WEFO

Sep 022016
 

BY A GUEST WRITER

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

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

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

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

Enhancing the visitor experience

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

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

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

strataflorida

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

High Tea in the Trenches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Village People

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

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

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

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

Merthyr YMCA Facebook

In the red

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

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

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

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

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

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

All very odd.

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

Another change of operational footprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE LIFE OF RILEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathon Riley

click to enlarge

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mynachlog Fawr architects

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

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

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

Answers on a postcard please.

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

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

Ystrad Fflur for Cadw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 222015
 

In the previous post I wrote about Faerdre Fach farm near Llandysul, the reason for my interest being that the owner, Kate Clamp, had re-named it Happy Donkey Hill, a reference to the donkeys and other animals housed there. That, really, was about all I wanted to say, but comments made by Mrs Clamp persuaded me to persist with this story.

As I pointed out in that earlier post, Mrs Clamp had run a similar enterprise in north east England before delighting us with her presence. This was the Ramshaw Rescue Centre at Low Garth Farm near Bishop Auckland. The report I’ve linked to, from October 2008, says that, Happy%20Donkey%20Hilldue to a neck injury, Mrs Clamp was selling Low Garth Farm, with an asking price of £895,000.

The next reference I found to the Ramshaw Rescue Centre was in this report from December 2010. In it, the Centre’s former kennel manager talks of raising money to buy and re-open the Centre, and is quoted as saying, “The rescue centre, when it was open, was good, but not brilliant – and I want to bring it back and restore and improve its image”. The implication is clear: when run by Mrs Clamp the Ramshaw Rescue Centre did not enjoy a good image.

Whatever the truth of that, we know that in late 2008 she was telling the Northern Echo that a neck injury was forcing her to give up the animal rescue centre at Low Garth Farm. Yet within months we find her in Wales, running exactly the same kind of operation, almost certainly with the same animals. We can safely conclude that her ‘injury’ was imaginary, and so there must have been another reason or reasons for her leaving Low Garth Farm.

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To my surprise, Kate Clamp made a few comments to my earlier post. You can of course read them for yourself, but I think some of her bon mots are worth extracting to use here.

In her first comment she tells us that she has now bought an “adjoining 31 acres” and, presumably, expects to be commended. Though as I point out, all this means is that yet more of Wales is in foreign ownership. In her next comment she says that my response was, “A very insular and very Welsh response . . . funny how all the successful businesses locally are run by non-Welsh, we spent in excess of £250,000 developing a derelict farm steading and mostly due to unreliable contractors locally used English workmen”.

Kate Clamp comment 2

I asked her to explain how my response was “insular” and “Welsh”, but she did not answer. Just as well perhaps, for she obviously has a very low opinion of us Welsh, and is not shy to express that opinion – we are no good at business, we are lazy workers . . . yet Wales is beautiful and we should be glad to live here (but leave the business of running the country to people like her). This is about as close as you’ll get to hearing someone actually say: ‘Wales is a lovely country . . . pity about the Welsh’.

In her final remarks directed at me (see comments to previous post), and after informing us that, “we” still own Low Garth Farm, she writes, “I am very proud of what we have achieved both in Wales and in England, I have created 2 remarkable businesses from nothing, what is your contribution?”

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Then, late last night, whilst sipping my Ovaltine, I received a Twitter DM. A curious message, but from a reliable source, telling me that Kate Clamp is the daughter of billionaire Michael Gooley, who made his money with off-the-beaten-track holiday company Trailfinders. Gooley is an important supporter of the Conservative Party and according to this BBC report gave the party £500,000 in the final quarter of last year, in the run-up to the General Election.

I’m not sure how my source stumbled upon this link but she was able to offer support with the tweet below, clearly from Kate Clamp to her brother Tristan Gooley, author of The Natural Navigator. (Obviously a chip off the old block.)

Tristan Gooley tweet

My source was able to direct me towards other supporting evidence, such as this forum discussing Happy Donkey Hill being featured in the Channel Four programme Four in a Bed. There I found a fascinating and revealing comment from ‘Batmanrobin’, which you can read below. (Click to enlarge.) Whoever posted this comment seems to know Kate Clamp, and makes a number of serious allegations. The reference to “Bishop” for Bishop Auckland tells me that ‘Batmanrobin’ is local to that area.

batmanandrobin

One allegation in particular caught my eye, “Donations for the (Ramshaw Rescue) centre was used for cruises and holidays”. I found this interesting because, on the one hand animal rescue centres invariably rely on grants, bequests, donations and other gifts, and are often registered charities, yet I can find nothing on the Charity Commission website for either the Ramshaw Rescue Centre or Faerdre Fach / Happy Donkey Hill. Nor could I find a registered company. Nor anything – charity or company – in the name of Kate Clamp. So how were these ventures organised, what form did they take, and how was the income accounted for and declared?

Then – as is so often the case – a comment from ‘Brychan’ pointed the way. He was able to tell us that the Ramshaw Rescue Centre is still open, and that until very recently the banking was done by a Kate Price. And it seems that at one time she was also known as Kate Wilson. After checking this myself, I’m persuaded that assorted animals are still housed at Low Garth Farm, but I’m not sure if it’s still called Ramshaw Rescue Centre. It may now be run as boarding kennels called 4 Paws Farm. Possibly both rescue centre and boarding kennels.

So now we have four surnames by which the proprietrix of Faerdre Fach has been known: Gooley, Wilson, Price and now Clamp. Are there others? No wonder it’s proving difficult to unearth any information on her. And is ‘Kate’ really her full given name, or is it Catherine / Katherine, Kathleen . . . ?

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We’ve learnt from Kate Clamp herself that although Low Garth Farm was up for sale in late 2008 it was not sold. As she reprimanded me: “Another grossly misinformed remark about my farm in the North East of England as we still own it!! You really need to research facts before you try to belittle me dear.” So I took her advice and did some research.

First, I wondered who exactly owns Faerdre Fach, and so I went to the Land Registry website. The document I paid £3 for and downloaded told me that the farm had been bought, on February 26th 2009, for £365,000, by Michael William David Gooley CBE.

Faerdre Fach title extract

Next – you’ve guessed it! – I wondered who owned Low Garth Farm. The Land Registry document told me that this property is also registered in the name of Michael William David Gooley CBE. This goes some way to explaining why Kate Cramp didn’t sell Low Garth Farm after all – it was never hers to sell!

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I think we know enough about Kate Gooley / Wilson / Price / Clamp to make the following assessment.

Despite her claim to be hard-working and successful, what she has was paid for by Tory-funding Daddy. Though that said, he is a real businessman, you can tell that by the fact that he keeps ownership of the properties in which she lives, and where she is allowed to play out her fantasy of being a businesswoman. The fantasies may not end there.

Lady Kate Clamp Facebook

Allegations have been made that donations made to the Ramshaw Rescue Centre were misappropriated. I have no way of knowing whether these serious allegations are true or not, but it’s strange that I can find nothing to tell me how the RRC was constituted. If it was receiving donations then it would need to be registered with the Charity Commission or some other body.

The Clamps departure from Low Garth Farm may have been somewhat hurried, and we know that the excuse given does not ring true because Kate Clamp merely transferred her activities – and perhaps her animals – to Llandysul. So what was the real reason for them moving from the north east of England to the south west of Wales in late 2008 / early 2009? Especially as her new husband Andy Clamp is local to the north east of England.

And yet, as the daughter of a very wealthy man, surely she could, had she so chosen, live the life of a retiring country lady, busying herself with ‘good works’ around the parish. But it looks as if Kate Clamp is, to put it kindly, ‘outgoing’, and loves to be the centre of attention.

Kate Clamp belongs to a restless but well-heeled segment of English society that until relatively recently could enjoy the escape of empire, and lording it over ‘darkies’. Many of them now move to France, and pride themselves on not learning a word of the ‘lingo’; or else they choose Spain, where they shout at waiters – all of whom are, conveniently, named ‘Pedro’. But too many of them end up in Wales, and with the same attitudes.

How much longer do we put up with being treated as some inferior race?

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IN THE PIPELINE . . .

There are two subjects I’m working on for possible future posts, and I’d appreciate any information.

The first concerns the long-running plan by the Beaufort Estate to erect wind turbines on common grazing land at Mynydd y Gwair, on the northern outskirts of Swansea. Having recently been turned down the developers are appealing, and now mysterious little groups have been haunting central Swansea collecting signatures on vague petitions supporting wind energy.

The approach to passers-by seems to be, ‘Do you want your children / grandchildren to be roasted alive due to global warming? Of course you don’t – so sign our petition!’ No specific mention is made of Mynydd y Gwair but it is strongly believed that the Green extremists collecting these signatures are in the pay of the developers and that these petitions will be presented as ‘evidence’ of public support for the Mynydd y Gwair project. Any information on those who have been deviously collecting signatures in this way would be welcome. Greenpeace and Yes2Wind have been mentioned as being involved. Read here how they operate.

One of the companies involved with the developers, RWE Innogy UK, is the Remarkable Group. As we know, companies such as these like to have someone on the inside, and this explains why Remarkable recently hired Labour councillor John Charles Bayliss. Bayliss is the last of the students recruited a few years ago by a desperate Swansea Labour Party led by David ‘Il Duce’ Phillips to fill gaps in the ranks. I have written of the dear boy many times before.

Bayliss Remarkable

Bayliss is a councillor for the Uplands ward on the west side of the city, but has recently changed his address to one down in the Maritime Quarter which, by a remarkable coincidence, is the very address where his friend and fellow student-councillor Mitchell Theaker dwelt, ere he departed for sunnier climes. But some mutter that Bayliss has himself moved, to Bristol, to be nearer his work with Remarkable. So is John Charles Bayliss still living in Swansea? And if not, why does the Labour Party maintain the pretence that he does?

*

I am also seeking information on Valleys Kids. This is yet another Third Sector outfit run by Labour Party members into which the ‘Welsh’ Government has pumped millions and millions of pounds of EU funding with no discernible benefit for the communities being ‘served’.

From what I can see Valleys Kids is just a glorified but very, very well funded youth club, owning among other properties a nice place on Gower. But Valleys Kids may also have friends in high places, for rumours persist that when the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) did a random check, and threatened to pull the funding plug, all was smoothed over by a phone call to Tony Blair!

Information on Valleys Kids please to editor@jacothenorth.net.

Nov 112013
 

It all started with a tweet, last week, someone drawing attention to a post on the Bevan Foundation blog. This post, I think. Doesn’t really matter. As you can probably guess, the Bevan Foundation is not a site I visit regularly but, summoning up my courage (and clutching my crucifix) I ventured deep into this forbidding realm of socialist gobbledygook. Soon forgetting about the post that had drawn me hither as my attention was grabbed by other things I read.

In the ‘About Us’ section, we learn that the Bevan Foundation regards itself as an “independent think tank”, is a “company limited by guarantee” and “registered as a charity in 2004”, then: “We take our name from Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS and welfare state. Although he was a Labour politician, Aneurin Bevan is today remembered for his achievements to make society fairer”. Which struck me as an odd way of putting it; for it could be read: ‘Despite being a Labour politician Bevan nevertheless believed in fairness’!

(In contrast to the websites of other organisations the Bevan Foundation’s seems somewhat reluctant to give its company number, 04175018; and its charity number, 1104191. This is how it should be dERDFone.)

At the foot of the page I came across these two logos. The blue one I recognised from having used it, or something very similar, myself. It is the logo recipients of European Funding must use on their communications, websites, etc. In Wales, this money is usually doled out by the Welsh European Funding Office, set up by the ‘Welsh’ Government to disburse EU funding; though when I spoke with WEFO they denied that The Bevan Foundation had received funding from them. The other logo tells us that the Bevan Foundation has received funding from Communities 2.0, a “digital inclusion proCommunities 2ject” offering “free training and support to small enterprises”.

In what I confess was a rather cheeky attempt to get further information on funding I submitted a FoI request to The Bevan Foundation, knowing in advance it was exempted from this legislation. Even so, I received a polite reply from Victoria Winckler, Director of the Foundation, which read:

How we are funded.“Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act for information about the Bevan Foundation.  The Bevan Foundation is not a public body, nor does it receive sufficient public funding for it to be considered as such, and it is therefore not covered by the Act. You will however find information about the Foundation’s income, including our audited accounts, on the Charity Commission’s website.”

According to the panel, taken from its website, The Bevan Foundation “doesn’t get funding from government or any political party”, yet the ‘Welsh’ Government logo linked to the ERDF logo suggests otherwise. And seeing as Labour has been in power since 1999 it rather undermines the claim to be getting no funding from government or any political party. (Getting the funding at one remove doesn’t change anything.) Equally untrue is the claim that The Foundation is an “independent think tank”. It was set up in 2001 by Labour politicians to counter the Institute for Welsh Affairs, which Labour thinks is too ‘Nashie’. It may have been entirely co-incidental that 2001 was also the year the European lucre started rolling into Wales.

Returning to Communities.2, this funding is distributed by another outfit with Labour links, the Wales Co-operative Centre and a few ‘partner’ organisations (one being the in-a-hole-and-still-digging corruptionCarmarthenshire County Council). So where does the Co-op get the money from? Well, that’s the ‘Welsh’ Government again. And where does the ‘Welsh’ Government get the money from? Again, from those generous people on the Continent through the European Regional Development Fund. Two logos, same money, same source.

I sent a further e-mail seeking a breakdown of the rather vague ‘Research income’ given in the documents submitted to the Charity Commission (£60,731 for the year ended 2012; £84,976 for the previous year). This elicited another polite response from Ms Winckler saying that the exact amounts were confidential, but the organisations for which the Foundation had worked could be found elsewhere in the report submitted to the Charity Commission. So I looked. (Incidentally, let me make it clear that I responded in kind. This was a brief but very civilised exchange. So there!)

If I have read and understood the report . . . the bodies for which The Bevan Foundation is doing work are, the Wales TUC and the Wales Co-operative Development Centre. Then, in the ‘Restricted Funds’ section, we learn that it received £4,875 from the ‘Welsh’ Government’s New Ideas Fund, and a further £4,015 from the ‘Welsh’ Government for an ‘Equality Festival’ held in Ebbw Vale in February 2011. (I never got an invite!) Finally, the report also tells us that in 2012/13 the Foundation will be “employing a research office” (sic) thanks to the generosity of (Labour-controlled) Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council. Oh, and the Communities 2.0 grant I mentioned earlier, well,  that amounted to a “£4,665.40 package of support by Communities 2.0 to network their computers to a central data storage facility, update their website and for google analytics training. Additionally The Bevan Foundation received 28.5hrs of ICT support and consultancy assistance”. A detailed FoI has also been submitted to the ‘Welsh’ Government asking how much money, and by what routes, has been channelled to The Bevan Foundation, but I ain’t holding my breath on that one. So what have we got? Here’s how I see it.

As the name suggests, The Bevan Foundation is an adjunct to the Labour Party. As such it should not be receiving funding from the Labour Party, the ‘Welsh’ Government, local authorities controlled by Labour, or third parties funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government.

The EU has given Wales money in the expectation that we would use it to drag ourselves out of the spiral of economic and social decline we have suffered for over thirty years. Yet after twelve years of such funding those areas that voted for devolution in 1997, the same areas that qualify for the highest level of EU funding, are poorer now than they were then. This is why . . .

Instead of using the funding to tcorruptionrain people in new skills, on infrastructure, and enterprise, the funding is squandered on schemes and projects that are politically correct rather than economically viable, often run by people who were able to smell the funding from a great distance; schemes that create employment only for those running them; schemes that rely solely on EU (and other) funding and are incapable of growth – not least because of duplication – yet a mirage of entrepreneurialism is created by the funding being broken up and re-packaged, passed on to other third sector groups; allowing grant-reliant charities, social enterprises and community groups to be presented as ‘businesses’. And with every scandal it becomes ever clearer that a disproportionate number of those benefitting from this system are Labour Party members and supporters, often using the funding to disseminate Labour Party propaganda, and other information that might be of benefit to the Labour Party.

It truth, the only real achievement of EU funding in Wales has been the underwriting and strengthening of the pre-existing system of Labour Party patronage, cronyism and nepotism. In short, corruption . . . with the added felony of money laundering. What we see today is the party of power, the party holding the purse-strings, rewarding its supporters, as happens in the Third World that Wales will soon join. Though were this happening in Korruptistan then the ‘serious’ publications in London, Newsnight, even, might take an interest . . . but, Wales? nah, who cares?

Apr 182013
 

NUMBER ONE, PENSION SERVICE: My mother is resident in a council-run retirement home. Seeing as State Pensions increased in April the council wants to know by how much my mother’s pension has gone up so they can re-calculate her payments. Fair enough. Problem being that despite the fact that everyone should have been informed by the Pension Service of their increase by the end of March, my mother has received nothing.

So last week I went on the internet, put in the correct post code, and came up with the details for the Swansea office of the Pensions Service. Using my dainty and impeccably manicured digit I telephoned the number given. Eventually I reached a live, unrecorded, human being, to whom I explained my predicament. After repeating that all notifications had been sent out long ago the woman on the other end of the line finally accepted that my mother had not received hers, and that this was why I was ringing.

In the hope of being helpful I suggested that she tell me the the address to which the notification would be sent in order for me to confirm that it was correct. She: “Oh, can’t do that”. Me: “But if you sent the original notification to the wrong address then you’re going to repeat the mistake”. Silence. Me: “Why can’t you tell me the address – I’m her son, for God’s sake!” She: “I’ll have to put you on to the supervisor”. (I felt like saying that had no desire to mount her supervisor, but I bit my tongue.) From the supervisor I got the same metronomic response. Which I could have understood if I’d been asking MI6 for the names of their operatives in Dushanbe . . . but I was asking these bloody women to give me the address of a retirement home in Gwynedd!

I’ve just phoned the Pension Service again. To be told that “it takes seven to ten working days”. Why should it take that long to do something that should have been done properly by the end of bloody March! And another thing. Although the telephone number given on the web page suggested I would be put through to the Swansea office, the three women I spoke with (two last week and one today) all had north west English accents, making it very unlikely that they are based in the City of the Blest.

NUMBER TWO, WELSH EUROPEAN FUNDING OFFICE: About thirteen years ago I allowed myself to be talked into raising money for a new community centre in the village. After a few false starts, and once I was allowed free rein, I got into my stride and raised the necessary lucre. The major funder was the Welsh European Funding carwyn-jones-755691908Office. Which, if nothing else, proves that some EU funding is well spent. For our now self-funding community centre provides jobs, facilities and amenities for the community seven days a week. Anyway, last month, out of the blue, came a letter from WEFO’s Aberystwyth office saying that they wanted to call and check on how the money had been spent.

The meeting went ahead last week. Fortunately, I had kept all the paperwork they needed and was able to answer the questions. (I managed to steer the inquisitor away from my six-week fact-finding mission to Tahiti.) I was not surprised to learn that this visit should have been made in 2009 or 2010, rather than eight years after the building had opened. The meeting ended with the WEFO official giving me an e-mail address to which I would send copies of invoices and other documents requested. Which I did . . . but they didn’t get through, because the WEFO Internet system does not accept e-mails with attachments.

Or perhaps not from unverified sources, which I could understand. But if so, then it should be possible for a member of WEFO’s staff to contact their IT department and say, ‘Let this one through, please, I’m waiting for this information’. How hard can it be? Anyway, once we’d realised what the problem was WEFO sent me an envelope, with two first class stamps. Then I had to print out the various bits of paperwork, put them in the envelope. and mail the envelope. Money and time wasted, unnecessary delay, me frustrated, and all so bloody avoidable.

How can WEFO, or any organisation, operate at anything approaching maximum efficiency when people like me cannot e-mail the information WEFO itself is asking for! No wonder they’re years behind with their work. And perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we ‘qualify’ for a third round of EU Structural Funds.

NUMBER THREE, STATS WALES: Earlier this week I went to the StatsWales website looking for the numbers of English born living in Wales, by local authority area, from the 2011 census. Once into the site, I went to the publications under ‘Population’, but nowhere could I find the information I wanted; even though the section was able to offer bed-time reading like, ‘Child poverty dental indicators by year‘ and ‘European Union harmonised unemployment rates by gender, area and year‘, plus the absolutely riveting, ‘Smoke detectors and other fire detection equipment in dwellings by year and Fire and Rescue Service area‘. The section contained many reports covering ‘gender’ and ‘ethnicity’, such as ‘Ethnicity of staff by Fire and Rescue Service‘.

Today I got my reply (see panel). Now, in fairness, I knew that this information was available on the Office of National Statistics website, and has been for a few months, but that’s not the point. These are important figures relating to Wales, so I have every right to expect to find them on a website devoted to Welsh statistics.Stats

Given the data available on the site, the obvious obsession with race and gender, my guess would be that this site is maintained by someone more concerned with observing political correctness than with providing information. And given the absence of the figures I wanted, maybe no friend of the Welsh. Then again, perhaps it was a political decision not to offer these damning and alarming figures.

Though, surely, if there are figures to tell us how many Afro-Caribbeans, women and other groups are employed by the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service then it must be possible to tell us how many English are employed, and in what ranks? And how many of the top civil servants in Wales are English? Senior police officers . . . academics . . . doctors and other medical staff . . . senior officers in local government, BBC, etc., etc. Could it be that StatsWales is a bit like our media and our politicians, treating us as mushrooms? Keeping us in the dark by withholding the really damning stuff that would lay bare colonial Wales, while feeding us regular dollops of shit in the form of what they deem it safe to tell us.

Apr 162013
 

About a month ago I wrote a piece on the failure of yet another “helping people back into employment” initiative set up by the Welsh Government. This £36m scheme called Genesis was launched in 2010, and although declared officially deceased it seems to be taking a long time a-dying. With its death-throes still attracting morbid curiosity and asinine comment. Made painfully clear by the article in today’s Mule. (Click to enlarge.)

According to Deputy MGenesisinister for Skills and Employment Jeff Cuthbert: “While Genesis helped many people to develop their confidence and self-esteem to find work now or in the future, we cannot ignore the fact that the programme was continuing to underperform”. Listen, Cuthbert, do you know what really helps people with their confidence and self-esteem? A job. A decent bloody job. Not wasting time on some poxy ‘course’ designed solely to provide funding for Labour’s Estuary English-speaking cronies.

Cuthbert continued: “One of the key aims of the programme was to support hard-to-reach groups into employment and performance figures showed that this objective was simply not being met for the project as a whole and did not compare favourably with other programmes delivering to similar groups of participants”. Other progrGenesis Wales p1ammes delivering to similar groups of participants. Think about that, readers. Might the fundamental problem with Genesis have been that it was trying to duplicate the work already being done by other agencies? Because in answer to an FoI request I submitted the Welsh Government confessed that it was funding no less than thirty “helping people back into employment” schemes across Wales. (See right, click to enlarge.)

We were then reminded that despite yet another Third Sector funding fiasco Jeff Cuthbert has at least retained his sense of humour, for he said: ” . . . we will ensure that we integrate the best practice from Genesis into the development of future programmes”. Best practice be buggered! You’re pulling the plug on it becuse it was a total and utter bloody failure! What I find even more worrying is the reference to “future programmes”. For this suggests you’ve learnt nothing, and will continue to pour money into the funding black hole (sucks in everything, gives nothing back) that is the Third Sector.

What the Genesis fiasco has exposed, yet again, is that Labour’s antipathy to business and the employment that a healthy economy provides is one of the major reasons for Wales’ relative poverty. This is what “clear red water” really means – an anti-business Labour Government in Cardiff. Labour prefers to keep Wales poor so it can capitalise on the poverty for its own political ends and further use it to provide a cottage industry for its cronies and supporters.

For me, the big question now has to be, ‘For how much longer will the EU keep pouring money into the black hole of the Third Sector?’ The first two rounds of Structural Funds were wasted, and that’s why we now qualify for a third round. To avoid yet more wasted funding, shouldn’t the EU examine the possibility of allocating the money to Wales but have it disbursed by some agency independent of the Welsh Government? Why should ‘Welsh’ Labour be given so many chances to screw up?

UPDATE 17.04.2013:I recently came into possession of this document (Mutuals) telling us that the Welsh Management is keen to push Co-operative and mutual ventures. I have no insurmountable objections to these kind of undertakings, but I do have a few observations.

First, this seems to be further proof of ‘Welsh’ Labour’s irrational hostility to a real economy; you know, business, private enterprise, capitalism. The giveaway for me is in the use of the term, “the co-operative and mutual economy”. Second, shouldn’t co-operatives be spontaneous, grass-roots creations? Redundant workers saying, ‘Let’s have a buy-out and run the business as a co-operative’. But not in Wales. Here we see again ‘Welsh’ Labour’s top-down, Statist approach to everything – ‘You will have Co-operatives! Is that understood?’ A mentality not a lot different to Stalin imposing collective farms.

If the logo at the bottom of the page is anything to go by then it seems that the poor EU is also paying for this latest departure from reality. How much longer are our continental cousins going to fund Labour’s delusion that prosperity can be created without a healthy commercial economy?