My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.
This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.
It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.
You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.
In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?
The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.
This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.
‘If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’
Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.
The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.
“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.
I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.
‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.
Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’
Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?
Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).
Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?
All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?
As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.
I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.
In the hope of getting more information on the relationship between housing associations and offshore companies I tried another angle by writing to the First minister, Carwyn Jones. Within a couple of days I received this response from the Housing Directorate.
We can do naught but wait, and hope . . .
Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.
Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.
An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?
Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.
Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!
This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!
I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:
1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)
2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities.
3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.
Which might be the answer to everything.
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