affect their (housing associations) ability to borrow money and to build new homes.”

Let us look at the first of those claims that, if reclassified as public bodies, housing associations would find it more difficult to raise private funding. Which suggests that housing associations are now borrowing considerable sums from banks and other financial institutions. But are they? In my investigations into housing associations I have found little evidence that they rely on commercial loans. So where does housing associations’ income come from?

The largest and most obvious source of income is rents from their housing stock, most of which they inherited from local authorities. Yes, these properties have to be maintained and improved, up to Welsh Housing Quality Standard, but as we’ll see below, the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me – pays for it all! And there are other funding streams, as I explained in Housing Associations – The Great Deception. (Nov 17, 2015.)

As I said back then, “One of the facts unearthed is something called Dowry Gap funding, paid to certain housing associations for them to use in upgrading the housing stock they’ve inherited from councils under voluntary transfer (i.e. through a vote by tenants). This funding is currently being paid to ten housing associations and in 2015 – 16 the total cost will be £43.8m. Tai Ceredigion Cyf’s ‘Dowry’ will be paid at the rate of £1.6m a year for 30 years. If this 30-year term applies to the other, larger housing associations, then the total cost will be £1.3bn.

This Dowry Gap funding seems to complement the Welsh Housing Quality Standard legislation, which demanded that all RSL properties be up to WHQS standard by 2012. This deadline – and its funding of £108m a year – has now been extended to 2020. Introduced in 2004 and running to 2020, £108m a year totals up to £1.7bn.

Adding the two we get a total figure of £3bn for ‘improvements’. Seeing as Wales has 143,790 RSL properties, this works out at almost £21,000 per property! (Is this right? Will somebody please check the figures.) That is a lot of moolah for windows and doors, especially when we accept that many of the dwellings inherited from local authorities were in good condition, certainly not needing ‘refurbishment’ to the tune of 21 grand per property.”

Another lucrative source of ‘Welsh’ Government funding for housing associations is the Social Housing Grant. The latest figures I have tell us that between 2008 and November 2015 £771,708,622.59 was paid in Social Housing Grant.

We are talking billions of pounds of public funding going into social housing. Perhaps four billion pounds by 2020.

The second part of housing associations’ objections to becoming public bodies is that they claim it could affect their ability “to build new homes”. Why? They’d still have the income from their rents, and they’d still receive public funding. This claim is just baseless scaremongering done to hide the real objections those running our housing associations have to them becoming public bodies.

As things stand, housing associations, or Registered Social Landlords as they’re also known, have the best of all possible worlds. They operate as private companies, but with massive advantages over what we would normally consider to be private companies.

To begin with, most of them inherited their housing stock for nothing when council tenants were given a vote (often after receiving misleading information). Then, as I’ve just explained, they receive staggering amounts of money from the public purse, despite, with their assets, being able to raise private funding just like other businesses. Being registered as Industrial and Provident Societies with the toothless Financial Conduct Authority means that they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act – yes, despite all that public funding! Finally, oversight and monitoring by the ‘Welsh’ Government is non-existent.

This last fact explains how we can have a situation in which a publicly-funded RSL like Pembrokeshire Housing can set up and fund a subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, for it to build and sell homes on the open market to retirees and investors (with of course Mill Bay Homes having an unfair advantage over independent house builders in the county).

When Pembrokeshire Housing will get back the millions of pounds it is has ‘loaned’ to Mill Bay Homes is anyone’s guess . . . but why should you worry when nobody in the ‘Welsh’ Government seems in the least concerned by this bizarre arrangement. I have written about Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes many times. Work back from Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System (Oct 23, 2016) to Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing 2 (June 14, 2016).

Those of you who enjoy a good read should settle down with this report into the workings of the Pembrokeshire Housing Group compiled by a concerned member of the public. (No, not me.) It has been circulated to interested parties, too many of whom seem to believe that if they whistle and look elsewhere the embarrassment will disappear.

But there are so many other problems with housing associations.

The most recent stock transfer seems to have been in Gwynedd, in 2010, when the council transferred its housing stock to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG). Among the first things CCG did was to hand over the maintenance contract for its properties to English company Lovell, which then brought in sub-contractors from north west England. I saw this first-hand in my village, and wrote about it in The Impoverishment of Wales (Aug 26, 2014).

Another issue I recently unearthed was that of housing associations leasing properties from shady offshore companies, the biggest of which is called Link holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. I wrote about it in a piece entitled, unsurprisingly, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd (Oct 10, 2016). Equally unsurprising is that the ‘Welsh’ Government’s civil servants don’t want to talk about this scandal, ‘All a long time ago . . . leases taken out by previous incarnations . . . stop bothering us’. But nothing changes the fact that Welsh housing associations in 2017 are putting a lot of public money into companies hiding in tax havens. Should public money be used in this way?

A long-standing problem with housing associations, perhaps more visible in rural areas, is that in order to appear busy, to pretend there’s a demand in order to keep the funding coming, they will often bring into Wales misfits and petty criminals. This was certainly an issue with Cantref. Note the reference in the information below to “young tenants from the hostel”. I’m told that Cantref brings in from England young tearaways and within a very short time extended families of scruffs and roughs are wandering Aberteifi. Other housing associations do the same, because it pays well.

One of the worst cases in recent years was the gang of paedophiles and rapists housed in Kidwelly by Grwp Gwalia. I wonder how much Grwp Gwalia was paid to inflict these creatures on a small Welsh town? Were those responsible ever reprimanded or sacked? Did Grwp Gwalia compensate the victims?

It was in attempting to get information on this case that I realised housing associations are not bound by the Freedom of Information Act. Because when I asked for details a door was slammed in my face . . . a heavy and expensive door paid for with public money.

Finally, before leaving this section, let’s ask ourselves exactly who is complaining about the ONS proposal to make housing associations open and honest public bodies? Well we can be sure that the minions employed by our RSLs don’t have a direct line to Stuart Ropke, Nick Bennett’s successor as Group Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru. The opposition is coming from much further up the food chain.

From people like the £150,000 a year chief executive of RCT Homes. After that bit of bad publicity RCT Homes rebranded itself as Trivallis. Most people in the Central Valleys are still trying to figure out what Trivallis means, and how much it cost to change everything. But, hey, it’s only public money, and there’s plenty more where that came from.

With social housing we have bodies operating in a Twilight Zone that allows them to pretend they’re private companies, free from bothersome FoI requests and any worthwhile official scrutiny, yet enjoying assets they did nothing to build up while having their finances constantly topped up by the public purse. With overpaid CEOs pretending they’re part of the business community.

Registered Social Landlords are part of the Third Sector, that monkey that we must shake from our backs if we are to build up a healthy economy and a prosperous country. Wales is over-dependent on hand-outs, but instead of using even that funding wisely, far too much of it is passed on in further hand-outs. This is trickle-down economics Welsh style.

The fundamental problem with the Third Sector in Wales is not that it exists – for there will always be shysters looking for some ’cause’ to exploit in their own interest – but that it is so interwoven with the ‘Labour movement’; which in itself might not be a problem were it not for the fact that ‘Welsh’ Labour is the recipient and distributor of the handouts.

We should be thankful to the Office for National Statistics for giving us this chance to clean up the expensive mess that is social housing in Wales. We should grasp this opportunity with both hands and make our housing associations public bodies, open to public scrutiny.

The worst possible outcome would be for the ‘Welsh’ Government to be swayed by individuals like Nick Bennett, Stuart Ropke, the £150,000 a year CEO of Trivallis, and too many others with a vested interest in maintaining the indefensible status quo.

To maintain that status quo would be to pander to a selfish, sectional interest against the national interest. Of which we have seen far too much since 1999.

♦ end ♦

P.S. Here is my submission to the Public Accounts Committee for its Inquiry into the Regulatory Oversight of Housing Associations.